Rise of nationalism in Europe

Rise of nationalism in Europe

In the 18th century, a wave of romantic nationalism swept the continent of Europe transforming the countries of the continent. Some new countries, such as Germany and Italy were formed by uniting smaller states with a common "national identity". Others, such as Greece, Poland and Bulgaria, were formed by winning their independence.

The French Revolution paved the way for the modern nation-state. Across Europe radical intellectuals questioned the old monarchial order and encouraged the development of a popular nationalism committed to re-drawing the political map of the continent. By 1914 the days of multi-national empires were numbered. The French Revolution, by destroying the traditional structures of power in France and territories conquered by Napoleon, was the instrument for the political transformation of Europe. Revolutionary armies carried the slogan of "liberty, equality and brotherhood" and ideas of liberalism and national self-determinism. National awakening also grew out of an intellectual reaction to the Enlightenment that emphasized national identity and developed a romantic view of cultural self-expression through nationhood. The key exponent of the modern idea of the nation-state was the German Georg Hegel (1770-1831). He argued that a sense of nationality was the cement that held modern societies together in an age when dynastic and religious allegiance was in decline. In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the major powers of Europe tried to restore the old dynastic system as far as possible, ignoring the principle of nationality in favour of "legitimism", the assertion of traditional claims to royal authority. With most of Europe's peoples still loyal to their local province or city, nationalism was confined to small groups of intellectuals and political radicals. Furthermore, political repression, symbolized by the Carlsbad Decrees published in Austria in 1819, pushed nationalist agitation underground.


"1815" The Congress of Vienna.

"1821" Greek declaration of national independence.

"1848" Nationalist revolts in Hungary, Italy and Germany.

"1859-61" Italy unified.

"1863" Polish national revolt.

"1866-71" Germany unified.

"1867" Hungary granted autonomy.

"1878" Congress of Berlin: Serbia, Romania and Montenegro granted independence.

"1908" Bulgaria becomes independent.

The struggle for independence

A strong resentment of what came to be regarded as foreign rule began to develop. In Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Poland, Hungary and Norway local hostility to alien dynastic authority started to take the form of nationalist agitation. Nationalism came to be seen as the most effective way to create the symbols of resistance and to unite in a common cause. Success came first in Greece where an eight-year civil war (1821-1829) against Ottoman rule led to an independent Greek state; in 1831 Belgium obtained independence from the Netherlands. Over the next two decades nationalism developed a more powerful voice, spurred by nationalist writers championing the cause of nationalist self-determination. In 1848, revolutions broke out across Europe, sparked by a severe famine and economic crisis and mounting popular demand for political change. In Italy Giuseppe Mazzini used the opportunity to encourage a war for national unity. In 1861 he wrote:

"No people ever die, nor stopshort upon their path, before they have achieved the ultimate aim of their existence, before having completed and fulfilled their mission. A people destined to achieve great things for the welfare of humanity must on day or other be constituted a nation".
In Hungary, Lajos Kossuth led a national revolt against Austrian rule; in the German Confederation a National Assembly was elected at Frankfurt and debated the creation of a German nation. None of the nationalist revolts in 1848 were successful, any more than the two attempts to win Polish independence from Russian rule in 1831 and 1846 had been. Conservative forces proved too strong, while the majority of the populations little understood the meaning of national struggle. But the 1848 crisis had given nationalism its first full public airing, and in the thirty years that followed no fewer than seven new national states were created in Europe. This was partly the result of the recognition by conservative forces that the old order could not continue in its existing form. Conservative reformers such as Cavour and Bismarck made common cause with liberal political modernizers to create a consensus for the creation of conservative nation-states in Italy and Germany. In the Habsburg empire a compromise was reached with Hungarian nationalists in 1867 granting them a virtually independent state. In the Balkans the Greek example had inspired other national awakenings. Native history and culture were rediscovered and appropriated for the national struggle. Following a conflict between Russia and Turkey, the Great Powers met at Berlin in 1878 and granted independence to Romania, Serbia and Montenegro.

Nationalism exported

The invention of a symbolic national identity became the concern of racial or linguistic groups throughout Europe as they struggled to come to terms with the rise of mass politics, popular xenophobia, discrimination and the decline of the traditional social elites. Within the Habsburg empire the different peoples developed a more mass-based, violent and exclusive form of nationalism. This developed even among the Germans and Magyars, who actually benefited from the power-structure of the empire. The Jewish population of eastern and central Europe began to develop radical demands for their own national state in Palestine. In 1897, inspired by the Hungarian-born nationalist Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the First Zionist Congress was held in Basle. On the European periphery, especially in Ireland and Norway, campaigns for national independence became more strident. In 1905 Norway won independence from Sweden, but attempts to grant Ireland the kind of autonomy enjoyed by Hungary foundered on the national divisions on the island between the ethnic Irish and British migrants. By this time the ideals of European nationalism had been exported worldwide and were now beginning to threaten the colonial empires still ruled by European nation-states.

See also

* Communitarianism
* Cultural identity
* Ethnic autonomous regions
* Expansionism
* French Revolution
* Identity politics
* Intercultural competence
* Irish nationalism
* National flag
* National liberation movements
* National personification
* National romanticism
* Nationalist Party
* Society of the United Irishmen

External links

* [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook3.html#Nationalism Modern History sourcebook about nationalism]
* [http://www.nostos.com/greekrev/ Profiles of leading Greek independence figures]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/history BBC History]

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