Assess the importance of Nationalism 1815-1850 Europe


One of the most important political ideologies of the first half of the nineteenth century was the force of Nationalism. Nationalism is the belief that nations are defined by people who have the same language, culture, and history, not by lines drawn on maps or by rulers conquering a vast empire. The advent of this movement was the French Revolution when throughout the continent, people watched as the French people united and established their own form of government and nation. The idea of a nation of the people and not of the ruler was very popular in nationalism. Spreading like wildfire, soon there was a nationalistic movement in nearly every country in Europe, especially Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, Poland, and Russia. Most nationalists also believed in equality of every person both before the law and in everyday life. The affects of nationalism shaped the continent during the early 1800’s, allowing for a few new nations to be formed. The Conservative Order looked to crush the movement because, for most of these multi-national countries, the “plague of nationalism” would spell certain disaster. Not only did the nationalists create a political sensation that swept through Europe but also paved the way for economic strengthening and cultural beliefs that exist in the world to this day.

The nationalists had a very radical political view at the time, desiring to overthrow the powers that suppressed and hampered the patriotic feelings of the people. Nationalists opposed the Vienna Settlement, a European peace conference arguing that it did what was best for a few powerful dynasties rather than what was best for the people. Nationalists protested against large multi-national nations and empires such as Austria and Russia. They believed that dominating over multiple nations was not right. Nationalists also challenged the political units that are smaller than that of an ethnic nation, such as the German states and the multiple states of Italy. The nationalistic movement won minor victories with the independence of Greece, Serbia, and Belgium. Belgium was a prime example of nationalist views. When they merged with the Dutch, the Belgians could not overcome the language and cultural differentials. However, the Reactionary Forces were not as weak as expected. In fact, they were more resilient and stronger than anyone had predicted. Places that fostered conservatism reacted with more spirit. For example, in Austria and Russia, reaction came as suppression and in France it came as revolution. The Spanish rebels were quickly crushed by King Ferdinand VII’s army. The only country with peaceful solutions was Brittan, where problems were solved with accommodation. The idea of popular sovereignty, where the power of the state is legitimized by the general will of the people, was also very popular in nationalism. In the Revolutions of 1848, nationalists across Europe moved out to overthrow the Conservative Order and establish nations based on ethnicity. Never before had so many revolutions occurred at one point in time or had such and effect on other aspects of life across the Continent.

The cultural repercussions from the nationalist movement resulted in an increase of national and ethnic pride. There was a complete breakdown of loyalty to the church and increased devotion to the community. Many nationalist writers advocated their beliefs and wrote in their own language, allowing for more people to learn the regional language. Such a writer was Johann Gottfried Herder, who promoted the importance of each culture as both a nation and a part of a large unit, humanity. Most people associate nationalism with liberalism, however, they are very different and had constantly conflicting views. Liberals based their views on fact and reason while nationalists based their views on romanticism and emotion. The nationalists also had conflicts with royalists, clergy, and landed aristocracy, who were corrupt and loyal to the Ancient Regime. The final cultural factor in the struggle for nationalism was the younger generation and the students. Organizations such as the Burschenschaften, a German student guild, would lead the drive of nationalism and promoted change in their respective countries. Not only did the nationalist movement affect the culture but it also affected the economic conditions of Europe.

People were driven to support nationalism by realizing that economic independence could also mean political independence. In the Revolutions of 1848, the economic state of Europe was in ruin. There were food shortages and lower wages to make it even more difficult to buy food. Businesses failed and unemployment skyrocketed and the poor relief was extremely overburdened. All these factors also lead to deteriorating living conditions as well. Cities became full of crime and disease as industrialism and urbanization swept across Europe. Citizens blamed both their government as suppressors and the bourgeoisie for economic greed. They looked towards the forces of nationalism to overthrow the reactionary forces. A secondary outcome of nationalism that was taking root and flourishing in both large and small nations was national capitalism. Many citizens felt, if they put their labor towards fueling the economy of their country, it would lead to political independence from the sovereigns. The economic stimulus of nationalism caught hold in almost every nation who sought to gain ethnic unity.

Nationalism dramatically increased the sense of ethnic pride and national sentiment in Europe between 1815 and 1850. Not only did it allow for nations such as Serbia and Greece to gain independence, but also gave a sense of distinctiveness to those nations who had not gained ethnic unity, like Italy and Germany, that were made up of many smaller divisions. During this time, Nationalism led to many revolutions against oppressive and despotic governments who did not represent the cultural majority. Nationalism inspired European nations, led to a dramatic increase of patriotism, and a sense of ethnic pride while also indirectly fostering capitalism. These early beliefs of nationalism live on today, creating a strong sense of unity and cultural traditions that has lasted for over two hundred years.

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