[World History Notes] The Rise of Nationalism in Europe : French Revolution, Situation Before Revolution, Revolutionaries and Unification of Italy

Nationalism: It is a belief system which instills a sense of common identity among the members of a nation. National flag, national symbol, national anthem, etc. play an important role in developing and strengthening the idea of nationalism.

Rise of Nationalism in Europe: Before the middle of the nineteenth century, the countries in Europe were not in the form as we know them today. Different regions in Europe were ruled by various multi-national dynastic empires. These were monarchies which enjoyed absolute power over their
subjects. Various technological and the ensuing social changes helped in developing the ideas of nationalism. The process of creation of nation states began in 1789; with the French Revolution. It took about hundred years for the idea to gain concrete shape which resulted in the formation of France as a democratic nation state. The trend was followed in other parts of the Europe and led to the establishment of the modern democratic systems in most parts of the world; at the beginning of 20th century.

French Revolution:

First Expression of Nationalism: French Revolution led to a change in politics and constitution of France. In 1789 the power was transferred from monarchy to a body of citizens. It was proclaimed that henceforth the French people would shape the destiny of their country.

Creating a sense of Nationhood:
Various steps were taken by the revolutionaries to create a sense of common identity among people. Some of these steps are given below:
  • The idea of the fatherland and citizen was created to emphasize a community which enjoyed equal rights under the constitution.
  • The royal standard was replaced with a new French flag; the tricolor.
  • The Estates General was elected by the body of active citizens and it was renamed as the National Assembly.
  • In the name of nation; new hymns were composed and oaths were taken.
  • Martyrs were commemorated.
  • A centralized administrative system was created which formulated uniform laws for all citizens.
  • Internal custom duties were abolished.
  • A uniform system of weights and measures was adopted.
  • Regional dialects were discouraged and French language was promoted as the common language of the nation.
  • The revolutionaries also declared that it was the mission and destiny of French people to liberate the people of Europe from despotism and help other regions of Europe in becoming nations.

Effect on other parts of Europe:
In different cities of Europe, people became motivated from the events in France. As a result, students and other people from the educated middle classes started setting up Jacobin clubs. Their activities made a ground for further encroachment by the French armies. The French army moved into Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and a large part of Italy in the 1790s. Thus, the French armies started carrying the idea of nationalism to foreign lands.

Napoleon was the Emperor of France from 1804 to 1815. Although Napoleon destroyed democracy in France by reintroducing monarchy in France; but he made revolutionary changes in the field of administration. The idea was to make the system more rational and efficient. The Civil Code of 1804; which is commonly known as the Napoleonic Code abolished all privileges based on birth. It also established equality before the law and secured the right to property. Even in those territories which came under his control; Napoleon began to introduce many reforms as he did in France. He simplified the administrative divisions in the Dutch Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. He abolished the feudal system and peasants could be freed from serfdom and manorial dues. Guild restrictions were removed in towns. Transport and communication systems were improved.

Reaction of People:
Peasants, artisans, workers and new businessmen enjoyed this new found freedom. They could realize that uniform laws and standard system of weights and measures and a common currency would be more helpful in movement and exchange of goods and capital across various regions.
But in areas which were conquered by France, people’s reactions towards French rule were mixed. Initially, the French armies were seen as the torchbearers of liberty. But very soon people could realize that the new administrative system was not going to guarantee political freedom. Increase in taxes, censorship and forced conscription into the French armies were seen as outweighing the advantages of administrative changes which Napoleon brought. Thus the initial enthusiasm of people began to turn into hostility.
Situation Before Revolution:
In the mid-eighteenth-century Europe there were no ‘nation-states’ as we know them today. Modern day Germany, Italy and Switzerland were divided into kingdoms, duchies and cantons. Their rulers had their own autonomous territories. Diverse people lived under autocratic monarchies of Eastern and Central Europe. The people did not share a collective identity. The region was full of people from different ethnic groups who spoke different languages. The only binding factor among the people was their allegiance to a common emperor.

Causes and Process of Emergence of Nation States

Socially and politically, a landed aristocracy was the dominant class on the continent. The members of this class were united by a common way of life that cut across regional divisions. They owned estates in the countryside and also town-houses. They spoke French for purposes of diplomacy and in high society. Their families were often connected by ties of marriage. This powerful aristocracy was, however, numerically a small group. The majority of the population was made up of the peasantry. To the west, the bulk of the land was farmed by tenants and small owners, while in Eastern and Central Europe the pattern of landholding was characterised by vast estates which were cultivated by serfs.

New Middle Class
In Western and parts of Central Europe industrial production and trade grew. This led to the growth of towns where new commercial classes emerged. The existence of this new class was based on production for the market. New social groups came into existence. A working class population and a middle class (which was composed of industrialists, businessmen and professionals) made the new social groups. It was this class which shaped the ideas of national unity.

Idea of Liberal Nationalism
Ideas of national unity in early-nineteenth-century Europe were closely allied to the ideology of liberalism. For the new middle classes; freedom for the individual and equality of all before the law were the bases of idea of liberalism. From the political perspective, the idea of liberalism emphasized the concept of government by consent. Liberalism also meant an end of autocracy and clerical privileges. Further, it meant the need of a constitution and a representative government. Inviolability of private property was also emphasized by the nineteenth century liberals.

Universal suffrage was yet to become a reality in France. During the earlier period of revolution, only property-owning men had the right to vote. For a brief period during the Jacobins, all adult males got the voting right. However, Napoleonic Code reverted to the earlier system of limited suffrage. During the rule of Napoleon, women were accorded the status of minor; subject to authority of father and husband. The struggle for voting rights for women and non-propertied men continued throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Liberalisation in Economic Sphere:
Economic liberalization was another hallmark of the Napoleonic Code. The emerging middle class was also in favour of economic liberalization. Let us take example of German-speaking regions in the first half of nineteenth century. There were 39 states in this region which were further divided into many principalities. Each principality had its own currency and its own units of measurement. If a merchant travelled from Hamburg to Nuremberg; he had to pass through 11 customs barriers and pay a custom duty of about 5% at each barrier. Custom duty had to be paid according to weight and measure. Wide difference in units of weight and measurement created further confusion. The conditions were not at all business friendly and served as obstacles to economic activities. The new commercial class was demanding a unified economic territory so that there could be unhindered movement of goods, people and capital.

In 1834, a customs union or zollverein was formed; at the initiative of Prussia and was joined by most of the German states. Tariff barriers were abolished and the number of currencies was reduced from thirty to two. Development of a railways network further enhanced mobility. This created some sort of economic nationalism which helped in strengthening the national sentiments which were growing at that time.

A New Conservatism After 1815
Napoleon was defeated in 1815 by the combined power of Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria. After the defeat of Napoleon, European governments wanted to follow conservatism. The conservatives believed that established, traditional institutions of state and society should be preserved. They believed in preserving the monarchy, the Church, social hierarchies, property and the family. But most of them also wanted to retain the modernization which Napoleon carried out in the spheres of administration. The conservatives believed that modernization would strengthen traditional institutions. It was believed that a modern army, an efficient bureaucracy, a dynamic economy, the abolition of feudalism and serfdom could strengthen the monarchies of Europe.

The Treaty of Vienna:
The representatives of the European powers (Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria) met at Vienna in 1815 to draw up a settlement of Europe. The Austrian Chancellor Duke Metternich was the host of the Congress. The Treaty of Vienna of 1815 was drawn up at this meeting. Its objective was to undo most of the changes which had come in Europe during the Napoleonic wars. Some of the steps taken according the Treaty of Vienna are follows:
  • The Bourbon dynasty, which had been deposed during the French Revolution, was restored to power.
  • A series of states were set up on the boundaries of France to prevent French expansion in future. For example; the kingdom of the Netherlands was set up in the north. Similarly, Genoa was added to Piedmont in the south. Prussia got some important territories on its western frontiers and Austria got control of northern Italy.
  • German confederation of 39 states which had been set up by Napoleon was left untouched.
  • In the east, Russia was given part of Poland, while Prussia was given a portion of Saxony.
The conservative regimes which were set up in 1815 were autocratic. They were intolerant of criticism and dissent. Most of them imposed censorship laws to control the contents in newspaper, books, plays and songs.

The Revolutionaries:
After the events of 1815, many liberal nationalists went underground for the fear of repression.
Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian revolutionary. He was born in 1807. He became a member of the secret society of the Carbonari. When he was 24 years old, he was sent into exile in 1831 for attempting a revolution in Liguria. After that, he founded two more underground societies; first Young Italy in Marseilles and then Young Europe in Berne. Mazzini believed that God had intended nations to be the natural units of mankind. So Italy had to be forged into a single unified republic instead of being a patchwork of small state kingdoms. Following in the footsteps of Mazzini, many secret societies were set up Germany, France, Switzerland and Poland. The Conservatives feared Mazzini.

While the conservative regimes were trying to consolidate their power, the liberals and nationalists continued to spread the idea of revolution. These people belonged to the educated middle-class elite; like professors, school teachers, clerks and members of the commercial middle classes.
The first upheaval took place in France in July 1830. The Bourbon kings were overthrown by liberal revolutionaries. A constitutional monarchy was installed with Louis Philippe at its head. The July Revolution sparked an uprising in Brussels which resulted in Belgium breaking away from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Independence of Greece:
The Greek war of independence mobilized the nationalist feelings among the educated elite across Europe. The struggle for independence among the Greeks began in 1821. The nationalists in Greece got support from many Greeks who were living in exile. Moreover, they also got support from many West Europeans who sympathized with the ancient Greek culture. Poets and artists mobilized public opinion to support this struggle against the Muslim empire. It is important to note that Greece had been a part of the Ottoman Empire. Finally, the Treaty of Constantinople of 1832 recognized Greece as an independent nation.

The Romantic Imagination and National Feeling
Romanticism was a cultural movement which sought to develop a particular form of nationalist sentiment. Romantic artists usually criticized the glorification of reason and science. They focused on emotions, intuition and mystical feelings. They tried to create a sense of collective heritage, a common cultural past, as the basis of a nation.

Other Romantics; like the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744 – 1803); claimed that the true German culture could be discovered among the common people; das volk. These Romantics used folk songs, folk poetry and folk dances to popularize the true spirit of the nation (volksgeist). The emphasis on vernacular language was also important to take the nationalist message to a large number of people who were mostly illiterate. Karol Kurpinski celebrated the national struggle through his operas and music in Poland. He turned folk dances; like polonaise and mazurka into nationalist symbols.

Language also played an important role in developing nationalist sentiments. After Russian occupation, the Polish language was forced out of schools and the Russian language was imposed everywhere. An armed rebellion took place against Russian rule in 1831 but this was ultimately crushed. But after this, many members of the clergy in Poland began to use language as a weapon of national resistance. In all Church gatherings and in all religious instructions, Polish was used. The Russian authorities put a large number of priests and bishops in jail or sent them to Siberia as punishment for their refusal to preach in Russian. The use of Polish thus became a symbol of the struggle against Russian dominance.

Hunger, Hardship and Popular Revolt
The 1830s were years of great economic hardship in Europe. There was huge growth in population in the first half of the nineteenth century. Number of unemployed had increased manifold. There was large scale migration from rural areas to urban areas. Such migrants lived in overcrowded slums in the cities. At that time, the industrialization in England was more advanced than in other parts of Europe. Hence, cheap machine-made goods from England gave stiff competition to small producers in the towns of the other European countries. In some regions of Europe, aristocracy was still powerful and the peasants were under the burden of feudal dues and obligations. A year of bad harvest; coupled with price rise in food led to pauperism in town and country.
The year 1848 was one such bad year. Because of shortage of food and high level of unemployment, the people of Paris came out on the roads. The protest was at such a large scale that Louis Philippe had to flee. A National Assembly proclaimed a republic. It granted suffrage to all adult males above 21. It guaranteed the right to work. National workshops were set up to provide employment.

The Revolution of the Liberals
When the revolts of the poor took place in 1848, another revolution was being led by the educated middle classes. In some other parts of Europe, independent nation-states did not yet exist, e.g. Germany, Italy, Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Men and women of the liberal middle classes from these parts raised demands for national unification and a constitution. They demanded the creation of a nation-state on parliamentary principles. They wanted a constitution, freedom of press and freedom of association.

Frankfurt Parliament: In German regions, there were a large number of political associations whose members were middle class professionals, businessmen and prosperous artisans. They came together in the city of Frankfurt and decided to vote for an all-German National Assembly. On18 May 1848, 831 elected representatives took out a festive procession to take part in the Frankfurt parliament which was convened in the Church of St. Paul. They drafted a constitution for a German nation. This German nation was to be headed by a monarchy subject to a parliament. Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia was offered the crown on these terms. But he rejected the offer and joined other monarchs to oppose the elected assembly.

The opposition of the aristocracy and military to the parliament grew stronger. Meanwhile, the social base of the parliament eroded because it was dominated by the middle classes. The middle class resisted the demands of workers and artisans and thus lost their support. Finally, troops were called in and the assembly was forced to disband.

Women also participated in large numbers in the liberal movement. In spite of that, they were denied the voting rights during the election of the Assembly. When the Frankfurt parliament convened in the Church of St Paul, women were allowed only as observers to stand in the visitors’ gallery.
Although the liberal movements were suppressed by the conservative forces but the old order could not be restored. In the years after 1848, the monarchs began to realize that granting concessions to the liberal-nationalist revolutionaries was the only way to end the cycle of revolution and repression. Hence, the monarchies of Central and Eastern Europe began to introduce changes which had already taken place in Western Europe before 1815.

Serfdom and bonded labour was abolished both in the Habsburg dominions and in Russia. The Habsburg rulers granted more autonomy to the Hungarians in 1867.

Germany: Can the Army be the Architect of a Nation?
After 1848, nationalism in Europe moved away from its association with democracy and revolution. The conservatives now fanned nationalist sentiments to promote state power and to achieve political dominance over Europe.

The liberal movement of the middle-classes in Germany had earlier been repressed by the combined forces of the monarchy and the military. This repression was also supported by the large landowners (called junkers) of Prussia. After that, Prussia took on the leadership of the movement for national unification.

Otto von Bismarck: Otto von Bismarck; the chief minister of Prussia, was the architect of this process. He took the help of the Prussian army and bureaucracy in his endeavour. Three wars were fought over seven years; with Austria, Denmark and France. The wars ended in Prussian victory and completed the process of unification. The Prussian king, William I was proclaimed the German Emperor in a ceremony held at Versailles in January 1871.

The new state placed a strong emphasis on modernizing the currency, banking, legal and judicial systems in Germany. Prussian measures and practices often became a model for the rest of Germany.

Unification of Italy:
Italy also had a long history of political fragmentation. There were many dynastic states and the multi-national Habsburg Empire in Italy. During the middle of the nineteenth century, Italy was divided into seven states. Out of them, only Sardinia-Piedmont was ruled by an Italian princely house. The north was under Austrian Habsburgs, the centre was under the Pope and the southern regions were under the domination of the Bourbon kings of Spain. The Italian language had yet to acquire a common form and it still had many regional and local variations.

During the 1830s, Giuseppe Mazzini planned to put together a programme for a unitary Italian Republic. The failure of revolutionary uprisings both in 1831 and 1848 meant that the mantle now fell on Sardinia-Piedmont under its ruler King Victor Emmanuel II. The ruling elites of this region saw the possibility of economic development and political dominance through a unified Italy.
Chief Minister Cavour led the movement to unify the regions of Italy. He was neither a revolutionary nor a democrat. He was like many other wealthy and educated members of the Italian elite. He too was more fluent in French than in Italian. He made a tactful diplomatic alliance with France and thus succeeded in defeating the Austrian forces in 1859. Apart from regular troops, many armed volunteers under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi joined the fray. In 1860, they marched into South Italy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. They succeeded in winning the support of the local peasants and drove out the Spanish rulers. Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed king of united Italy in 1861. But a large number of the Italian population remained blissfully unaware of liberal-nationalist ideology; probably because of very high level of illiteracy.

The Strange Case of Britain
The formation of nation state in Britain did not happen because of a sudden upheaval or revolution. It was the result of a long-drawn-out process. Before the eighteenth century, there was no British nation. The British Isles were divided into different ethnicities; like English, Welsh, Scot or Irish. Each ethnic group had its own cultural and political traditions.

The English nation steadily grew in wealth, importance and power. Thus it was able to extend its influence on the other nations of the islands. The English parliament seized power from the monarchy in 1688 after a prolonged conflict. The English parliament was instrumental in forging the nation-state of Britain. The Act of Union (1707) between England and Scotland resulted in the formation of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’. In this Union, England was the dominant partner and thus the British parliament was dominated by its English members.

The British identity grew at the peril of Scottish culture and political institutions. The Scottish Highlands were inhabited by the Catholic clans. They felt terrible repression whenever they attempted to assert their independence. They were forbidden to speak their Gaelic language or wear their traditional dress. Many of them were forcibly driven out of their homeland.

Ireland suffered a similar fate. It was a country deeply divided between Catholics and Protestants. The Protestants of Ireland established their dominance over the majority Catholics through the English help. There was a failed revolt led by Wolfe Tone and his United Irishmen in 1798. After that, Ireland was forcibly incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1801. The English culture was propagated forcefully to forge a new ‘British Nation’. The older nations survived only as subordinate partners in this union.

Visualizing the Nation
Artists used female figures to personify a nation. During French Revolution, artists used the female allegory to portray the ideas such as Liberty, Justice and the Republic.

In France, the nation was christened as Marianne, which is a popular Christian name for a woman. Her characteristics were drawn from those of Liberty and Republic; the red cap, the tricolor, the cockade. Her statues were erected in public squares and her images were marked on coins and stamps; to persuade the people to identify with it.

Germania became the allegory of the German nation. Germania wears a crown of oak leaves. The German oak stands for heroism.

Nationalism and Imperialism:
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, nationalism could not retain its idealistic liberal-democratic sentiment. It became a narrow creed with limited ends. The major European powers manipulated the nationalist aspirations of the subject peoples to further their own imperialist aims.
Conflict in the Balkans: Balkans was a region of geographical and ethnic variation comprising modern-day Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro. The inhabitants of this region were broadly known as the Slavs.
A large part of the Balkans was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. This was the period of disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the spread of the ideas of romantic nationalism in the Balkans. These developments made this region very explosive. All through the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire tried to strengthen itself through modernization and internal reforms. But it could not achieve much success. Its European subject nationalities broke away from its control one by one and declared independence. The Balkans used history and national identity to claim their right of independence. While the Slavic nationalities struggled to define their identity and independence, the Balkan area became an area of intense conflict. In the process, the Balkans also became the scene of big power rivalry.

During this period, there was intense rivalry among the European powers over trade and colonies as well as naval and military might. Each power; Russia, Germany, England, Austro-Hungary; was keen on countering the hold of other powers over the Balkans, and extending its own control over the area. This led to a series of wars in the region and finally culminated in the First World War.

Meanwhile, many countries in the world which had been colonized by the European powers in the nineteenth century began to oppose imperial domination. People of different colonies developed their own variation of nationalism. The idea of ‘nation-states’ thus became a universal phenomenon.

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