The nature of nationalism in Europe underwent many changes. Nationalism in the present form did not exist in Europe in the Middle Ages. At that time all Christians in Western Europe belonged to the Catholic church and they lived under the Holy Roman Empire. In this article, you’ll read some of the significant events that led to the rise of nationalism in Europe after the 1830s and the direct impacts of the nationalistic feelings.
1. The formation of new nation-states
In the nineteenth century, nationalism became a force and brought dramatic changes in the intellectual and political world of Europe. Instead of multi-national dynastic empires, there aroused new nation-states. These nation-states had centralised power which ruled over a defined territory. In these states, not only the ruler but the common people also shared a common identity and history. Through different events and processes, nation-states and nationalism emerged in Europe.
2. Growth of the ideas of liberalism and national unity
Till the nineteenth century, aristocrats were the most powerful in Europe. Though they were a small group, they owned most of the land. They were a close-knit group united by a common way of life. The Industrial Revolution brought great social change. It created new social groups, made up of the working class and middle-class population. The educated middle class spread the ideas of liberalism and national unity. They demanded an end to the privileges of the aristocrats.
3. The formation of Zollverein by Prussia
The Prussian Government passed many tariff reforms to convert Prussia into a Free Trade Area. A customs union or Zollverein was formed by Prussia in 1834, which joined many German states. This brought about an economic union of German states. This Union reduced the number of currencies from over thirty states to two and abolished tariff barriers. Further, a network of railways led to great mobility and gave an impetus to national unity. It boosted economic nationalism.
4. Rise and fall of monarchies in Europe
The rise of Napoleon, his conquests and his defeat in 1815 gave rise to a new ideology in Europe, called Conservatism. European governments believed that monarchy, the Church, social hierarchy, the property should be preserved. They wanted to strengthen monarchy by making it more effective and strong. The restored monarchies became despotic. They did not tolerate any opposition or criticism. But the liberals continued to propagate these ideas of liberty and freedom popularised by the French Revolution and fought for the freedom of the press. The result of this repression was that a number of revolts broke out in Europe after 1815.
5. Revolutions by educated middle class
Liberalism and nationalism became great forces in many regions of Europe. It brought revolutions in Italian and German states, Ireland, Poland, Greece and provinces of the Ottoman Empire among others. These revolutions were led by the educated middle class comprising professors, school teachers, clerks, members of new commercial middle classes.
6. The impact of art, music, literature
The feeling of nationalism was strengthened, developed and given encouragement by art, music, literature, drama etc. They made people feel proud of their own culture, heritage and build up a resistance to foreign rule. The Romantics, as opposed to the Classicists, encouraged the depiction of emotions, feelings and intuition and believed not in glorification of logic, reason and science. For them, the basis of a nation should not be wars or territorial expansion but a common cultural past and a shared heritage by all. How folk stories played an important role in the spread of nationalism can be seen from the folk tales by the Grimm Brothers.
7. The unification and division of Italy
When Napoleon conquered Italy, the Italians started seeing him as a great liberator. But his oppression soon made him a hated figure. After his downfall, Italy was again divided. Thereafter, the difficult task of Italy’s unification was taken up by Italian nationalistic leaders like Count Camilo Cavour, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini started the “Young Italy” movement to arouse the whole of Italy to a greater unity and to fight for independence. By 1833, the movement had 60,000 supporters.
8. Nationalism paving way for imperialism
A gradual change came in the form of nationalism as the 19th century progressed. It began as a humane and tolerant creed based on the concept of brotherhood. But towards the end of the 19th century, nationalism became a symbol of rivalry among various national movements. The nationalist groups became intolerant to each other and were always ready to go to war. Taking advantage of the situation, Bismarck successfully united Germany through his policy of “blood and iron” which inspired other major European powers to use the nationalist aspirations to further their own imperialistic objectives.
9. The fall of the Ottoman Empire
When European subject nationalities broke away from the Ottoman Empire, the people of the Balkan regions which comprised of modern-day Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro and Serbia also staked their claim for independence. It led to intense conflict in the Balkans and each state tried to grab more territory. The big powers of Europe at this time also intensified the tension. Countries like Russia, Germany, England, Austria, Hungary tried to increase their own power at the cost of others. This led to a series of wars which resulted in the First World War. It can be said that nationalism aligned with imperialism pushed Europe towards World War I.
10. The allegories of nations as females
In the 18th and 19th centuries, a nation was portrayed as a female figure. They did not portray any particular woman but gave the abstract idea of a nation a concrete form. Such a female form became an allegory of a nation. France was portrayed as a woman named Marianne with a red cap, the tricolour and the cockade- all symbols of liberty to promote unity and to make this allegorical representation a symbol of the nation. Germania became the allegory of Germany. She wore a crown of Oak leaves. German Oak stands for heroism. Germania is up and alert, with a sword in her hand, guarding the Rhine.