Assess to what extent the French revolution was the main factor in the growth of nationalism during the 19th century. Throughout the 19th Century nationalism became an increasingly important ideology. In fact, M. S. Anderson states, “The most important political fact of the nineteenth century in Europe was the growth of nationalism”. In some cases it took the form of regions seeking independence from the country they were currently part of. In others bigger countries formed out of smaller states with what they saw as a common identity.
The common ground between the two was that they felt they belonged with people of the same ancestry to themselves, either in terms of. The days of multi-national empires were drawing to a close. The main catalyst in the nationalist movements across Europe was the French Revolution. In fact, it was during which that the term ‘nation’ was first used, and La Marseillaise, which was written during the period was the first national anthem of any state. It was also after this that state holidays started to be popular.
During the Revolution itself, military victories abroad created a sense of national pride that had not been experienced before. France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1789 states, “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body or individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation. ” This is firm evidence of the birth of modern Nationalism in the shape of the French Revolution. The fact that a large amount of the population were in the army created a sense of comradeship and a sense that everyone was literally fighting for a common goal.
French armies continued into Holland, Belgium, Switzerland in the last decade of the 18th century, therefore spreading the idea of nationalism to foreign countries which also included Germany and Spain. The Napoleonic era further fed the nationalist flame, but this time it was German and Italian Nationalism. This was due to the French ruling territories that were considered by some to be German or Italian. Napoleon was said to have “had great influence in shaping the development of French nationalism and arguably did much to stimulate nationalism elsewhere, whether by intention or not”.
The second wave of revolutions in 1848 was also a key event in this decade. French Nationalists believed that they should rule themselves instead of having a monarchy. They got their wish, albeit briefly. The monarchy was restored in 1852 by Napoleon III. Another major factor in the rise of Nationalism was a change in how people viewed themselves. Instead of thinking of themselves as being of a political persuasion, they thought of themselves as being of a certain race, religion or ethnicity.
The following quote illustrates how it was in Germany, where some were very adamant that it was who they were that being German is plainly and simply in their mind-set and culture. “Our fatherland is with us, in us. Germany lives in us. We enact it, whether we choose to do so or not, in every country we enter, in every zone. We stand upon it from the very beginning and cannot escape it. The mysterious something that informs the lowest among us precedes any form of government and animates and permeates its forms. ” Leopold von Ranke, 1836.
This quotation also illustrates quite clearly the opinion that it is this national identity that overrides any government that officially rules a ‘German’. In the case of Germany, it could be argued that the Constitution of the German Confederation was a cause of the rise of nationalism as that is exactly what it was designed to prevent. People felt the need to rebel against this as it was specifically drawn up to scupper their plans for one big Germany. It specified that there were 39 states and municipalities and each of these created their own laws, many of whom also wanted to prevent the spread of liberalism and nationalism. German’ Cultural Nationalists felt that unity was more important than individual rights and that what mattered was the preservation by the State of German identity and culture. Some of the nationalism displayed, however was rational rather than just because of what nationality people felt. ‘Germans’ felt that as a united Germany they would get a liberal constitution that would guarantee the rights of the citizens. Other nationalists looked at it from an economic point of view seeing that that unity would remove the trade barriers between states which would allow economic growth and prosperity in Germany.
Great emphasis was put on folklore, culture, myth, history and language. Legends were told about the race of the reader in an attempt to exclude other groups. Nationalism became more exclusive and right wing as a result. People got the idea that some races were genuinely superior to others and that they were above other people in the kingdom they currently found themselves in. Anti-sematic publications became more popular than they ever had before. Tying in with that, Nationalism was in a way a rejection of modernity as people were ssentially going back to their roots in order to be part of a nation where people are all the same or similar. It may have started off as being tied in with liberalism, but Nationalism was getting less and less so, and perhaps it became popular because of modernity, as it offered an alternative to that. Another reason why nationalism became a dominant force in Europe is that when ethnic groups got together, they made very strong countries that were European powers and very hard to stop.
This meant they were very likely to take over the land they wanted and due to their success spread nationalism spread nationalism further still. Smaller states would take on the larger nations but were no contest to them. In 1829 Greece earned its independence from the Ottoman Empire, and two years later Belgium became a separate entity to Holland. The importance of these two countries gaining independence cannot be underestimated as a confidence booster to other countries wishing to do the same. In 1830, however Poland had taken on Russia for independence and lost so this was a set-back for nationalist ideologists.
There can be no doubt that the achievements of Belgium and Greece inspired the later coups of the unification of Italy and Germany in 1861 and 1871 respectively. In Conclusion, I feel that the main reason for nationalism becoming a dominant force by the end of the 19th century was the precedent set in the French Revolution of 1789-1799. The overthrowing of the monarchy there paved the way for more the European Nation State as we know it today. France may not have stayed a republic for long on this particular occasion, but it set the tone for the next hundred years in both France and Europe as a whole.