World History: Rise of Nationalism

From 1815 till 1848, several revolutions erupted in Europe. The Congress of Vienna had tried to restore the monarchies and territories that existed before the French Revolution. But in reality, the three forces were scrambling for power in Europe as follows:

  • The Conservatives were in favour of protecting the traditional monarchies.
  • The Liberals were in favour of elected parliaments. However, they favoured that only those who are educated and hold property should be able to vote for election of the representatives.
  • The Radicals wanted to bring sea changes and establish democracy for one and all. They favoured the ideals of the French Revolution.

However, the emerging ideals of Nationalism blurred the lines of these three political theories.

The word Nationalism did not exist before the 1790s. It seems to have appeared first in the Abbe Barruel’s Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, published first in French in 1797 and later in English in 1798. The term has been subject to constant redefinitions.

Meaning of Nationalism

By Nationalism we mean that one’s greatest loyalty should not be to a King or Empire but a nation of people, who share common language, history, beliefs, goals etc. Thus, in nationalism, the loyalty to the nation-state surpasses other individual or group interests. When a nation has its own independent government, it becomes a nation state.

Nationalism is a modern movement. In most part of our history, the people have been attached to their native soil and territories, but it was only by the mid of the 18th century that the nationalism was generally recognized as a one’s sentiments in public and private life.

The first powerful manifestations of Nationalism were the American War of Independence and French Revolution. The 19th century is called the age of nationalism in Europe, while the 20th century saw the rise of national movements through out in Asia and Africa.

However, there are evidences of national feeling among certain groups at certain periods even before these two revolutions. One of the earliest manifestations of Nationalism occurred in 17th-century England, in the Puritan revolution (English Civil War) whereby, nationalism, as an idea and a force, emerged alongside doctrines of popular sovereignty. However, some scholars debate this and prefer to use the term Patriotism to Nationalism. The scholar agrees that there was a gradual recession of the religious character of the national idea and assertion of more self-consciously secular and democratic nationalism.

Prior to the rise of Nationalism, people did not give their loyalty to the nation-state but to different kinds of political organizations such as city state, feudal fiefs or its lord, royal dynasties, religious groups etc. For the greater part of the history, nation-state was non-existent. Nationalism is considered to be one of the most determining factors of the modern history.

Liberalism and its links to Nationalism

Liberalism is the political philosophy based upon the ideals of liberty and equality. It rejects the hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings, while it supports ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, private property and so on.

In other words, Liberalism is the set of beliefs that emphasise the rights of individuals to have some say in the government. This involves ideas of basic freedoms of speech, of religion, and of citizens being allowed to carry on their lives and businesses without interference from government.

John Locke is credited with founding the Liberalism as a distinct philosophy. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property and according to the social contract; governments must not violate these rights.

Philosophy of the Liberalists

Liberalism was used to justify the French revolution and other revolutions of the 18th century. The ideals of Liberalism were a curse for the conservatives, because these ideals seem to be synonymous with the revolution. The Liberalists of the 18th century did all that could be done to undermine the prerogatives of the monarchy, the aristocracy and the church. The also promoted Constitutionalism (The idea that government must be limited to specific powers by a written constitution is called Constitutionalism) and Republicanism (They also wanted representative, or parliamentarian, government; in that sense liberalism became synonymous with republicanism).

They demanded for a constitutional monarchy as a first step toward a more a more satisfactory regime. Liberals also called for a separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. They proclaimed the sanctity of the individual and promoted the protection of individual rights including property rights and personal freedoms.

At the same time, they also had a belief that the right to vote should be restricted by property qualifications, limited to landowners and well-to-do businessmen and professionals. Liberalism thus became identified with the middle or upper classes, convincing the lower classes that it had little to offer.

The Link between Nationalism, Liberalism and concept of Liberal Nationalism

Nationalism and liberalism are sometimes thought of as synonymous because both emphasise on freedom and self-government. The line between the two is blurred but there is a difference.

The classical Liberalism seeks to support the rights of individuals within and sometimes also against the nation state. Nationalism, on the other hand would willingly accept to surrender some of the individual rights in the interest of the nation and common good. For example, in the state of certain threat or aggression, the Nationalists would sacrifice some of the individual rights in the interest of all to overcome that immediate threat.

However, it does not mean that Liberalism sees the individuals in isolation. Individuals need to interact and this is how the society works. A viable nation-state would require social cohesion and that rests upon communal and patriotic i.e. national ‘unity’. This leads us to combine the Nationalism and Liberalism to another concept called Liberal nationalism or Civic Nationalism.

The ideals of Liberal Nationalism are compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights but not compatible with the Ethnic Nationalism, whereby the nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry.

The philosophy of the Liberal Nationalism is that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polity’s need national identity in order to function properly.

The Impact of Nationalism on political landscape of Europe in 19th century

Due to the rise of the Nationalism Movement, a strong resentment to 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 revolts. Nationalism came to be seen as the most effective way to create the symbols of resistance and to unite in a common cause.

First national revolution was in Serbia (1804–1817) which created the first nation-state in Central Europe. Success came in Greece where an eight-year war (1821–1829) against Ottoman rule led to an independent Greek state.

After the Napoleonic wars, the Vienna Congress was had carefully crafted the restoration of the powers of the Royal families. But this return to the old order proved to be temporary in the tide of the nationalism. By 1830s, the edifice of Congress of Vienna started breaking down. The Liberals and nationalists throughout Europe started launching open revolts against conservative governments. In most of these revolts, the liberal middle class led the struggle for constitutional government and the formation of nation-states.

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.

Nationalism as a force for disunity as well as unity

The Nationalist Movement of the 19th century threatened and eventually toppled the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hapsburgs, the Russian Empire of the Romanovs, and the Ottoman Empire of the Turks. All of these were vast conglomerations of the ethnic groups, and the fate of the territories was decided periodically by the victories or defeats in war and on royal marriages. Thus, the nationalistic movements could tear apart the long established empires.

The conservatives look at nationalism as a dividing force and contended that if there was a separate nation state for each ethnic group, the empires would split and disappear. But at the same time, Nationalism was a great force for unity also. This was first seen in the nationalistic spirited Napoleonic army which was able to defeat other armies of Europe. Several nation states were built by unification of small parts in the tide of nationalism. The best examples are Germany and Italy. In conclusion, the nationalism gave rise to the nation-state which is basic to modern polity.