The Making of Nationalism in Europe

In the mid-eighteenth century, there was no feeling of nationalism in Europe. As the sense of nationalism emerges within a nation-state, there was no nation-state either.

The kingdoms did not represent a particular ethnic group, language, culture or any collective identity.

Phases of the Growth of Nationalism

Aristocracy and the New Middle Class:

  • Medieval European society was a feudal society. The society was divided into aristocrats and serfs.
  • The aristocrats owned estates in countryside. They were rich and powerful.
  • The aristocrats were a small group in the society and the serfs or the peasants were the majority. And this majority of serfs, tenants and peasants worked in the lands owned by the minority aristocrats.
  • But when industrialization took place in the society, the feudal system declined and new groups in society emerged: working class, businessmen, industrialists and professionals.
  • These educated liberal middle class abolished aristocratic privileges and formed ideas of national unity.
Depiction of Serfdom (source: Wikipedia)
Depiction of Serfdom (source: Wikipedia)

Liberal Nationalism:

  • Liberal nationalism is a political idea that supports the formation of a liberal democratic nation-state where people having a collective identity unite into a nation and ruled by a democratically elected government working by a constitution.
  • Individual freedom, rule of law and right to own property are essential elements of liberalism.
  • However, men without property and women couldn’t take part in the elections of the government. The Napoleonic Code also deprived women of their political rights.
  • It led to the rise of social movements by women and non-propertied man in 19th century demanding universal suffrages.
  • In economic terms, liberalism supported free markets and movements of goods and capital across regions.
  • The middle class demanded freedom to do business and own capital and suggested creation of a unified economic territory as different currencies, tariff and duties hampered economic exchanges.

New Conservatism after 1815:

  • After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the monarchies that were overthrown by him was restored. This was the return of Conservatism that supported for again an autocratic and monarchic rule.
  • In 1815, Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria signed Treaty of Vienna.
  • Bourbon Dynasty was restored. France lost territories that Napoleon annexed and signatories of Vienna Treaty set up series of states to encircle France.
  • Kingdom of Netherlands was again set up. the intention was to restore the monarchy and conservatism in Europe again.
  • These regimes did not support criticism. They applied Censorship laws to curb freedom of speech. No one could question the legitimacy of monarchy.
  • The liberal ideas survived. There was continuous demand for freedom of press.
Depiction of Treaty of Vienna(
Depiction of Treaty of Vienna(

The Revolutionaries:

  • The return of Conservatism in Europe forced the liberals to go underground and form secret societies. The conservatives called them revolutionaries who opposed monarchy and supported liberty.
  • Italy’s Giuseppe Mazzini was one of them. Giuseppe Mazzini was a member of secret society of Carbonari.
  • Later, he founded Young Italy in Marseilles and Young Europe in Berne with like-minded liberals from Germany, Poland, Italy and France.
  • Mazzini believed nations to be natural units of mankind. Therefore, Italy should be a single unified republic within a wider alliance of nations.
  • Inspired by him, secret societies emerged across Europe. Mazzini’s opposition threatened the conservative in Europe.
Giuseppe Mazzini
Giuseppe Mazzini
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