World History 2 107 - 7.4.1 Nationalism

The turbulence of the revolutionary era started to wane, and a sense of shared goals and values grew to shape people’s perceptions of national identity. As a consequence of the French Revolution and the revolutionaries’ subsequent wars against neighboring monarchies they saw as hostile to their new republic, the novel idea of a nation began to provide a sense of belonging and community. It replaced the older ideas of dynasty and city-state and became the primary focus of individuals’ political allegiance. By using fear of foreign attacks as a means to gather support for the government and raise an army that represented the interests of the people rather than the monarch, French revolutionaries had inspired loyalty to the state, which also represented the people. In some cases, Great Britain, for example, the nation coexisted with a traditional monarchy. In others, like Haiti, France, and the United States, the old order was completely replaced, and a brand-new political system and cultural landscape emerged in its stead.

A radical political ideology that promotes the interests of the nation over international concerns, nationalism advocates the uniqueness and inherent superiority of an individual’s own country and the right to self-determination and political autonomy. While this ideology can foster domestic stability by generating unity and loyalty from within, it can also generate hostility toward outsiders and marginalize minority communities. Although nationalism was a powerful force in Europe throughout the nineteenth century, it was by no means limited to the continent and came to play a powerful role in the modern development of countries such as Egypt and Japan.

As fledgling nations began to materialize in the nineteenth century, many used language, ethnicity, religion, a sense of shared origin, or some combination of these as a foundation of national identity. Often, a group of people who share a national identity based on ethnicity, language, or religion also live in the same state, a political unit that occupies a given territory with defined borders and imposes laws on its residents, and govern themselves. This was the goal for which nationalists strive.

At times, though, people who share a national identity (or “nationality”) may be scattered across a variety of different states. For example, in Europe in the nineteenth century, people who were ethnically German and spoke the German language lived in many different kingdoms, principalities, and other political units. In such a case, nationalists seek to unify all those with the same national identity in the same state, so that all live under the same government, which members of that nationality control, within the same territorial borders.

At other times, people who share a national identity may live in a state governed by people of a different nationality. Jews, for example, share a Jewish identity but, except for those who live in Israel (a state that was founded only in 1948), Jews live in states dominated by people of other nationalities. In such cases, nationalists may advocate that a separate state be formed by members of the minority nationality, so that they may live and govern themselves without the interference of other, sometimes hostile, groups. In the nineteenth century, a Jewish movement called Zionism formed to advocate for the establishment of a separate state for Jews.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Italy and Germany were among the nations that most fully embraced these means of reinforcing their political sovereignty and bolstering resistance to the threat of tyranny. Narratives of national dominance and righteousness were perpetuated in schools, the military, and the bureaucracy. This sense of shared identity and heritage laid the groundwork for the nationalism that ultimately led to the unification of Italy and of Germany over the course of the nineteenth century.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Italy was a loose coalition of states under the control of the Austrian Empire and the Catholic Church. Although the states all had different cultural traditions, political systems, and dialects, the growing influence of nationalism and a desire for greater freedom and relief from authoritarian rule led to many uprisings and rebellions against traditional monarchies and foreign powers across the Italian peninsula. The ideals of equality and patriotism that spread across Europe in the nineteenth century fostered a growing sense of common goals and collective aspirations in the Italian states.

After founding an organization known as Young Italy in 1831, Giuseppe Mazzini began promoting a sense of shared Italian identity and encouraged his supporters to dedicate their lives to their nation. Mazzini hoped a new republic would be the means of throwing off the tyranny of foreign monarchs and the authority of the pope. Nationalist ideology was considered so radical at the time, however, that he was eventually arrested and exiled for political subversion.

After Mazzini’s arrest, the soldier and patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi continued to build momentum for a unified Italian state. However, after participating in a failed insurrection in Piedmont, he fled the country. Garibaldi’s military experience and training in guerrilla warfare during his self-imposed exile in Latin America enabled him to lead his troops to victory in revolutionary campaigns in 1848–1849. Initiated by these Italian nationalists who sought to eliminate Austrian control, the unification cause received powerful support from King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia and his prime minister Count Camillo di Cavour. Revolutionary struggles culminated in Garibaldi’s declaring Victor Emmanuel II king of the unified kingdom of Italy in 1861. The unification, also known as the Risorgimento, thus occurred under a monarchical system of government. It was completed when Rome was annexed in 1870 (Figure 7.15).

This map shows Italy bordering on the Mediterranean Sea to the southwest, the Adriatic Sea to the east, Austria to the northeast, Switzerland directly north, and France to the northwest. Italy is divided into sixteen smaller territories.
Figure 7.15 This map printed in 1894 depicts the Kingdom of Italy after unification but before the addition of the northern regions of Valle d’Aosta, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Trentino-Alto Adige, three of the twenty regions that form the Italian Republic of today. (credit: “1894 Map of Italy” by Hathi Trust Digital Library/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Link to Learning

Through the art of the Risorgimento at Fondazione Cariplo, a rich record of Italian unification is seen through the eyes of the era’s artists. Detailed images and rich commentary are presented that draw connections between shifting political contexts and genres of painting in nineteenth-century Italy.

In predominantly German-speaking lands, an alliance of thirty-nine sovereign states known as the Germanic Confederation emerged as a replacement for the former Holy Roman Empire in 1815. Because each of the member states retained political autonomy, the Germanic Confederation lacked executive power or centralized authority. The main goal of the Confederation, however, was not to replace the governmental powers of its member states but rather to create a unified defense against France and Russia. Although it eventually succumbed to the Austrian Empire in 1866, the Confederation laid the groundwork for the nationalism that inspired German unification in 1871 and the creation of the modern nation-state of Germany.

As Germany moved toward political unification in the middle of the nineteenth century, it sought to remove foreign political influence and solidify the cultural and linguistic unity that expanded the momentum of the Germanic Confederation. In 1848, the Frankfurt Assembly, the first freely elected German parliament, attempted to draft a constitution to unite Germany as an empire headed by a centralized emperor. The attempt failed, however, when it was rejected by the aristocracy, the military, and King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who refused to accept that a monarch’s divine authority could be granted by an elected assembly. After the failure of the Frankfurt Assembly, momentum for German unification resumed with the mounting success of the Zollverein, a customs union formed by Prussia in 1834. By 1854, nearly all German states had joined the union, which continued to build the wealth and prosperity of its member states. However, the pace of unification stalled when the new king, William I of Prussia, sought to double the size of his army, and middle-class liberals opposed compulsory military service. Frustrated by this stalemate, William appointed a highly conservative prime minister, Count Otto von Bismarck, in 1862.

Whereas Mazzini’s initial movement in Italy had emphasized national unity as a means of promoting popular sovereignty, Bismarck’s ambitions focused primarily on fortifying the strength and interests of Protestant Prussia. Despite opposition from middle-class liberals and Parliament, Bismarck prioritized military spending and focused on building a powerful state. After initiating a series of decisive wars with Austria, Denmark, and France to expand German power, he excluded Catholic Austria from German affairs and acquired the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein from Denmark, as well as the German-speaking territories of Alsace and Lorraine from France. This series of victories reinvigorated the cause of unification through the triumph of militarism and authoritarianism. Bismarck’s efforts culminated in the formation of a unified Germany, and on January 18, 1871, he was appointed Imperial Chancellor of the German Empire (Figure 7.16).

This map, titled “Unified Germany in 1871,” shows where Germany is located on a map of north central Europe.
Figure 7.16 This map depicts the unified German nation in 1871 and the patchwork of previously autonomous states that merged under the principles of nationalism to form a single country. (credit: modification of work “Map of the German Empire (1871-1918)” by “Mnmazur”/“MaggotMaster”/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

As the ideology of nationalism continued to gain momentum in the nineteenth century, patriotism also garnered increased support across the European continent. Although the two share some commonalities, they represent differing ideological perspectives. Rooted in ancient Greek and Roman conceptions of loyalty to a city or community, patriotism implies a sense of civic spirit. In the Enlightenment, especially in the work of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it eventually evolved into the idea of love for the nation. Unlike nationalism, patriotism does not entail asserting the superiority of one nation over others.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax