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Nationalism Formation In Europe From 1789 To 1933

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The time period of 1789 to 1933 contained significant developments in the formation of nations and how the individual citizens felt towards nationalism. Zimmer describes nationalism as, “an ideology or political religion, a political movement seeking state power, a cultural formation allowing industrial societies to function, a modern cognitive framework, a movement of cultural and historical revival, or a combination of these factors ”. The w¬ay these states nationalised had a big impact on how their citizens felt about it. For example, The French Revolution of 1789 sparked intense feelings of nationalism in the French people at the beginning of the time period. The German people, however, were very unnationalistic at this point in time and it took decades as well as the Napoleonic Empire for Germany to become more aroused to national consciousness . The main turning points of the time period are the rise of the intelligentsia across Europe in the 1830s and 40s and the expansion of state which emerged by 1918, including developments such as surveillance, conscription and taxation. Citizens understanding and feeling of this nationalism can also be clearly seen in European wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the Wars of German Unification.

At the beginning of the period feelings and understanding of nationalism were in its very early stages. Arguably non-existent in Germany, with the exception of proud Prussians but they were immune to any ideas of German unification. The German people in 1796 were happy not to be nationalised, satisfied with their safe and quiet life compared to the chaos and upheavals in the neighbouring country . Even French invasion inspired little patriotic resistance. It took Napoleon’s withdrawal from Germany in 1813 after his defeat by the Russians, Prussian, Austrians and Swedes for modern German nationalism to appear for the first time as a popular movement. In comparison, French patriotism can be seen to significantly increase immediately following the Revolution. Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand stated that, “The sentiments which overwhelmed me when we saw here suddenly the symbol of the happily won liberty, the French cockade on the hats and caps of all we encountered – burghers and farmers, old men and boys, priests and beggars – and the happy faces proud of their new superiority over other nations. ” Amongst the old European nations where there was no trigger event, like the French Revolution, formation of national identity and national consciousness was a slow and obscure process. The feeling and understanding individual citizens had in 1789 was that of brilliant histories they could be proud of, like the Italians, Germans, Greeks, Bohemians and Serbs . Poland was used as an example by many German intellectuals for why they needed unity, a once great nation carved up by its neighbours. The Polish people differed from the Germans at this time in that they wanted nationalism and independence, which they would achieve by 1918.

A clear time in the period that you can see the shift in feelings of nationalism and how it was commonly understood by individual citizens is the rise of the intelligentsia. This new social stratum can be seen clearly, in Russian and Ukrainian cases in the 1830s-40s, which originated mostly from local nobilities and Orthodox clergy. This new intellectual bourgeois class very quickly developed a strong social and national consciousness. The opening of new universities in the first decade of the 19th allowed large numbers of new graduates to join this group. Janowski identified the intelligentsia as intellectual servants to the modern State, to the degree that their state-service policies encouraged social reform and lessened political repression in partitioned Poland . The rise of the intelligentsia can be seen as a factor for the restoration of Polish independence in helping develop a desire for Polish nationalism and self-government. Ruling elites along with the intelligentsia also recognised the potential benefits of nationalism. They discerned that not yet nationalised peasant soldiers could help crush urban revolts and would do so more willingly if the city dwellers were alien in religion, lifestyle and tongue . After nationalism had awoke in the intelligentsia, the peasantry gradually but naturally occurred after, particularly with the help of the expansion of State.

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¬A major turning point across Europe in the development of a national consciousness and individual citizens feelings towards this was the expansion of state that had emerged by the beginning of the 20th century. This included surveillance, policing, passports, conscription, taxation and welfare. The Fiscal Military State of the 18th Century had developed into the Welfare State of the 20th and 21st. France is particularly relevant as a case-study for this as the Republicans sought to cultivate nationalist sentiment in order to further their political aims. After the Second Empire of Napoleon III failed it was replaced by the Third Republic. To cement their Republican vision for France they began to integrate the bulk of the masses into national life of the Republic through education and conscription . Schooling and literacy allowed the teaching of language, history, culture and religion, all of which greatly contributed to individual citizens feelings and knowledge of nationalism. As well as this the modernisation of the communications network and infrastructure such as canals, railways, electronic communication in France all brought a sense of national identity. Michael Billig’s concept of ‘banal nationalism’ was a factor, the everyday symbolism, material culture and language of the nation all were reinforced by the State . Urbanisation caused a common vocabulary, a nationalising language, to become mandatory. Statistics began to be collected and the collection often framed nations. Conscription brought together and mixed citizens from different French regions together, helping forge that collective identity and increasing patriotic feeling . F. Chr. Laukhard served in the Prussian and French army, he stated that, “Though the Prussian soldiers were better drilled, the French Republicans had a patriotic loyalty that explained their victories ”. Expansion of State can be demonstrated to develop nationalism in that a highly centralised French bureaucracy from the Napoleonic years left few powers outside of the control of the state . Meaning the French Republic could for the first time instil a sense of patriotism and nationalism in the bulk of French people, referred to by historical analysts as ‘Peasants into Frenchmen’. French nation-state was the product of centuries of state-building, with a gradual development of national consciousness .

By the end of the period nationalisation can be seen to have fully taken place. This amalgamation of nation-states that existed at the beginning of the period developed into what they are today. This nationalism and patriotism can be demonstrated in the individual responses to the wars of the beginning of the 20th century. World War One demonstrates national mobilisation and patriotism in fighting for your country. Britain used propaganda such as the famous Lord Kitchener, “Your Country Needs You”. The response to wars around this time can clearly demonstrate a positive understanding and feeling of nationalism by individual citizens.

In conclusion, there are clear changes in the feeling of nationalism understood by individual citizens between 1789 and 1933. Boundaries shifted, nation-states covered the map of Europe, new political languages of nationalism developed. At the beginning of the period nationalism as understood by citizens barely existed as we know it today. It mainly existed in the form of individual citizens remembering proud histories. Nationalism was something pushed by elites in order to further their own political agenda, this is what the French Republic were trying to achieve. Nationalism then developed with the rise of the intelligentsia, a new bourgeois class, who sought to define it and advocated for its effectiveness. Then with the expansion of the state with huge developments in areas such as education and infrastructure, the masses became nationalised. Patriotism and nationalism developed at different rates and in different countries but undeniably did change over the period, especially to the individual citizens.

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Nationalism Formation In Europe From 1789 To 1933. (2021, August 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from
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