The Development of Nationalism as a Cultural Identity, Political Ideology, and Governmental Reality in the Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth century became the time of great changes in the mentality of the European countries. During this time the main focus is put on the individual, who makes a central part of the society. At the same time relations between individual and nation also become an object of attention.  Different political systems, such as liberalism, which appeared during those times, proved and defended individual rights for self-governance. Changes in the attitude to the individuals finally resulted in the better level of life. Individuals got better economic conditions and political freedom. This finally resulted in the shift of the interest from an individual to the entire country. Now people wanted not only to improve their conditions of life, but also to make the life of the entire country better. This shift in attitude naturally led to the development of nationalism.

Nationalism is a phenomenon peculiar to the modern society. Process of nationalism formation took place during the development of European countries in the nineteenth century. National identity, formed in many European countries during that time resulted in the development of national consciousness and nationalism.

During those times national idea became that uniting force, which made people strive united by the common idea.

Different people from different countries felt the same need to take care not only about themselves but also about their countries. People from different countries became preoccupied by the national idea.

Nationalism, which emerged as a feeling of proud for the own country, gradually transformed to ethnocentrism. The term ethnocentrism has a lot of interpretations, but they can be reduced to one meaning and this meaning is looking down at people different from you and putting your ethnic group in the center of the universe.  In general, there is nothing bad in patriotism and good attitude to your motherland and people who inhabit it. These feelings are even laudable. Problems appear when this love to your country, people or social group is expressed by the prejudice of others. Unfortunately, distinction between true patriotism and ethnocentrism is very thin and poor consequences of the substitution of these notions we can see on the example of the Nazi terror. Ethnocentrism is a wrong way of thinking as it creates false assumptions about the superiority of one group above all the others.

Ethnocentrism leads to miscommunication, stereotypes’ appearance and these factors have a serious damage on cross-cultural communication.

Alexander Petofi, a Hungarian poet expressed his call in The National Song of Hungary:

RISE, Magyar! is the country’s call!

The time has come, say one and all:

Shall we be slaves, shall we be free?

This is the question, now agree! (Petofi).

There are a lot of factors which contributed to the development of national idea in Europein the 19th century.

Economic growth and search for political independence finally found realization in the attempts to make a national idea that stimulated the growth and development.

Competition among European countries resulted in the growth of nationalism.

During this time some nations are contrasted to others. Each European country becomes centered around the national idea and supremacy of one nation is proved through the criticizing of other nations. For example, Heinrich von Treitschke, a German historian states that: “The simple loyalty of the Germans contrasts remarkably with the lack of chivalry in the English character. This seems to be due to the fact that in England physical culture is sought, not in the exercise of noble arms, but in sports like boxing, swimming, and rowing” (von Treitschke). Remarks like this give an idea about the roots of German nationalism, which has changed world history forever.

He also underlines that wars have other meaning in the contemporary society in comparison to the function they possessed before. “What is at stake is the sublime moral good of national honor, which has something in the nature of unconditional sanctity, and compels the individual to sacrifice himself for it” (von Treitschke).

GermanyandItalybecame two countries, which had developed an extreme nationalism. With the flow of time national idea became the dominant one in these two countries.

There are several explanations of the extreme popularity of the national idea inGermany. Being surrounded by the strong countries,Germanywas weakened. National idea became that factor, which gave people hope to renew dignity.

Economic hardships, political problems and social problems made people believe that only strong nation can become that means that would help them to overcome all these difficulties.

Italians also placed their main focus on nationalism. People became centered on the national idea waiting Italyto become a leading European nation. During those times nationalism was not separated from individual existence.

This way Guiseppe Mazzini in his essay on the Duties of Man Addressed to the Workingmen states that “Before men can associate with the nations of which Humanity is composed, they must have a national existence. There is no true association except among equals. It is only through our country that we can have a recognized collective existence” (Mazzini, 1858).

Nationalism demanded great devotions to the needs of the state. This finally resulted in the governmental interference on the lives of people. Children and young adults became the object of propaganda. National idea, loyalty to nation and responsibility for country were taught at schools.

European nationalism has had also positive consequences for the lives of people. It helped to develop a sense of responsibility and individuality in people. This helped nations become strong and united, but at the same time it had negative consequences. After strengthening, these nations realized they needed more land and more power and now they felt strong enough to take this power by force. This way all European countries by the end of the 19th century had a strong desire to expand their territories making nation stronger. This task could be accomplished with the help of force and that is the reason European countries started growing military forces. Loyalty of people to national idea helped many nations to build strong and mighty military potential, which helped these nations to survive. This finally led to the confrontation between European nations, which resulted in the series of wars. Success of national idea could be explained by the balance between rights and liberties of the individuals, proclaimed as the biggest ideal during those times, and voluntary serving to the national interests. National idea was regarded as a means to survive during those times and people realized that. They regarded their loyalty and responsibility as a necessary input to the wellbeing of their nations. Strong nation was associated with strong individual during those times and search for this strength was reflected in the urge for the national idea in the 19th century.

Popular national revolutions in mid-nineteenth century mostly failed, while elite-led wars of national unification mostly succeeded.

A number of wars and revolutions of the middle of the 19the century, led by the elite of the different countries and based on the national idea led to major changes in the structure of the world. Greek war for independence of 1821-1827 years revolutions inFrance,PolandandItaly, decline of Australian empire and becoming ofGermany, which took place in 1830s were mostly directed by the politic and economic elite of the countries.  There are several possible explanations of the success of such kind of wars and revolutions. Growth of individual consciousness, which marked the beginning of the 19th century had major influence on the elite of the European countries. The changes of consciousness and mentality occurred starting from the higher classes of the society. That is the reason national idea became closer to the cultural, political and economic elite of the European countries.

Even united by the national idea, national revolutions had great accent on the economic factor of well-being for lower classes people. These ideas were not supported by the higher classes of the society.  That is one of the reason why popular national revolutions did not have such a great successes, as elite-led ones. Same national ideas expressed by the elite, appealed to both ”“ lower and higher classes of the society and naturally had greater success.

Funds and great financial opportunities of the elite also contributed to the popularity of elite wars and revolutions.

In addition to good financial opportunities, elite possessed psychological weapons of impact on ordinary people.

Great rhetoric appealed to ordinary people and made them to follow national leaders.

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