Nationalism for AP World History
About the Author: Ryan Abbott has been an AP European History teacher since 2000 and has taught AP World History since 2006, and he currently teaches both subjects at Cosby High School near Richmond, Virginia. He has been an AP World History Reader since 2009, scoring both the DBQ and the LEQ essays on the AP exam, and he has participated in a College Board on rubric accuracy.
In other words- Mr. Abbott grades the essays you will write for the AP Euro exam.
Nationalism is a term that refers to the loyalty that people feel to a nation, which is a group of people who have a set of common cultural bonds, like language or traditions. Nationalism has often been used as a synonym for patriotism, which is devotion to a country.
Nationalistic pride can be geared more towards a particular geographic region, based on cultural characteristics, than the nation as a whole.
Unlike patriotism, nationalistic pride can be geared more towards a particular geographic region, based on cultural characteristics, than the nation as a whole. For instance, many Scots have felt a greater connection to Scotland than to Great Britain, the country that includes Scotland. Moreover, people in a multinational empire, a type of country with more than one cultural group, could feel pride in their specific cultural group (as Hungarians, for instance) without feeling pride in their country (the German-dominated Austrian Empire).
Roots of Nationalism
During the early Middle Ages, a series of invasions and migrations had fragmented European countries culturally. As European countries developed, their populations remained culturally diverse, speaking different language dialects and following local traditions undermined the use of culture as a unifying bond. For instance, dozens of dialects of French were spoken in late medieval France, and food and drink could vary from village to village. To unify people divided in this way, European rulers relied on bonds that existed throughout the country, such as devotion to Catholic Christianity and loyalty to a monarch.
To unify people, European rulers relied on bonds that existed throughout the country, such as devotion to Catholic Christianity and loyalty to a monarch.
The initial development of nationalism began in the 1300’s in Europe. During this time, European armies were transitioning to permanent, professional armies that had to be paid and equipped, increasingly with expensive gunpowder weapons, by the state. Wars like the Hundred Years’ War involved the transition to these more costly armies, which led the countries involved in that conflict, England and France, to call upon their populations to support the war both financially and as soldiers.
To encourage participation by their populaces in the military, the English and French governments employed propaganda to demonize their opponent.
To encourage participation by their populaces, the English and French governments employed propaganda to demonize their opponent. For France and England, still culturally diverse countries, the war created a common bond: defense of the country against an outsider with different customs and different languages. This consciousness of differences from an “outsider” gave nationalism its start and enabled England and France to begin to develop a sense of cultural unity earlier than most European countries.
The Printing Press
Shortly after the Hundred Years’ War, the invention of the movable type printing press played a critical role in the development of nationalism. Late medieval writers, like Chaucer and Dante, had increasingly written in the vernacular, the language spoken in their regions, instead of writing in Latin. With the invention of the printing press, the availability of works written in the vernacular exploded. The use of the vernacular by artists like William Shakespeare systematized languages like English and caused particular dialects of a language to prevail over the others, producing a single, national language.
With the invention of the printing press, the availability of works written in the vernacular exploded
The early development of nationalism in Europe was aided by the weakening of other institutions that had traditionally provided unity to a country, such as the Christian Church.
The early development of nationalism in Europe was aided by the weakening of other institutions that had traditionally provided unity to a country, such as the Christian Church. The Catholic Church lost authority in much of Europe during the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars that followed. As the influence and social participation of the Catholic Church waned, the political, social, and economic gap began to be filled first by the local churches, as well as local and state municipalities.
This splintering of cultural and society drew people away from the Catholic Church and towards more local, or national, affiliations.
This splintering of cultural and society drew people away from the Catholic Church and towards more local, or national, affiliations. The Habsburg family and their allies in the Catholic Church had dreamed of a “universal Christian Kingdom,” but the hopes of reuniting most of Europe under Catholic Christianity ended for good with the Habsburg defeat in the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.
In addition, European monarchs attempted to use loyalty to the monarchy as a common bond for their subjects, as Louis XIV of France did in presenting himself as the “Sun King,” the guiding light of the French country. This source of unity was weakened during the eighteenth century, as the European Enlightenment challenged this central position of the monarchy through social contract theory, the belief that the state’s power came from the people, not from God or another traditional source.
If the people were the source of authority, it followed that the government of the country should represent and protect the people. This sentiment led to growing discontent with absolutist governments throughout Europe.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution of 1789 was a decisive event in the development of nationalism.
The French Revolution of 1789 was a decisive event in the development of nationalism. The French struck a blow against the absolute rule of the king of France, now Louis XVI, when they stormed the Bastille, a fortress that historically served as a political prison. The influence of the writings of Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau, who emphasized that policies should represent the “General Will,” or the will of the population as a whole, encouraged the French to see governments that did not account for the will of the people, like absolutism, as oppressive.
The revolutionary governments established after 1789, on the other hand, justified their authority be claiming to represent the General Will. Consequently, the French during the Revolution saw themselves as “brothers” united against the oppression of absolutism.
As the revolution in France became more opposed to institutions like the monarchy and the Catholic Church, foreign opposition to the radical nature of the revolution intensified, leading to war between the Austrians and Prussians and the French. France’s existing professional army had been weakened by the emigration of nobles who feared the revolution, and, when the Prussians invaded, the National Convention, then the governing body of France, decreed the levée en masse, which called on all of the French to contribute to the war effort in whatever way they were able in order to defend the nation. These armies harnessed French patriotism, leading to the French victory over invading armies and then the invasion by France of bordering countries.
Observers throughout Europe noted how the French armies used nationalism as a source of strength, particularly Napoleon.
Observers throughout Europe noted how the French armies used nationalism as a source of strength, particularly when Napoleon, after seizing power in 1799, used those armies to develop a continental empire. Napoleon claimed that he was the champion of the Enlightenment, born to fulfill the promises of Enlightenment theorists. While the revolutionary governments of France from 1789-1799 had failed to address the economic problems faced by the lower classes in France or to permanently codify the abolition of feudalism, Napoleon successfully instituted the necessary economic and legal reforms, making him a hero to most of the French.
Inadvertently, Napoleon’s conquests led to the growth of nationalism outside of France.
Claiming that he was exporting the ideals of the French Revolution, Napoleon fought successful wars across Europe. Inadvertently, Napoleon’s conquests led to the growth of nationalism outside of France. In Spain, for instance, Napoleon deposed the Spanish monarch and installed his brother Joseph as king, a move that sparked widespread Spanish uprisings. Spanish resistance to the French served as a common bond, strengthening Spanish nationalism. German and Italian nationalism were similarly strengthened by Napoleon’s imperial policies.
The leaders of the “Great Powers” were conservative, and their philosophy favored preserving the existing institutions and values.
Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 following his failed invasion of Russia led the European “Great Powers,” Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia (minus France, the defeated power), to meet at the Congress of Vienna to restore peace. The leaders of these countries were conservative, and their philosophy favored preserving the existing institutions and values. In the early 19th century, those institutions included strong monarchies in most countries, dominated by wealthy landowners. The Habsburgs of the Austrian Empire and the Russian
Romanovs valued the stability of monarchical tradition over the Enlightenment idea of rights, which they feared would divide communities into individuals who selfishly valued personal rights over the good of the community.
Moreover, the governments of Revolutionary France and under Napoleon had claimed that the state must protect the rights of all of the people of the nation, and in their efforts to create such nationalistic governments, they had completely abolished existing political institutions like the monarchy and the Estates General, creating new institutions in their place.
Conservative politicians blamed France’s “revolutionary” nationalism for the violence of the French Revolution and the chaos of the Napoleonic Wars. By restoring monarchies to power in countries like Spain and France and by determining that the Great Powers should act together in a Concert of Europe to repress revolutions, the leaders of the Great Powers hoped to halt the growth of nationalism.
However, in 1815, most national minorities living within European empires were too weak and disorganized to carry out the nationalist revolutions feared by the politicians at the Congress of Vienna. The French success came in part from the fact that their recent history of political triumphs under Louis XIV and Napoleon and the achievements of French thinkers during the Enlightenment gave them much to be proud of.
The Italian states, on the other hand, had no recent history of political success or of cultural leadership, and the Austrian politician Klemens von Metternich dismissed the concept of a single “Italy” as “only a geographical expression.” Most other national minorities similarly lacked the knowledge of the political and cultural achievements of their people through which pride in the nation could be based. Before nationalities could be united enough to exercise significant power, their nationalism had to be formulated, and the defining cultural and historical achievements of each nation had to be clearly identified.
Romanticism and Nationalism
By the early 1800’s, an intellectual and artistic movement, Romanticism, played a key role in the formulation of nationalism. Romanticism first developed in response to the 18th century Enlightenment, with Romantics rejecting the Enlightenment notion that the human ability to reason was the only way to truly understand the world. Romantics argued that nature, for example, was beautiful but wild, and a person viewing an impressive natural feature would appreciate it more by reflecting on their emotional response to the feature than by trying to understand it through reason.
In works of literature, art, and music, Romantics stressed freedom and the national achievements of the past to evoke emotional responses. Romantics reimagined historical achievements as nationalist triumphs, with the Germans, for instance, reinterpreting Prussia’s victory in the 18th century Seven Years’ War as a German war to protect the homeland from the French and Russian invaders. Italians took pride in the formation of the Roman Empire, although that early empire had been formed by people who were culturally very different from 19th century Italians.
Romantics also developed the philosophical justification for nationalism.
Romantics also developed the philosophical justification for nationalism. Thinkers like the German Johann Gottfried von Herder argued that each nation had a unique identity and genius, distinguishing it from other nations. Once nations like Germany defined this “genius,” Herder claimed, they would see that their achievements were not only as great as France’s, they were a better fit for the German people than the ideas of, say, Rousseau and Voltaire. Herder criticized those who emphasized local identity (as Prussians, for instance) over national identity (as Germans) as undermining this quest to understand the true German spirit.
Over the following decades, Romantic painters, musicians, and writers popularized national folk tales and histories, encouraging people to take pride in being Polish or Italian or German.
Over the following decades, Romantic painters, musicians, and writers popularized national folk tales and histories, encouraging people to take pride in being Polish or Italian or German. Romantics like Alexander Pushkin of Russia used the vernacular in their works, establishing or reinforcing the use of spoken languages like Russian as literary languages, which strengthened national identity.
Therefore, in spite of the efforts of the leaders of the Great Powers after the Congress of Vienna, nationalist bonds were strengthened
Therefore, in spite of the efforts of the leaders of the Great Powers after the Congress of Vienna, nationalist bonds were strengthened, usually first through a focus on identifying elements of national culture that people could be proud of. In both 1830 and 1848, this stronger source of national pride would trigger nationalist uprisings across Europe.
The Mini Revolutions of Europe
In 1830, attempts by French King Charles X to restrict the right to vote for the French national legislature led to a moderate revolution that brought new a monarch, Louis Philippe, to the throne. Louis Philippe quickly restored the constitutional rights that had been stripped by Charles, essentially preserving the status quo. During the earlier French Revolution of 1789, the French had attempted to export revolutionary ideals like equality before the law, and this created the expectation in 1830 that the French would aid revolutionaries throughout Europe. Consequently, revolutionaries in Belgium, Italy, and Poland sought increased self-rule or independence from governments dominated by other nationalities, often hoping for French aid that would not materialize.
Nationalists in predominantly Catholic, French-speaking Belgium fought for, and gained, independence from the Calvinist, Dutch-speaking Netherlands. The Poles, in 1830 ruled by the Russian Tsar, attempted to create a Polish state, but Russian troops crushed the revolution in Poland, killing so many that the Russian tsar described Poland as a “land of graves and crosses.” Austria, which controlled much Italian territory, used its superior military to defeat an Italian movement to unify the northern Italian states.
By 1848, nationalist revolutionaries and reformers were further inspired by economic problems. Europe was going through the Industrial Revolution, a time when machine production in factories was replacing home production. Workers frequently labored 12 to 14 hours a day in unsafe conditions for low wages, and a severe food shortage in the 1840’s pushed the price of food beyond what many workers could afford. Governments did little to help, and the economic problems strengthened the nationalist desire to form governments that represented all people of the nation.
The 1848 Revolutions started again in France, when Louis Philippe, once considered a moderate, refused to extend the right to vote to members of the lower middle class and attempted to suppress protests demanding more rights.
The 1848 Revolutions started again in France, when Louis Philippe, once considered a moderate, refused to extend the right to vote to members of the lower middle class and attempted to suppress protests demanding more rights. Revolution broke out in Paris, and after the revolutionaries forced Louis Philippe to abdicate, they declared France to be a republic, granting universal male suffrage.
France once again served as the inspiration to revolutionaries throughout Europe, leading to uprisings in the German states, the Italian states, and throughout the Austrian Empire.
In German states ranging from Saxony to Prussia, nationalists rebelled against their rulers, hoping to unify the many different German states.
In German states ranging from Saxony to Prussia, nationalists rebelled against their rulers, hoping to unify the many different German states. Prussia and Austria were the most powerful of the German countries, and nationalists had to decide whether the new German country would have Prussia as its leader or Austria. After long debate, the nationalists decided to exclude Austria because of numerous non-German Slavs and Hungarians living in the Austrian Empire. They offered the crown of a united Germany to the king of Prussia, who turned it down, saying that he would not “stoop to pick up the crown from the gutter” by accepting it from a revolutionary assembly.
The Prussian king then attempted to unify the country under his own authority in 1849, but by this time, the conservative rulers of Europe had reasserted control over their militaries, and the Russians sent troops in support of Austria, putting an end to the unification movement at this time.
In the Austrian Empire, Hungarian, Slavic, and Italian nationalists all rebelled against the Austrian monarchy.
In the Austrian Empire, Hungarian, Slavic, and Italian nationalists all rebelled against the Austrian monarchy. Hungarian nationalists, led by Lajos Kossuth, resented the power of the Germans over Austrian policies and wanted autonomy, or self rule, for Hungary. Like the Hungarians, Slavic nationalists disliked the German influence in the empire and debated whether to seek greater independence under “pan-Slavism,” a form of nationalism that united Slavic people in Eastern Europe, or under the more localized Czech or Serbian nationalism. Italian nationalists once again wanted to force Austria out of Italian territory and unite the Italian states into a country of Italy. For about half a year, the Austrian leadership stalled and compromised, using the time to build up military support and to appeal for Russian aid as part of the Concert of Europe. During the summer the military struck, defeating the nationalist forces. By the spring of 1849, the revolutions had been crushed.
The Enduring Failure of Nationalist Revolutions
In spite of the ultimate failures of many of the revolutions, the nationalist movements had very nearly succeeded. This caused a number of conservatives to reevaluate nationalism, with some understanding that nationalism could be used to reinforce cultural traditions.
Conservatives saw how the building frustration of failed revolutions had created a greater sense of determination among nationalists
Furthermore, conservatives saw how the building frustration of failed revolutions had created a greater sense of determination among nationalists, a greater willingness to use violence to accomplish nationalist aims. Even more than before 1848, radical nationalists aimed to remake all of society, sweeping away existing political institutions. Rather than running the risk of such a revolution yet again, conservatives harnessed nationalism in order to accomplish conservative aims.
In Italy and Germany, conservative politicians emerged as the champions of nationalist unification movements. Otto von Bismarck of Prussia and Camillo de Cavour of Piedmont-Sardinia in Italy adopted the philosophy of Realpolitik, the belief that political problems should be diagnosed practically and workable, “realistic” solutions devised.
These politicians believed that standing in the way of nationalist forces that were bound to succeed at some point was impractical and idealistic. Both Bismarck and Cavour worked to exploit and manipulate nationalism in such a way that nationalism would strengthen their respective states and produce a unified state governed by a monarchy rather than a republic.
Bismarck’s policies illustrate these trends. In the early 1860’s, Bismarck was appointed Prime Minister of Prussia. During this time, nationalism was still associated with “radical” republican government; most nationalists believed that nationalism necessitated a government that represented the people of the nation. As Prime Minister, Bismarck at first pursued an anti-parliamentary agenda that made him the last politician Europeans expected to embrace nationalism, a force still associated with “revolution” and democracy.
By 1866 this had changed, as Bismarck used the German nationalist movement to strengthen Prussia’s international position and to quiet critics at home by drawing Austria into a war, in part to gain the support of anti-Austrian nationalists in the north. Bismarck capitalized on Prussia’s stunning and complete victory in the war to unite the Northern German states. Now the hero of German nationalism, Bismarck next used a dispute over the Spanish throne to instigate a conflict with France, the Franco-Prussian War.
Unification between northern and southern Germany had been slowed by cultural differences, with Protestant Christianity more prevalent in the north and Catholicism dominating in the south. But centuries of French aggression against the German states had led virtually all Germans, Bismarck knew, to view France as the greatest enemy of the Germans. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, the German states united against France, and, out of the German triumph in 1871, the German Empire was created.
A Turning Point in Nationalism
The unification of Italy and Germany represented a turning point in the development of nationalism. These new countries joined most of the existing European countries as nation-states, countries with governments strengthened by the bonds of the nation. Germany in particular emerged as one of the most powerful nation-states, unbalancing the Congress of Vienna’s balance of power.
This lack of a balance enhanced the political and economic competition between the Great Powers. In such an atmosphere, the governments of nation-states sought to foster an even stronger sense of national loyalty by emphasizing the cultural superiority of the nation, in part through policies like universal education.
This sense that the nation was superior to others was intensified by a second wave of empire-building, with European states taking direct or indirect control of large parts of Africa and Asia in an age of imperialism that lasted until 1914.
This sense that the nation was superior to others was intensified by a second wave of empire-building, with European states taking direct or indirect control of large parts of Africa and Asia in an age of imperialism that lasted until 1914. This expansion was justified by claims that Europeans were racially and culturally superior to other groups; racial theory held that race and culture went hand-in-hand, that the so-called “superior races” were more culturally innovative. As a result, nationalism was transformed from pride in a group’s culture to a sense that the nation was better than other nations of people, a superiority which could be proven, many Europeans believed, through war.
Ultimately, this form of nationalism was largely responsible for two World Wars as well as the Holocaust. In early twentieth century Eastern Europe, Serbians felt frustrated by their inability to use conventional military strength against Austria to unite all Serbs in a Serbian country.
Serbian nationalists were therefore more likely than ever before to turn to terrorism, as the Black Hand, a Serbian nationalist organization, did in assassinating Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Hungary, in 1914. This event was used as a pretense by leaders such as Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II of Russia to carry out nationalist agendas at the expense of neighboring countries, escalating a local conflict into a World War.
In Europe today, nationalism remains a source of conflict, although the antagonistic nationalism of the first half of the twentieth century has been greatly diminished. In recent years nationalist separatist groups have gained strength and sought separation from a larger country, similar to the earlier Slavic nationalists who wished to break away from the Austrian Empire.
In Spain, people in Catalan, a linguistically different part of the country, have called for referendum to decide if the region should secede from Spain. On the other hand, Post-World War II cooperation between European states has had a positive effect on nationalism. The formation of the European Economic Community (now the European Union) promoted a level of economic cooperation between European states that virtually eliminated nationalist tensions between France and Germany.
Nationalism, then, refers to the pride that people have in their cultural group, a group that could be defined through ethnicity, language, or a belief system. It emerged as a powerful force for change in Europe by the late eighteenth century. Around 1800, nationalism had already strengthened countries with populations united by a common language and tradition, like France. But for those nationalities that were governed by multinational empires or those whose states did not govern all people in the nation, nationalism led to revolutions and wars.
By the late 19th century, European expansion and new policies within Europe had produced a more antagonistic form of nationalism that was increasingly associated with a sense of cultural (and even racial) superiority. Ultimately, this form of nationalism would be a major factor in the outbreak of World Wars and the rise of extremely nationalist political parties over the first half of the 20th century.