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Introduction: Frédéric Sorrieu's Utopian Vision

In 1848, Frédéric Sorrieu, a French artist, created a series of four prints that depicted his dream of a world consisting of "democratic and social Republics." The first print of the series portrays the peoples of Europe and America marching in a procession, paying homage to the statue of Liberty. This image symbolizes the aspirations of the time, where Liberty is represented as a female figure holding the torch of Enlightenment and the Charter of the Rights of Man. The foreground shows the shattered remnants of absolutist symbols, indicating the collapse of old institutions. Sorrieu's vision presents distinct nations, identified by their flags and national costumes, with the United States and Switzerland leading the procession. This print explores the rise of nationalism and the desire for nation-states in Europe.

The Emergence of Nationalism in Europe:

During the 19th century, nationalism became a powerful force that brought about significant changes in Europe's political and mental landscape. It led to the transformation of multinational dynastic empires into nation-states. The concept of a modern state, where a centralized power exercises control over a defined territory, had been developing over time. However, a nation-state was characterized by a shared sense of identity and history among the majority of its citizens. This chapter examines the various processes through which nation-states and nationalism emerged in 19th-century Europe.


The French Revolution of 1789 marked the first clear expression of nationalism. France, then under the rule of an absolute monarch, transformed into a territorial state through political and constitutional changes brought about by the revolution. Sovereignty was transferred from the monarchy to the French citizens, who were proclaimed as the nation and the shapers of its destiny.

The revolutionaries introduced measures to foster a collective identity among the French people. Concepts like "la patrie" (the fatherland) and "le citoyen" (the citizen) emphasized the idea of a united community with equal rights under a constitution. The tricolour flag replaced the royal standard, hymns were composed, oaths were taken, and martyrs were commemorated, all in the name of the nation. A centralized administrative system was established, formulating uniform laws applicable to all citizens. Regional dialects were discouraged, and French became the common language of the nation.

The revolutionaries also believed in the mission of the French nation to liberate Europe from despotism, leading to the spread of nationalism beyond France's borders. Jacobin clubs emerged in various European cities, preparing the ground for the French armies that moved into Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, and parts of Italy in the 1790s.

Napoleon and the Spread of Nationalism:

Under Napoleon's rule, the territories under French control witnessed further reforms aligned with the revolutionary principles. Although Napoleon restored monarchy, he incorporated rational and efficient administrative systems. The Napoleonic Code, introduced in 1804, abolished privileges based on birth, established equality before the law, and protected property rights. This code was extended to regions under French influence.

Napoleon simplified administrative divisions, abolished feudalism, and freed peasants from serfdom and manorial dues in the regions under French control. Guild restrictions were lifted in towns, and transportation and communication systems were improved. These reforms brought newfound freedom to peasants, artisans, workers, and businessmen. Uniform laws, standardized weights and measures, and a common national currency facilitated the movement and exchange of goods and capital across regions.

However, local populations' reactions to French rule varied in the conquered areas. Initially, the French armies were welcomed as liberators in some places, but the initial enthusiasm gave way to hostility when people realized that the administrative changes did not guarantee political freedom. Increased taxation, censorship, and forced conscription into the French armies for further conquests outweighed the advantages of administrative reforms.


The rise of nationalism in Europe was closely tied to significant historical events such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. These events brought about changes in governance, administrative systems, and the formation of a collective identity among the citizens. The desire for self-determination and the establishment of nation-states emerged, leading to the transformation of Europe's political landscape. The next sections will delve into the diverse processes and contexts in which nation-states and nationalism took shape in 19th-century Europe.


The Aristocracy and the New Middle Class:

In the mid-eighteenth century, Europe was divided into kingdoms, duchies, and cantons, with no nation-states as we know them today. Different regions had autonomous rulers, and diverse peoples lived within these territories. There was no collective identity or common culture among these groups, as they often spoke different languages and belonged to different ethnic backgrounds. The Habsburg Empire, for example, encompassed various regions and peoples with distinct languages and cultural characteristics. The only common allegiance among these diverse groups was their loyalty to the emperor.

The dominant social and political class in Europe was the landed aristocracy, which cut across regional divisions. They owned estates in the countryside and townhouses, spoke French for diplomatic purposes and in high society, and had interlinked families through marriage. However, the aristocracy constituted a small numerical group compared to the majority of the population, which consisted of peasants. In Western and parts of Central Europe, the growth of industrial production and trade led to the emergence of towns and commercial classes dependent on market-based production. Industrialization in France and some German states occurred during the nineteenth century, giving rise to a working-class population and middle classes composed of industrialists, businessmen, and professionals. These educated, liberal middle classes played a significant role in advocating national unity after the abolition of aristocratic privileges.

Liberal Nationalism and its Ideals:

The ideas of national unity in early-nineteenth-century Europe were closely associated with the ideology of liberalism. Liberalism emphasized freedom for the individual, equality before the law, and government by consent. It called for an end to autocracy and clerical privileges, the establishment of a constitution, and representative government through parliament. Liberals also stressed the importance of private property rights. However, it is important to note that equality before the law did not necessarily imply universal suffrage. In revolutionary France, only property-owning men had the right to vote and be elected, while women and non-propertied men were excluded from political rights. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women and non-propertied men organized movements demanding equal political rights.

In the economic sphere, liberalism advocated for the freedom of markets and the removal of state-imposed restrictions on the movement of goods and capital. The emerging middle classes, especially in German-speaking regions, saw these restrictions as hindrances to economic exchange and growth. Efforts were made to create unified economic territories that allowed the free movement of goods, people, and capital. For example, the formation of a customs union or zollverein in the German states abolished tariff barriers and reduced the number of currencies. The development of railways further facilitated mobility and connected economic interests to national unification, strengthening the broader nationalist sentiments of the time.

A New Conservatism after 1815:

After Napoleon's defeat in 1815, European governments adopted a conservative approach. Conservatives aimed to preserve established traditional institutions such as monarchy, the Church, social hierarchies, property, and the family. However, they recognized the need for modernization to strengthen these institutions rather than revert to pre-revolutionary times. The changes initiated by Napoleon, such as the creation of a modern army, efficient bureaucracy, and the abolition of feudalism and serfdom, were seen as means to enhance the power of autocratic monarchies in Europe.

The Congress of Vienna in 1815, attended by representatives from Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, sought to restore the monarchies that had been overthrown by Napoleon and establish a new conservative order in Europe. The Bourbon dynasty was reinstated in France, and territories annexed by Napoleon were returned. New states were established on France's boundaries to prevent future French expansion. The German confederation set up by Napoleon remained untouched. The conservative regimes that emerged after 1815 were autocratic and intolerant of criticism and dissent. Censorship laws were implemented to control newspapers, books, plays, and songs that reflected ideas of liberty and freedom associated with the French Revolution.

The Revolutionaries:

In the years following 1815, many liberal-nationalists who opposed the conservative order operated underground due to fear of repression. Secret societies emerged in various European states to train revolutionaries and disseminate their ideas. Being a revolutionary at this time meant opposing the established monarchical forms and fighting for liberty and freedom. The creation of nation-states was seen as crucial in the struggle for freedom. One notable revolutionary was Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian who founded secret societies such as Young Italy and Young Europe. Mazzini believed in the unification of Italy into a single republic as the basis for Italian liberty. Similar secret societies were established in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Poland. Mazzini's opposition to monarchy and vision of democratic republics alarmed conservatives, with Metternich describing him as the "most dangerous enemy of our social order."


The emergence of nationalism and the idea of the nation-state in Europe was influenced by various factors. The existence of diverse regions and peoples, the role of the aristocracy and the new middle class, the ideals of liberalism, the demand for economic freedom, and the resistance against conservative regimes all played a part in shaping the nationalist movements of the time.


The July Revolution in France and Its Impact:

In July 1830, a significant upheaval occurred in France, marking the beginning of a series of revolutions in Europe. The Bourbon kings, who had been restored to power after the conservative reaction following Napoleon's defeat, were overthrown by liberal revolutionaries. The revolutionaries established a constitutional monarchy with Louis Philippe as its leader. This event, known as the July Revolution, had a profound impact on Europe. Metternich, an influential figure in European politics, once remarked, "When France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches cold." The revolution in France inspired an uprising in Brussels, leading to the separation of Belgium from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Nationalism and the Greek War of Independence:

The Greek war of independence, which began in 1821, mobilized nationalist sentiments across Europe. Greece had been under Ottoman rule since the fifteenth century, but the growth of revolutionary nationalism ignited a struggle for independence among the Greeks. Greeks living in exile and sympathizers of ancient Greek culture from other European countries supported the Greek nationalists. Poets and artists celebrated Greece as the cradle of European civilization, using art, poetry, and public opinion to garner support for the Greek cause. Lord Byron, an English poet, played a significant role by organizing funds and joining the war, where he ultimately lost his life. In 1832, the Treaty of Constantinople recognized Greece as an independent nation.

The Role of Culture in Nationalism:

Culture played a crucial role in the development of nationalism during this period. The cultural movement of Romanticism, which focused on emotions, intuition, and mystical feelings, sought to cultivate a specific form of nationalist sentiment. Romantic artists and poets criticized the glorification of reason and science, emphasizing a shared collective heritage and a common cultural past as the foundation of a nation.

German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder emphasized the importance of folk culture and language in defining the spirit of the nation. Folk songs, poetry, and dances were seen as expressions of the true essence of the people. Collecting and preserving these cultural forms became essential for nation-building. In Poland, where national identity was threatened due to partition by foreign powers, the use of language and the celebration of Polish culture through music, such as the polonaise and mazurka, became powerful symbols of national resistance.

Language also played a significant role in nurturing nationalist sentiments. In Poland, Russian occupation led to the suppression of the Polish language, with Russian becoming the dominant language. In response, the clergy in Poland used Polish as a weapon of national resistance. They conducted Church gatherings and religious instruction in Polish, defying the Russian authorities. The use of the Polish language became a symbol of the struggle against Russian dominance.

Economic Hardship and Popular Revolts:

The 1830s were characterized by economic hardships in Europe, with population growth leading to high unemployment rates and increased competition for jobs. Peasants and small producers faced challenges from cheap machine-made goods imported from industrialized countries like England. In regions where the aristocracy still held power, peasants struggled under feudal dues and obligations. Rising food prices and poor harvests exacerbated poverty and pauperism in both urban and rural areas.

The year 1848 witnessed widespread popular unrest due to food shortages and unemployment. In Paris, the population took to the streets, erecting barricades and forcing King Louis Philippe to abdicate. A National Assembly was formed, proclaiming a republic and granting suffrage to adult males. Similar revolts also occurred in other European countries.

In Silesia, weavers revolted against contractors who exploited them by reducing payments for finished textiles. These revolts highlighted the extreme poverty and exploitation faced by workers. The weavers' demands for higher wages and better working conditions were met with resistance, leading to violent clashes between the weavers and the authorities.

The Revolution of the Liberals in 1848:

In 1848, a revolution led by the educated middle classes took place in several European countries. In France, the February Revolution resulted in the abdication of the monarch and the establishment of a republic based on universal male suffrage. In other parts of Europe, where independent nation-states did not yet exist, liberals combined their demands for constitutionalism with national unification. The liberal middle classes sought the creation of nation-states based on parliamentary principles, including constitutional rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of association.

In Germany, political associations comprising middle-class professionals, businessmen, and artisans formed an all-German National Assembly in Frankfurt. However, their efforts to create a unified German nation-state faced opposition from monarchs and the aristocracy. The Frankfurt parliament, dominated by the middle classes, failed to gain the support of workers and artisans, leading to its disbandment when troops were called in.

Despite the conservative forces suppressing the liberal movements in 1848, the old order could not be fully restored. Monarchs began to realize the need for concessions to the liberal-nationalist revolutionaries to prevent further cycles of revolution and repression. As a result, autocratic monarchies in Central and Eastern Europe gradually introduced changes, such as the abolition of serfdom and bonded labor in the Habsburg dominions and Russia. The Hungarian autonomy was also granted by the Habsburg rulers in 1867, reflecting the changing political landscape of Europe.


Germany – Can the Army be the Architect of a Nation?

After 1848, nationalism in Europe moved away from its association with democracy and revolution. Nationalist sentiments were often mobilized by conservatives for promoting state power and achieving political domination over Europe.

The Dominance of Prussian State Power:

In Germany, nationalist feelings were widespread among middle-class Germans who, in 1848, attempted to unite the different regions of the German confederation into a nation-state governed by an elected parliament. However, this liberal initiative for nation-building was repressed by the monarchy, military, and the influential landowners known as Junkers of Prussia.

Leadership of Prussia and Otto von Bismarck:

Following the failure of the liberal movement, Prussia took on the leadership of the national unification movement. Otto von Bismarck, the chief minister of Prussia, became the architect of the unification process. Utilizing the Prussian army and bureaucracy, Bismarck orchestrated a series of wars with Austria, Denmark, and France over seven years. These wars resulted in Prussian victory and the completion of the unification process.

Proclamation of the German Empire:

On January 18, 1871, in the unheated Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, an assembly comprising the princes of the German states, representatives of the army, and important Prussian ministers, including Otto von Bismarck, gathered to proclaim the new German Empire. William I of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor, solidifying Prussia's dominance in the nation-building process.

Modernization and Prussian Influence:

The nation-building process in Germany emphasized the modernization of currency, banking, legal, and judicial systems. Prussian measures and practices often became a model for the rest of Germany, shaping the development of the unified nation-state.

Italy Unified

Italy's History of Political Fragmentation:

Similar to Germany, Italy had a long history of political fragmentation, with Italians scattered across various dynastic states and the Habsburg Empire. During the mid-19th century, Italy was divided into seven states, with only Sardinia-Piedmont ruled by an Italian princely house. The Austrian Habsburgs controlled the north, the Pope ruled the center, and the southern regions were under the dominion of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Additionally, the Italian language had not yet acquired a common form, with regional and local variations persisting.

Mazzini's Efforts and Sardinia-Piedmont's Role:

Giuseppe Mazzini, during the 1830s, attempted to create a coherent program for a unitary Italian Republic and formed the secret society "Young Italy" to spread his goals. However, the failure of revolutionary uprisings in 1831 and 1848 shifted the focus to Sardinia-Piedmont under King Victor Emmanuel II, who aimed to unify the Italian states through war. The ruling elites of this region saw a unified Italy as an opportunity for economic development and political dominance.

Cavour and the Role of Diplomacy:

Chief Minister Cavour, a non-revolutionary and non-democrat, spearheaded the movement to unify Italy. Through diplomatic maneuvering and a strategic alliance with France, engineered by Cavour, Sardinia-Piedmont succeeded in defeating Austrian forces in 1859. The military campaign was bolstered by armed volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi. In 1860, Garibaldi and his supporters marched into South Italy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, gaining the support of local peasants to drive out the Spanish rulers. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed the king of a united Italy. However, a significant portion of the Italian population, characterized by high illiteracy rates, remained largely unaware of liberal-nationalist ideology.

The Strange Case of Britain:

The British Nation-State Formation: Unlike other European nations, the formation of the nation-state in Britain was a gradual process rather than a sudden upheaval or revolution. Prior to the eighteenth century, there was no British nation. The people inhabiting the British Isles identified primarily with their ethnic backgrounds, such as English, Welsh, Scot, or Irish, each with their own cultural and political traditions. However, as the English nation grew in wealth, importance, and power, it extended its influence over the other nations of the islands.

The English Parliament's Dominance:

The English parliament, which had seized power from the monarchy in 1688 after a protracted conflict, played a crucial role in forging a nation-state with England at its center. The Act of Union in 1707 between England and Scotland led to the formation of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain," enabling England to impose its influence on Scotland. The British parliament became dominated by English members, and the growth of British identity suppressed Scotland's distinctive culture and political institutions. The Catholic clans in the Scottish Highlands faced severe repression whenever they asserted their independence, with prohibitions on their language and dress, and forced displacement from their homeland.

Similar Fate for Ireland: Ireland experienced a similar fate, with deep divisions between Catholics and Protestants. The English supported the Protestant population in establishing dominance over predominantly Catholic Ireland. Catholic revolts against British dominance were suppressed, and after a failed revolt in 1798, Ireland was forcibly incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1801. The propagation of dominant English culture led to the formation of a new "British nation," while the older nations survived as subordinate partners within the union.


Personifying the Nation:

Representing a nation visually poses a unique challenge, unlike depicting an individual ruler through portraits or statues. Artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries found a solution by personifying nations. They portrayed countries as if they were human beings, using the female form as a representation. It's important to note that the chosen female figure did not represent a specific woman in real life but aimed to give a tangible form to the abstract concept of the nation. In this way, the female figure became an allegory of the nation.

Female Allegory in the French Revolution:

During the French Revolution, artists employed female allegories to depict concepts such as Liberty, Justice, and the Republic. These ideals were symbolized through specific objects or symbols. For example, Liberty was often represented by the red cap or the broken chain, while Justice was portrayed as a blindfolded woman carrying weighing scales.

Female Allegory for the Nation:

In the nineteenth century, artists invented similar female allegories to represent the nation. In France, the personification of the nation was named Marianne, a popular Christian name that emphasized the idea of a nation belonging to the people. Marianne's characteristics were derived from those of Liberty and the Republic, incorporating symbols such as the red cap, the tricolor flag, and the cockade. Statues of Marianne were erected in public squares, serving as reminders of the national symbol of unity and encouraging people to identify with it. Marianne's images were also featured on coins and stamps.

Germania as the Allegory of the German Nation:

In Germany, Germania became the allegorical representation of the nation. In visual depictions, Germania is portrayed wearing a crown adorned with oak leaves, symbolizing heroism. The German oak held cultural significance, further emphasizing the national identity.

These visual representations of the nation through female allegories played a significant role in fostering a sense of unity and identity among the population. They served as powerful symbols that transcended individual rulers and connected people to the collective entity of the nation.


Narrowing of Nationalism:

In the late nineteenth century, nationalism underwent a transformation, losing its earlier idealistic and liberal-democratic sentiments. Instead, it became a narrow creed with limited goals. Nationalist groups became increasingly intolerant of each other and more willing to resort to war. Concurrently, the major European powers exploited the nationalist aspirations of subject peoples in Europe to advance their own imperialist ambitions.

Nationalist Tensions in the Balkans:

The Balkans emerged as the most significant source of nationalist tension in Europe after 1871. This region, comprising present-day countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, and Montenegro, was characterized by geographical and ethnic diversity. The majority of the Balkans were under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The spread of romantic nationalism in the Balkans, coupled with the crumbling of Ottoman authority, created a highly volatile situation. Despite the Ottoman Empire's attempts at modernization and internal reforms, its European subject nationalities gradually declared independence, basing their claims on nationality and historical narratives that depicted past independence followed by subjugation to foreign powers. Thus, the rebellious nationalities in the Balkans saw their struggles as endeavors to regain their lost independence.

Intense Conflict and Power Rivalry in the Balkans:

The quest for identity and independence among the various Slavic nationalities in the Balkans led to intense conflict within the region. Balkan states harbored deep rivalries and sought territorial expansion at the expense of one another. Additionally, the Balkans became a theater of competition for major European powers. During this period, trade, colonies, naval power, and military might were hotly contested among powers like Russia, Germany, England, and Austro-Hungary. Each power aimed to counter the influence of others in the Balkans and expand its own control over the region. Consequently, a series of wars erupted, ultimately culminating in the First World War.

Nationalism and Imperialism's Catastrophic Outcome:

The alignment of nationalism with imperialism brought about a calamitous outcome for Europe in 1914. Simultaneously, countries around the world that had been colonized by European powers in the nineteenth century began to resist imperial domination. These anti-imperial movements were nationalist in nature, as they sought to establish independent nation-states and were motivated by a sense of collective national unity forged in opposition to imperialism. Although each region developed its own unique form of nationalism, the idea of organizing societies into "nation-states" gained universal acceptance as a natural order.

In summary, nationalism in the late nineteenth century became more exclusive and prone to conflicts, while imperialist powers exploited nationalist aspirations for their own gains. The Balkans became a volatile region marked by intense rivalries and power struggles. The convergence of nationalism and imperialism eventually led Europe into the catastrophic First World War. However, this period also witnessed the rise of anti-imperial movements worldwide, driven by a desire to establish independent nation-states and confront the dominance of European powers.

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