During the 100-year period of 1814 to 1914 every social group throughout Europe embraced the ideology of nationalism. Its success was largely due to the fact that it offered something for everyone regardless of social or political status. It had no specific ideas for government or economy, just simply whatever is best for the nation. Nationalism also combined well with all other ideologies of the time. However, the different classes of European society accepted nationalism for different reasons and at different times.
In the years 1814 through 1848 nationalism ascended onto European society through the middle class. Shortly after the French Revolution in 1814 the Congress of Vienna was placed in charge of reconstructing Europe. In France the monarchy was restored. By 1830, Louis Philippe was king of France and had transformed their political system into a government by which only the rich could vote known as the Bourgeois Monarchy. Increasing social and economic discontent in France led the middle class to revolt in 1848. This revolution set up the Second Republic and gave all men in France the right to vote, creating a unifying thread throughout the country. In Germany, the German Confederation was created which left 39 individual, segregated German states. Due to the fact of taxes and tariffs many middle class business owners supported the idea of a single unified nation-state. However, conservatives at that time did all they could to stop the ideas of liberalism and nationalism. But, by 1830 the middle class had grown large enough to force a revolution. The middle class soon after created a National Parliament and in 1848 the Frankfurt Assembly gathered delegates from all of the German states to create boundaries for a new unified nation-state. Unfortunately, before they were able to apply their plan German kings charged in with their large armies and stopped the revolution. Although it was stopped the revolution in Germany along with the revolution in France helped to create firm foundation for the spread of nationalism.
During the time period of 1848 to 1871 the aristocracy and the upper class embraced nationalism. Prior to 1848 conservatives felt like the idea of nationalism was a threat to their power. After 1848 however, conservatives learned to adopted nationalism into their own ideology. They saw, through revolts, the dangers of simply disregarding nationalism and found it more beneficial to simply compromise and blend the two together. Otto Von Bismark modernized nationalism by combining it with conservatism and his own brand of hardheaded government he called Realpolitik. Inspired by patriotism for his country and loyalty to his king Bismark sought to unite all of the German nation-states. In 1866, as a means to unite the northern German states, Germany fought against Austria in the Austro-Prussian War. Four years later in 1870, Bismark engineered the Franco-Prussian War in order to incorporate the southern German states into the new unified Germany. Bismark knew the unifying power of having a common enemy. Other countries such as France, Austria, and Russia used the “us versus them” side of nationalism to spur national sentiment and unification among their countries also.
Between the years of 1871 and 1914 the workers and the lower classes seemed to benefit the most from nationalism. It was during this time the second Industrial Revolution occurred. The development of new industry, transportation, communication, power, and energy made everyday life much simpler for the common man. Also, at the beginning of the 20th century national labor unions were legalized. Many other social reforms were made during this time also. In 1884 Germany activated accident insurance plans for workers in factories. In 1889, pension plans, like modern-day social security, were established in Germany. Universal manhood suffrage also became legal for all of Europe between 1871 and 1914. Mass society and culture was extremely important in the spreading of nationalism among the lower classes. Mass society and culture helped to create a feeling of togetherness and unity. Through tools like the cinema, dance halls, and sporting events people could be brought together in large groups, which offered a sense of community and family. Also, the idea of Social Darwinism aided in the spread of nationalism. The belief that one’s own nation is superior or at least the strongest helped to create a feeling of patriotism and pride among the lower classes.
I believe that the spread of nationalism throughout European society was a positive development. Nationalism helped to unite people with a common history and culture. It instilled pride and confidence among nations and gave people a sense of being. Unlike the other ideologies of the time, nationalism proposed self-sacrifice for the good of others. However, I believe that at the beginning of the 20th century the idea of Social Darwinism corrupted it and allowed nationalism to be twisted by those who would exploit it. But, overall I feel that it had a positive effect on European society. It offered something to believe in when there wasn’t much to believe in. I truly believe that the basic idea of nationalism is something that our country needs today.
“Ask not what your country can do for you,
Ask what you can do for your country.”— John F. Kennedy