Nationalism in Europe

Cries of “Long live reform! Down with the ministers! echo down the boulevards of Paris, as a cloud of men advance with torches and a red flag in hand (Lamartine). Over the past couple days, disturbances had arisen in Paris as these men demanded political reform. On this February night of 1848, this small spark of nationalism will ignite an explosion of revolutions across Europe.

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As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, nationalism is “loyalty and devotion to a nation especially: a sense of national consequences exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations and supranational groups. Such nationalism was found in the first French revolution, where there was a growing sense of unity as the people fought for progressive changes in their government. Adopting some of their ideals, Napoleon rose to power and conquered parts of Europe. Through Napoleon, nationalism spread across Europe, only for it to be suppressed under the Congress of Vienna and the Concert of Europe until 1848, where it fueled a wave of revolutions that influenced the modern shape of Europe.

Napoleon’s ascent to power not only resulted in the expansion of his empire, but also the diffusion of nationalism all across Europe. During the French revolution, a spirit of nationalism developed as the French realized that in order to achieve their political ideas, they needed a nation of citizens who realized that their own best interests lay in the national interest, who would then act in unison to achieve these interests (Bickford). These such interests formed into the ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality, which eventually supported Napoleon’s rise to power (Bickford). When Napoleon invaded parts of Europe with his troops, the nationalistic ideas of the French revolution followed, spreading French nationalism all throughout Europe. However, some areas under Napoleon’s control also tried to fight back, such as in the case of the Spanish. Napoleon had tried to gain control over Spain by putting his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. This resulted in the awakening of nationalistic feelings from the Spanish, who fought back Napoleon’s forces through the use of guerillas. Prussia, though not as strong as Spanish, developed a small sense of nationalism as Napoleon stripped most of its Polish provinces it had acquired over the past few decades, which led to large numbers of cashiered Prussian officers joining patriotic intellectuals in resentment of all things French. They dreamed of national resurgence and of revenge, and took to the example set by the guerrillas of Spain (Zamoyski 24). Under Napoleon’s empire, nationalism was able to spread across Europe through the French nationalism in expressed in his conquers, as well as from nations wanting independence. However, as the leaders of Europe work to stop Napoleon’s rapid expansion, they will also attempt to subdue these nationalist feelings that they perceive as threats to their power.

As a reaction to the Napoleonic Wars, the major powers of Europe form the Congress of Vienna to handle Napoleon, France, and the prevention of war in the future. The Congress of Vienna was made up of the leaders of the major powers of Europe: Austria, Russia, Prussia, Great Britain and France. To address France, The Congress of Vienna signed the Second Treaty of Paris to restore the nation to “the order of things which had been happily re-established in France” and also “restoring between France and her Neighbours those relations of reciprocal confidence and goodwill which the fatal effects of the Revolution and of the system of conquest had for so long a time disturbed. In summary, the Congress of Vienna wanted to re-establish monarchy in France so that it would be on friendly terms with the other European nations. With this treaty, the major powers also restored France’s borders to that prior to 1790 and set up Allied troops around France for five years for the security of the neighboring states. This also came into play with Congress of Vienna’s solution to a lasting peace: a balance of powers that relied on a conservative monarchy to maintain peace and suppress nationalism in Europe. For conservatives across Europe, liberalism and nationalism meant revolution, which only brought death and destruction (Rapport 4). The solution was settled in secret articles between the major powers, where the Congress (of Vienna) shall regulate the disposal of territories and the relations from the system of the balance of powers in Europe upon the principles determined by the Allied Powers among themselves (Separate and Secret Articles). This system of the balance of powers came to be the Concert of Europe, where by balancing powers, no nation in Europe can overpower the other nations, like what happened with France, and nationalism can be repressed through the force assimilation of ethnic groups under the umbrella of one culture. The Congress of Vienna were able keep an iron fist on nationalism and liberalism through various methods. For example, Prussia had provincial estates, but representative bodies were stacked heavily in favor of nobles and landowners. They were also not permitted to come speak with one another to avoid any notion that they could merge into a national parliament (Rapport 10). In Russia, Tsar Nicholas I founded the Third Section, which made it difficult for people to speak of their dissent or feelings of nationalism (Rapport 9). Polish nationalism was suppressed by partitioning the old Polish Kingdom among Russia, Prussia, and Austria (Rapport 11). For many decades after the meetings of the Congress of Vienna, this conservative system kept a strong hold on nationalism, that is, until 1848.

As the conservative order put in place by the Congress of Vienna weakened, an eruption of revolutions in 1848 led to a rise of nationalism all across Europe. Between 1821 and 1829, the Greeks fought in a war against the control of the Ottoman Turks, which resulted in their independence (Rapport). Such feelings of Greek nationalism can best be summed up in a poem by Lord Byron, “The sword, the banner, and the field,/Glory and Greece, around me see!/The Spartan, borne upon his shield,/Was not more free. Following this, a smaller wave of revolts erupted in Europe in the 1830’s; however, they were easily crushed. Despite this, they loosened the hold of Klemens von Metternich, an Austrian diplomat who was central to the affairs of the Congress of Vienna, on international order. Increase in poverty and an economic downturn in Europe triggered liberal nationalism across Europe. This exposed a weakness in Metternich’s system in 1848, as Austria needs money to maintain its power and his system hardly had any money left to cope with the worst economic downturn of the 19th century (Rapport 14). Consequently, people across Europe protested for national reform, that eventually exploded into the revolutions across the continent, starting in Italy. The first revolution of 1848 was in Sicily, where people were angered by the Bourbon monarchy, who they felt were ignoring their requests during desperate times of poverty (Rapport 44). A constitutional monarchy in the south, though temporary, was the result. The fall of absolutism in the south reverberated to the north of Italy, where more people rebelled. The most powerful revolution took place during February in France. Unemployed French took to the streets of Paris protesting for political reform, which eventually led to a full-on revolt. The revolution in Paris electrified Europe, calling other areas into nationalist uprising as well, demanding constitutions and political reform, as well as national unity. Consequently, nationalism that was long buried under the conservative order suddenly exploded at once, hastening monarchs to pass reforms. While the revolutions of 1848 brought short-term successes, it ended in failure, as many of the reforms were removed immediately after. Only France proved successful in establishing a republic government. Despite its failure as a whole, the revolutions of 1848 proved successful in establishing nationalism in Europe, where revolutionaries, like Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, continued fighting for unification and reform in the years after.

Nationalism underwent various phases in Europe, starting by its spread under Napoleon, then leading to its repression under the Congress of Vienna and Concert of Europe, only to then escalate during the uprisings in 1848. These uprisings helped formulate a basis for nationalism in Europe, which then acted as a catalyst for major events leading up to WWI. This topic can be covered under the MYP Global Context of Fairness and Development, as the ideas of conflict management, authority, power, and democracy are questioned as the Congress of Vienna tries to balance power in Europe, establishes a conservative order, and suppresses nationalism as a long-term solution to conflict. This topic can also be covered under Globalization and Sustainability, as the impacts of the events and decisions that unfolded in the Congress of Vienna are witnessed on humankind throughout Europe, and the world.

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