Nationalism and its Impact in Europe (1848-1914)

September 25, 2012 9:54 am

Introduction

As we have seen, the French Revolution and Napoleon spread the ideas of liberalism and nationalism across Europe.  These ideas took root and gave rise to several outbreaks of revolution in the 1820’s, 1830’s, and 1840’s, the most severe being the revolutions of 1848.  Although most of these revolutions failed, they continued the spread of liberal & nationalist ideas and also gave reformers a more realistic appreciation of what it would take to achieve their goals.  The revolutions of 1848 especially influenced the peoples of Eastern Europe under Hapsburg and Ottoman rule as well as the peoples of Italy and Germany in Central Europe.

Eastern Europe

, especially the Balkans in the southeast, saw national independence from foreign rule, rather than national unity, as the critical issue.  The spread of nationalist ideas among the various Slavic peoples there after the revolutions of 1848 combined with the steady decay of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires to create a particularly volatile situation.  These generated growing nationalist movements that destabilized the already crumbling Hapsburg and Ottoman empires.  To complicate matters even further, Russia became increasingly involved in Balkan politics, posing as the champion of Slavic liberties and nationalism against the Slavs’ Turkish and Austrian masters.  This heightened tensions between Austria, Turkey, and Russia and would provide the spark to set off World War I.

Central Europe

, Germany and Italy in particular, had been broken into numerous states, a situation which had invited centuries of foreign intervention, conquests, and wars in both countries.  Here also, the revolutions of 1848 combined with German and Italian frustration over this situation to generate strong sentiments for national unification in both countries.  The middle classes in Italy and Germany especially supported national unification by strong governments that could end internal tolls, build national railroads, and support new industries. Both Italy and Germany were lucky to have brilliant prime ministers to lead them through unification: Camillo Cavour for the Italian state of Sardinia and Otto von Bismarck for the German state of Prussia.  Both men skillfully combined strong internal developments of their respective states with opportunistic diplomacy and warfare to unify Italy and Germany by 1871.  Both nations would also strive to industrialize in the latter 1800’s.  Germany proved especially successful in this endeavor.  However, the presence of two unified nations in place of a multitude of little states, especially that of a strongly industrialized Germany, seriously upset the balance of power in Europe, which would also lead to World War I.

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