What is Nationalism?
In the 19th century, the spirit of nationalism that had been building since the Middle Ages reached a critical mass, or a critical level. It had been building for a long time and now it kind of finally reached its peak. Nationalism refers to pride in the traditions, culture, language, and past of a certain nation of people. This is important to know, because it does not necessarily refer to pride in one’s country.
It’s important to understand the difference there. Nationalism is referring to traditions, culture, language, and past, the kind of community that has made up a nation. It doesn’t refer, necessarily, to pride in one’s country, especially at this time, because in the 19th century, there were many nations of people thrown together as parts of a larger kingdom.
There were many instances of this, where one ruler would be ruling an entire kingdom, but the kingdom would be made up of several different nations, several different groups of people that used to be nations on their own but had been conquered by this kingdom and now is part of this one larger kingdom or country, but, individually, those groups of people had their own spirit of nationalism.
They enjoyed and celebrated their own traditions and cultures. They had their own languages separate from those of other nations or groups of people within that one country. It’s important to understand the distinction there. The nationalism that was growing at this time in the 19th century and reaching this critical peak wasn’t pride in one’s country but pride in the accomplishments of that nation of people, that group of people that had grown together.
It could be a country, but not necessarily so. The rising tide of nationalism became a concern to the ruling monarchs, who hoped to hold together multiple distinct nations under their control. As I was saying, these ruling monarchs were trying to control lots of different nations that they conquered and made into one kingdom, but each of those nations retained their own spirit of nationalism that related to the traditions, and past, and the languages that they shared.
They didn’t necessarily share any of that with the kingdom that had conquered them or the ruling monarch who was supposed to be their leader now. This worried these monarchs, because they didn’t want to lose any of these nations that they’d conquered and they knew that if these people were really fired up about their own beliefs and their own national group, then they might rise up and try to separate from the monarchy.
This was something that monarchs were worried about. However, at this time, the memory of Napoleon, who had conquered lots of Europe during his reign and the balance of power that was established by the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon was defeated and everyone got their nations back, prevented any large conflicts. Yes, there may have been some uprisings due to nationalism, but, for the most part, everyone was still compliant.
They still lived within the bounds of their monarchy or their kingdom, even if they were celebrating their own national groups, because the balance of power was established during the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon was defeated and the balance of power basically said that no one country would try to conquer all the other countries and try to eventually dominate all of Europe.
Again, all of the countries in Europe, or the majority of the large countries in Europe, agreed to this and said, “Okay, I won’t try to conquer any of the other countries if you don’t try to conquer this country and everyone can just kind of keep what they’ve got at this point.” There were no large conflicts during the 19th century, but there was a renewed sense of nationalism.
It’s important to note that that was an increased pride in traditions, culture, language, and a shared past that people that used to be one nation, or possibly still were one nation, that they all shared. It wasn’t necessarily pride in one’s country, the country being who they were ruled by at that time. Nations were retaining their individual past identities instead of joining to their new ruling monarchies.