During the 19th Century, many countries in Europe experienced a rise in nationalist ideals. It is not likely that this movement could have been prevented. Considering the other current political and cultural events of the time, it became a natural result that nations and their citizens would recognize the need for independence from other countries. Up until this time in history, many countries belonged to vast empires. “Central and Eastern Europe were dominated by multinational empires—Russia, Austria and to some extent, Prussia” (Gildea 70).
The French Revolution also advanced the move towards nationalism. The French Revolution can never be underestimated in the effects it created across Europe and the entire world. It destroyed the traditional power structures of Europe and allowed Europe to be reborn under new political and civil structures. With the fall of the aristocracy and monarchy in Europe, individuals began to question the entire aristocratic method of government. Essentially, the aristocracy kept redrawing maps of Europe based upon their own political needs and movement towards empires. However, once France shook off the shackles of its monarchy, individuals began question what defined a nation without an aristocracy to establish borders. These questions evolved from the natural progression of reassessing the establishment of nations and empires.
If a country no longer had a monarch in pursuit of an empire, what would create the boundaries of countries? This basically consisted of culture, memories, language and other shared aspects of a people. The intelligentsia led this movement. Once the French Revolution occurred and the intelligentsia could question its outcomes, nationalism could not have been prevented (Gildea 71-74).
The intelligentsia never believed in the transnational empires. Specifically, the intelligentsia did not appreciate the loss of national identity and culture. The intelligentsia was primarily composed of the lower clergy, educators and students and the lower level officials in the government. These individuals “made the decision to formalize and promote the language and culture of the people, which, along with its religion and memories of past struggles, were deemed to define a nation” (Gildea 70). While the intelligentsia may not have decided to promote national wants specifically, the desire to support the shared culture and identity constituted the same, in essence.
These individuals desired greater appreciation and respect for their culture. They did not realize at the time that they were moving towards nationalism. They merely wished to preserve the customs and language of their ancestors. Nationalism as a movement could not have been prevented because of this desire for cultural preservation. At the time, many had difficulty even defining of what a nation consisted. The transnational politics of empires had blurred where the national boundaries actually existed.
Because of this loss of definitive boundaries, the individuals moved towards a cultural explanation. In the Czech-Slovak nation, individuals questioned whether a regional dialect of Slovak actually separated it into its own nation. This highlights the difficulties individuals and intelligentsia had in actually determining where the boundaries of nation building existed (Kloosters 74).
The American Revolution also indicated to individuals that nations could be established based upon shared goals and values of the people. Up until this point, the only goal of the empire builders was to increase their personal wealth and power. It did not rest on the needs, histories, and desires of the people. Nationalism ensured that these desires would be understood on a greater level. Individuals who shared values were more likely to appreciate the wants and desires of each other. Nationalism allowed these individuals to create their own communities.
- Gildea, Robert. Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Klooster, William. Revolutions in the Atlantic World. New York: NYU Press, 2009.