History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Origins of Modern Nationalism

Nationalism click here for audio

Modern nationalism is based on a combination of two trends: the Enlightenment idea of a legitimate government being based on the people, and the romantic vision of culture. Nationalism requires defining where the nation is and who is in it. This can be done by including certain people, and excluding others.

The Revolutions of 1848 that spread throughout Europe were nationalistic revolutions. In France, they established the Second Republic, and a popular movement so vast that Napoleon III had to construct huge boulevards in Paris so people couldn't blockade the streets. In Italy and Germany the 1848 Revolutions spawned the events that led to unification of states that had been made up of smaller kingdoms and principalities.

Music is one of the best ways to understand nationalism, because you can literally hear it. Take this German example:

book Workbook document:
1904 recording of The Watch on the Rhine (1870) (Die Wacht am Rhein)

Or recall this British nationalistic ditty, which those of use in academia hear once a year:

Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance (1902)

Land of Hope and Glory,
Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee,
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty,
Make thee mightier yet.

The first requirement of nationalism is a cultural identity. In Germany, it was based on a common language, and a romantic vision of unity going back to Charlemagne (the "First Reich"). Otto von Bismarck used this vision to trick most of the nations of Europe into war, using the unity caused by a common enemy to weld a Second Reich. In France, it was based upon citizenship, harking back to the ideals of the French Revolution. In the United States, it took a concept of Union fought out in a bloody Civil War. But in nations like Russia, rulers brutally suppressed reforms, considering their nationalism to be personal territory.

Nationalism today is the guiding force of geo-politics, and the main cause of war.


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