Expository essay on the history and nature of nationalism as an ideal
The Cradle of Society
By Thomas Sarigiannidis
Nationalism is a philosophical and political doctrine that promotes the state above all else. Such being the case, the needs and desires of the individual are secondary and are often sacrificed for the needs and promotion of the nation. While it has many progressive merits, the ideology of nationalism carries with it a number of dire responsibilities and potential problems as well. Over the past three centuries or so, nationalism has come a long way, changing constantly to suit the circumstances of the societies upholding it. It has gained different meanings, has been combined with other ideologies, and has been responsible for the patriotism and heroic achievements of many; however, it was also the primary reason for the eruption of both World Wars. A subject of such significance demands to be familiarized in the minds of the people who have been practicing it for several generations, sometimes forgetting what nationalism truly means.
In the following essay, we will explore the following aspects in regards to Nationalism:
• The development and causes for conception of nationalism, and the circumstances of the times leading to its making
• The effect of nationalism and historical events in relation to the ideology, and great men in history who have applied it for varying purposes
• Different forms of nationalism, and other ideologies that have been placed in conjunction with it
The Birth of Nationalism
For quite a long time before the 19th century, totalitarian monarchism was the primary government method of many countries. The leaders and governors had absolute power, and believed that they had been chosen to be rulers by divine right. In those times, the idea of a country as a nation did not exist, as it were; it was more similar to masses of lands belonging to different members of nobility, or kings, monarchs. These lands still had borders and were labeled with names, clearly, so they were countries, but nations only to a very small extent.
This began to change mainly after the French revolution; because the monarchy was overthrown, reforms were necessary and people began to adapt new political ideals, to replace the former ones that were thoroughly ineffective. Nationalist ideas began forming shortly thereafter in many nations. Essentially, this provided people with more comfort; nationalism meant that their state (their nation) belonged to the people, not monarchy, or the government. In addition, this meant that the government was simply permitted to govern by the people.
Gone were the days when militia, for instance, marched to battle to maintain their lands given to them by nobility, and basically fought Wars for their nobles. With Nationalism, these people were now citizen-soldiers, - protectors of their state, - and through battle, they were not fighting for anyone; they were fighting for their nation. The multi-national European revolutions circa 1848 brought about the first significant mass-nationalist appearances in countries, and this would change the world forever.
Other examples of early nationalism included the Greek War of Independence for example, which began at about 1821 and lasted until 1830 This particular War gained tremendous amount of attention at the time, and was recognized as one of the first major nationalist movements; the Ottoman Empire had been at odds with many countries in the past, due to their insatiable hunger for conquest. Greece became a victim to this prospect some time beforehand, and has decided that they would do all in their power to break free, which was accomplished with the support of many other nations who provided assistance for varying reasons.
Thus, nationalism - as a political ideology, and as a philosophy, - was born. Thereafter, many countries began practicing it in some form or another, and many diplomatic and practical conflicts occurred as a result of the mass-practice of this concept.
Nationalism and the World
The rapid soar in the increase of the ever-growing influence of nationalism began in the second half of the 19th century, when many peoples of many countries began to support nationalist ideas about their lands, which made life for them, as well as peaceful government easier at the time. People felt more compelled to fight for their nation, as opposed to some absolutist monarch, that some of them have never even seen.
With time, nationalism became more prominent and powerful as more people began to regard it as the most befitting ideology. On the other hand, socialism, another ideal that was compatible with nationalism, was on the rise; it was the primary driving force behind some of the changes and reforms to many societies, implementing more equality of the people, both economically and on terms of laws.
Political leaders of the world began to unite smaller territories by applying nationalism, thus establishing a powerful foundation for government and growth. Perhaps the most influential leader in these regards was Otto Von Bismarck, who – through rising to power - had successfully united several German states and endowed the resulting nation with the military strength of Prussia. Italy was also doing much of the same, and a political activist by the name of Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) influenced the failed Italian War of independence only slightly, but the overall unification of Italy and its rise to nationalism in epic proportions.
The unification of Italy was a result of years of nationalist efforts of several Italian people, who sought to make Italy a unified, and compact nation. The first uprisings were entirely unsuccessful, but eventually gained momentum through the efforts of people like Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini founded the Young Italy society, which helped him publicize his ideals to the Italian public, thus instilling nationalism within it.
Though Mazzini influenced the nationalization efforts greatly, the task itself was achieved by a man named Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861). Cavour joined forces with the enemies of his enemies in order to overcome them, a fine example of the realpolitik
ideology. Through his diplomatic achievements, Cavour managed to direct attention to the Italian issue, and eventually, bring about the unification of most of Italy.
The Franco-Prussian War erupted in 1870 as a result of political tensions between France and Prussia; when a Spanish revolution in 1868 resulted in the abdication of Queen Isabella II., Madrid offered the crown to Prince Leopold of the Hohenzollern house, who happened to be related to Wilhelm I. of Prussia. The French, however, were intimidated by the possibility of an alliance between Prussia and Spain, for if such a prospect was to become realized, this would certainly expose France to a much higher risk of suffering defeat, had there been a conflict in the future.
When King Wilhelm I. complied with the French ambassador’s request that the Hohenzollern candidate would not claim the throne of Spain, probability of conflicts seemed to fade. However, a second request was made; this time beckoning Prussia to promise not to propose this in the future, and this was denied. Upon receiving word of this, Bismarck manipulated the text received by the King as he saw fit, and distributed his version to the press. This press release eventually made its way to the French public, thus sparking the War between Bismarck’s Prussia, and the France of Napoleon III.
The War itself was fueled by the heavy artillery bombardment of nationalism and call to arms, specifically by Bismarck. People now had a sense of patriotism to apply in motivation to their fighting, and this seemed to work for both the government, and the governed people also. Nationalism has given the people a sense of comfort, and political leaders a supremely efficient way of controlling their nations.
Much later, in the 20th century, nationalism was the dominant ideology, prevailing over all the countries in Europe, and introducing the newfound trend of alliances. Many political leaders had decided that – for the safety of their nations – it would be best if they had formed alliances with other nations, as a means of protecting themselves from appearing as an easy target for invasion by hostile countries. However, this plan backfired completely, and had instead created massive tensions between the nations within the alliances, for all of them feared War. If a War was to be waged, many of the nations would end up being drawn into it, as nearly every country was allied to at least one other country, and thus were responsible for supporting it/them, should the need arise.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, 1914 had set off the already volatile animosities between the countries, and ignited the flames of War. Now, with a War that originally starts out as a conflict between two countries, is suddenly magnified in scope; almost every single country in Europe was forced to get involved, in order to protect their allies. Massive amounts of people were recruited for the Great War, and the people gladly answered the call to arms; their sense of nationalism has compelled them to fight and die for their countries. World War I. was now underway; and the costs to be paid were heavy indeed. For a War that was supposed to end in mere months, WWI lasted a whopping four years until 1918 when Germany was defeated, and after capitulation, made to claim responsibility as the perpetrators and primary nation behind WWI.
The Treaty of Versailles was imposed upon Germany and her allies; Hungary, Austria, etc. This treaty was – by far – most counter-benefiting to Germany first, but most of the other countries suffered from it also, in some way or another (territorial losses, heavy fines, de-arming of military in conflict-areas). For Germany, however, the Treaty of Versailles introduced a new era of suffering and poverty, due to the unreasonable restrictions and regulations that were the core prospects of the Treaty. Economically bound and gagged by this un-proportionate treaty, Germany would suffer the heaviest of penalties for partaking in a War that involved everybody. There was no substantial reason provided as to why one side was held responsible to the point where they were reduced to nearly a third-world-country.
Nonetheless, nationalism persisted, even despite the effects it had on the world. People did not see nationalism as a cause for War or for hardships, but as a means to achieve greatness for their nation, and War and hardships obstacles to overcome in the process. Germany suffered from the unreasonable penalties of the treaty until the mid 1920’s, when a man named Adolf Hitler stepped up to the stage of Germany’s declining economical and political administration, through gaining substantial support and popularity as the leader of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), known in English as the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi). Hitler essentially combined the ideologies of nationalism and socialism in an effort to more efficiently govern Germany, create sublime equality of all the volk (German people) and effectively proceed towards the recovery of the nation. Hitler won the attention and fondness of Germany’s people with promises of lifting the country out of its economic and social slump, and making it into a great nation, unrivalled by that of any other in all of Europe.
Living up to his promises, Hitler did indeed massively contribute to Germany’s recovery through the heavy industrialization of the country, and its re-arming of the military. Hitler also re-militarized the Rhineland, and began to claim new territories for the Volksraum, which was essentially more territory for Germany’s people, and the nation itself. Other world leaders like Britain and France have agreed to appease the demanding Fuhrer, by granting him permission to carry out his plans, and claim Czekhslovakia and other lands lost in WWI back. Mussolini was now the head of state in Italy, and though originally reluctant to side with Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini eventually gave in and joined the German Chancellor. Together, they would make more bold and daring demands, claiming land and occupying countries to their heart’s content.
Benito Mussolini was particularly fond of Greece (or her territory, anyway), and through his invasion of the Hellenic Republic, Hitler was inadvertently drawn into the conflict also, and was forced to assist the fairly ill-trained Italian forces. However, Hitler did not stop there, and shortly after the anschluss (annex) with Austria, he invaded Poland in 1939. At this point, Britain had decided that intervention was imperative, and WWII began to initiate. On the Axis side were Germany, Italy, and Japan, while on the Allied side was Britain, France, and many other countries, later on followed by the U.S.A. after the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour. With the entrance of the U.S., the already exhausted German forces were completely subdued, the Fuhrer’s dream of an expanded and glorious Reich shattered.
In 1945 Germany once again came out as the loser of the 2nd World War, and several of the most prominent and influential Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler, committed suicide, in a lack of desire to live in a world that is not National Socialist.
Upon a close observation of recent history, the presence and influence of nationalism are clear to see. It has been the driving power behind the organization of territories as true nations, the spirit of patriotism instilled within the people, and a sense of identity for countries and the people living in them. However, it was also the primary causes of many conflicts, including both World Wars, and therefore the source of much anguish. We simply have to accept nationalism as an indispensable ideology that helped shape the world as it is today, for better or for worse.