Introduction: This chapter tries to explain the meaning of nationalism and how nationalism evolved in mankind’s history. Starting with French Revolution the nationalism spread to other parts of Europe and later on paved the way for development of modern democratic nations across the world.
Meaning of Nationalism: Nationalism is the idea of a sense of common identity and a sense of belongingness to a particular geographical area. Apart from this it is also a sense of attachment to a particular culture. It should be kept in mind that culture encompasses a variety of factors, like language, cuisine, costumes, folklores, etc.
The Rise of Nationalism in Europe
The concept and practices of a modern state had been developing over a long period of time in Europe. The state in which, a centralised power exercised sovereign control over a clearly defined territory. But a nation-state was one in which the majority of its citizens, and not only its rulers, came to develop a sense of common identity and shared history or descent. This commonness did not exist from time immemorial. Rather it was forged through struggles, through the actions of leaders and the common people. During the nineteenth century, nationalism emerged as a force which brought about sweeping changes in the political and mental world of Europe. The end result of these changes was the emergence of the nation-state in place of the multi-national dynastic empires of Europe.
The French Revolution and the Idea of the Nation
The first clear expression of nationalism came with the French Revolution in 1789. France was a full-fledged territorial state in 1789 under the rule of an absolute monarch. The political and constitutional changes that came in the wake of the French Revolution led to the transfer of sovereignty from the monarchy to a body of French citizens. The revolution proclaimed that it was the people who would henceforth constitute the nation and shape its destiny.
From the very beginning, the French revolutionaries introduced various measures and practices that could create a sense of collective identity amongst the French people. The ideas of la patrie (the fatherland) and le citoyen (the citizen) emphasized the notion of a united community enjoying equal rights under a constitution. A new French flag, the tricolour, was chosen to replace the former royal standard. The Estates General was elected by the body of active citizens and renamed the National Assembly. New hymns were composed, oaths taken and martyrs commemorated, all in the name of the nation. A centralised administrative system was put in place and it formulated uniform laws for all citizens within its territory. Internal customs duties and dues were abolished and a uniform system of weights and measures was adopted.
Regional dialects were discouraged and French, as it was spoken and written in Paris, became the common language of the nation. The revolutionaries further declared that it was the mission and the destiny of the French nation to liberate the peoples of Europe from despotism, in other words to help other peoples of Europe to become nations.
Effects of French Revolution on Other Countries:
When the news of the events in France reached the different cities of Europe, students and other members of educated middle classes began setting up Jacobin clubs. Their activities and campaigns prepared the way for the French armies which moved into Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and much of Italy in the 1790s. With the outbreak of the revolutionary wars, the French armies began to carry the idea of nationalism abroad.
Within the wide range of territory that came under his control, Napoleon set about introducing many of the reforms that he had already introduced in France. Through a return to monarchy Napoleon had, no doubt, destroyed democracy in France, but in the administrative field he had incorporated revolutionary principles in order to make the whole system more rational and efficient. The Civil Code of 1804 – usually known as the Napoleonic Code – did away with all privileges based on birth, established equality before the law and secured the right to property.
This Code was exported to the regions under French control. In the Dutch Republic, in Switzerland, in Italy and Germany, Napoleon simplified administrative divisions. Napoleon abolished the feudal system and freed peasants from serfdom and manorial dues. In the towns too, guild restrictions were removed. Transport and communication systems were improved. Peasants, artisans, workers and new businessmen enjoyed a new-found freedom. Businessmen and small-scale producers
of goods, in particular, began to realise that uniform laws, standardised weights and measures, and a common national currency would facilitate the movement and exchange of goods and capital from one region to another.