Marx and Engels wrote their Communist Manifesto in late 1847 (published in February 1848). They were not only attempting to create a call to action for the working class, but also address the rising importance of the role of the people in the European state. The 19th century gave birth to the defining type of those states: the nation-state. Forging together the ideas of the state with the ideas of Nationalism, the nation-state defines the makeup of Europe to this day, and lead to both the triumph of liberal principles and the embracing of such principle by their conservative rivals.

The Revolutions of 1848 were the key hinge point for these ideas in the history of Europe. Though the first of these revolutions technically occurred in Naples (leading to limited constitutional reform), the major catalyst for this series of revolutions, not surprisingly, will be France. Soon revolutions occurred all across Europe, calling for constitutional reform and major political and social changes. However, despite this initial success, the revolutionaries were not united. Fear of radicals among moderates lead to the collapse of the revolutions and the reestablishment of the old order throughout much of Europe.

While the Revolutions of 1848, with the expectation of France, were largely a failure, in the ashes of the revolution rose a variation of the nationalist traditions that had been pushed forward by the middle-class liberals of Europe: Conservative Nationalism. While conservative nationalism did come from the major states which had pushed through constitutional reform in 1848, namely Prussia and Piedmont-Sardinia, the manner in which nationalism was forged in these countries followed a far different pattern imagined by the liberal revolutionaries of 1848.

Large, monarchical states, such as Prussia and Piedmont-Sardinia, used nationalism as a tool to create a unified nation-state. This is evident in Germany Unification in 1871 and Italian Unification in 1861. While liberal ideas of representation would eventually exist within these nation-states, including the formation of the Reichstag in the German empire, the nature of nationalism had changed considerably post 1870.

Nationalism will fundamentally alter the relationships between the people and the state. No longer are states simply governments that rule over the masses, but now the people have an active role in the identity of a state. Such a relationship leads to greater demands from these masses to take part in government, but will also fundamentally lead to nations and people defining themselves as different from others. This, of course, will be at the center of later racism and imperialism across the globe (more on that next week).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *