Nationalism: It is a belief system which instills a sense of common identity among the members of a nation. National flag, national symbol, national anthem, etc. play an important role in developing and strengthening the idea of nationalism.
Rise of Nationalism in Europe: Before the middle of the nineteenth century, the countries in Europe were not in the form as we know them today. Different regions in Europe were ruled by various multi-national dynastic empires. These were monarchies which enjoyed absolute power over their subjects. Various technological and the ensuing social changes helped in developing the ideas of nationalism. The process of creation of nation states began in 1789; with the French Revolution. It took about hundred years for the idea to gain concrete shape which resulted in the formation of France as a democratic nation state. The trend was followed in other parts of the Europe and led to the establishment of the modern democratic systems in most parts of the world; at the beginning of 20th century.
First Expression of Nationalism: French Revolution led to a change in politics and constitution of France. In 1789 the power was transferred from monarchy to a body of citizens. It was proclaimed that henceforth the French people would shape the destiny of their country.
Various steps were taken by the revolutionaries to create a sense of common identity among people. Some of these steps are given below:
In different cities of Europe, people became motivated from the events in France. As a result, students and other people from the educated middle classes started setting up Jacobin clubs. Their activities made a ground for further encroachment by the French armies. The French army moved into Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and a large part of Italy in the 1790s. Thus, the French armies started carrying the idea of nationalism to foreign lands.
Napoleon was the Emperor of France from 1804 to 1815. Although Napoleon destroyed democracy in France by reintroducing monarchy in France; but he made revolutionary changes in the field of administration. The idea was to make the system more rational and efficient. The Civil Code of 1804; which is commonly known as the Napoleonic Code abolished all privileges based on birth. It also established equality before the law and secured the right to property. Even in those territories which came under his control; Napoleon began to introduce many reforms as he did in France. He simplified the administrative divisions in the Dutch Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. He abolished the feudal system and peasants could be freed from serfdom and manorial dues. Guild restrictions were removed in towns. Transport and communication systems were improved.
Peasants, artisans, workers and new businessmen enjoyed this new found freedom. They could realize that uniform laws and standard system of weights and measures and a common currency would be more helpful in movement and exchange of goods and capital across various regions.
But in areas which were conquered by France, people’s reactions towards French rule were mixed. Initially, the French armies were seen as the torchbearers of liberty. But very soon people could realize that the new administrative system was not going to guarantee political freedom. Increase in taxes, censorship and forced conscription into the French armies were seen as outweighing the advantages of administrative changes which Napoleon brought. Thus the initial enthusiasm of people began to turn into hostility.
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