Nationalism and Statebuilding for AP European History

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

The review questions for this study guide can be found at:

Nationalism and Statebuilding Review Questions for AP European History


In the second half of the nineteenth century, nationalism triumphed over all the other competing ideologies. In areas where people lived under foreign domination, nationalism was used by conservative statesmen to bring about the unification of Italy and Germany. In the Hapsburg Empire, the nationalist aspirations of ethnic minorities worked to undermine Austrian domination. In France and Russia, the force of nationalism was used to end the remaining dreams of liberals and to strengthen the hold of autocratic rulers.

The End of Liberal Nationalism

In the first half of the nineteenth century, liberals and nationalists tended to ally themselves against the forces of conservatism. Both believed that political sovereignty resided in the people, and they shared an optimistic belief that progress towards their goals was inevitable. Campaigns for liberal reform (which attempted to break the conservative aristocracy's grip on political power and to promote individual rights) tended to merge with the struggle for national rights or self-determination. Accordingly, most liberals supported in principle the idea of a free and unified nation state in Germany and Italy, the rebirth of Poland, and Greek independence; most conservatives opposed these ideas.

However, both partial victory and eventual defeat drove a wedge between liberals and nationalists. When liberals won temporary victories over conservative aristocrats between 1830 and 1838, fundamental differences between the agendas of liberal reformers and nationalists began to emerge. The emphasis on individual liberty and limited government did not mesh well with the nationalist emphasis on the collective national tribe or with the desire of nationalists for a strong national government. In short, liberals believed in promoting the rights of all peoples; nationalists cared only about their own rights.

When, in 1848, the more radical liberal agenda of democratic reform emerged, the conservative tendencies of nationalism came to the fore. Nationalists not only shared the conservatives' belief in the value of historical traditions but also tended to mythologize the past and dream of the return of an era of national glory. Ultimately, however, what drove a wedge between liberals and nationalists was the failure of liberals to hold the power they had temporarily seized. As the conservative reaction in the second half of 1848 smashed liberal movements everywhere in Europe, nationalists dreaming of a strong unified country free from foreign rule increasingly turned to conservative leaders.

The Unification of Italy

The Forces Against Unity in Italy

The settlement after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 had greatly disappointed those hoping for an Italian nation state. The Italian peninsula consisted of separate states controlled by powerful enemies of Italian nationalism:

  • The Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria controlled, either directly or through its vassals, Lombardy and Venetia in the north, and the duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena.
  • The pope governed an area known as the Papal States in central Italy.
  • A branch of the Bourbon dynasty (which ruled France) controlled the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the south.
  • An Italian dynasty, the House of Savoy, controlled both the Island of Sardinia in the south and Piedmont in the northwest.

In addition to political divisions and foreign interests, the Italian peninsula was also divided by economic and cultural differences:

  • The northern areas of the peninsula were well developed economically and more sophisticated culturally than the still largely rural and agricultural areas of the south.
  • Culturally, the people of the more developed northern region felt little connection to the poor peasants in the south, who often spoke an entirely different dialect.
  • Socially and politically, the middle-class merchants and manufacturers, located mostly in the north, wanted a greater degree of unity for easier trade and tended to support liberal reforms; they were opposed by the staunchly conservative, traditional landed elites.
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