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The decades following the Congress of Vienna saw a renewed intellectual movement. The themes of nationalism and liberalism didn’t originate during the years after the Congress but they began to receive much attention. Intellectuals were intrigued by the ideas and how they affected people so much that they would take up arms and fight for them. The interest in these ideas and the open discussions about them kept the ideas of nationalism in the minds of everyone and fueled later revolutions against the efforts of the conservatives.


The first true example of nationalism in Europe dates to the fifteenth century and the Hundred Years’ War (see Chapter 1). The two kingdoms of England and France fought for generations, initially out of a sense of feudal obligations to the king, but over the course of the war something new developed. The war turned into a war of English versus French rather than the English king versus the French king. The nationalism that developed gave birth to the modern concept of a nation-state, a concept that certainly was not lost on nineteenth-century Europe.

Nationalism can be defined as a sense of belonging or a sense of duty to a nation. Nationalism throughout history has been both fostered and enhanced by factors that would become increasingly important for the European people over the hundred years following the Congress of Vienna. First, nationalism is fostered and enhanced by a sense of a common culture: common language, history, religion, customs, and values. A common culture is vital to nationalism because people feel a sense of alike- ness and belonging. The Irish and Scots serve as a great example. For centuries, the Irish and the Scots resented rule by the English and desired sovereignty mostly because they were different from the English and they didn’t have much in common with the English.

Second, a common geography among a people fosters and enhances nationalism. When people live in close proximity to one another they are able to feel a sense of unity that people far away usually cannot. A common geography often ensures that the people within a given area have a common history and language, both of which are vital to nationalism. The influence of geography on nationalism can be seen in the example of the British colonies in America. Many of the colonists prior to the revolution had no sense of English nationalism because they did not have a common geography with the English; most had never even been to England. Even though the United States did not yet exist, many colonists had a sense of American nationalism much deeper than any sense of English nationalism.

Third, common political beliefs and goals greatly enhance nationalism. If a people who share common culture and geography also possess a belief in or a desire for republicanism, for example, the sense of nationalism will be such that the people probably will be inspired to take up arms. This can be seen over and over, especially in the instances of the British colonies in America and in France prior to the French Revolution. This sense of common political beliefs and political goals can be a major force in making changes in the status quo or in resisting change.

Because nationalism relies so much on commonalities among people, a sense of us- versus-them often results. This powerful force can be used to resist oppression or to resist outside influences, just as the French government under Robespierre did. However, this us-versus-them mentality often manifests itself in unhealthy ways, too. By emphasizing the differences between “us” and “them,” people often objectify or dehumanize “them” to the point that the respect for human life is lost. Robespierre’s Reign of Terror serves as just one of many perfect examples of such a mentality.

This mentality also has social manifestations. The deep sense of nationalism among nineteenth-century Germans, for example, eventually led to the idea among Germans that they were superior to all other European peoples.


Most of the nationalists of the nineteenth century possessed a love and desire for liberalism, too. Liberalism, or advocating the ideas of liberty, equality, and human rights, first rose to prominence during the Enlightenment. The revolutions in America and in France serve as examples of the realization of liberal ideas. Central to liberalism was the belief in a democratic or republican government, as opposed to an authoritarian or monarchial government. Embraced by Enlightenment thinkers and revolutionaries throughout Europe, liberalism advocated the right to vote, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and universal justice within the legal system. Liberalism advocated limitations on government by written constitutions. Basically, liberals wanted as little government intervention in the lives of the people as possible. As such, liberalism extended beyond politics into economics and even into religion. 

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Universal suffrage is the right of all citizens to vote.

While liberalism seems at first like the hope of all people everywhere, nineteenth- century liberalism certainly was not. Initially, nineteenth-century liberalism did not embrace fully democratic ideas like universal suffrage or even universal male suffrage. In fact, liberals most often supported republican forms of government with limitations on who could vote. Because many liberals actually believed that voting rights should go hand in hand with ownership of property, liberalism increasingly became identified with the privileged middle class. Intellectuals, in particular, often argued that liberal ideals should be extended to all people, or at least to all males, regardless of property ownership. 

For the liberals who rested comfortably among the property-owning middle class, democracy seemed rather frightening. First, democracy would mean a reduction in the power of the middle class and, second, democracy would mean that the masses of uneducated people would be allowed to participate in the government. Those who embraced full-blown democracy were seen even among liberals as radical. Those radicals who embraced democracy often were the first to take up arms and resort to violence.


The Europeans most disturbed by the rise of nationalism and especially liberalism were those who embraced the idea of conservatism. According to the classical definitions, liberals advocated change while conservatives advocated the status quo. For the most part, that describes the conservatives of nineteenth-century Europe.

The conservatives of Europe were the landed aristocracy, the monarchists, and the privileged nobility. They didn’t resist change just to spite the liberals and the nationalists or to be oppressive. From the perspective of the conservatives, Europe had always been ruled by the privileged. The monarchs of the west and east alike, though they had different relationships with the nobility of their nations, still were superior to most of the people they ruled. The ruling classes historically had been educated and had had experience in business and diplomatic affairs. They simply were the best suited to rule.

Conservatives looked in horror at the results of nationalistic and liberal movements: revolution. Aside from the fact that both nationalism and liberalism threatened the aristocracy’s monopoly on power, the two ideals threatened the safety of everyone. Conservatives pointed to the violent, bloody French Revolution as the perfect example of what happened when liberals got the idea that they were capable of changing the status quo. Furthermore, most conservatives hated the idea of making the common people frenzied by spreading notions of democracy. Conservatives also feared the nationalism that so often accompanied liberalism. Many leading conservatives of the early nineteenth century ruled multinational empires. If each of the peoples ruled by the conservatives were stricken with nationalism, the conservative empires were doomed as each of the subjugate peoples would desire independence. No conservative of the nineteenth century epitomized this more than Metternich.

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