To what extent did literacy and religion provide the cultural underpinnings of nineteenth-century nationalism? Discuss in no more than 1500 words. Nationalism is defined as being a ‘policy of national independence’ or, ‘patriotism, sometimes to an excessive degree’. Certainly that is how it has come to be seen in modern society where calls to take arms in support of one’s homeland have proved a defining point in twentieth-century history in a way they had never done before.
Significantly, Anderson states that the growth of nationalism represented ‘the most important political fact of the nineteenth century in Europe’ (p. 204) and that, particularly in the ‘second half of the century [it was accountable for] a great work of political destruction and creation. ‘ (p. 204) The birth of the concept of a national identity in the sense that we now take for granted has been traced back to the period immediately after the French Revolution, which represented the birth of the ‘dynamic force it [nationalism] was to become in the following [nineteenth] century.
(Anderson, p. 205) Importantly, Anderson does add that a dislike of foreigners can be seen to have existed, ‘centuries before this, at least in western Europe’ (p. 205) However, to settle for this by mean of an explanation as to the reasons for the spread of nationalism or its strengthening grip on the consciousness of contemporary society would be negligent in the extreme as I intend to demonstrate. It is important to note that he ascribes much of the growth of the feelings of ‘nation’ to the ‘increasing use of… vernacular languages in administration…
and literature’ which had the effect of binding together ‘the inhabitants of each great linguistic area… and differentiating it from its neighbours’ (Anderson, p. 205) Anderson then goes on to assert that ‘the increasing subordination of Church to state… strengthened embryonic national feeling in may areas’. (p. 205). This is in stark contrast to Marwick’s observation that ‘schools were run by the church and private individuals’, which is more in keeping with the popular view of nineteenth-century life, as observed by Dickens in “Great Expectations” and “Hard Times”, in particular.
Indeed Marwick is inclined to the view that ‘the state was more concerned with… training civil servants. … and professional… than with… Popular Education’ (Block 3, p. 44) It is important to note that the nineteenth century began with Europe in turmoil; the rise of Napoleon having sparked off a desire by the peoples of much of the continent to unite against a common enemy, one from outside their geographical boundaries who spread terror across the continent.
This saw them beginning to see beyond the local picture that had previously been the dominant one, and begin to regard themselves as British, German, French or Russian rather than English, Breton or whatever. Furthermore, the French Revolution had created a level of political awareness amongst the populace that had been hitherto virtually unknown. No longer were peasants, farm workers and factory hands prepared to accept that they were incapable of having a powerful voice in shaping their own and their countries’ destinies.
That the period immediately prior to this had seen the emergence of ‘relatively powerful monarchies [in] England, France, Spain, Russia and Sweden’ (Anderson, p. 205) served only to give rise to much of the ‘political and territorial framework within which… nationalism was to function’. It also increased demands for the extension of suffrage, initially to working men and finally on a universal basis, thereby creating the need, at least in the eyes of the ruling classes, to provide a basic education to everyone in order that they might at least have an understanding of what it was that they were voting for.