THE 19TH CENTURY
The 19th Century World was dominated by two revolutions, the French Revolutionary period of 1789-1815, and Britain’s Industrial Revolution that left the British the preeminent industrial power from the 1750s to the 1850s
Revolutions and Nations: Hobsbawm’s 19th Century
By Nick Shepley
No living historian has given so comprehensive an account of the ‘long 19th Century’ as Eric Hobsbawm in his trilogy The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital and The Age of Empire. In am going to rely on Hobsbawm’s analysis here, but it will obviously just be an outline, the best thing to do would be to read the three titles (followed by his Age of Extremes, the short 20th Century) see the further reading section at the end. The French Revolution of 1789 that saw the fall of the ancien regime in France owing to an insurmountable debt crisis and the establishment of a ‘bourgeois’ assembly. The decision to go to war against Prussia and Austria radicalised the revolution and resulted in the
terror and the execution of the King. Counter revolutionary campaigns against France were defeated and from 1797 to 1815 the values of the revolution were spread across Europe by Napoleon Bonaparte’s eventual defeat in 1815 and his exile to St Helena in the Atlantic did nothing to stem the tide of revolutionary thought in Europe and the continent would see continual revolutionary outbursts until 1848. A century of philosophical and intellectual change in the 18th Century, popularly referred to as ‘The Enlightenment’ along with a growing literate middle class in Europe who could understand the ideas of Kant, Descartes, Smith and others left the old aristocracy with a problem. They
no longer had the unconditional support of the masses that they once might have had. From 1815 onwards, at the Congress of Vienna, the great powers of Europe agreed amongst themselves that the spectre of revolution must be fought at all costs. Russia and Austria, the two biggest victors from the Napoleonic Wars became Europe’s policemen, stamping out revolution from Italy to Poland and the Balkans. Revolutionaries across much of pre industrialised Europe were motivated largely by a liberal conception of nationalism. In countries like Italy, not yet formed into a nation state but largely culturally united by language and custom, revolutionaries like Giuseppe
Liberalism’s Decline The failure of 1848
By Nick Shepley
Mazzini demanded an end to the dominance of Austria over the Italian states and a uniﬁed Italian nation to emerge, ruled by an elected assembly with minimal interference from the church. All citizens would be participants in national life and, Mazzini hoped, peace between nations could be assured by other European powers unifying and declaring their independence in the same way. A family of nations might exist, he hoped, and this fraternal nature of Europe and the New World would prevent states from going to war with one another. By 1848, when most of Europe was engulfed in a series of spontanteous revolutions, the liberal nationalists had reached the height of their inﬂuence, but in 1849, authoritarian rule by Austria, Prussia and Russia was swiftly resumed. In most countries the revolutionary movement was soundly defeated and with it the idea that national uniﬁcation could be done in a liberal democratic manner but, as German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck put it: “Not by speeches and votes of the majority, are the great questions of the time decided — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.” Bismarck, who later uniﬁed Germany through a series of three wars (just as Cavour and Garibaldi later uniﬁed Italy) demonstrated that states would not be created through the good intentions of the people, but through violence and warfare. Prussia after 1871 formed the core of a greater German Empire, made up of the
Mazzini and Bismarck, two faces on nationalism and national uniﬁcation. The emphasis shifted from Mazzini’s ideas to Bismarck’s largely due to the failure of the 1848 revolutions and Bismarck’s ability to see realistically what could be achieved.
Every mission constitutes a pledge of duty. Every man is bound to consecrate his every faculty to its fulﬁlment. He will derive his rule of action from the profound conviction of that duty.
Germanic states of the Rhine, this suggests less that it was a union of all the German peoples together and more that it was the product of Prussian expansionism. Italy too was united by wars fought by the northern state of Piedmont) why did states like Prussia and Piedmont want to expand? Industrialisation and the revolutionary force of modern capitalism meant that the newly ascendent bourgeois classes in both countries looked for raw materials, labour and markets for their products and using the language of the liberal nationalists, of uniting all peoples of the same tongue under one ﬂag they created new states that would serve this purpose. Because national uniﬁcation was state-led and not intrinsically democratic, the Germany and Italy that emerged were autocratic, aristocratic and authoritarian, far from what Mazzini had envisioned. Nationalism itself took a more authoritarian, warlike and aggressive tone, and even though there was no major war in Europe from 1870-1914, nationalism was a major cause of war at the end of the era. People cheered across Europe when war was announced.