Nationalism occurs as one of the highly coveted topics that have and continue to be discussed in various societal contexts. While much has been hypothesized regarding nationalism, it is of the essence to note that it primarily refers to a pervasive cultural development that took place in the 19th century. Precisely, it connotes to a phenomenon that was characterized by innate passion and urgent concern for national identity (Backman, 2013). The emergence of nationalism in the 19th century led to the development of pertinent notions regarding national identity, whereby populations had an immense focus on what belonging to a particular cultural or ethnic group meant. Deductively, nationalism was a positive force in the 19th century Europe because of three primary reasons; it led to the unification of warring states, it enhanced a sense of communal identity and enhanced ethnic-heterogeneity.
The first reason that justifies the notion that nationalism was a positive force in the 19th century Europe aligns with the fact that it is as a result of nationalism that there was increased unification of various warring states across Europe. Precisely, Italy and Germany are the most pertinent nations that experienced unification as a result of nationalism. With regards to Italy, Mazzini (1844), notes that prior the 1870, Italy was characterized by its mere geographical expression comprising of various principalities that were ruled differently. As such, the Italians during this era did not pledge allegiance to their country. Instead, they owed allegiance to their municipalities. As a result, Italy experienced revolts, whereby populations from each municipality were not receptive of each. However, the emergence of nationalism in the 19th century played a significant role in bringing the Italians together. Italy prior the nationalism era was characterized by massive revolutions, which jeopardized national development. Nationalism is thus viewed as a positive force in the Italian context because nationalism led to the initiation of nationalist organization that advocated unity of Italy under a republican government. In a nutshell, nationalism in the Italian offered an ample platform that paved way for the end of revolution that were fuelled by the lack of a sense of national unity and identity. As a result of nationalism, Italians began to pledge allegiance to their country and not their municipalities, and this was a positive implication emanating from nationalism.
In the context of Germany, nationalism is also viewed as a positive force because it contributed to its unification. From the 13th century, Germany did not exists as a unified state, not until the emergence of nationalism. Historically, Germany had close to thirty-eight Confederate states, each running on its own. Such division did not allow for mutual development, and this reduced Germany’s capacity to catch up with other industrialized nations such as England, which had embraced nationalism. Apart from hindering national development, disintegrated German states experienced massive inequalities and abuses resulting from industrial capitalism (Backman, 2013). Therefore, Germans of various dialects had innate quest for a unified nation. Many Germans viewed national union as the most promising path to both economic growth and social reform. For this purpose, nationalism is viewed as a positive force in the German context because it paved way for it unification, which leveraged its capability to compete economically with other industrialized states such as England.
The second reason as to why nationalism was a positive force in the 19th century aligns with the fact that it enhanced a sense of communal identity. At the beginning of the 19th century the question of identity haunted various populations, even those who had lived together for decades (Backman, 2013). While it is true that the question may seem ambiguous, it is of the essence to note that populations sought to know the infinite configuration that could explain their existence. Before the 19th century, the populations had little sense of communal identity. Borders drawn along religious, geographic, and dynastic lines caused divisions amongst the populations; hence, made it difficult for the populations to develop a sense of communal identity. Nationalism led to the demarcation of borders based on national lines. This accommodated populations drawn from different geographies, religions, and dynasties. This justifies the fact that nationalism was a positive force as it enhanced a sense of communal identity.
Finally, nationalism was a positive force in the 19th century because it enhanced ethnic-heterogeneity. Nationalism did not only accommodate populations drawn from one region. Backman, 2013, pg. 707 asks the question “(What of) those parts of the world where people who are confessedly of different races and languages inhabit a continuous territory and live under the same government?” This is perhaps one of the questions that pose a dilemma when dealing with nationalism phenomenon. Nonetheless, it is of the essence that in such cases, nationalism prompts the formation of an “artificial nation.” This analysis shows that nationalism is a positive force because it is accommodative to people from varying ethnic lines. In a nutshell, nationalism creates a sense of free will that allows people from different ethnic lines to live in harmony and assimilate.
Backman, C. R. (2013). The cultures of the West: A history: Chapter 19 Nationalism and Identity 1801-1903. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mazzini, J. (1844). “An Essay on the Duties of Man Addressed to Workingmen: Duties Towards Your Country.”