Part-3 NATIONALISM AND BRITISH DEMOCRATIC POLITICS

Factors Affecting Spread and Growth of Nationalism

The process of democratization in the first half of the 19th century was accelerated not only by revolutions but by a gradual process of socio- economic change; the growth of industries and the new social classes of the bourgeoisie and workers.

As the economy developed new social classes, of which the emergence of the working class in particular posed new problems for the 19th century modernizing state and the liberal bourgeoisie. After the 1832 Reform Act in Britain the struggle of the liberal middle class parted company with the struggles of the working classes. The inclusion of the propertied middle classes within the framework of electoral democracy was typically achieved in several European states by the mid 19th century. It was the emergence of the labour and socialist movement in the late 19th century which affected the balance of social forces. The rise of the Social Democratic Party in Germany during the late 19th century affected the position of the liberal bourgeoisie vis-à-vis the conservatives in the German  politics  and  society.  Mass participation

– even the participation of a broad based socialist party – did not successfully democratize German society, though the extent of pre-World War I German  conservatism  has  been exaggerated.

The modernization of states was accompanied by the development of a centralized administration and a large bureaucracy  based on rational-legal principles. This process was accompanied by the development of a national language, of a language of administration  and not merely local communication. The choice of a dialect or language as the medium of official communication led to public or state support for its propagation, especially through the school system. The growth of a professional middle class and of modern state  bureaucracies  were  based on the growth of modern universities, law and journalism. The expansion of secondary school system and the state choice of the official or national language in schools became a source of great conflict among rival ethnic linguistic groups within multi-ethnic states like Austria-Hungary and in Eastern Europe in general. However, in earlier periods language had been less divisive because literacy levels were very    low.

The modern state and its administrative innovations themselves sharpened a sense of linguistic identity among the general population. The statisticians and census data collectors from the 1860s onwards sought data on language. Hobsbawm observes, “In truth, by asking the language question, censuses for the first time forced everyone to choose not only a nationality, but  a  linguistic nationality”.

In older states like Britain and France a state- based patriotism itself encouraged a sense of nationalism during the course of the 19th century. The patriotism of the working classes in Europe did not deny the chasm between classes but affirmed its loyalty to the nation state. The most significant illustration of this is the manner in which the working class and socialist parties   of the Second International which had repeatedly passed political resolutions condemning the idea of an imperialist war and emphasizing the international character of the struggle of the socialist parties very quickly identified with their nations and their national interest once the First World War broke out. It is evident that Socialists and Marxists had underestimated the power of nationalism and the patriotism of the working classes, even of these groups who professed socialism and identified with the social democratic parties.

The gradual extension of the franchise  and the efforts of liberal states like Britain, modernizing states like Germany, or survival strategies of autocracies like Tsarist Russia to gain legitimacy and popular support, produced a form of patriotism. National pride and national identification was also encouraged by overseas expansion, by the material and psychological rewards which imperial possessions brought to countries like Britain, France, and even Holland and Spain. In Britain a sense of national identification was encouraged not only because  of the “peculiarities” of the English and the glorious tradition of free born Englishmen, but also because of pride in a worldwide empire.

The aggressive nationalism of the conservative regimes in the late industrializing countries like Germany helped to rally support for the regime and to encourage nationalist sentiment throughout Europe. The speech by the German Emperor, William II, at Tangiers in Morocco in 1905, induced widespread fear in France, helped to create a sense of national unity  which  was  able to transcend domestic conflicts in times of acute crisis.

 

The period from 1890 to 1914 is often called the period of armed “peace” based on the creation of rival military and diplomatic alliances, between contenders for industrial and military supremacy and for colonial possessions and profits. Nationalism in the period 1880-1914 was no longer constrained by the ‘threshold principle’ which had limited the demands for nation states earlier. Anybody of people claiming to be a nation could claim the right to national self- determination.

The reasons for the increasing readiness of real and imagined communities to make claims of nationhood and national self-determination was because of the pace of change, economic distress and large scale migration of peoples in this period. Traditional groups felt threatened by the pace of modernization. Educated middle strata with modest incomes- journalists, school teachers and petty officials were the torchbearers of linguistic nationalism. Migration produced friction and conflicts between groups unused to coexistence  with  different groups.

The oppressed nationalities of Eastern Europe did become independent states based on Wilson’s support for the principle of national self- determination but it is hardly possible to assert that significant numbers had dreamed of both social  revolution  and  national independence.

 

Spread of nationalism

Britain can be said to be the first nation state  in modern sense as we identify the term ‘Nation’ today. Britain transformed its state and its politics from the 1770s to 1830s. The Wilkes agitation of 1770s and the parliamentary reform of the 1830s are the landmarks of these developments. From 1830, transformation of the state was marked by   a firm commitment to increasing intervention by the state that led to the beginnings of a welfare state and a system made to function by the state according to the rules of the market. The development of politics culminated in the outline of a pluralist liberal democracy. In this, besides  all the agitation politics by different interest groups, the working class played the most important role, especially with the Chartist movement of the 1840s. While Britain went through modernization, it was remarkable for having done so without a deliberate revolution   as  in France.

Although the democratization of France took place gradually, and the French Revolutions of 1830 and 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871  are part of the gradual process of democratization of French politics and society, the significance of the radicalism of the years 1792-95 cannot be denied.

Though, Napoleonic dictatorship was a retreat from the ideals of the Revolution it is equally true that his military exploits and conquests simplified the political map of Europe and spread the ideas of nationalism and democracy among the conquered people. The Congress of Vienna not only wished to contain France but also, through the Metternich system, the conservative European Powers – represented by Prussia, Austria and Russia – sought to restrict the spread of both democratic and nationalist ideas.

 

Metternich system

In 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, the protagonists of the old European order, inspired by the Austrian Chancellor, Count Metternich, tried to create a permanent barrier against national and liberal movements. Popularly known as the Metternich system, the origins of this system of alliances can be traced from the Holy Alliance, brought together by Tsar Alexander I, and its rival, the Quadruple Alliance, which was a British creation to counteract the Tsar. These two different systems of alliances set the stage for what came to be known as the Congress system, which in the period after 1815, envisaged a series of international congresses of the great powers to decide on European issues and problems. The power structure of European states was periodically reviewed after the Napoleonic wars by the European great powers through the mechanism known as the “Congress System”. This was a periodic conference of the leaders of the great powers in Europe to maintain the balance of power between themselves starting with the Congress of St. Petersburg in 1825. Congress of Berlin in 1878 was a high point which dealt with the consequences of the war between  the  Russian  and  Ottoman Empires.

After 1818, following the Congress of Aix-la- Chappelle, there was a growing inclination towards great power intervention in the domestic politics  of  a   country  threatened  by  liberal

 

movements. e.g. in 1820, when a outbreak occurred in Naples, the Powers conceded to Metternich’s demand for intervention. At the Congress of Laibach, 1821, Metternich was allowed to intervene in Naples and Piedmont to restore the absolutist regimes. This was the greatest  triumph  of  the  Metternich system.

Even though the landed aristocracy and the Church felt rejuvenated by the  Restoration  of the traditional dynasties, it was still impossible  for the restored monarchies to ignore popular political sentiments. These “strands” were moderate constitutionalism, that would accept a monarchy in a popular guise, radical republicanism which verged on democracy, and an inchoate egalitarianism that anticipated socialist  ideas  of  the future.

Between 1815 and 1848, the character of the opposition to the restored regimes, however, underwent a significant transformation.  What in the 1820’s, looked like an elitist, somewhat conspiratorial opposition without any roots in a larger society became linked by 1848, with a range of popular political movements. In the process, however, the opposition also became divided. The main elements in the opposition were the liberals who were tolerant about monarchy but were keen to see absolutism reformed  into  a  constitutional monarchy.