The Rise of Nationalism After the French Revolution

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After the end of French Revolution, as the empires slowly diminished, countries wished to become independent and develop nation-states. Possibly one of the first nationalists was Johann Gottlieb Fichte, who attempted to urge Germans to be individual from people of other nation-states. Many years later, more people became interested in nationalism, some in more positive ways than others. Ernest Renan questioned the definition of an actual nation, and what constituted a nation. However, not everyone agreed with nationalism. John Acton strongly opposed nationalism and maintained that its primary goal was not freedom. Unfortunately, the negative connotations and slight misinterpretation of the works of each of the pro-nationalist authors gave rise to war, both the Great War and Second World War. Acton was right to oppose nationalism, as early thinkers such as Fichte, Mazzini and Renan gave unclear notions of nationalism, which contributed to misinterpretation of literary texts.

Fichte advocated for German nationalism, and in his “Addresses to the German Nation” of 1808, he insisted that Germans should act with a certain personality (of being German), “To have character and to be German undoubtedly mean the same” (63). This particular section of Fichte’s work is unique and interestingly unprecedented, as he is urging his fellow Germans to stand out and be recognized. He wanted to give them a sense of hope and even patriotism.

Primarily appearing rational and logical, asserting Germany’s independence from other nationalities, Fichte’s thoughts rapidly turn dark and unwelcoming when he describes the potential demise of Germany. Fichte stated that “we can avert the downfall of our nation which is being threatened by its fusion with fore...

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...the belief that foreigners were a hindrance to nationality and consequently the unification of Europe. As aforementioned, Acton was severely against the concept of nationalism. The question then becomes, what did nationalism lead to? It quickly led to war. Once certain phrases became apparent in society, such as “foreign contrivances” and “most intolerable of human beings”, they were bound to accelerate in severity. Many years later, Adolf Hitler contrived some of his arguments and beliefs from Fichte.

Fichte, Mazzini and Renan, all being nationalists, in their unclear and rather dissimilar descriptions of nationalism and what a nation-state should be, contributed to the misinterpretation of their texts. Acton was accurate in opposing nationalism, as it ultimately did not provide the liberty that each previous author had hoped for, but in great despair and warfare.