The Making of Nationalism in Europe: The Aristocracy & New Middle Class

If you look at the map of mid-eighteenth-century Europe you will find that there were no ‘nation-states’ as we know them today. What we know today as Germany, Italy, and Switzerland were divided into kingdoms, duchies, and cantons whose rulers had their autonomous territories.

Eastern and Central Europe were under autocratic monarchies within the territories of which lived diverse peoples marked with diversity in terms of language spoken and way of life. Such differences did not easily promote a sense of political unity. The only tie binding these diverse groups together was a common allegiance to the emperor. So, How did nationalism and the idea of the nation-state emerge? We would explore the other modules.

The Aristocracy and the New Middle Class

Socially and politically, a landed aristocracy was the dominant class on the continent. The members of this class were united by a common way of life that cut across regional divisions. They owned estates in the countryside and also townhouses. They spoke French for purposes of diplomacy and in high society.

Their families were often connected by ties of marriage. This powerful aristocracy was, however, numerically a small group. The majority of the population was made up of the peasantry. To the west, the bulk of the land was farmed by tenants and small owners, while in Eastern and Central Europe the pattern of landholding was characterized by vast estates which were cultivated by serfs

In Western and parts of Central Europe, the growth of industrial production and trade meant the growth of towns and the emergence of commercial classes whose existence was based on production for the market. Industrialization began in England in the second half of the eighteenth century, but in France and parts of the German states, it occurred only during the nineteenth century. In its wake, new social groups came into being: a working-class population and middle classes made up of industrialists, businessmen, professionals.

In Central and Eastern Europe, these groups were smaller in number till the late nineteenth century. It was among the educated, liberal middle classes that ideas of national unity following the abolition of aristocratic privileges gained popularity.

Read More: A New Conservatism after 1815: The Revolutionaries- Europe Nationalism

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