How did the clash of conservatism, liberalism, and nationalism contribute to unrest in Europe in the 1800s?

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Conservatism, liberalism, and nationalism were doctrines with different principles about how society should function. Conservatives wanted to restore the monarchy and retain old societal traditions; liberals advocated republics in which they could vote and have more rights; nationalists were especially concerned with national pride and remaining independent from other nations—newly formed nations, like Germany and Italy, united by way of bolstering their “national identity.” All of these varying ideas meant factions within society, and these factions were vying for the power to implement their beliefs. Conservatives were already well-established, as their ideals were the ones that had been historically prevalent; nationalists and liberals were rising as new, rebellious alternatives. With conservatives struggling to keep their power and nationalists and liberals rising to take it, conflicts were inevitable. These political and social tensions contributed to the occurrence of repeated revolts, some of which evolved into entire revolutions.

1848 was especially marked by revolutions throughout Europe. Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, the Habsburg Austrian Empire, and several others all experienced revolutions in this year. You can see how conservatism, liberalism, and nationalism played a role in the three examples below:

  1. The Austrian Empire’s revolution was especially nationalistic in character. The Austrian Empire included a multitude of nationalities, including Slovenes, Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Croats, Serbs, and others, that each revolted in an attempt to gain independence, autonomy, or dominance over other nationalities.

  2. Denmark had been ruled by an absolute monarchy since the 17th century; liberals fought for a constitutional monarchy.

  3. The liberal revolt in Germany confronted the old aristocracy for freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and national unity.

For some countries, 1848 was not marked by revolution, such as Great Britain, the Russian Empire, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, etc. These nations encountered problems at other points within the 19th century. Revolts within the Russian Empire took place in the 1830s, 40s, and 60s. Switzerland and Portugal fought civil wars in the years leading up to 1848, and Britain had just pacified its middle class in 1832 with the Reform Act, granting general enfranchisement.

Ultimately, conservatism, liberalism, and nationalism separated people by political and social beliefs, which led them into violent wars for power to see their ideals succeed.

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The clash of conservatism and liberalism led to a number of revolutions and attempted revolutions during the early to middle parts of the 1800s.  Later in the century, nationalism led to conflicts as what are now Germany and Italy (especially) tried to unify the various little political entities that held people of their ethnic groups.

Especially in the 1840s, there were revolutions around Europe led by liberals who wanted more democracy.  The most important of these was the one that occurred in Germany in 1848.

In the 1870s, both Germany and Italy unified.  Each of these had been made up of many little "countries."  In both cases, the unification caused conflicts to erupt.

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This era of European history can be neatly bracketed by the major events of the French Revolution in the late 1700's, and World War I in the early 1900's.  Indeed, much of what is interesting to study in history occurs in "the lull between the wars."  Conveniently, about midway in this era, in 1848, Europe was wracked with revolution, beginning once again in Paris and spreading to other countries attempting to reform their governments.  Interestingly, it was also the year that Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto.

Much of Latin America, inspired by what the former British Colonies did in the North, revolted against their European masters.  By 1830, much of the continent was composed of newly independent countries;  the movement to break away from monarchical foreign control among the colonies spread back to Europe proper, and inspired its oppressed to alter or abolish their own governments.  The conflicts mid-century were essentially the first large scale class conflict; hereditary titles holding political and economic power began to look dated in contrast to the prior revolutions in the New World and in France.  The links provide more detail about Nationalism and the clashes of conservatism and liberalism.



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