Why was nationalism considered the main reason for WWI? Russell, Freud, etc. all [greats] supported their own country in WWI.If it is true that nationalism was the root cause, what led to it?

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enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You're welcome! "Identity Crisis" is exactly the term for that era...since it came from the time of Freud...:)

And yes, you're even more succinct in describing the situation as an increasing desire to be superior economically, culturally, politically, and militarily.  I once read a history text about WWI which stated something like...."and so the whole of Europe imploded....which 10 years earlier had proudly run the planet."  I doubt anyone in 1900 or even 1910 could have seen such a catastrophic ending to such a productive period.  But this is the crux of history!!  "History's the study of the lulls between the wars." -- What led up to war, and what war's consequences were.

Unquestionably, mankind had never experienced anything like the 19th century. All of those elements you mention grew, came to fruition, and blossomed into whole areas never dreamed of -- they called it "progress!"  and we're still benefitting from that time.  The creation and destruction of that modern "Golden Era," although a bit complicated, isn't hard to see if we consider studying the time between wars.  Consider the American Revolution -- England loses colonies.  That Revolution mobilizes France to "catch up" with English/American style government, and results in the French Revolution.  That revolution, in many respects, failed, and birthed the French Empire under Napoleon, who, in order to compete with the British Empire, who unassailably ruled the oceans of the world, and gain French colonies or land conquests, focused resources in becoming the land power in Europe, causing the Napoleonic Wars during the expansion into Germanic and Italic areas.  That pushed the Germanic and Italic city-states into unification in the 1860's under a central government,  giving rise to the nation-state.  (Curiously, the US also had its "Unification" War during that time, too!) That increasing centralization gave rise to the "nationalism" that played as a factor in WWI; If the French, English, Germans, and Italians can have their own unified State, why not Bulgarians, Polish, Romanians, Slavs, etc.?  (..and still working on it in the 1990’s!) Germany, once unified, wanted to "catch up" with their cousins running the British Empire, and sadly repeated what France tried, wanting its own colonies, and more critically, wanting to be the European land power, eventually leading to First and Second Acts of a World War. The other political force in play was that after 1815, no one in Europe wanted a French Revolution in their country! So monarchies in Europe were preserved for a time.  The key word, then, for those 100 years after the French Revolution / Napoleonic Wars was "Stability!!"  Unfortunately, that in time came to mean, "stability at all costs,"  and eventually stability transformed into ossification.  The Concert of Vienna, which worked so wonderfully early on, became the sacred cow of European politics -- no one wanted (or possibly could have) altered it to to adjust to the times.

Economically, industrialization and trade within and without Europe, in its infancy in the 1810's, grew to be of major importance in governmental policy. A whole, large, working and middle class developed across Europe -- this was the time of Marx and Engalls -- and tensions regarding this new class of people erupted during the Revolutions of 1848, which were forced underground again, expressing itself in the Anarchist movement of the late 1800's.  So what we would call "class warfare" expressed itself on a large scale for the first time.

Despite these troubles, as you observed, the fruits of the Enlightenment were in full force in the 19th century -- this was the Age of Reason and optimism.  The tragedy is that monarchies couldn't alter quickly enough to address the changing times, and Nationalism blinded countries to acting in everyones' best interest.

One curious point. Germany and Britain were ruled by the same extended family, transforming political problems into familial and personal ones.  Germany continued to attempt to expand at British expense, and isolate her in the process with the various Entangling Alliances.  German thinking was "Who are they going to ally with?  Russia or France?!?! After all, we're family!!" Germany pushed that so hard that in a surprising tactical backfire,  traditional enemies France and Britain, skirmishing and warring for near a 1000 years, became allies!

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Europe maintained peace since Napoleon's time by keeping a balance of power between nation-states. Eventually these alliances became hopelessly complicated and entangled.  They kept European powers from invading each other, but the struggle between countries to expand played out through the acquisition of colonies outside Europe. Within Europe, Nationalism rose between European businesses competing to expand markets, and culturally, by a desire to see one's own culture imposed upon one's neighbors. Thus it was understood that, for example, that a Frenchman would become a German once "liberated" from oppressive French concepts, and vice-versa. In order to compete with French and English colonies, Germany decided to build a "Middle Europe" empire stretching from the Baltic to the Middle East, which meant imposing German Ideals among Slavic populations.  Within the less-stable countries, notably Austria-Hungary ("known as "the Sick Man of Europe") the many different ethnic groups within the country itself wished to establish their own political identity and independence, and thus contributed to the rise of Nationalism by freeing themselves from Germanic influence.  When the political conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, or cultural conflict between Slavic and Germanic, exploded in 1914, the "Entangling Alliances" brought the major European powers to war with each other.

dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no doubt that posts #2 and 4 offer explicit informative information with which I concur, however there is an additional point I'd like to offer for consideration as to why Nationalism triggered WWI. Should the self indulged alliances between the Royal Houses of Europe prior to 1914 be accountable for the untolled destruction that lie ahead? Answer, yes. Was there a possibility that the 'people' had had enough of the self ingratiating royals to rise up in defense of their national right? Answer, yes.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Germany is a great example of the dangers of nationalism. Remember it was also an isolationist strategy that kept the US from entering the conflict in Europe early enough to stop Hitler. There are some nationalistic connections there.
infohost1 | Student

The rise of nationalism (pride for your country) was a major factor in the rise of WWI. The Prussian War of 1870-71 left France morning over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. France then had a major determination to gain the land back. The loss of Alsace-Lorraine was a major factor in the rise of nationalism in France.  

rtan6 | Student

Thanks for a succinct and informative explanation.  So culture and economics mixed well enough to create some kind of "identity crisis" ... or put another way, an increasing desire to be superior economically, culturally, politically and miltarily.  

I was told the 100 years between the end of the Napoleonic Wars (which led to the Congress of Vienna) and World War I are generally considered the "golden era" of modern history.  Indeed, many major scientific discoveries, inventions, and great ideas came out of this period:  physics, mathematics and other branches of science saw the greatest collection of contributions to fundamental knowledge.  It is difficult to see how a period of such immense intellectual and economic prosperity ended the way it ended.

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