The multifaceted nature of nationalism illustrated by the example of German History

Essay, 2014
6 Pages, Grade: 1
Phillip Thaler (Author)


The multifaceted nature of nationalism illustrated by the example of German History

As a result of nationalism´s "schizophrenic political character" (Heywood, 2012 : 172), there are many different points of view regarding how nationalism can be seen as both a negative and a positive concept. "Nationalism is a political principle which maintains that similarity of culture is the basic social bond." (Gellner, 1997 : 3) This definition by Ernest Gellner, one of the best known scholars of nationalism, concisely sums up, what the key factors of the political ideology and the related social movements stand for. There are numerousness different types of nationalism, which all have their own particular characteristics but are not mutually exclusive and often are combined.

By looking at German history, from the country´s unification until the end of the second world war, a period in which nationalism was instrumental in the nations shaping, this essay will attempt to highlight and evaluate several of these forms of nationalism. In what way can these examples be used to explain how the theory can be applied in both a positive and a negative manner? Briefly summarized, the first signs of German nationalism were apparent with the unification of Germany, upon which developed a state where one of the world most extreme fascist movements was formed; Nazism. Ideas of national identity started to play a role during the 18th century, when nation states achieved their mature status in Europe. An illustrative example of this is the development from the German Confederation of 39 states to a national state, which started with the German March Revolution in 1848. Unification is "the process through which a collection of separate political entities, usually sharing cultural characteristics, are integrated into a single state" (Heywood, 2012 : 178), and such seeks to attain political independence and national self-determination. German unification was propelled by a pan-nationalistic movement, which John Breuilly, professor at Oxford University, defines as follows; "Pan-nationalisms are generally defined as politico-cultural movements seeking to enhance and promote the solidarity of peoples bound together by common or kindred language, cultural similarities, the same historical traditions and/or geographical proximity" (Breuilly, 2013, p. 673). German Pangermanismus or Alldeutschtum had its roots in the desire for German unification stimulated by the war of liberation againstNapoleonand fanned by national ideas. These were taken up by writers such as Goethe and Herder as well as early German nationalists likeFriedrich Ludwig Jahn (Turnvater Jahn) andErnst Moritz Arndt, who encouraged a cultural reinvigoration and created the so called Volksgeist (spirit of the people). German nationalism, in particular, when comparison to other nations, is founded upon a common language. "Language is often taken to be the clearest symbol of nationhood", embodying "distinctive attitudes, values and forms of expression that produce a sense of familiarity and belonging" (Heywood, 2012 : 173).

The Bourgeoisie's aspirations for unification and their demands for freedom and democracy led to the strengthening of the upper middle class, and subsequently to the formation of a German nation state under Otto von Bismarck´s direction in 1871. The creation of a national community demanded several domestic reforms, which impacted upon various areas. The personalized loyalty which existed in the kingship was expanded to a supra-personal level. The Reichstag and universal suffrage became an integral part of national unity. Konrad Duden standardized the German orthography and pronunciation (see Weiss, 1995). The Kaiser and the German empire became well established terms in society. In addition this, numerous national holidays and the construction of monuments like the famous "Bismarck-Tower" strengthened the powerful sense of national consciousness and idea of togetherness (see Kamusella, 2007 : 161). This new state model became a symbol of identification for every citizen of the nation.

On the one hand, nationalist movements led to a unified Germany, which created a strong power on the continent. It was the main force, which during the period between 1870 to 1914 helped Germany transform from an agrarian state into a modern industrial country. It became the greatest power on the continent and remade the face of German and European territory until the present day. This shows the great importance of nationalism for the countries unification and the creation of structures which are still in place today, forming the basis for national pride and patriotism. On the other hand, technological innovation and the imperialistic "blood and iron" (see Snyder, 1978 : 245) policy of Bismarck furthered militarism. This led to an arms race between European countries, such as the famous Anglo-German naval rivalry, which jeopardised peace in Europe by threatening other countries and laying the foundation for WWI.


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The multifaceted nature of nationalism illustrated by the example of German History
Loughborough University  (Politics, History and International Relations)
Debates and Developments in Contemporary IR Theory
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
638 KB
Positive oder negative Formen von Nationalismus am Beispiel Deutscher Geschichte erklärt.
Nationalism, German, History, Patriotism, Bismarck, Hitler, Unterschied Nationalismus und Patriotismus, Volksgemeinschaft, Us versus them
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Phillip Thaler (Author), 2014, The multifaceted nature of nationalism illustrated by the example of German History, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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