European nationalism in the nineteenth century seems to have picked up where religion had left off centuries before. This statement may sound provocative -- positing the state as a substitute for a God whose influence was waning -- but in reality it is possible to understand nineteenth-century nationalism in Europe as fundamentally a replay of earlier religious phenomena. In surveying the most salient manifestations of nationalism in the middle of the nineteenth century -- including German and Italian unifications, the formation of an independent Belgium, and the failure of Hungarian nationalism -- it is possible to see the statecraft as a reflection of an earlier European status quo in which dividing lines were largely religious rather than nationalistic. Combined with the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars and the ongoing Industrial Revolution, the old European status quo would be overturned by the end of the nineteenth century, essentially leaving nationalism as the new substitute for religious identity.
The most significant nationalistic phenomena of the nineteenth century, arguably, was the unification of Germany and Italy, essentially creating two of the substantial modern-day nations that we recognize as coherent parts of Europe. To suggest that religion played some role in the delayed unification of these territories is, of course, obvious. Germany had been the birthplace of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, and Italy had been the home of the Vatican since the time of the Roman Empire. It was religion that created the status quo in each country in the early nineteenth century, however. In Germany, the wars of religion that followed the Reformation had resulted in an uneasy status quo in which portions of the country were essentially religiously aligned due to the affiliations of their local government or aristocracy on the smallest territorial level. This was a direct consequence of the Thirty Years' War, and was the solution that had been imposed by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This status quo would be upheld roughly for two hundred years, and it is worth observing that the individual portions of Germany would remain entrenched in these religious identities in a way that persisted until the slow process of German unification happened in the nineteenth century. Bavaria, for example, due to its position in the south of Germany and its greater proximity to Italy remained historically Catholic throughout this time period, resisting any attempt to put a nationalistic spin on the subject of German anti-Catholicism or Lutheran reform. Meanwhile other portions of Germany remained -- as one would expect after Luther's reforms -- so staunchly Protestant that they could be relied upon for other countries that were attempting to maintain a Protestant identity throughout the religious disputes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The most noteworthy instance is, of course, England, which would turn to the German electorate of Hanover to maintain a Protestant monarchy in the United Kingdom -- thus handing over rule of Great Britain to the Hanoverian German, King George I. Italy's status quo in the early nineteenth century was, of course, substantially different: the Reformation never really made any serious inroads into the Italian peninsula, but the counter-Reformation had shored up the power of the Vatican. As a result, a vast portion of the Italian peninsula would be under the direct control of the Catholic Church into the nineteenth century.
The chief disruption to the religious status quo in Europe was, of course, provided by Napoleon Buonaparte. Napoleon's easy conquest of most of continental Europe may have seemed like the birth of nineteenth century nationalism in some ways: he claimed to be exporting the values of the French Revolution to the whole of the continent. But to a certain degree, a large portion of the French Revolutionary mentality was anti-clerical and also anti-monarchical. The standardization of much of Europe, the German principalities included, under the Code Napoleon would to some extent fatally damage the idea of hereditary aristocracy and thus would undercut much of the rationale for the individual religious character of separate German states as they had been established under the Treaty of Westphalia. Moreover, the Napoleonic system would entirely erase the Papal States for a period of about fifteen years, declaring a Roman Republic to govern the huge swathe of territory which stretched from Rome in the middle southwest coast of Italy almost toward Venice on the northeastern Adriatic coast. When the Napoleonic system collapsed in 1814, the Papal States would be restored -- but this would only last for approximately thirty years or so. In fact, the Carbonari revolts in the south of Italy would begin more or less immediately after Napoleon's downfall, in an attempt to forestall the tide of reactionary sentiment that would sweep over Italy after Napoleon's exile. The collapse of the Napoleonic system also occasioned the initial German Confederation, which would include thirty-nine separate individual states, but which was largely dominated by Prussia and Austria, which essentially managed through their own territorial rivalry to ensure that the German Confederation itself was a weak failure.
It was, of course, the events of the revolutionary year of 1848 that provided the tipping point for Italy and Germany alike: Mazzini would declare a Roman Republic to replace the Papal States in 1849, thus indicating that the Napoleonic system held an attraction for the rising Italian bourgeoisie that chafed under the yoke of a largely medieval system of governance. The revolutions of 1848 also finally collapsed the thirty-odd year system of the German Confederation, although it essentially led to a period of political turmoil -- it would take over a decade before the unification process could really begin in earnest under Bismarck's Prussian chancellorship. However, it is worth noting that the origins of Germany's fractured political situation in religious difference would provide the last major obstacle to Bismarck: it would be the political intransigence of south German Catholics, largely led by their Parliamentary spokesman Ludwig Windthorst, who would provide substantial resistance to Bismarck's policy of Kulturkampf. Margaret Anderson notes that "the Catholic population had suddenly dropped from rough equality with Protestants under the old German Confederation toa a minority of 36% in Bismarck's new creation" thus leading Bismarck's unification scheme to be "trumpted by its greatest enthusiasts as the Protestant empire" (Anderson 77). But by the last decades of the nineteenth century, essentially all religious piety had been replaced by simple Realpolitik: the differences were eventually settled when Bismarck went above Windthorst to negotiate directly with the Pope himself.
In some sense, the other European nation-states that came to birth (or failed to do so) in the nineteenth century were subject to the same long history of politics dominated by religion that were then disrupted by the Napoleonic wars. Belgium is a classic example, insofar as the independence of Belgium would be the first salient break with the post-Napoleonic status quo that had been carefully orchestrated by Talleyrand, Castlereagh, Metternich, and Nesselrode in 1815: their treaty forbade an independent Belgium. But the internal pressures that pushed for Belgian independence were in many ways religious in character: a majority Catholic population was under the rulership of a small Dutch Protestant minority. In some sense, the Dutch were now in the position over Belgium that the Spanish Hapsburgs held over the Dutch during the eighty-year struggle for Dutch independence in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It would essentially be the British who supported the Belgians in their cause, and thus Belgian independence came with typically British strings attached: a monarchy from Queen Victoria's own impeccably German Protestant principality (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and a guarantee of neutrality (thus providing an internal European buffer zone). But as Arblaster notes, "Britain was not unsympathetic to liberal revolution, France was all for it. Austria, Prussia, and Russia were aghast." (Arblaster 179). It is no accident that Belgium would eventually, in World War One, be seen as basically an illegitimate state by the Germans, and a prime candidate for annexation.
Nationalism seemed like a logical replacement for religion as a unifying force in nineteenth century politics. After all, shortly after Napoleon III was declared Emperor of the French in the early 1850s, he would declare a support for a policy of the "principle of nationalities," supporting statehood based on national identity -- yet by the early 1870s he was prosecuting the Franco-Prussian war, on the basis that the population of Alsace-Lorraine was more French than it was German. Napoleon III's policy would seem to be a direct rebuke to Franz Josef, who ruled as the Austrian Hapsburg monarch from the Revolutions of 1848 until after World War One had started -- yet Franz Josef's reign was consistently marked by the rise of nationalism among the many smaller populations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's vast physical territory (particularly in the Balkans). As a result Franz Josef himself believed, in Palmer's words, that "rulers and governments wished to manipulate the popular belief in nationalism" were the "real villains" of late nineteenth century statecraft. (Palmer 146). The attempt at an uprising in Hungary during…