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Even if the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15 initially restored the old order in Europe and the monarchs immediately suppressed any rebellion in the next few years, the Enlightenment, revolutions and wars of liberation had created facts that could no longer be ignored without further ado. In the 19th century, the establishment of a state and national unity therefore moved high on the agenda.

The idea of ​​the nation

At the beginning of the modern nation-state stood the ideas of the French Revolution of 1789 - freedom, equality, fraternity - and the example of the North American independence movement of 1776, the emancipation of the 13 New England colonies from motherland Great Britain. In contrast to the old national awareness, for the modern nation there is basically no longer any difference between privileged (aristocratic) classes and people without rights. The people themselves become sovereign and bearer of the national will. This nation of general citizenship aspires to the nation-state in which the boundaries of the nation are to coincide with those of the state. The determining characteristics that define a nation include, on the one hand, common ancestry, language and its history (objective determination), and, on the other hand, the political commitment and voluntary self-determination of a people to see themselves as a national community (subjective determination). In Europe this emancipation process took place at the beginning of the 19th century as a reaction to Napoleon's policies of oppression and hegemony, in Latin America as a reaction to the oppression of the native population by the old colonial powers Spain and Portugal. The demand for national freedom and equality triggered a wave of conservative reaction and restoration of the states that were threatened in their existence and led to bloody disputes and wars.

New political movements

The great political currents of conservatism and liberalism, the democratic and socialist movements were closely related to national unification. They became worldviews in the course of the 19th century. Political liberalism was a staunch advocate of the nation-state principle. Convinced of progress and reason, liberal thinking believed in the ability to reform and the gradual democratization of the state. The Democrats emphasized the principles of equality and popular sovereignty (all state power comes from the people). Conservative thinking was about the preservation and maintenance of circumstances. For conservative thinking, the idea of ​​national unity was tantamount to overturning the sacred orders of the ancien régime. The state (including the people) was seen as the private property of the prince, who was answerable only to God.

Restoration and Revolution

After the Congress of Vienna, Europe enjoyed a longer period of peace thanks to the firmly established constellation of the five great powers Great Britain, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia (pentarchy), but during which the national and liberal hopes of the enlightened bourgeoisie were suppressed - for example with the Karlsbad resolutions of 1819, a kind of radical decree with press censorship and rigorous monitoring of liberal-democratic aspirations. Nevertheless, it was fermenting: In 1829 Greece was able to fight for its independence from the Ottoman Empire, supported by volunteers from all over Europe. The July Revolution of 1830 in France and finally the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848/49, which roused all of Europe, meant a great boost for the national movement. However, the proclamation of a German nation-state by the National Assembly meeting in Frankfurt's Paulskirche failed, and it was left to Otto von Bismarck to unite Germany in 1871 under conservative auspices "from above". Stops on the way were the three "Wars of Unification" against Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870/71). In Italy, where the revolution of 1848/49 had also failed, it also took several attempts before that “Risorgimento” (Italian: rebirth) was finally crowned with success in 1861: Victor Emanuel II became king of the first Italian nation-state. The immediate trigger here was the uprising of the population in the Kingdom of Naples-Sicily under the leadership of the freedom fighter Giuseppe Garibaldi ("Train of a Thousand"), which led to the overthrow of the Bourbon rule.

Latin America's path to modernity

The emancipation of the Latin American states began with the gradual dissolution of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires at the beginning of the 19th century during the Napoleonic rule in Europe. Now Juntas (governments; from Spanish: junto = together) were formed under the leadership of daring caudillos (leaders). The supporters of the revolution were the Creole upper class, the wealthy but politically neglected colonial bourgeoisie. The plight of the native Indians and mestizos hardly played a role in their commitment. The two freedom fighters Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín achieved central importance. Under the protection of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 ("America for the Americans"), the four former Spanish viceroysies of La Plata (Argentina, Paraguay), Peru (Peru, Bolivia), New Granada (Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela) and New Spain (Mexico) their national sovereignty. Only the Portuguese colony of Brazil broke away from the motherland without a bloody war and proclaimed its independence in 1822.


The development of the nation-states in the course of the 19th century showed two disastrous tendencies: ideological hardening and a pure power-state politics resulted on the one hand in an emotionally high-powered nationalism and chauvinism, on the other hand the peoples' right to self-determination turned into the opposite and led to rigorous oppression or Assimilation (approximation) policy of national minorities. So what began in the spirit of progress and democracy turned into an authoritarian ideology and a politics of saber rattling. The imperialism of the late 19th century is an expression of this change.