Discuss the significance of the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic State on the formation of nation states in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The French revolution was an event of epic proportions. At the outset, alike the English Civil Wars, an autocratic monarch (Louis XVI) summoned Parliament, in France Estates General, in order to demand funds and prerogatives. The outcome became very similar to the English Civil Wars; the Third Estate rebelled (in England it was Parliament though), overthrew the monarchy, the King was executed, a republic was founded and kingship outlawed in the process. Nevertheless, even though the English Civil Wars and the French Revolution bear resemblances, they are very separate events; the key point is that unlike the English Civil Wars, the French Revolution created a dramatic cataclysm in the status quo, furthermore in either victory or defeat the ideal of Revolution was never spent and became a model to follow. This assignment will analyse how the revolution influenced other peoples and inspired the formation of state nation in later times.
The term Revolution is now understood as ‘a fundamental departure from any previous historical pattern’. Before the French Revolution thinkers like Aristotle would describe ‘revolution’ as a change in the nature of government (Britannica Academic Edition, ‘Revolution’, 2013, html). ‘State’ is considered the geographical area, under any government, where a nation is settled. The idea of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ are more complex and a matter of endless scholarly-historical and sociological debate. Gellner believes nationalism is part of the process of modernisation, likewise recent; agreeing with Gellner, Breuilly adds that nationalism is built on power politics and subjected to the role played by influential individuals, like Bismarck or Garibaldi. Contrasting Classical Modernism; Hobsbawm and Anderson argue that nationalism is a cultural social construct, moreover Anderson in line with Smith’s thought agree on the evidence of ‘deeper ethnic roots’ and common history behind the formation of nationalism and the nation state (Emsley et al, p. 113, 2011) There is room for contrast as it is argued that the idea of nation precedes modern times, as in Shakespeare’s Henry V (Emsley et al, p. 115, 2011) , but most authors coincide in the fact that a nation’s nationalist conduct is very modern, thus modern nation states can be identified between 1700s and 1800s. Analysing the different theories, it seems that the leading French revolutionaries understood the process of amalgamating a kingdom into a nation, in part because they were part of the people and in part because the ideas imparted by the Enlightenment. The Assembly, then the Convention and then the Directory, put into practice different methodologies in order to modernise and develop French nationalism. Among the many reforms; schools in the whole of France were given a unified secular academic programme; the different peoples living in France were called Frenchmen and were given the French language as de facto national tongue; mass conscription and the idea of defence of the ‘Fatherland’ were introduced, the revolution saw the creation of national symbols: a new regime flag, Marianne, the anonymous sans-culotte’s portrayal, a new ‘very French’ revolutionary calendar; etc. This gave the inhabitants of France a grasp of nationhood, a sense of belonging. The authors of emerging nation states would call upon ‘Italians’ or ‘Germans’ to unify and participate in a common destiny. Ultimately, the creation of national identities also served to place other nation states in a position of ‘otherness’ or as a symbol or irredentism and the search for national unity; today a ‘nation state’ means the geographical area where a nation lives, following common rules, displaying similar traditions and mainly governing itself. The French Revolution gave the world the idea of sovereignty of the...
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