Competing Ideologies During the Restoration: Conservatism & Nationalism

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  • 0:02 Conservatism & Nationalism
  • 0:50 Nationalism
  • 2:15 Conservatism
  • 2:56 Clashes & Examples
  • 6:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the competing political ideologies of conservatism and nationalism during the 19th century and discuss a few events that exemplified this clash.

Conservatism and Nationalism

Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. While Newton's law was meant to be applied to motion and physical mechanics, the law is often displayed in the human political world as well: any change a person or group wants to enact, there is likely a similar group opposed to such change.

Arguably the most important political movement of 19th-century Europe was nationalism. Indeed, nationalism, or extreme pride in one's nation, language, or ethnic and cultural heritage, was the impetus for the creation of several states in the 19th century. However, conservatives, those generally in favor of maintaining the status quo, provided significant opposition for 19th-century nationalism.


As I mentioned, nationalism for a single person is the pride in oneself and those who share like traits. This usually refers to all the citizens of a country, but it can also extend beyond borders to those sharing similar linguistic, ethnic, or cultural heritage. The 19th century in Europe saw an enormous growth of regional nationalism in several areas, especially in parts of Europe that were politically fragmented, such as the German or Italian-speaking states in central and southern Europe.

Nationalism in Europe had two basic manifestations. The first was the type with which most people in America identify today: national pride. Nationalism in this sense was more inclusive, championing the home country and accepting as its citizenry anyone who worked toward the greater glory of the state. The second manifestation, however, was far more exclusive, and defined a 'nation' not in the political and territorial sense that we do today, but rather as a homogeneous ethnic and linguistic culture.

Territorial borders, thus, mattered less to these nationalists. This ethnic nationalism, when taken to its extremes, could exhibit strains of racism and prejudice against those not part of the group. In the 19th century, the first of these forms of nationalism was more prevalent in France, while the second was generally the nationalism prevalent in Germany and Italy.


19th-century political conservatism, on the other hand, was a reaction against these new nationalist movements and other more abstract political theories that arose out of 18th and 19th-century philosophy. Indeed, nationalism was partially a product of the Enlightenment, and political conservatives in Europe railed against Enlightenment political philosophy. After all, things like democracy, universal voting rights, and other Enlightenment-based features of modern Western governments were viewed as politically subversive at the time. Conservatives in the 19th century were part of the political establishment and, therefore, invested in maintaining the current monarchies and constitutional monarchies of Europe.

Clashes and Examples

With these definitions in mind, let's take a look at a few examples of how nationalism and conservatism clashed with one another in the 19th century. The event that was viewed as the biggest threat to 19th-century conservatives - largely because it scared the bejesus out of them - actually began in the last decade of the 18th century: the French Revolution. The French Revolution is an incredibly confusing period of French history, beginning with the creation of the National Assembly in 1789 and ending with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

In the intervening period, France had multiple governments that all sought to incorporate Enlightenment ideals. These governments were often violently overthrown or suppressed, and thousands died in the turmoil, including the French King Louis XVI, who was executed in 1793. France's multiple democratic experiments ended when Napoleon Bonaparte became French Emperor in 1804. A strong nationalist who championed French ideals and influence, he nearly conquered Europe before being defeated by a coalition of European countries and eventually deposed.

The French Revolution terrified the conservatives of Europe: if the people of France could achieve so much when they embraced Enlightenment ideals and nationalism, what could a motivated and reform-minded populace possibly achieve in their own countries? The answers were chilling, and in order to safeguard against the possibility, the powers of Europe tried to devise a system in 1815 that would stop popular nationalist movements from threatening European monarchies.

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