Conservatism Liberalism And Nationalism In Europe 18151848

Conservatism, Liberalism, And Nationalism In Europe: 1815-1848 Essay, Research Paper


The years between 1815-1830 saw the rise of a number of related and competing ideologies, each holding a powerful influence in their own time. That influence often extended well into the future, continuing to the present day. Largely, these ideologies were reactions to or products of Enlightenment thinking, although they all went in a variety of different directions. Conservatism, Liberalism and Nationalism had great impact on European society and reflected new radical ideas and principles of the different classes (e.g. bourgeoisie, monarchy). Many of the new movements dealt with ideas that had been around for a while; but it was only in this period that the ideas gained formal, coherent structure.


Conservatism sprung as a reactionary philosophy/ideology supporting monarchy and the old ways. Driven by Edmund Burke, who had been horrified by the French Revolution, Conservatism introduced a new concept, one that argued for prudent and gradual change to be made as slowly as possible.

Conservatives advocated belief in faith over reason, tradition over free inquiry, hierarchy over equality, collective values over individualism, and divine or natural law over secular law. Conservatism in society emphasized the merits of the status quo and endorsed the prevailing distribution of power, wealth, and social standing.


Liberalism in the early 19th century can’t quite be compared to liberalism found today. In fact, much of what was liberal in the 19th century (free trade, keeping government out of business) is today considered conservative.

Beginning in Spain and France during the 1820s, liberalism soon spread to England. Consisting of businessmen and professionals, the liberals wanted modern, efficient self-government, although they were not always for universal male suffrage. They wanted freedom of the press and freedom of the assembly. They wanted constitutions, and Laissez Faire economic policies, such as free trade and low tariffs. They were generally against unions.

Really, liberalism then was the ideology of the “bourgeoisie” (the business and professional class), and was geared towards protecting bourgeois interests. Still, the liberals invariably argued that what was for their benefit was actually to the benefit of everyone.


Nationalism was the most powerful of all ideologies in this period. France and Great Britain’s strong nation-states had inspired jealousy throughout the rest of Europe; other nations, disorganized as they were, wanted to unify. German intellectuals living in (and hating) the loosely organized Bund provided much of the vocabulary for nationalism, stating that each nation had a particular “Volksgeist”, or national spirit. Soon, just about every European language group wanted to have their own nation. Quickly outlawed by reactionary forces, nationalist groups formed secret societies (e.g. Italian Carbonari and German Buschenschaft). These societies distributed propaganda leaflets and plotted.

Furthermore, in Eastern Europe, the Poles wanted their own state, and in Austria, the Magyars wanted their own kingdom of Hungary. Throughout the Austrian Empire, the various language groups revived the study of their languages and hoped to carve their own nations out of the empire. A particularly potent nationalist force known as Pan-Slavism began to circulate among various Slavs in Russia, Poland, and Austria. All of these Eastern European groups began a renewed interest in their own cultures. Often, nationalism combined with other ideological issues, from liberalism to socialism.