Nationalism: background and the big picture.

Essay by ynksjb24High School, 12th gradeA+, January 2006

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Nationalism is commonly defined as a love for one's country. Historically, however, nationalism takes on a far greater meaning. Throughout history, large groups of people who share a cultural identity (language, customs, history) have felt the pulling power of nationalistic feeling. The spirit of nationalism also includes the belief that one's nation is better off as an autonomous state. Autonomy is defined as a nation governing itself independently from a centralized point. Still another aspect of nationalism is the willingness to go to extreme measures in achieving autonomous self-rule. Revolutions, wars, ethnic tension, and other conflicts of varying degrees have occurred throughout history because of a love for one's country. The spirit of nationalism has shaped the histories and destinies of many countries. Nationalism can unite people into cohesive, stable nations. Likewise, it can tear nations apart which can result in long periods of social upheaval and political chaos.

Nationalism in Europe can be traced back to the decline of feudalism and the beginning of the Renaissance.

Feudalistic societies are decentralized, meaning political control is spread out and does not come from one strong, stable place. When feudalism declined, larger areas of land were being controlled by fewer, more powerful individuals. A good example of nationalism supporting the rise of a single person is the case of Elizabeth I (shown here) and the nation-state of England. England had previously played a role in the Protestant Reformation when Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to form his own Church of England. The Church, during the days of feudalism, was the one unifying factor for European people. When the power of the Church receded during the Renaissance, people became aware of similarities and interests beyond religion. Elizabeth I was seen as a symbol of English pride. England became a...