Friday, October 16, 2009

The Age of Empire - Blog 3

With the rise of democracy, nationalism took a major role. It was also changed from its original form into something much more potent. Nationalism came to be identified with the political right instead of the left, the promotion of an independent sovereign state for any and all nations, complete autonomy for those nations, and the definition of a nation based on ethnicity and language. Many nations were created at this time based on a group of people who were able to commonly identify through a spoken language. Governments took on a much more central role in citizens’ lives through mailmen, policemen, teachers, and railway workers. Schools also became the preferred method of inculcating children with traits of nationalism. Religion and nationalism became linked in order to more strongly promote political action. At this time, the bourgeoisie and middle classes also learned how to spend and live in comfort. This caused the lines between the classes to blur greatly. The middle class was no longer as simple to define, which caused numerous clashes, but the major criterion was eventually determined to be formal education. This large class of bourgeoisie quickly grew to think of itself as elite, although with the expansion of education, it became harder to differentiate it from its inferiors. Thus private schools developed to train citizens to be leaders. Membership of the bourgeoisie was also inherited, which vastly increased the numbers of the class. This class indentified itself through various means such as education, lifestyle, and disassociation from the working class by joining the political right. Interestingly enough, one way that people were able to flaunt their wealth was by enabling the women and children to participate in non-profit activities, which actually aided the emancipation of women and promoted philanthropic ventures. Women began to have fewer children, the use of birth control increased, and more women became part of the work force. Women also took on a more managerial role within the family while working- and middle-class women finally earned wages. Women suffragists became more prevalent as women took on a more prominent role in the economy. Education for women also increased, social conventions became looser, styles of dress were less restrictive, women’s sensuality was more recognized, and women were noted to have aspirations. It is necessary to remember, however, that this nearly exclusively applied to women of the middle and upper classes. In fact, feminist groups were very concentrated and many women did not even support them, although voting for women and women’s sexual freedom were very important topics. The largest problem was the question of what would happen to the nuclear family if women were emancipated.

I thought it was extremely interesting that nations had previously not been defined by ethnicity or language. As Hobsbawm stated, “We are now so used to an ethnic-linguistic definition of nations that we forget that this was, essentially, invented in the later nineteenth century” (146). I cannot imagine any other way of determining a nation. Geography does not seem like it would be enough to keep people from moving to other areas because it would not give them a tie to their “homeland.” I suppose my view is merely a reflection of being inundated with nationalistic ideas from a young age. I also found it intriguing that the development of homogenized and standardized language had its origin in nationalism.

Although Hobsbawm actually went into a fair amount of detail with this, I still think it would have been interesting if he had expounded on how social inferiority was the main cause of devotion to patriotism. As the gap between the rich and the poor grew, the middle class was left without a distinct identification. It was kind of like how the Third World term developed to indiscriminately include all of the countries not a part of the Eastern or Western Bloc. Hobsbawm’s explanation of the respect that nationalism could gain a middle class person is very interesting. I would have liked to know how this affected Nazi Germany. It seems to me that since nationalism and patriotism were able to unite and elevate the middle class so much, that that could have been why so many Nazis let that power go to their heads. Hobsbawm could have further expanded to how this feeling of power and control affected other nations.

1 comment:

  1. I think you make some very interesting points here, though I think you give too much connection to self-determination and wealth to right wing politics. Often times the wealthy bourgeoisie were rather liberal, and in fact were the biggest proponents of the expansion and protection of liberties, such as free speech, press, religion, etc. The bourgeoisie often sought separation of powers and to check the power of those in charge (as the bourgeoisie were attempting to gain that power). Oddly enough, that from time to time included expanding the franchise of a nation, which often greatly reduced the power of their goals.