Playing with the Nation: Napoleon and the Culture of Nationalism

Peter Alter

in Unity and Diversity in European Culture c.1800

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263822
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734960 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Playing with the Nation: Napoleon and the Culture of Nationalism

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In his time, Napoleon Bonaparte of France commanded the ideological environment which made nationalism grow and helped to turn the idea of the ‘nation’ into one of the most powerful political forces in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Napoleon's conquests, and the strong reactions they provoked in England, Spain, Germany, Poland, and Russia, intensified and diffused the civic ideas of national autonomy, unity, and identity across Europe and throughout Latin America. It is this aspect of Napoleon's historic impact which, more or less by accident, and only in a few instances deliberately, helped to spread a new political culture or, indeed, a new political cult whose origins can be traced back to the French Revolution. The new political culture which arose out of the Revolution focused on the concept of the democratic, sovereign nation as a novel political and social unit for the organisation of society. National aspirations turned against Napoleon and his rule over Europe, and helped substantially to bring him down, instead of lending him support in consolidating his overstretched empire.

Keywords: Napoleon Bonaparte; nationalism; Europe; political culture; French Revolution; England; Spain; Poland; Germany; France

Chapter.  6025 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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