The social and religious meaning of nationalism: The case of Prussian conservatism 1815-1871

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From the 1830s, Prussian conservatives started to contemplate the meaning of nationalism and national identity. The continuous efforts of liberals to bring about German national unification according to modern criteria, and the constant change in the social and economic structures, required the definition of nationalism on an alternative basis. In order to address the severe difficulties faced by society and to avoid national unification based on revolutionary foundations, Prussian conservatives defined German national identity on the basis of particular social relations and order, and on a unique version of religious devotion and designation. At the same time, however, the conservatives did not assign any political importance to these national peculiarities and continued to adhere to the traditional pattern of state and political authority. Such a definition of national identity was considerably different from the later fascist and racist national ideologies. In this regard, the conservative version of nationalism, as developed until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, cannot act as a precursor to National Socialism, as some historians have argued.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-550
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean History Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • German nationalism
  • Prussian conservatism
  • Religious identity
  • Social relations


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