The movement of nationalism had its foundations in the changing world of the Renaissance and was brought about by vernacular language and economic factors.
There was a drastic change from the feudal society where an individual showed allegiance to his lord to the political climate of the nation-state where one owed allegiance to one’s country instead. One of the reasons for the change of attitude and feeling was due to the development of the vernacular languages.
The Spread and Growth of Popular Vernacular Language
Famed writers like Dante and Chaucer decided to write in their own vernacular language, Italian and English respectively, instead of the generally accepted cosmopolitan Latin. With this they wanted to increase readership since only highly educated people and mostly the clergy knew Latin at the time; they wanted to reach the common and ordinary people. The use of one’s own spoken language, in fact, led to the expression and communication of a shared national feeling.
In addition, the invention of printing continued and reinforced this growing trend. Printers noticed the need and growing market of the vernacular audience and increased its production for their own material profit. It had many religious and political repercussions as one of the most read and consumed books was the translation of the Bible in various vernacular languages, which had a direct impact on the success of the Protestant movement by Martin Luther.
The Changes to the Old Political Structure of the Nobility
As a new merchant class was emerging beginning to compete with the old nobility, the latter part of society decided to adapt and adjust to the new economic and political changes. For example, Louis XI of France took over the throne in 1461 when the country was still mainly a feudal kingdom and attempted to turn it into a unified and united nation. Louis XI strengthened the Crown’s position in terms of its fiscal and military realms. He began to levy taxes and raised and maintained his own troops paid by the Crown. This was one of the first instances of a national army in Europe.
Louis XI supported ambitious men of the middle class and broke with the Church whenever his own and his nation’s interest were at stake. Such behavior was not common in times past and led to a fortification and expression of a separate and steadily growing unique national identity.
Similar trends were taking place in England in the changes brought about by Henry VII of England. Henry VII actively engaged in business and managed to profit from an increasing prosperity of his nation. As he quarreled with the Roman Catholic Church over the divorce of his wife Catherine of Aragon he decided to break with the Church and made the King head of the English Church leading to a growth of a national identity of its citizenry.
The conscious use of vernacular language and changes in a more money and profit-oriented world led to a new national consciousness and managed to create bonds between people in terms of culture and identity. As a consequence of those movements, in today’s world there are several unified and distinctive political and national entities including the continuous practice of many native languages and strong national sentiment.
- Jones, W. T. Hobbes to Hume: A History of Western Philosophy. United Kingdom: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 1980.