The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815

By J. E. Cookson | Go to book overview

8 Armed Nationalism

WAR and nationalism converged, it has often been said, in the era of the French revolution when first France and then France's adversaries discovered that organized mass resistance was the price of state survival. In the process both were transformed. Wars became struggles between peoples whose fighting spirit depended on appeals to save the patrie and the ideals and values it was said to enshrine. The idea of the nation was lifted out of the salons and universities and calculatedly refashioned into a popular creed. In Sir Michael Howard's schema for the history of European warfare, the 'wars of the nations' lasted until about 1870 by which time, with the increasing pace of industrial and technological development, manpower alone was no longer the basic military resource. The association of nationalism and war, however, only intensified as war economies were created and home populations remote from the front line were exposed to attack. Participation appeared to be a key factor in understanding the relationship between war and society. Only make the 'addition of mass' to war and governments and ruling groups would place a premium on obtaining the coherence and co-operation of the wartime society. Nationalism was the original answer to this problem, first posed during the wars of the revolutionary era for revolutionary and ancien régimes alike.1

Nationalism, according to this conventional overview, was an official ideology whose success was usually taken to need little further explanation. Such doctrines conformed to a Europe of fiercely competitive and frequently warring states. Revolutionary France showed the rest of Europe the power of such an ideology when the republic was carried to victory in 1793-4 against a formidable coalition of powers. Britain's volunteers evinced the same 'warlike spirit' and 'patriotic unanimity' when their country was threatened with attack. The revolts of Spain and Germany against Napoleon showed how nationalistic impulses lurked in even unprogressive societies and fragmented states. Nationalistic appeals simply manipulated the xenophobic passions and defensive instincts of populaces and directed these feelings into more effective national defence and military service that the state required.

Britain has never been understood as exceptional in this respect. Indeed, in her

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1
M. Howard, War in European History ( London, 1976), 79-80, 86-7; Best, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe, 52-66. On the importance of participation see M. Howard, "Total War in the Twentieth Century: Participation and Consensus in the Second World War", in B. Bond and I. Roy (eds.), War and Society ( London, 1975), 216-25.

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The British Armed Nation, 1793-1815
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Maps ix
  • Abbreviations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Addition of Mass 16
  • 2 - The French Encirclement 38
  • 3 - The Rise and Fall of the Volunteers 66
  • 4 - The Manpower Ceiling 95
  • 5 - Scotland's Fame 126
  • 6 - Ireland's Fate 153
  • 7 - The Problem of Order 182
  • 8 - Armed Nationalism 209
  • 9 - The Legacy of the Armed Nation 246
  • Bibliography 264
  • Index 281
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