The Concept of National Unification

  • John Breuilly
  • Ronald Speirs
Part of the New Perspectives in German Studies book series (NPG)


Nation-states have been formed in the last couple of centuries, both in and beyond Europe, by processes of reform, separation and unification.1 Reform meant ‘nationalising’ the state with little territorial change, as in the cases of France, Spain and Britain. Separation entailed breaking away from a multi-national state, such as the Romanov, Ottoman and Habsburg empires. Unification is the rarest type of nation-state formation and involves bringing together a number of states into a single national state.2 The best-known European cases are Germany and Italy. However, Germany is unique in that this unification process has taken place not once, but twice. Having been unified through a series of wars between 1864 and 1871, expanded through war (1914–18, 1939–45), and contracted after defeat (1919, 1945), Germany was divided again after the Second World War, first into zones and then into separate states. Then in 1989–90 the two states of the Federal Republic and the Democratic Republic were unified. Understandably, many of those involved in this second unification looked back to the first as a model to imitate or to avoid. That looking back was generally shaped by what had gone between, especially two lost wars and the Third Reich, a shared history which had culminated in division but which, if reflected on, might help the citizens of the reunited country to develop a shared responsibility for the future.3


Federal Republic German Citizenship Democratic Freedom National Unification Single National State 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    These processes are distinguished and analysed in John Breuilly, Nationalism and the State (2ndedn., Manchester 1993).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    On the comparative method see John Breuilly, ‘Making Comparisons in History’, the introduction to Labour and Liberalism in nineteenth cerrtury Europe (Manchester 1992), pp. 1–25.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    See Peter Alter, The German Question and Europe: a History (London 2000).Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    See Joim Breuilly, Austria, Prussia and Germany 1806–1871 (London 2002).Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    The convertibility of the German currencies in the first unification, as opposed to the position in the second, had a crucial impact on the economic consequences of unification. See Jorg Roesler, ‘Zweimal deutsche Vereinigung und ihre Bewaltigung. 1870/1 und 1989/90 im Vergleich’, DeutschlandArchiv 1/2001, pp. 84–93.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    The main theoretical works which relate these processes to nationalism are Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism (2nd edn., London 1991) and Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Oxford 1983).Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    In the German Confederation immigrants, whether from other German states or from non-German states, were usually treated in the same way, as Fremde. See Andreas Fahrmeir, Citizens and aliens: foreigners and the law in Britain and the German States 1789–1870 (New York 2000), and Dieter Gosewinkel, Einbtirgern und Ausschlieflen: Die Nationalisierung der Staatsangehorigkeit vom Deutschen Bund bis zur Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Gottingen 2001).Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men. Of course, Eliot was thinking about much more than the relationship in history between a prior intention and a subsequent achievement. Historically the notion of the ‘shadow’ works both ways: what was intended is not achieved; what is achieved reshapes memories of what was intended.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    For a systematic and theoretical approach to how intellectuals could construct such norms see Bernhard Giessen, Intellectuals and the Nation: Collective Identih,/in a German Axial Age (Cambridge 1998).Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    In this project we focus on literature, but the artistic construction of the national norm also took visual and musical forms. See, for example, Applegate, C. (ed.), Music and German National idettity (Chicago/London 2002).Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    This is the title of a book by Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London 1995) which outlines the ways in which modern national identity can root itself in everyday life, through the mass media, sporting competitions, linguistic usages.Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    Francis Fukuyama, The End of Histony and the Last Man (London 1992).Google Scholar
  13. 30.
    See, for example, Patrick Stephenson, Language and German Disunihj (Oxford 2002).Google Scholar
  14. 32.
    See Dieter Langewiesche, ‘Ft9derativer Nationalismus als Erbe der deutschen Reichsnation: Uber FOderalismus und Zentralismus in der deutschen Nationalgeschichte’, in Dieter Langewiesche and Georg Schmidt (eds), Deutschlandkonzepte von der Reformation bis zuin Ersten Weltkrieg (Miinchen 2000), pp. 215–42.Google Scholar
  15. 34.
    See the forthcoming essay by Jonathan Grix, ‘Introduction to East German Political and Cultural Distinctiveness’ in Jonathan Grix and Paul Cooke (eds), East German Distinctiveness in Unified Germany (Birmingham 2004), pp. 1–14.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Breuilly
  • Ronald Speirs

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations