The Future is History: Restorative Nationalism and Conflict in Post-Napoleonic Europe

Abstract

The recent revival of nationalism has brought with it the threatening return of revisionist conflict. Yet, because of its radically modernist orientation dismissing past references as irrelevant, current scholarship on nationalism and political violence offers little guidance. Taking the nationalists seriously if not literally, we study how they use narratives harking back to past ‘golden ages’ to legitimize territorial claims and mobilize resources for action in post-Napoleonic Europe. Our analysis draws on geocoded data on state borders going back to the Middle Ages, combined with new spatial data on ethnic settlement areas from the 19th century retrieved from historical atlases. Our findings indicate that restorative nationalism, conceptualized as a loss of power and/or unity relative to past reference points, increases the risk of civil and interstate conflict.