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Revanchism (from French: revanche, "revenge") is a term used since the 1870s to describe a political manifestation of the will to reverse territorial losses incurred by a country, often following a war or social movement. Revanchism draws its strength from patriotic and retributionist thought and is often motivated by economic or geo-political factors. Extreme revanchist ideologues often represent a hawkish stance, suggesting that desired objectives can be achieved through the positive outcome of another war.
Revanchism is linked with irredentism, the conception that a part of the cultural and ethnic nation remains "unredeemed" outside the borders of its appropriate nation-state. Revanchist politics often rely on the identification of a nation with a nation-state, often mobilizing deep-rooted sentiments of ethnic nationalism, claiming territories outside of the state where members of the ethnic group live, while using heavy-handed nationalism to mobilize support for these aims. Revanchist justifications are often presented as based on ancient or even autochthonous occupation of a territory since "time immemorial", an assertion that is usually inextricably involved in revanchism and irredentism, justifying them in the eyes of their proponents.
Motivations of territorial aggression and counter aggression are as old as tribal societies, but the instance of revanchism that gave these groundswells of opinion their modern name lies in the strong desire during the French Third Republic to regain Alsace-Lorraine - which France had held since the time of King Louis XIV in the 17th century and which were taken away in the Treaty of Frankfurt, following Emperor Napoleon III's crushing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 (despite the fact that for most of its history Alsace-Lorraine was governed and populated by Alemannic Germans).
Georges Clemenceau, of the Radical Republicans, opposed participation in the scramble for Africa and other adventures that would divert the Republic from objectives related to the "blue line of the Vosges" in Alsace-Lorraine. After the governments of Jules Ferry had pursued a number of colonies in the early 1880s, Clemenceau lent his support to Georges Ernest Boulanger, a popular figure, nicknamed Général Revanche, who it was felt might overthrow the Republic in 1889. This ultra-nationalist tradition influenced French politics up to 1921 and was one of the major reasons France went to great pains to woo Russia, resulting in the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 and, after more accords, the Triple Entente of the three great Allied powers of World War I: France, Great Britain, and Russia.
French revanchism was one of the forces behind the Treaty of Versailles, which regained Alsace-Lorraine for France, linked the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria with the World War I with Germany and extracted reparations from the defeated powers. The conference was not only opened on the anniversary of the proclamation of the Second Reich, the treaty also had to be signed by the new German government in the same room, the Hall of Mirrors.
A German revanchist movement developed in response to the losses of World War I. Pangermanists within the Weimar Republic called for the rightful reclamation of the property of a German state due to pre-war borders or because of the territory's historical relation to Germanic peoples. The movement called for the re-incorporation of Alsace-Lorraine, the Polish Corridor and the formerly Austrian Sudetenland (see Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia). This irredentism had also been characteristic of the Völkisch movement in general and of the Alldeutsche Verband (Pan-Germanic League), which had been a motivating factor behind German unification in 1871.
There are a number of historical examples, past and present, which can be interpreted in part to revanchism. Revanchist sentiments earlier in the 19th-century, for example, may have galvanized nationalist emotions leading to two wars between the Kingdom of Prussia and Denmark over Schleswig and Holstein, the First war of Schleswig 1848-1851 and the Second war of Schleswig in 1864.
- Franco-Prussian War (1870)
- French-German enmity
- French Third Republic (1870–1940)
- Karelian question in Finnish politics
- Reconquista (Mexico)
- Recovered Territories
- Rump state (a geopolitical state of existence that revanchism may create, seek to correct, or both)
- Status quo ante bellum
- Uti possidetis
- See W. Schivelbusch, The Culture of Defeat, page 106 (Henry Holt and Co. 2001)