Prince Klemens von Metternich was the leading personality during the Congress of Vienna which sought to restore Europe back to the status quo, undoing the “disorder” caused by Napoleon. Besides being instrumental in “cleaning up Napoleon’s mess,” Metternich was a conservative at heart and saw the “damage” the French Revolution had brought to France and how Napoleon tried to import the legacy of the French Revolution, as well as the Enlightenment, to the rest of the lands in Europe he conquered and the subsequent effects thereafter.
Metternich wrote “Political Confession of Faith” which he addressed to Russian Tsar Alexander I as a “secret” memorandum in 1820. This also came at a time when there were similar revolutions, led by liberals in parts of Spain, Italy and Germany. This document revealed Metternich’s sentiments about the emerging trend in Europe – the rise of liberalism. For Metternich, this was a trend that was a major area of concern not only for him but for the rest of Europe. He had singled out France for being the “cradle of the Enlightenment” when he said:
“France had the misfortune to produce the greatest number of these men. It is in her midst that religion and all that she holds sacred, that morality and authority, and all connected with them, have been attacked with a steady and systematic animosity, and it is there that the weapon of ridicule has been used with the most ease and success. Drag through the mud the name of God and the powers instituted by His divine decrees, and the revolution will be prepared! Speak of a social contract, and the revolution is accomplished! ”
A staunch conservative monarchist, He saw what the French Revolution, whose leaders were imbued with Enlightenment ideas toppled the monarchy which they regarded as obsolete and irrelevant owing to its inability to care for its people, did to French society. For the French people, they no longer recognized the Divine Right of kings and instead saw it from a different prism – King Louis XVI did not live up to the “social contract” and in doing so, lost his legitimacy to rule and when Louis tried to stifle their rights, they took drastic action that led to his overthrow.
What happened next was something that made Metternich concerned – the Reign of Terror which saw what Metternich noticed as a spree of persecution with reckless abandon of those said to be colluding with the old regime. Not only was Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, executed, but several others who had no connection with them, including members of the clergy were also persecuted or sent to the guillotine.
He deplored Napoleon for making quite a mess of European society: “Nevertheless the revolutionary seed had penetrated into every country and spread more or less. It was greatly developed under the regime of the military despotism of Bonaparte. His conquests displaced a number of laws, institutions, and customs; broke through bonds sacred among all nations, strong enough to resist time itself; which is more than can be said of certain benefits conferred by these innovators.
From these perturbations it followed that the revolutionary spirit could in Germany, Italy, and later on in Spain, easily hide itself under the veil of patriotism . ” For Metternich, as shown in his secret memorandum to the Russian Tsar, liberalism was regarded as a menace to the status quo of Europe where most of the states were still monarchical. Whereas the relatively young republic of the United States of America would be all praises of liberalism, Metternich and his ilk were not.
The French Revolution, particularly the Reign of Terror served as a wake-up call to the remaining monarchies to make them stand up and take notice on what could possibly happen if they would allow liberal ideas to germinate in their societies. He warned the other surviving monarchical governments to be on guard by saying, “The first principle to be followed by the monarchs, united as they are by the coincidence of their desires and opinions, should be that of maintaining the stability of political institutions against the disorganised excitement which has taken possession of men’s minds…
In short, let the great monarchs strengthen their union, and prove to the world that if it exists, it is beneficent, and ensures the political peace of Europe: that it is powerful only for the maintenance of tranquillity at a time when so many attacks are directed against it; that the principles which they profess are paterllal and protective, menacing only the disturbers of public tranquillity . ”
Metternich’s admonition paid off as it was evident during the revolutions of 1848 when liberal movements failed to gain a foothold or emulate the success of the French Revolution. The reason being was that these societies had no long history of empowering the people and only radical means was necessary to do it. The bottom line Metternich was pointing out was that liberalism could not be drastically erected and revolution was not always the answer to addressing the social and political problems.
Furthermore, the Reign of Terror also saw how ugly liberalism would go when taken to the extreme in bringing even more instability in exchange for bringing too much freedom to the people. Bibliography Metternich, Klemens von. “Political Confession of Faith. ” Fordham University Modern History Sourcebook. December 20, 1820. http://www. fordham. edu/haslall/mod/1820 metternich. html/
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