Metternich System (1815-1848)

Metternich System:

The period from 1815 to 1848 has usually been called the ‘Era of Metternich’ for during these years he was the central figure in European politics. For the preservation of Habsburg dominion inhabited by Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Rumanians, and Poles, Metternich devised his famous system. He was the apostle of conservatism. ‘Govern and change nothing’ was his watchword. Believing that nationalism and liberalism and other revolutionary principles were responsible for disturbances in Europe since 1789, Metternich wanted that all Europe must be rid of these contagions. His ideal was a reactionary Europe propped up under the hegemony of Austria.

In Germany Metternich frustrated the fulfilment of nationalist hopes. At his initiative, the German Diet in September 1819 passed the Carlsbad Decrees. These decrees dissolved the patriotic student societies and enforced rigid censorship of the press. These decrees remained in force for nearly twenty years. The following year Metternich persuaded the German States to restrict the subjects that might be discussed in parliamentary assemblies.

It was in Italy that Metternich made his influence felt through the Habsburg princes restored to power in 1815. Everywhere there was censorship, popular ignorance and poverty. The strength of Metternich’s system in Italy lay in the division which prevented any concerted nationalist movement of independence.

To sustain Habsburg domination in Austria and elsewhere called for constant vigilance and fixed determination. Both of these qualities Metternich had. In his vision internal and international affairs were inseparable. He wanted to crush the spirit of revolution everywhere and to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Metternich came to the conclusion that the restored monarchs must combine themselves and prepare machinery for concerted action. It was Metternich who invented the periodic Congresses to resolve all disputes that might endanger the peace of Europe.

The fundamental weakness of the Metternich System was that it only postponed the day of reckoning. It secured a false appearance of unity. The forces of revolution, driven underground, erupted with so violent force in 1848 that the system crumbled.


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