Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How Europe Invented the Modern Repressive State

Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty 1789-1848. By Adam Zamoyski. William Collins; 569 pages; To be published in America by Basic Books in February 2015

Reviewed via The Economist:

 After the revolution comes always the reaction. That is the central message of Adam Zamoyski’s scintillating and original book about Europe in the early 19th century. Many of those who had been steeped in the European Enlightenment welcomed the French revolution in 1789, and quite a few later came to admire Napoleon. Their common hope was that sweeping away the fusty old order in Europe would pave the way for modernisation, liberty and democracy.

Yet the men who freed Europe from Napoleon’s rule—Russia’s Alexander I and Britain’s Duke of Wellington—were no liberals. Rather, they subscribed to the later dictum of Alexis de Tocqueville: that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform. The policy of Europe’s governments both at and after the Congress of Vienna of 1814-15 was largely reactionary, starting with a pigheaded insistence on restoring the Bourbons to the French throne.

Many of Europe’s political leaders played a part in this, including Talleyrand in France and Castlereagh in Britain. But the man whose policies came to dominate Europe for 33 years after the Congress of Vienna was a minor aristocrat from the Rhineland called Klemens von Metternich. He steered Austrian policy even before becoming chancellor in 1821.

 With France still troubled, Prussia relatively weak, Russia mostly quiescent and Britain anxious to avoid more continental entanglement, it fell to Metternich to guard European autocracy against change and insurrection.

  Read the rest here.

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