Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Metternich System

The Metternich System, also known as the Congress System after the Congress of Vienna, was the balance of power that existed in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the outbreak of World War I (1914), albeit with major alterations after the revolutions of 1848. Its founding powers were Austria, Prussia, the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom, the members of the Quadruple Alliance responsible for the downfall of the First French Empire. In time France was established as a fifth member of the concert. At first, the leading personalities of the system were British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh, Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich and Russian tsar Alexander I.

The Age of Metternich is sometimes known as the age of the Concert, due to the influence of the Austrian chancellor's conservatism and the dominance of Austria within the German Confederation, or as the European Restoration, because of the reactionary efforts of the Congress of Vienna to restore Europe to its state before the French Revolution. The rise of nationalism, the unification of Germany and the Risorgimento in Italy, and the Eastern Question were among the factors which brought an end to the Concert's effectiveness. Among the meetings of the Great Powers during this period were: Aix-la-Chappelle (1818), Carlsbad (1819), Verona (1822), London (1832), Berlin (1878).

The idea of a European federation had been previously raised by figures such as Gottfried Leibniz and the 1st Baron of Grenville. The Concert of Europe, as developed by Metternich, drew upon their ideas and the notion of a balance of power in international relations; that the ambitions of each Great Power was curbed by the others. From the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792 to the exile of Napoleon to Saint Helena in 1815, Europe had been almost constantly at war. During this time, the military conquests of France had resulted in the spread of liberalism throughout much of the continent, resulting in many states adopting the Napoleonic code. Largely as a reaction to the radicalism of the French Revolution, the victorious powers of the Napoleonic Wars resolved to suppress liberalism and nationalism, and revert largely to the status quo of Europe prior to 1789.The Kingdom of Prussia, Austrian Empire and Russian Empire formed the Holy Alliance with the expressed intent of preserving Christian social values and traditional monarchism.Every member of the coalition promptly joined the Alliance, save for the United Kingdom.

After an early period of success, the Concert began to weaken as the common goals of the Great Powers were gradually replaced by growing political and economic rivalries. Further eroded by the European revolutionary upheavals of 1848 with their demands for revision of the Congress of Vienna's frontiers along national lines, the Concert unraveled in the latter half of the 19th century amid successive wars between its participants - the Crimean War (1854–56), the Italian War of Independence (1859), the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). While the Congress System had a further significant achievement in the form of the Congress of Berlin (1878) which redrew the political map of the Balkans, the old balance of power had been irrevocably altered, and was replaced by a series of fluctuating alliances. By the early 20th century, the Great Powers were organized into two opposing coalitions, and World War I broke out.

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