Metternich was an extremely intelligent man who turned his conservative beliefs into international policy. Metternich was a confident leader who put little faith in popular opinion or sentiment because he believed that the common man was too fickle in his loyalties and too inept to understand the magnitude of foreign policy.
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He was a loyal “servant” to the Austrian Emperor, even though Metternich was the true head of the Empire’s government. Prince Klemens von Metternich was a complex individual that embodied the principles of 19th century conservatism and, through his Congress of Vienna, led the major European powers to a period of long-lasting peace and a strong balance of power. Metternich is well known for the Metternich System, which was put into practice during his most notable success, the Congress of Vienna of 1815. Metternich, additionally, was the guiding spirit of the international congresses, Aachen, Carlsbad, Troppau, Laibach, and Verona and was the chief statesman of the Holy Alliance. The Congress of Vienna, though, and the agreements that followed were the basis for, “no war involving several powers until the Crimean conflicts of the 1850’s and no major war embroiling the whole of Europe until 1914.” Metternich’s goal, however, was not a peaceful Europe for the sake of peace, but for the preservation of the Austrian Empire who was threatened by possible aggressors on all sides, as well as, his personal loathing for liberalism and revolutionary behavior. Moreover, the Congress of Vienna gave Metternich the opportunity to instill his values of conservatism into the other leaders of Europe in a time when liberalism and revolution were the predominant political trends. Even though Metternich was a firm believer in the conservative values of his time, he worked to spread those ideas in 1815 for the more pragmatic reason of balancing power in the European Concert rather than for abstract ideologies.
In the time following the Congress of Vienna, Metternich’s amazing negotiations balanced the tendencies of an expanding Russia, with the isolationist mentality of Great Britain, as well as dealing with Prussian supremacy in the German confederation and maintaining Bourbon satisfaction with the status quo. The fact that he was able to do all this gave justification to the fact that, “Metternich remarked near the end of his life that historians would judge him more fairly than his contemporaries, and his prophecy has proven uncannily accurate.” This shows that even though others may not have revered him in the 19th century (even though he revered himself) he was a leader whose attributes have stood the test of time and whose abilities have received praise in the history books. Metternich embodied leadership that surpassed his colleagues and was more prevalent than the most powerful leaders that came after him. Moreover, history remembers Metternich’s ability to put personal differences aside for the common good, a lesson often forgotten in the aftermath of war. “There was a kind of immovable certainty about his own intentions, but he was never so foolish as to think that his acts were infallible. Nor did he display any sort of vindictiveness for his enemies and opponents-he was too much the politician for that.” Because of these abilities to see beyond his own mortality, Metternich’s leadership is manifested through his system of appeasement over harsh reparation. For example, his attitudes towards Talleyrand-treating him like an equal at Vienna-the group was able to come up with a compromised, fair, and balanced settlement.
These leadership characteristics would be absent from the Versailles talks at the end of the First World War, but would reappear almost a century and a half later at the end of the Second. The Metternich System came with a price, however; it relied on, “political and religious censorship, espionage, and the suppression of revolutionary and nationalist movements.” Nevertheless, the ability for Metternich to see beyond his time, combined with his willingness to be an example of his rhetoric, made him a world leader whose abilities were evident by the hundred years of wide scale peace after his Congress of Vienna. The stories that are told of Metternich are usually those of a harsh ruler who believed in a strong balance of power above most things, including personal freedoms and enlightened ideals. This persona has come under criticism in recent years, though, because, “the commonly received image of Metternich as a benighted reactionary is largely a product of late-nineteenth-century German nationalist historiography; which could barely conceal its disgust toward his attachment to European federalism rather than the cause of national self-determination.” The new view of Metternich that has shone through is that of a man faced with the amazingly difficult task of reshaping Europe after the Napoleonic Wars and a man who had self confidence great enough to believe that he could do it. That, in short, is Metternich’s story. Metternich’s ego would have agreed with that view, but would have added that his extraordinary actions were a result of him being, “a kind of titular professor of fundamental truths” and he never wavered from doing what he believed was right.
In this respect, much as modern historians give praise to President Reagan and Henry Kissinger for that attribute, Metternich’s story is one of action, conviction, and the stability of nations above all. Prince Klemens von Metternich descended from the aristocracy, as did most men in the Royal courts of the nineteenth century. Through his marriage to Eleonora von Kaunitz he was brought into social circles of enormous wealth and influence. He began his career in diplomacy in 1797 at the Congress of Rastatt and from 1801 to 1809 served in some of the most prominent Ambassadorships of his time. He then succeeded Johann Philipp von Stadion as Austrian Foreign Minister in 1809. In that role he was more of a Prime Minister, rather than just a chief diplomat. He died in 1859 but it is said about him that: between 1815 and 1848 central Europe was dominated by a single personality, Prince Klemens von Metternich, the actual political leader of Austria. The ‘coachman of Europe,’ as he was called by those who respected his far-flung power, dominated the first half of the century, like Prince Otto von Bismarck dominated the second half. In the role of Foreign Minister, Metternich was almost single handedly responsible for the redrawing of the European and imperial maps in order to create the most successful balance of power Europe had ever seen. His impact in world politics was undoubtedly one of the most profound. For all of his professional life he was preparing himself to influence world affairs with the philosophy he believed in so deeply. As the leader of international affairs for the Austrian Empire, he would not be spreading the conservative ideology for philosophical reasons, but for the survival of his nation state.