Saturday, August 15, 2009

Legitimacy and Balance

The diplomat and statesman Metternich is known mainly as the organizer of the Congress of Vienna, but that event was the product of Metternich's diplomat work in the preceding years, and would unfold in his work over the following years - and that work was guiding by the two principles of Metternich's foreign policy: legitimacy and balance. Oxford University's Alan Palmer describes how the Congress of Vienna began:

The people of Vienna had been surprised to learn in June that Emperor Francis was to be host to the peacemakers. Perhaps they had even been a little disconcerted; for this was a new role for the Habsburgs and a new experience for their city.

The emperor Franz (as it is more commonly spelled) had, at Metternich's prompting, organized a peace conference to provide a stable future for Europe in the wake of twenty-five years of violent bloodshed: the ten years of the French Revolution and the fifteen years of Napoleon's dictatorship.

Now in 1814 a cavalcade of of sovereigns and statesmen was about to descend on the city, and it was by no means clear how they were to be accommodated, how their business was to be conducted, or how their retinues were to be fed and foddered through the winter months. There was no formal invitation, merely an announcement that the Congress would open on 1 October. The heads of the five reigning dynasties and of 216 princely families flocked to Vienna.

Europe's power politics were dominated by five superpowers: England, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Here Metternich's diplomatic principles would be put into play: to balance the powers, the boundary lines of European maps, and the political alliances between Europe's sovereign states, would be reorganized so that no one nation could assert itself over the others. This would keep the peace. Those sovereign states were to be ruled by legitimate governments - as opposed to illegitimate governments, like those of the French Revolution, which had neither legal nor moral right to rule. Legitimate governments had the obligation to help each other against attempted overthrow by illegitimate powers; thus peace would be kept as the government helped each other, instead of opposed each other.

Metternich was opposed to that political movement known as "nationalism":

He rejected the idea that community of language, sentiment or race provided a basis for political unity ... nationalism and liberalism remained equally abhorrent doctrines to him, the product of that French Revolution against which he saw himself in conflict throughout his life. In their place ... he offered a threefold creed: a belief in an essential community of interests which bound together the European States; a belief in the need for vigilance against political excess; and a belief the virtues of a balanced order, both between governments and between classes within society.

At the university, Metternich studied both political science, and the career of his own father, who was likewise a diplomat, and who had made a successful career

seeking in 1791 to play off against each other the rival Belgian patriot factions.

Younger Metternich learned the secret of his father's success in the university's political science lectures:

good government depends for survival upon a balance between extremes ... the concept of a stable equilibrium appealed [to Metternich].

Later in life, Metternich would put these principles into action. Representing Austria and the Holy Roman Empire,

he insisted that Austria's central position on the continent made it essential for her to think, not so much of territorial compensation, as of 'laying the foundations of a European political system' ... only Vienna could establish the equilibrium which Europe needed for her convalescence.

A balance of power, carefully negotiated and administered by Metternich, would heal Europe after twenty-five years of warfare. He saw his employment in the Holy Roman Empire, and later in the Habsburg Empire, as an opportunity to create peace for all of Europe. (The Holy Roman Empire would end in 1806, to be partially replaced by the Habsburg Empire.)

This carefully established balance, enacted in 1815 as the Congress of Vienna finalized its negotiated outcomes, would soon be tested by military actions as the Greeks defended themselves against Islamic occupational troops in the 1820's. European powers were agreed that the Greeks could resist the invaders, but the manner in which the European powers allied themselves to support Greece could lead to unintended effects. The English diplomat George Canning, whose views sometimes were the same as Metternich's,

was pledged to Greek autonomy while he remained convinced that any re-drawing of the map in Eastern Europe, however small in the first instance, would disturb the whole balance of the continent.

The Battle of Navarino (November 1827) would help the Greeks regain their freedom, but struggle would be long and complex.