Metternich rose to fame in a prolonged contest with Napoleon and prevailed. He went on to create a stable international arrangement on the European continent that would last for more than thirty years.
Other historians would assert that Metternich's arrangement would last for almost a century, not merely thirty years. In either case, a decisive moment happened in the 1790's, when Metternich visited England, and met Edmund Burke; although the two men differed greatly in their political theories, they would both become known as leaders of the conservative movement in their time. Burke
upheld monarchy and denounced natural right ... Burke attacked the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen
Burke had supported the American Revolution, and its Declaration of Independence; he saw them as fundamentally different: seeing the American colonies as basing their quest for independence on the clear historical rights of citizens as set forth in the Magna Carta, but the French Revolution as being based, not on the overthrow of a government, but on the overthrow of a society:
To Burke historical precedent, custom, and tradition were the practical foundation for law and government. Metternich admired what he saw of Great Britain's government, and Burke's defense of the established order. Burke also wrote on "the similitude throughout Europe of religion, laws and manners." Metternich's subsequent defense of a state system was reinforced by Burke's thinking. Metternich would share the conservative thinker's view that the power of France should be contained.
Oddly, Metternich would approve of England's parliamentary system, a prototype of democratic republicanism as it would take root in America, while rejecting the same system for his own native country. In the wake of twenty-five years of violence (between ten years of French Revolution, and fifteen years of Napoleon's dictatorship, millions would die), Metternich was interested in a political peace which would ensure safety for all of Europe. He
was sure that no power by itself could maintain the peace. A harmonious coalition had defeated Napoleon, and harmony would be vital to protecting the fruits of victory. A balance of power in central Europe was necessary for Austria above all, it seemed to Metternich.
In post-Revolutionary, post-Napoleonic Europe, to protect innocent lives, legitimate governments were necessary. Revolutionary France, and Napoleonic France, had been only too willing to sacrifice lives for political gain. Metternich wished to value human life above national power politics: he was firmly against nationalism:
Restoring the House of Bourbon in France was more in step with Metternich's regard for, and understanding of, legitimacy.
Metternich, of course, is most widely known for organizing the Congress of Vienna. This international gathering would preserve peace in Europe for decades into the future.
The Final Act, singed on June 9, 1815, had concluded the Congress of Vienna and redistributed the territory in accordance withe Big Four's wishes and transformed "compensation" and "legitimacy" into practical policy.
In the century after the twenty-five years of bloodshed, as in the century before, the major powers in Europe would be England, Prussia, Russia, Austria, and France. France's temporary humiliation (hence the reference to the "Big Four") would be reversed by the skills of Talleyrand, France's representative at the Congress of Vienna. But Spain, Poland, Sweden, and Holland were relegated to a second-string status.