Metternich's Attitude Toward Revolution

The Genius of Metternich: Austria's Resurrection Through "Active Neutrality"

Prince Klemens von Metternich held firmly to the conservative view that only those who were destined to rule should rule, that is, he believed in hereditary legitimacy and authority. Those who had come to power, like Napoleon, without a hereditary right to rule were a key contributing factor to the upset of the balance of power and revolution in Europe. In his Political Confession of Faith, 1820, he cites three causes for revolution; weak government, degradation of religion and lack of respect for God and the ideas of the Enlightenment. He further states that great monarchs must “strengthen their union” so that they can withstand the storm and protect the principles on which their states had been founded (Metternich).

Metternich acknowledged the decay of society as he witnessed the revolutions of Europe. He is convinced that Monarchs must act with “strong and vigorous resolutions” while they are “still free in their opinions and actions” so that they can stand firm and promote their principles (Metternich). An example of this thinking was the enactment of the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 which instituted censorship of the press to control the flow of revolutionary thought throughout the German state of Austria. He used his belief in the divine right of kings to justify this crackdown of the press. God had entrusted monarchs with power, therefore, they had a responsibility to maintain justice, “avoid paths of error” and “tread firmly in the way of truth” (Metternich). Only through these measures could the balance of power be maintained.

He opined that religion had provided moral authority and constancy to France and the other nations of Europe. Metternich said, “Drag through the mud the name of God and the powers instituted by His divine decrees, and the revolution will be prepared!” This perception of the stabilizing effect that religion had had in Europe and it degradation was lamented by Metternich. His faith in the old order had been tested and needed to be restored. He deplores rulers to “maintain religious principles in all their purity, and not allow the faith to be attacked and morality interpreted according to the social contract or the visions of foolish sectarians.” Clearly, a statement in opposition to Protestantism and other sectarians who he saw as destabilizing actors.

Finally, Metternich cites that because the “progress of the human mind” had advanced so quickly, wisdom had not been able to keep up with the development of Enlightenment thought. This lack of wisdom, which is the only factor to counter balance frivolity, was the basis for the Revolution. Without strong authoritarian rulers keep a lid on thought and new ideas, revolutionary thinking penetrated the borders of France and invaded the minds of citizens in the far reaches of Europe.

Metternich believed that revolutionary thought was dangerous and the only way to contain it was through strong action by monarchies who would work together to form unions and allegiances to maintain power.