Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian Empire’s foreign minister from 1809 to 1848, has a bad reputation. Even Henry Kissinger, who famously defended the archconservative Austrian as the brilliant architect of 50 years of relative peace in continental Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century, was uneasy about Metternich’s brutal repression of liberal and radical movements for democracy and national self-determination. Thanks in part to Metternich, conservatives rather than liberals would co-opt nationalist ideology, contributing to an aggressive Germany, the conflagration of World War I, and perhaps even the eventual rise of Hitler. With painstaking and pathbreaking primary-source research, this book seeks to redeem Metternich from the criticisms of his detractors. It ultimately fails. Siemann tries to explain Metternich’s uncompromising reactionary views as a sincere response to early trauma suffered when the French Revolution dispossessed his aristocratic family. But portraying Metternich as a victim of trauma, a thoughtful strategist, a harbinger of modern European federalism, and a kindly and moderate man in private doesn’t excuse the cruelty and intolerance of his politics. The book does succeed in forcing readers to wonder whether Metternich’s efforts to defend an essentially conservative order against populists and terrorists are so different from the struggles that liberal democracies face today.
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