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Anti-Enlightenment and Conservative Order

Napoleon's enemies gathered at the Congress of Vienna, which ended in June 1815, a few days before Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. At the Congress the empires of Habsburg Austria and tsarist Russia were represented by men interested in squashing the Enlightenment and nationalism. Conservatives wanted a return to respect for the wisdom of traditional authorities. They wanted to shore up obedience.

Alexander I, the tsar of Russia, an Orthodox Christian, wanted an international order based on Christianity, and he talked the emperor of Prussia, a Protestant, and the emperor of Austria, a Roman Catholic, into joining him in what was called a Holy Alliance. The monarchs of Austria and Prussia did not want to offend Alexander, so they joined their kingdoms to Alexander's creation, agreeing with Alexander that the "sublime truths" of Christianity ought to guide relations between nations and guide the domestic affairs of nations. Strong religious convictions, it was agreed, was necessary for maintaining upright and loyal subjects. The rulers of Russia, Austria and Prussia agreed that challenges to their authoritarian rule by liberalism and revolution ought to remain suppressed.

Britain, the most science-minded of the four powers that defeated Napoleon, did not join the Holy Alliance. Its foreign minister, Viscount Castlereagh, dismissed the Holy Alliance as mystical nonsense.

Leading the Congress of Vienna was the foreign minister for Austria's monarch, Klemens von Metternich. According to Metternich the people of Europe wanted peace rather than liberty. And peace was what Metternich wished to provide them, within a context of what he saw as legitimate rule. Legitimate rule for Metternich was authoritarian monarchy. Metternich wanted to restore to the continent the old aristocratic and monarchical order and empire.

The men at the Congress of Vienna redrew the map of Europe. What was to be known as the Treaty of Paris was signed there on 20 November 1815, four months after Napoleon had surrendered to the British and with Louis XVIII sitting on France's throne.

Belgium was taken from what had been Napoleonic France and combined with the United Netherlands. Austria was given authority in Germany again – except areas ruled by Prussia. Genoa, Sardinia, Piedmont and Savoy were to be ruled by the House of Savoy, as was the city of Nice. Lombardy (around Milan) and Venetia (in northern Italy) were given to Austria. To compensate Austria for its loss of Polish territory it was given Slavic territory along the Dalmatian Coast (along the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, formerly possessed by Venice).

The four powers agreed in their recognition of France's restored monarchy. Their forces were to occupy France until 1818. Then France was to join the victorious nations, making the alliance of four an alliance of five.

People across Europe have been described as sick of war, and there was widespread disdain for social upheaval, served by a revival of religious devotions. Conservatives were blaming the French Revolution's excesses not only on the weaknesses of individual character but also on the intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment, including the revolution's expressed ideals "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." They were blurring men with contrary views: Voltaire and Rousseau, Thomas Paine and Robespierre. Paine had opposed the execution of Louis XVI and the terror. Enlightenment thinkers had not been as enthusiastic for war or as nationalistic as many of France's revolutionaries, but Enlightenment thinkers were blamed for having rejected traditional God-appointed monarchism and the intellectual authority of the Church or church fathers. Immanuel Kant was among those singled out for criticism. He had insulted people who let authority figures do their thinking for them, describing them as children.

Conservatives found advocacy of rationality by Enlightenment thinkers itself at fault. There was the claim that the naiveté of the philosophers gave the revolutionaries license to commit their irrationalities. On the continent of Europe the conservative diplomat and philosopher Joseph de Maistre (1754-1821) was describing monarchies as divinely sanctioned and the only stable form of government. According to de Maistre, contrary opinions led to unresolvable arguments, violence and chaos. De Maistre described French intellectuals as responsible for the Revolution, giving little or no credit to economic hardship and the kind of outbursts that had appeared before the Enlightenment. De Maistre claimed that the rejection of Christianity was directly responsible for the French Revolution's disorder and bloodshed. For de Maistre, "man" was more brutal than the wolf and needed to be tamed by the awe of Christian devotions.

Another opponent of the French Revolution was Pius VII, pope from 1800 to 1823. Napoleon had put him in a French prison after invading the Papel states in 1809, and, with Pope Pius's celebrated return to the Vatican he became a leader of the new conservatism.

Pius VII reestablished the Inquisition and reconstituted the Index of prohibited books... In the papal states, Pius annulled Napoleonic laws of religious toleration and reintroduced persecution of the Jews, who were returned to and compelled to attend mass one a week. (Western Civilization, Steven Hause and William Maltby, p. 675.)

According to the historian Herbert J. Muller (in Freedom in the Modern World) in wake of the horrors of the French Revolution, anti-Enlightenment thinkers were oversimplifying the Middle Ages. For them, the Middle Ages had become the Age of Faith, piety and chivalry purged of its barbarities and its tyrannies.

After 1815, fear of free-thinking and radicalism (support for democracy) by conservative policymakers contributed to the suppression of newspapers, and there was distrust of university intellectuals. Austria's Prince Metternich viewed editors, newspapermen and university teachers with suspicion. He was to help create the Karlsbad Decrees of 1819, which put universities in the confederation of German states in central Europe under state control and resulted in the firing of liberal professors and the closing of student clubs.

Britain's middle-class was more developed and had more political power than the middle classes in the German-speaking and Slavic states, but there too was fear of radicalism and subversion. The executions of French royalty and war against revolutionary France had contributed to support for conservatism. A tax was put on newspapers intended to make them too expensive for common people. Anti-revolution sentiments had arisen, including a Methodist statute that declared: "None of us shall either in writing or in conversation speak lightly or irreverently of the government." The Irishman Edmund Burke was to become famous among conservatives in the United States. He was hostile to the French Revolution, but Burke was an "Old Whig," and the Whigs were followers of John Locke. Burke was interested in individual rights and had complained that the French Revolution had left individuality out of its scheme.

Politics was the art of controlling circumstances and the art of the possible, and the conservatism expressed at the Congress of Vienna was soon to be challenged by circumstances over which those against change would have little control.

CONTINUE READING: Europe to 1831: Conservatives Challenged

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