Metternich's internal policies in historical perspective, 1809-35
Achleitner, Herbert K. (Student of history)
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Metternich and his "System" became a symbol of vituperation and hatred to the liberal, nationalist, and democratic thinkers of the late nineteenth century. They saw only the negative and oppressive side of the Chancellor’s ideology. He was blamed for the backwardness of the Austrian Empire, the repression of liberalism, and nascent nationalism to Germany and Italy. This thesis analyses the policies which Prince Metternich advocated and those put into practice in the internal affairs of the Hapsburg Empire. To reach an objective picture of Metternich’s internal policies, the thesis first examines the early influences of this statesman. Metternich was born in the late eighteenth century, imbued with the ideas of the Enlightenment. Metternich came from an aristocratic family, and he served a multinational empire whose ruling aristocracy looked upon reforms as a sign of weakness. Metternich opposed the rising forces of constitutionalism, liberalism, and nationalism because ha saw in them a threat to order and security. The eighteenth-century thought which culminated in the reforms of Maria Theresa and Francis II was also crucial in determining Metternich's outlook. In evaluating the Chancellor's internal policies, one must consider the forces at work within the Monarchy: the stagnant bureaucracy; the petrified social order; the political lethargy in the empire; the domineering position of the aristocracy in the state; the conflicting interests of the different crown lands; and, most important, the inept ruler of the Imperial House himself. Both Metternich and the Emperor Francis exhibited a fear of change. They relied upon order and authority, disliked popular sovereignty, and democratic institutions. But Metternich realised that the Hapsburg Monarchy could not rely on force forever. Therefore he was willing to introduce administrative changes to make the government machinery more efficient. Because of Francis's narrow concept of duty, Metternich's proposed reforms were never implemented. Metternich's reforms, therefore, were totally dependent upon Francis's whims. The fact that Metternich was a symbol of contempt for virtually all progressive forces of the nineteenth century should not detract us from acknowledging the fact that he proposed reforms which, had they been carried out, would have had a far reaching, positive impact upon the Austrian Empire.