Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Concert of Europe: Conservatism's successful seven decade frustration of communist aims

"Every country has the government it deserves." - Joseph De Maistre, diplomat  (1753 - 1821)

A street of Paris in May 1871: The Commune by Maximilien Luce (painted 1903-05)
Earlier today was visiting the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France and the collections of art that span 1848 through 1914. Coming upon this work by Maximilien Luce some questions arose in my mind: "What would Paris be like if the communists had succeeded in 1848? Would this museum even exist?" Think of the loss in lives, art, and treasure over the past century when communist regimes killed over a 100 million and plunged hundreds of millions more into lives of squalor.

Karl Marx announced in his 1848 manifesto the arrival of communism in Europe in the midst of ongoing revolutions. There were multiple reasons for the unrest: poor grain harvests, blight in potato crops, and depressed economies across Europe over the previous three years and conditions were ripe for revolt and radical new doctrines to be well received. Conservatives in Europe, following the disastrous French Revolution of 1789 and the continent wide blood bath of the Napoleonic wars, organized against revolution creating a conservative order. In the United Kingdom, conservatism was manifested in the writings of Edmund Burke and his critical reflection on the French Revolution. Policies of reform successfully countered revolutionary impulse.

Visiting France once is confronted with a different conservative tradition. On the European continent the conservative ideas of Joseph de Maistre held sway. De Maistre represented a counter-revolutionary and authoritarian strain of conservatism that rejected the French Enlightenment and the social contract theories of Hobbes and Locke. Having suffered the effects of the Revolution of 1789 in France de Maistre "argued for the restoration of hereditary monarchy," and "for the indirect authority of the Pope over temporal matters as a prerequisite for stability in Europe." Unlike Burke, his writings are a reaction to the destruction of his way of life in the French Revolution. Nevertheless his ideas would have a profound impact on French conservatives. De Maistre died 27 years before Marx's Communist Manifesto,  but his ideas lived on to resist the bolsheviks.

Joseph de Maistre in Les soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg wrote in 1821: "False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing."  This can still be seen today by those who continue to circulate the writings of Karl Marx, despite the disastrous human cost this theory has exacted upon the world.

Marx and the communists organized into revolutionary transnational networks to overthrow the existing order but following the French revolution, a conservative counter-revolutionary network already existed to resist the new threat.

Édouard Dubufe (1819-1883), The Congress of Paris, 1856, Musée national du château de Versailles
 The end of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars led to an enduring peace forged by conservative European statesman. It was a peace that endured without a major war, more or less, until 1914. The architects of the peace were Klemens von Metternich of Austria, Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (usually known as Lord Castlereagh), Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord of France. Out of the ruin of a continent wide war emerged the Concert of Europe.  Wikipedia described it as follows, "[t]he Concert of Europe, also known as the Congress System or the Vienna System after the Congress of Vienna, was a system of dispute resolution adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to maintain their power, oppose revolutionary movements, weaken the forces of nationalism, and uphold the balance of power."  The last gathering of the Concert of Europe was in 1878 in Berlin. These were statesmen who understood the necessary relationship between freedom and order. Metternich gave it context, "[t]he word 'freedom' means for me not a point of departure but a genuine point of arrival. The point of departure is defined by the word 'order.' Freedom cannot exist without the concept of order."

"Lamartine, rejects the Red Flag," Feb 25, 1848. By Henri Felix Emmanuel Philippoteaux
The Concert of Europe had no formal structures and operated as a powerful network to counter both nationalists and communists from 1815 to 1914. The weak point turned out to be France. The monarchy was restored on April 6, 1814 with Louis XVIII and was succeeded by Charles X in 1824 but the new King of France was driven out of office by the July Revolution of 1830 on August 2, 1830. The King of France was replaced by a King of the French within the constraints of a constitutional monarchy. Louis Philippe I was the new king under the more liberal Orléans line, replacing the Bourbons. 18 years later he would abdicate his rule on February 24, 1848 and flee to England. The second Republic would be declared on February 26, 1848. This was the end of the French monarchy in France. Conservative forces were able to shut down radical revolutionary projects using violent repression combined with reforms to meet the demands of the populace preventing a repeat of 1789. Metternich explained the conservative need to accommodate and shape change as follows, "[t]he events which can not be prevented, must be directed."

Barricades in Paris in 1848
Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine, a member of the Chamber of Deputies and French provincial nobility, at a critical point in the February Revolution rejected the red flag of the revolutionaries and made the case for maintaining the French Tricolor flag:
"I spoke as a citizen earlier, well! Now listen to me, your Foreign Minister. If I remove the tricolor, know it, you will remove me half the external force of France! Because Europe knows the flag of his defeats and of our victories in the flag of the Republic and of the Empire. By seeing the red flag, they'll see the flag of a party! This is the flag of France, it is the flag of our victorious armies, it is the flag of our triumphs that must be addressed before Europe. France and the tricolor is the same thought, the same prestige, even terror, if necessary, for our enemies! Consider how much blood you would have to make for another flag fame! Citizens, for me, the red flag, I am not adopting it, and I'll tell you why I'm against with all the strength of my patriotism. It's that the tricolor has toured the world with the Republic and the Empire with your freedoms and your glory, and the red flag was that around the Champ-de-Mars, dragged into the people's blood."
The painting by Emmanuel Philippoteaux, depicting the moment Lamartine rejects the red flag is on display at the Museum Carnavalet in Paris. This "revolution" brought General Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, to power. He was the President of France from 1848 to 1852. The French Constitution barred him from running for re-election so he organized a coup d'état in 1851 and became Napoleon III, the Emperor of the French from 1852 to 1870. His rule ended due to his defeat in the Franco - Prussian war.

In 1853 Napoleon III ordered Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann to transform Paris from a city of a dense network of streets, overcrowded, dingy, dirty, riddled with disease and lacking an effective sewage system. What today makes Paris so distinctive, "the grand, wide boulevards that march in straight lines through the city, lined with bustling cafés and tempting patisseries" is Haussmann's creation.
"Conceived and executed in three phases, the plan involved the demolition of 19,730 historic buildings and the construction of 34,000 new ones. Old streets gave way to long, wide avenues characterised by rows of regularly aligned and generously proportioned neo-classical apartment blocks faced in creamy stone."
It also made it more difficult for the revolutionaries to set up barricades and made it easier for the military to move quickly to crush any uprisings with the wide boulevards. However the Franco-Prussian war that brought an end to the Second Republic and the rule of Napoleon III gave an opportunity for the communists to take hold of Paris and set up a commune that survived two months from March 1871 to May 1871 before the French Army crushed the communist project and restored order.

Barricade boulevard Voltaire and Richard-Lenoir1871
Tragically the horrors of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic wars that followed were largely forgotten and in 1914 the forces of nationalism, the breakdown of the balance of power arrangement set up in the Concert of Europe, and rising militarism plunged the world into a great war.  This destroyed the last vestiges of the conservative transnational network that prevented the rise of Bolshevism. Communism would arrive in Russia in 1917 and over the next century claim a 100 million lives and ruin countless more.

However, thanks to conservative statesmen in Europe the 19th century offered a space of peace and prosperity for seven decades that led to a great out pouring of art, technology, and also the remaking of Paris into the remarkable city that it is today. This would not have existed if the communists had triumphed in 1848 or 1871.

There are important lessons for statesmen to learn from this period of time for the 21st century.

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