The Concert of Europe
Today marks the second episode in our first great arc of this series. Which, I realize I never did name that arc in our first episode, but for the record, this arc is called “The Long Nineteenth Century,” which is a term often used to describe the period between the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Now, you may remember that last week I said that today we would be discussing the great revolutionary year of 1848. This was, I’m sorry to say, a great big dirty lie. I had hoped that I would be able to quickly give a thumbnail sketch of our five great powers and talk about how the revolutions of 1848 affected them all in one episode. This, with hindsight, was far too ambitious. There is just too much to talk about regarding the culture and politics of the great powers of Europe in the 19th century for me to describe them in any kind of coherent way while also covering the insanely complicated turmoil that rocked the entire continent in 1848. So, last week we discussed the diplomatic summit of 1814 and 1815 known as the Congress of Vienna, today we will take a more in depth look at each of the five “Great Powers” that were so prominent in those discussions, and next week we will throw them all into the great woodchipper that was the revolutionary year of 1848. You’ll also notice that this week’s episode has two maps attached to it, one showing the territory of our five great powers as they stood in the early 19th century, and a second showing a rough breakdown of the states making up the German Confederation we introduced last week. Alright, with that all out of the way, on with the show.
So first let us turn our attention to Britain, or more properly, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the only of the five “Great Powers” to play essentially no role in the revolutions of 1848. This kingdom was the first to unify all of the kingdoms of the British Isles under a single crown, and this now fully unified nation was on the brink of rocketing to all out superpower status. It is easy for us today to take for granted this soon-to-be realized greatness, knowing as we do that the British Empire was, at its height, one of the largest if not the largest empires in the history of the world. But at this point in history, the wealth and power of this “empire upon which the sun never set” was still nascent. In 1815 the British Empire included large (if largely theoretical) swaths of territory in Canada – from roughly the Atlantic Coast to roughly modern day Saskatchewan – similarly large (and similarly theoretical) claims in the eastern half of Australia, and a few ports on the northeastern coast of South America, the western coast of Africa and parts of modern day South Africa, and a few claims in modern India and Bangladesh, with the Bengali claims being by far the largest and most heavily policed part of “British India”. In these relatively humble origins, we can see the beginnings of the British Empire that would go on to smear something like a quarter of the map of the world in its dusty red imperial hue, to borrow a phrase from the historian Simon Schama.
We will go into more detail on the expansion and status of the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th century in episode 5, which will detail the history of 19th century European colonialism. But suffice it to say that these areas where the Union Jack now flew will be the bases from which the British Empire will rapidly expand throughout the 19th century, save principally in South America where British territory will not meaningfully grow.
Yet the British Empire was not the only thing that defined this kingdom in the foggy islands of old Britannia. Just as important to the British role in the First World War, as well as their total non-participation in the Revolutions of 1848, was the British – and especially English – character and worldview. Of course, every country and people have their own understandings about the world and stories they tell about themselves. But, at least among the other European states, the British worldview was perhaps unique in the special place they gave to themselves.
Most of us today are familiar with the concept of “human rights;” whatever we believe those rights are or ought to be, this is an idea that has gained widespread acceptance, or at least understanding. In Europe in the 19th century, this was not necessarily the case, and the British (and especially the English) in particular did not necessarily believe that their “rights” were universal in nature nor in scope. Rather, the rights that they held were not “human” rights, but rather “English” rights, or at least “British” rights. These were rights that had been established by their forebears, and were claimed not by virtue of being human beings, but by virtue of, for lack of a better word, inheritance.
As the great historian Hannah Arendt wrote in her Magnum Opus “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, “the concept of inheritance, applied to the very nature of liberty, has been the ideological basis from which English nationalism received its curious touch of race-feeling ever since the French Revolution.” In a nutshell, what she means by this is that English (and in a larger sense British) nationalism – an idea we will discuss more later – was based less on a sense of ethnic or racial superiority, but rather on the superiority of British institutions and history.
This may explain why, of all of the five Great Powers that we will discuss throughout this series, Great Britain is the only one that is still under essentially the same system of government today as it held before the First World War, and indeed for many centuries beforehand. Another likely factor was that the British government was, frankly, much much more flexible and able to respond to changing social, political, and economic conditions. As an industrial revolution began to sweep throughout Europe at the same time the population of the continent was exploding, all in the context of the bodies from the Napoleonic Wars still being warm, the bonds that held society together were becoming frayed and being called into question everywhere. So, in June of 1832, the British government passed the so-called “Great Reform Act,” or as it was officially known, “An Act to Amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales.” This act did a lot of things, but two of those things are important for our purposes. First, it massively increased the number of British subjects who were able to vote by reducing the wealth requirement for suffrage, and having that wealth not be solely calculated based on owning land. Second, it redrew the electoral map to eliminate so-called “rotten boroughs,” which were districts that had a tiny population but had as many representatives in the British Parliament as several huge cities such as, for example, London. In practice, what this meant was that the economic middle class in Britain, which had been growing not only in population but also in wealth, was given a much greater level of access to the levers of power at the expense of the nobles and landlords who had previously hoarded political power. Thus when revolutionary sparks started lighting the kingdoms on the continent on fire, those sparks never lit in Britain because the economic middle class had no incentive to join in the fun, as they did in most of the other countries of Europe.
Next, let us turn to France, a country who would once again be at the heart of a great wave of revolution sweeping over Europe. The ancient Kingdom of France, which had once been the grandest and most powerful in Europe, was by 1789 being strangled by crippling debts and budget deficits on the one side, and a rising middle class being denied access to political power by a corrupt and incompetent aristocracy on the other. I am, of course, massively simplifying all of this, but the point is that the French government was caught in a disastrous middle ground of being too powerful and absolutist to allow for political and economic reforms to be implemented, but not powerful nor absolutist enough to stop the spread of ideas for what sorts of political and economic reforms might be needed to fix the country. By July of 1789 riots in the streets of France’s major cities were matched with the declaration of a “National Convention,” made up mostly of bourgeois intellectuals, who took it upon themselves to write a new “Constitution” for the Kingdom. By January of 1793 King Louis XVI was overthrown and beheaded, France had been made a republic, and quickly turned itself into a massive war machine hell-bent on destroying the corrupt and despotic monarchies which ruled the rest of Europe. Though chastened following the fall of Napoleon, massively reduced in size, and re-saddled with a new King by the Allies, the French still remembered a time when they had been citizens, and had not only proved to the rest of Europe how powerful large modern armies were, but had exported many of the ideas forged in the fires of revolution – individual liberty and civil rights, the sovereignty of the people rather than a divinely appointed monarch, and the right of self-government – to the lands they had conquered.
By July of 1830, as we discussed last week, the same problems which had toppled the absolutist regime of Louis XVI had reemerged with a vengeance, and a second revolution once again overthrew the House of Bourbon. This time, however, rather than instituting a republic, the political class decided that the safest and most stable course of action would be to elevate a new Constitutional Monarchy under King Louis Philippe I of the House of Orléans, a cadet branch of the larger Bourbon dynasty. This new government was based on a revised “Charter of Government,” which spelled out the jurisdiction and powers of the various branches of government.
Now when the Bourbons had been restored to the French throne in 1814 after the first defeat and exile of Napoleon, the new King Louis XVIII had issued a similar “Charter of Government” laying out the limits of royal power and instituting a two part legislature made up of an elected Chamber of Deputies and a royally appointed and hereditary Chamber of Peers, all of which was kept by the new Charter adopted by Louis Phillippe I in 1830. However, there were a few key differences that the new king and his more liberal supporters hoped would insulate their new regime from revolution. The most important of these being that, where the old charter had stated that the king, “voluntarily, and by the free exercise of our royal authority, accorded and do accord, grant and concede to our subjects…the constitutional charter which follows,” the new charter stated that, “the preamble of the constitutional charter is suppressed, as wounding the national dignity in appearing to grant to the French rights which essentially belong to them.”
This may seem like a tiny distinction, but it was a big deal in the politics of the day. In essence, the old charter had stated that the rights affirmed and the government laid out in that document had been granted by the king to his subjects. That these were not rights inherent to the people, and that the king was under no obligation to respect them, but was choosing to respect them out of his own personal generosity. The new charter of 1830, written by men who clearly understood that the people of France were done being subjects and wanted to be citizens once again, stated clearly that these rights were inherent to the people, and that the new king was obliged to respect them. In short, power would no longer come down from the king, but up from the people.
But that said, besides clearly adopting the conviction that legitimate government was rooted in the sovereignty of the people rather than the king, the new charter did very little to alter the formation of government or give any real power to “the people.” Suffrage under the old system had been limited to men who, “pay a direct tax of three hundred francs and are not less than thirty years of age.” In practice, this meant that in a kingdom with a population of around 30 million people, only about 110,000 had the right to vote for their representatives in the national government. The new charter of 1830 slightly reduced the wealth requirements for suffrage, increasing the voting population of the kingdom to a whopping…170,000 people. That is to say, about one half of one percent of the total population. And far from the new king being some figurehead with most real power being vested in the “people’s” representatives, the charter still made clear that, “The king is the supreme head of the state; commands the forces by sea and by land; declares war, makes treaties of peace and alliance and of commerce; he appoints to all offices in public administration, and makes all regulations necessary for the execution of the laws,” though there was now a vague clause saying the king was “without ever having power either to suspend the laws themselves, or dispense with their execution.” What a relief.
Suffice it to say, that there were many people in France who were not satisfied by this meaningless change in the government of the country. The so-called “July Monarchy” dealt with regular insurrections and attempted revolutions throughout its 18 year-long run of governing France. Interestingly, these revolts were not only launched by republicans who wanted to do away with the king and have a truly popular government that truly represented the people, but also from so-called “legitimists” who wanted to reinstate the absolutist House of Bourbon, as well as partisans of the Napoleonic Empire, who rallied behind the nephew of the now dead former emperor, Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte or, as he was now starting to be styled, Napoleon III.
Which, and this is a small thing but it’s been bugging me that I wasn’t able to explain it last week, is a name that is the result of the sometimes quite silly naming conventions of royal dynasties. To understand this, recall that in 1793 Louis XVI was executed after France was declared a republic, and in 1814 he was officially replaced by his brother Louis XVIII. Well I’m sure some of you may have been wondering, “where is Louis XVII?” You see, in royal traditions throughout Europe (and really, pretty much the rest of the world), one’s title as king does not derive from actually ruling your kingdom, but from succession. So, when Louis XVI was beheaded in 1793, the title of King of France was “officially” passed down to his son, who would be called Louis XVII. But since that poor kid died in the custody of the revolutionary republicans under mysterious circumstances in 1795 at the ripe old age of ten, he never actually got to rule France. Yet because monarchical legitimacy is based on succession not governance, this kid’s uncle, the younger brother of Louis XVI, who was now next in line for the throne took the name of Louis XVIII, to make it clear that he recognized the short, quote-unquote “reign” of his nephew. Well, the same rules apply here to the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. Our Napoleon, the famous emperor who conquered like half of Europe, had a son with his wife, the Austrian princess Marie Louise, named Napoleon after his father. When this kid’s father died on St. Helena in 1821, according to the Bonapartists he ascended to the imperial throne as Napoleon II, but he died in 1832 at the age of 21 before being able to reclaim his throne. So, following the same rules of dynastic succession, Napoleon II’s cousin, the aforementioned Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, took for himself the title of Napoleon III. This is all going to be important here down the road.
So, moving a few miles across the Rhine River we encounter the western territory of the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was, for most of its history, a small feudal territory and simply one amongst hundreds of Germanic kingdoms in the old Holy Roman Empire. (Although, as an interesting side note, the territory of the old duchy of Prussia was so far east that it was mostly made up of Poles and Lithuanians, and its “German” character traces back to its conquest by German knights from the west from the 13th to 16th centuries.) It had experienced a huge growth in wealth, power, and territory in the 18th century under the leadership of a few ambitious and crafty monarchs of the Hohenzollern Dynasty, particularly Frederick the Great who ruled Prussia from 1740-1786, and who shocked the rest of Europe by executing some of the most brilliant military campaigns in European history. The Prussian House of Hohenzollern would prove to be so powerful and influential that it would eventually come to rule the soon to be established German Empire.
This growth in power and influence was due almost entirely to a single institution, an institution which would come to have a profound impact not just on the Prussian Kingdom, nor even just the yet to be established German Empire, but the entire world: the Prussian Army. Prussia was basically the first country in Europe to take seriously the regular standardization of the training, tactics, and organization of its army. The defining characteristic of this doctrine was discipline, a word that would come to be deeply associated not just with the Prussian Army but with the Prussian people. During the wars of the 18th century Prussian soldiers could be seen marching into battle in almost robotic lockstep (and it was in fact the Prussians who first utilized the famous “goose-stepping” march later associated with Nazi Germany, as a way to both keep their troops marching at a steady pace, but also to intimidate their opponents). For most of Europe’s history, the German people were generally not considered to be great soldiers. But during the 18th century Prussia obliterated this reputation by fielding one of the largest, and by far the most effective, armies in the world.
This fearsome reputation was of course dealt a severe blow by Napoleon Bonaparte and his legendary Grande Armée, who easily defeated the Prussian Army in several enormous battles. But by the middle of the 19th century the Prussian military reputation had been largely rehabilitated, in no small part due to the fact that a Prussian Army under Field Marshall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher had dealt the killing stroke to Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Waterloo, marching in to attack the right flank of the French army just as it seemed that the British Army under the Duke of Wellington was about to be overwhelmed.
Not to belabor this point, but it is crucial to understand that of all of the Great Powers of Europe at this time, Prussia was the one most defined by its military. It had the finest army in Europe (excepting the brief hiccup of the Napoleonic period), its nobility considered their military posts to be far more important than their civilian posts or the running of their estates, and its monarchs poured huge amounts of the kingdom’s wealth, resources, and population into the army. This proclivity towards military pursuits as a means of acquiring and securing political power made possible the eventual Prussian envelopment of all the German peoples, but it also left the future German Empire with an image of being a brutal military dictatorship, a reputation which would come to haunt Germany during almost the entirety of the 20th century, and arguably down to the present day.
Moving slightly south and east towards the Danube River we find a country with roots as grand and ancient as the French, if not more so: the Austrian Empire. To understand the political framework of the Austrian Empire, we must turn to an entity that is just as important to that country as the army was to the Kingdom of Prussia. Not an institution though, but a family: the House of Habsburg.
The Habsburg dynasty was arguably the most important and influential royal family in all of European history. The dynasty was officially founded way way back sometime between 1020 and 1030 by count Radbot von Klettgau, who took control of a castle in what is today Switzerland named Schloss Habsburg, or Habsburg Castle, and named his family and dynasty after his new fortress. According to legend, the name of the castle was derived from a falcon that landed atop the castle walls, an auspicious sign of the future greatness of the dynasty now based within its walls. The success of the Habsburg dynasty lay in the mastery of its members in playing the medieval games not just of war, but of dynastic marriage, acquiring by these unions claims to ever larger and wealthier territory. As the old saying went, “Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube!” or in English “while others wage war, you happy Austria marry!” By this strategy the patriarchs of the family went from being simply “the count of Habsburg” to, by the 19th century, “Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, of Bohemia…” and a list of titles that goes on for an extended paragraph.
In fact, during basically the entire second half of the life of the Holy Roman Empire, which we briefly talked about last week, the title of “Archduke of Austria” (a title the Habsburg’s had taken to describe their principal holdings in central Europe) and that of “Holy Roman Emperor” were for all intents and purposes synonymous, as from 1445 to the dissolution of the empire in 1806, all but one of the Holy Roman Emperors were the heads of the Habsburg family. And just to be clear about this, we are talking about the so-called “Austrian” branch of the family, which is the original branch, but through skillful choices in spouses the Habsburgs had also gotten ahold of the Spanish crown for a couple of centuries as well, which is not important for us to talk about today except to demonstrate just how large and powerful this family was.
Of course, during the first half of the nineteenth century this empire was nominally ruled by two emperors: first was Francis I, who holds the dubious honor of being the last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire before it was dissolved by Napoleon. Second was his son, Ferdinand I, who inherited the Austrian throne in 1835 upon the death of his father. But since Francis was a fairly indolent and unintelligent man who was not much interested in the grubby business of politics, and his son Ferdinand was a severely physically and mentally disabled epileptic, up to 1848 Austria did not really have anything resembling a strong ruler. So, who was running the ship of state if the emperors weren’t? That’s right, it’s our old friend Metternich, who in 1809 was appointed by Francis I as foreign minister of the Austrian Empire, a post he would hold right up until 1848, and in 1821 he was also granted the further honor of being made chancellor (essentially the prime minister) of the empire. This meant that in a country ruled by first an inept and then a disabled emperor, and staffed mostly with aristocratic dilletantes, Metternich as the by far the most ambitious and most cunning of Austria’s politicians dominated that government for forty years, entrenching his conservative absolutist world view until he was oh-so ironically consumed by the fire of revolution.
So that was the setup and structure of the Austrian government, essentially a huge personal fiefdom acquired piecemeal by war and marriage. Yet while waging private wars and making strategic marriage alliances was the most recognized and most effective way of gaining political power in the medieval era, this history left the Habsburg family in an almost impossible position by the 19th century. By that time, especially after the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, an intellectual revolution had begun seeping its way into the hearts and minds of the people of Europe, engendering such thoroughly modern ideas as “popular sovereignty,” “the will of the people,” and most dangerously for the Habsburgs, “nationalism,” an idea that is critical to understanding not just how the Revolutions of 1848 rocked Austria, but in the ultimate failure of that state to survive the First World War.
You see, to quote the historian Margaret Macmillan, Austria, “was not so much a country as a collection of properties acquired by the Habsburgs.” It was ruled by a core of Germans in the territory surrounding the capital of Vienna, but ethnic Germans made up only 21-22% of a population of some 36 million people. A further 15% were Italian, 13% Hungarian, 7% Romanian, and fully 41% were Slavic – with these latter people being divided among Poles, Czechs, Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnians, and Serbs. There were also relatively small populations of Jews and Romani making up about 2-3% of the population, which while not much, further added to the sense of the Austrian Empire not being in any way a unified state.
And this leads us, finally, to a discussion of an idea which is critical to understanding the Revolutions of 1848 and ultimately the First World War itself, and that is nationalism. Now I’ve not done a detailed survey on this topic among the broad population, but when I talk with my friends and family about this word I find that many if not most people misunderstand its meaning, or at the very least its historical meaning. I have found that many people seem to equate the word “nationalism” with “patriotism,” and while these words are often correlated in contemporary politics, they have very different and very distinct meanings.
Patriotism, as I would define it, is a conviction to support the goals and interests of your country, and to feel a sense of pride in your country’s history and institution. Nationalism, however, refers to a conviction to support not the country of your birth or where you live, but in the people you belong to. I think a good, if, intentionally cheeky, description of this can be found in James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses.” In that book, the character Leopold Bloom is asked to define a nation, and he responds, “A nation? A nation is the same people living in the same place.” When challenged at this ludicrous over-simplification, he “clarifies” by saying “or also living in different places.”
You see, in the context of European history in the 19th century, a “nation” is not the same thing as a “country” or “state.” A country is a unified and independent political entity that incorporates a clearly defined swath of territory and is governed by the same laws – at least broadly. A nation, meanwhile, is not defined by a geographic territory, although that makes up part of its identity. Nor is it defined by its laws and institutions, though that also informs its identity. The defining characteristic of a nation, and what makes nationalism such a powerful political force, is the people. This sense of collective identity, distinct from whatever petty tyrant you happened to be laboring under, unified millions of otherwise disparate and downtrodden people across Europe, and ultimately the rest of the world, as they began not only to study and celebrate their language, art, culture, and history, but demand recognition as politically independent, self-governing entities. This is where you get the idea of a “nation-state.”
This idea of nationalism, to be blunt, is what would ultimately kill the Austrian Empire. Sure, being on the losing side of the First World War didn’t help, but Germany was very clearly the leading power of that losing alliance, and when it was defeated it was saddled with crushing reparation payments, stripped of much of its territory, and had its imperial government destroyed. But while the office of Kaiser would not survive the First World War, Germany would. The Austrian Empire would not be so lucky.
Finally, we arrive at the great eastern giant, the Slavic monolith, the largest country in the world and an empire that would go on to be the great hammer that would smash the revolutionaries of 1848: the Russian Empire. Of all of our five Great Powers, Russia was, really, the biggest wild card. It was linguistically, historically, and culturally distinct from the rest of Europe, indeed it had hardly been “European” at all for most of its history.
The origins of Russia, as with most ancient civilizations, is somewhat murky. Official, semi-reliable legend, states that in the 9th century a.d. a Viking king named Rurik sailed through the Baltic sea, landed near what is today the north-western coast of Russia, and established a dynastic fiefdom based in the city of Novgorod. This dynasty, called the Rurikovich dynasty after its founder, went on to conquer the city of Kiev, and from that point ruled a kingdom incorporating most of northwestern Russia, eastern Belarus, and northern Ukraine. The people of this kingdom were called the Rus, a name with origins as murky as those of its founding dynasty, but this people did give its name to the kingdom which ruled it: the Kievan Rus, or the Kiev Rus. This principality would eventually collapse and its territory would mostly be swallowed up by an entity called the Grand Duchy of Moscow, based out of, guess where. I’m obviously skipping a lot of important history here, probably the most important part of that history being the invasion of the Russian steppe by the Mongols in the 13th century, but we have places to go and people to see.
Fast forward about three hundred years and we land in the year 1547 when the Grand Duke Ivan IV of Moscow (also known as Ivan the Terrible, but let’s not worry about that right now), having conquered or annexed most of his rivals in the region, had himself crowned Ivan I Czar of Russia. This title, Czar, of course ultimately traces back to the name of Caesar, and came to Russia by way of the old Byzantine Empire who also gave Russia its religion of Orthodox Christianity.
This “Czardom of Russia” did not appear on the radar of anyone in Europe, save principally the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth who clashed constantly with this behemoth on their eastern border, until 1696 when Czar Peter I of the House of Romanov ascended to the Russian throne in his own right. (For the record, he had held the title jointly with his older brother Ivan V since 1682, it’s a whole thing and we don’t need to worry about it). Peter was a categorically different kind of ruler than Russia had ever had. And while he was fully Russian in his heritage and upbringing, he was hardly Russian in his heart and in his mind. Although generally seen as a positive force for Russia in the west – as he is given that most coveted of titles for rulers, modernizer – he actually has a pretty mixed reputation in Russia due to the fact that he really did not consider himself one of them. Peter, soon to be styled, “The Great,” looked to the west with fascination and envy at the modernizing kingdoms of Europe, and he desperately desired for himself and his people to join their ranks. His particular hobby horse was in the building and sailing of ships, and devoted a great deal of time and resources towards building Russia its first modern navy.
Of course, before he could have a navy he needed a port to the sea, so in 1703 in the midst of a war with the Kingdom of Sweden he seized from them a small port town on the Baltic Sea coast, which he soon rechristened as “Saint Petersburg.” This settlement, which was totally not named after Peter himself, was quickly proclaimed by Peter to be the new capital of the Czardom of Russia, and the major nobility of Russia was ordered to live in this new growing city, which had the double effect of removing them from their bases of power and putting them under his direct supervision. He also forced his nobility to adopt Western style dress and manners, famously forcing the nobility to shave their famous beards, and it was at this point that Russia started to be recognized as, if not an equal, than at least a member of the club of European states. Finally, in 1721 Peter made one last important reform to his realm before his death: he abandoned the title of Czar and crowned himself Emperor of the Russian Empire. From this point on, the title of Czar which is so closely connected with Russia, was never officially used by any ruler of Russia, officially they were all now Emperors (or Empresses), though most books in English still refer to the rulers of Russia by their ancient title, so I shall as well.
From that point on, the newly established Russian Empire became a hugely powerful and influential force in European war and politics. As we saw last week, Russia was perhaps the most important member of the anti-French coalition that defeated Napoleon in 1815, and the wishes of their ruler Alexander I had to be treated very seriously at the Congress of Vienna. Yet despite the growing “Westernization” by the rulers of this new Russian Empire, Russia remained, basically right up until the failed Revolution of 1905, an absolutist country ruled with unquestioned authority by the Czar. While the rest of Europe started to embrace the ideas of popular government, Russia remained a towering titan of top down power and order.
In all of this, I hope you can see that Russia’s language, culture, and history were distinct from all of the other great powers of Europe. Their emergence as a great power in the 18th century was shocking and totally unexpected by the rest of the European states, and it was seen throughout the 19th century as a fairly alien place filled with backwards people little better than slaves of their despotic Czar. Most of its peasants, who made up the bulk of the Russian population, were still serfs legally bound to the land of their landlord, a legal status the rest of Europe had mostly abandoned by this point. Yet the dogmatic conservativism of the “alien” Russian Empire would prove to be the saving grace of the other Great Powers in 1848, as they helped squash the myriad revolutions of that year to maintain the absolutist regimes of the west.
Ok, so, now that we have some firm background on the five Great Powers of Europe, next week we will, I promise this time, tackle the great Revolutions of 1848. While the monarchs of Europe continue to hold onto their divine authority, the people of Europe began to awaken with the allure of that most dangerous of political ideas: freedom.
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Joyce, James. Ulysses. Paris: Sylvia Beach, 1922.
Macmillan, Margaret. The War that Ended Peace. New York: Random House, 2013.
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