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Metternich: The First European

By Desmond Seward

While the European Union is a relatively new phenomenon, it is not a new idea.

Klemens von Metternich – the statesman who destroyed Napoleon and directed Habsburg Austria’s policy for nearly forty years – tried, in the nineteenth century, to build his own form of European unity in order to create lasting peace.

From 1815 until 1848, the Austrian Empire was the strongest power in Europe; not only the Habsburg domains, but Germany and Italy were also ruled from Vienna. And Metternich, through the sheer brilliance of his diplomacy and unswerving concentration on preserving the balance of power, was instrumental in maintaining Austria’s dominance. He brought the Austrian Empire safely through the Napoleonic maelstrom and his diplomatic brinksmanship at the Congress of Vienna, which saved Europe from another continental war for a hundred years, was legendary. As was his role in creating the European Alliance, which prefigured the League of Nations and NATO.

Desmond Seward’s biography, which is based firmly on scholarship and includes previously unpublished material, tells the story of a very great statesman. Metternich’s hatred of war and chauvinism, faith in the old Christian Europe and diplomatic genius are worth remembering at a time when Europe is striving for unity once again.

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