Metternich and the Austrian Empire

How succesful was Metternich in dealing with the principal problems of the Austrian Empire in the period 1815-1848?

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Metternich, the principal statesman of the Austrian Empire in the period 1815-48, was one of the principal casualties of its collapse. The Austrian Empire faced numerous problems, which Metternich dealt with; lack of unity, administrative problems and problems of minorities. Was Metternich successful dealing with these problems? No.


The Austrian Empire consisted of five principal components: The Hereditary lands, the Lands of the Hungarian Crown, the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, Galacia, Lombardy and Venetia in Italy. The Empire was ruled by Emperor Francis I. However, there were some problems: lack of unity. The Empire was so wide, that it had not a common economic or geographic unit, no common language, religion or culture. The Empire consisted of 11 distinct national groups. It also faced two administrative problems. The Empire was difficult to manage because it was large and unwieldy, and it was difficult to treat each group fairly. Another problem was the problem of minorities. They existed throughout the Habsburg lands, and it was challenging to persuade the people that their national identities were less important than their loyalty to Vienna.


In the lack of unity and the problem of minorities, Metternich encouraged provincial institutions such as the local Diets. He promoted local cultural traditions, language, history and literature. However, he stood firm against any attempts to liberalize local governments. The result was that it allowed the nationalities to regard themselves as separate to the German Habsburgs. It opened the eyes of many subject peoples to the rich diversity of their own cultural traditions. The people with demands for liberal reforms were driven to the moderates such as Szechenyi (Hungary) and to radicals such as Kossuth. Metternich believed that only monarchy would bring people together, and therefore he hoped to make alliances with European monarchies.


Another problem was the liberals. The liberalism was found in the middle class, and was for Metternich the main source of trouble. They were politically ambitious and wanted more to say in how the country was run. He dealt with this problem by repression, stamp them out!


He ruled the Austrian Empire like it was a police state; secret police which had a network of informers, spied on people, monitored peoples private mail. There were controlling of every form of communication and restriction of the movement of people. Under the German Confederation, the Karlsbad Decrees was found. In the Karlsbad Decrees there was control of universities, were liberalism ideas were made, there were attacks on liberals, and nationwide censorship.


Metternich dealt with several problems and was not successful in any of them. He was capable of achieving more, ought to do so, but failed because he lacked the necessary commitment and enthusiasm for his appointed task. He meant that the people needed to be led as they are too ignorant to do it themselves, and to do that it had to be absolute monarchy and was therefore against any form of democracy. Even though he had ideas for reforms, such as an Imperial Court, he failed.

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