From Congress to Concert: Concepts and Institutions
“Democracy, Demonization and the Crimean War”
Matthew Rendall, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham
In 1815, it seemed overwhelmingly likely that Britain’s next big war would be with France. Why did Britain end up fighting Russia instead? Comparing British perceptions with what we now know about these states’ objectives, I expect to find that while the British generally perceived French motives correctly, they exaggerated Russia’s aggressiveness. The transparency of liberal France mitigated the security dilemma, whereas anxiety about the Russian autocracy’s aims encouraged British leaders eventually to seize an opportunity for preventive war. As with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Russia’s opaque policy-making process made it an easy target for a threat inflation campaign.
“The Congress of Vienna as a Site of International Memory”
Glenda Sluga, Professor of History, University of Sydney
What happened at the Congress of Vienna? And why does it matter? After two hundred years these questions should be easier to answer than they are. We know that congress’ protagonists would remember it as launching a new era in diplomacy and peacemaking. However, historians since have not been able to agree on whether it added up to the reign of peace, the Restoration of a conservative European status quo, or a revolution in ‘international’ thinking. In this talk I trace a genealogy of the changing and, at times, conflicting conceptions of the political significance of the events of 1814/1815, in order to better gauge the history of peacemaking after the Napoleonic wars as a significant site of international memory for our own times.
“Crises and Constitutions from the Congress of Vienna to the Concert of Europe”
Brian Vick, Associate Professor of History, Emory University
In thinking about the development of European international relations from the Congress of Vienna to the Concert of Europe, one must begin by reconsidering the nature of the Vienna settlement itself. Far from a simple cartel to suppress revolution through reactionary measures, the Congress system aimed to prevent both Great Power warfare and revolution by means of cooperative security arrangements and local constitutional settlements. This talk outlines the efforts to stave off international conflict and revolution, distinguishing between crisis management and crisis prevention, and highlighting the constitutional settlements and the concern for public opinion from the Vienna Congress through the 1830s.
The New Security Regime
“The Allied Machine at Work: The Emergence of a European Security Culture, 1815-1818”
Beatrice de Graaf, Professor of History of International Relations & Global Governance, Utrecht University
This paper postulates the notion of a ‘European security culture’ as the total (although often conflicting) sum of mutually shared perceptions on ‘enemies of the states’ and ‘vital interests’, and corresponding practices, between 1815 and 1914. This culture can be brought into focus by unearthing the trajectories and histories of some overlooked instances of transnational security cooperation in the immediate post-Vienna years. The Allied Council is one such rather neglected but highly fascinating security regime that emerged from the Congress of Vienna. It signaled a revolutionary change in the history of the international system: it introduced and consolidated a new ‘deliberative system’ that produced new diplomatic norms and attitudes, and that went much further than the ‘balance of power’ or ‘political equilibrium’ descriptors referenced by most historians. It bound dissimilar powers to a framework of public law, in which their political-judicial equality was guaranteed, thus igniting an ‘allied machine’ that would run for many more years to come.
“The Vienna Peace Settlements: From a Balance of Power to a Balance of Negotiation”
Stella Ghervas, Visiting Scholar, Center for European Studies, Harvard University
What were the innovations of the Congress of Vienna? It has been traditional to affirm that the European peace and security system established in the course of the Congress of Vienna had been an achievement of the political model of the balance of power. Historical reality was however more complex than that. Despite conflicting agendas, the statesmen and diplomats who drafted the settlements of 1814-15 genuinely sought to establish a lasting peace, after the long and bloody wars against Napoleon. In doing so, they effectively banned war among themselves for nearly four decades, until the outbreak of the Crimean War (1853). Instead of a genuine balance of power based on mutual military deterrence, they arrived at a balance of negotiation, a compromise based on active cooperation. What was the rationale of such a system? Was it workable? What were its failings? This paper will argue that the order of Vienna, though imperfect, was a definite refinement compared to the traditional paradigm of the balance of power inherited from the Treaty of Utrecht. The effects of that innovation extended in the longue durée, since the Concert of Europe continued throughout the nineteenth century, and still frames a European political ethos up to this day.
“The ‘Congress System’: The World’s First ‘International Security Regime'”
Mark Jarrett, Independent scholar and author of The Congress of Vienna and its Legacy
This paper will explore the world’s first attempt at multilateral global governance. Its roots were threefold: the dreams for perpetual peace of the Enlightenment philosophers; the cooperation of the allied powers during the Napoleonic Wars; and finally, the fear of revolution of European elites. The Quadruple Alliance of November 1815 laid the foundations for the system—an “international security regime” in which the great powers consulted with one another at periodic Congresses or through ambassadorial conferences, and then imposed their collective will on the rest of Europe. The new system functioned well at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, but ran into difficulties when British and continental leaders disagreed over how to repress the Revolutions of 1820. Eventually the system collapsed, although it led to the later Concert of Europe and served as a precursor to the League of Nations and United Nations.
Communicating the Congress’s Values
“‘Race,’ Legal Fiction and the Congress of Vienna: Unwitting Errors, Global Haunting and the Continuing Legacy of a Dangerous Superstition in Today’s World”
Margaret Crosby-Arnold, Columbia University
As early as December of 1799, just a month following the coup of 18 Brumaire, Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to George III, making initial overtures to end hostilities. High on the roster of international charges in the British reply declining the aforementioned overture, France was charged with disrupting “good social order.” Records from the British Foreign Office make it clear that in significant part the ‘disruption of social order’ was referred revolutionary France’s progressive abolition of the colonial system, slavery in 1794 and de facto the slave trade as well as the unfettered civil equality and social mobility of people of color that followed. As British Foreign Office records show, Napoleon’s reinstitution of slavery, the slave trade in 1802 and genocidal expulsion of people of color from Europe responded to international demand. This paper will examine the period from 1801 through the Congress of Vienna as the key period in the development of the legal fiction of “race” and its globalization in association with maintaining “good social order.” Europeans did not – naturally – embrace this dangerous mythology, but were rather brutally coerced into the performance of it and, it largely remained a germ without a host prior to its inscription in modern law under Napoleon and reception in international – under the auspices of ‘nation’ – which had become an alter ego of ‘race’ – following the Vienna congresses. However, unwitting an error, ‘race’ was significantly transferred, haunted Europe and much of the world for a century and a half and continues to function as a dangerous superstition, most significantly, in the United States.
“The Caribbean and Iberoamerica and its Impact for the Congress of Vienna and Vice Versa”
Christian Cwik, Lecturer, European and Atlantic History, University of the West Indies
The Coalition Wars (1792-1815) have changed a lot of territorial issues in the Caribbean and Iberoamerica. Great Britain was without dispute the great beneficiary of these wars and by 1814 almost all Dutch and French as well as some Spanish territories were under their control. Especially political change in the form of liberation and independence along with both republican and revolutionary movements throughout the Americas was considered not only a genuine “problem” but perceived also as potential threat. The repercussions were feared by many European statesmen, who devoted considerable attention to the issue and thus initiated a separate investigation of the “South American Matter” during the Congress. The fear was reflected in striking expressions such as “the revolution in the Americas is the revolution in Europe”.
“Women, Men, and the Making of Modern International Politics”
Glenda Sluga, Professor of History, University of Sydney
After 1815, the Congress of Vienna came to stand for values associated with the modern international politics: both nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and international society, from the virtues of conferencing, to liberalism and humanitarianism. This talk takes up the question of how, and why, these values became important at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in the specific context of the controversial and problematic political agency of women. It asks, what changes in our understanding of the significance of ‘Congress values’ when we turn our attention to the shifting landscapes of European political and gender norms?
Irrepressible Issues: Rogue Nations, Insubordinate Peoples, the Democratic Spirit
“The Trienio Liberal in Southern Europe 1820-23: A ‘Liberal International’”?
John Davis, Professor of History, University of Connecticut
The revolutions of the trieno liberal in Spain, Naples, Sicily, Portugal and Piedmont were quickly crushed, albeit in ways that contributed to the collapse of the Vienna accords. Contemptuously dismissed as pre-ordained failures by the next generation of revolutionaries, historians have only recently begun to acknowledge that they shared many exceptional features; a common program (the Spanish 1812 Constitution of Cadiz), a common organizing structures (the secret societies) and had strong transnational links (with Latin America on one direction, supporters of Greek independence, and the Russian Decembrists in another). Their goal was to formulate a specifically southern or Mediterranean democracy, but their politics were shaped above by opposition to Napoleonic imperialism and then to the imperial designs of Britain and France after 1815. Setting the revolutions and their defeat in the wider context of post-war European politics after 1815, this paper will ask whether there is anything to be learned from a comparison with another period of post-war politics in southern Europe—after World War II.
“From Mass Mobilisation to Terror Tactics: Irish Responses to the New Security System”
Patrick Geoghegan, Professor of History, Trinity College
The paper uses Ireland as a case study to examine how the attempt to create a stable new security system, repressing the revolutionary spirit, was undermined in Ireland in the nineteenth century, first by the mobilisation of the people in mass peaceful agitations in the 1820s and the 1840s, and then in the various attempts to adopt new, terror tactics, including public bombings and assassinations, to achieve political change in the later decades. This in turn had important consequences for how the congress system was viewed in Britain, as Castlereagh’s original conception was challenged and eventually destabilised.
“Jihad in West Africa and the Congress of Vienna”
Paul E. Lovejoy, Professor of History, York University
The Congress of Vienna was a European affair, a response to the age of revolutions that fundamentally altered the political landscape of Europe and its colonial empires. As such, the study of the Congress and the issues that the Congress attempted to address has perpetuated a Eurocentric focus on history that overlooks significant historical developments. Apart from the ineffective attempts at the Congress to address the trans-Atlantic slave trade and confront enslavement in the Mediterranean that reflected the ongoing “cold war” between Christian Europe and the Muslim world, there was no concern about changes that were taking place outside the European theater. Scholarship has largely reflected this less than global vision. This paper highlights the jihad movement that transformed most of West Africa during the age of revolutions (ca. 1780-1850), which hitherto has largely escaped the attention of historians, other than specialists of African history. At the time of the Congress of Vienna, Muslim states that originated in jihad had been consolidated in West Africa, including Fuuta Jalon and Fuuta Toro in the 1780s, and most especially the Sokoto Caliphate in 1804-1808. By 1815, the Sokoto Caliphate had overthrown all the established governments of the central regions of the lands that were known by the term, “Sudan,” Arabic for “land of the blacks.” Moreover, the Caliphate was posed to expand rapidly thereafter, overthrowing the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo between 1817 and 1836, spreading southeastward into modern Cameroon and westward as far as modern Mali. The transformation was comparable in its scale to the political adjustments that were confronted at the Congress of Vienna and, correspondingly, need to be analyzed in the context of global patterns of change that were reflected in the age of revolutions.