Klaus Ries. Europa im Vormärz: Eine transnationale Spurensuche. Ostfildern: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 2016. 204 S. $37.00 (gebunden), ISBN 978-3-7995-4910-3.
Reviewed by James M. Brophy
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (May, 2017)
K. Ries (Hrsg): Europa im Vormärz
This timely collection of essays explores how two tumultuous decades between the July Monarchy of 1830 and the Revolutions of 1848–49 recast the construct of “Europa” for the modern era of constitutional politics and state-building. Revisiting a classic topic of historical scholarship, eleven essays probe how a broader allegiance to European values and ideas shaped national movements, international relations, and the Revolutions of 1848. Their viewpoints both question and confirm the influence of “Europa” as a supranational cultural ideal, and the interpretive tensions that emerge from these essays are instructive. Based on a 2014 conference organized by the Siebenpfeiffer Foundation, the collection finds its coherence with a cluster of essays on the democratic and liberal ideals of the Hambach Festival, which possessed both national and transnational qualities.
Klaus Ries frames the volume with an excellent overview of the period’s contribution to modern political culture. Identifying the period’s key themes of constitutionalism, ideology, party politics, the public sphere, industrialization, and new perceptions of time and space, the essay makes a persuasive case for the importance of trans-European political movements after 1830, which for Friedrich Gentz “destroyed” the Restoration’s political foundation and introduced in its place, “new forms, new combinations, and new destinies” (S. 13). In ratifying such perceptions, Ries identifies the Vormärz as a “decisive milestone” for Europe in its development as a coherent political, cultural, and economic community (S. 9). Whether examining Lord Palmerston’s liberal foreign policy or the transnational elements to Central European constitutionalism after 1830, Ries adduces solid evidence to contrast the Vormärz’s forward-looking ideals with the Restoration’s negotiated settlement with the ancien régime.
Three essays explore the discourse of Europe in the century’s first decades. Georg Schmidt studies the interwoven patterns of nationalism and cosmopolitanism that led the Romantics to universalize the Holy Roman Empire, thus permitting August Wilhelm Schlegel to twin “German national feeling” with “mother Europe” (S. 52). Goethe, too, stressed “world literature” and the multicultural character of Germans, whose impeccable European credentials made them “representatives of the complete cosmopolitan” (S. 57). Schmidt, however, views such universalisms of 1800 as a “disguised nationalism” that would eventually yield to a more closed and organized type of nation-state. Viewing the Congress of Vienna through the lens of peace studies, Matthias Schulz sees a watershed moment for European politics. It erected a “culture of peace,” a system of norms that established stability and peaceful change as an “irrevocable blueprint” for state relations (S. 65). Whereas earlier congresses adjudicated the resolution of wars, the Congress of Vienna constituted a new “mechanism of consultation” to manage peace continuously on an international basis (S. 69). In praising the Congress, Schmidt’s also recognizes its limitations on domestic development, which Wolfgang Burgdorf’s analysis of Clemens von Metternich amplifies. A wanderer between two epochs, Metternich was the consummate eighteenth-century cosmopolitan elite who, on the one hand, embraced Europe’s comprehensive historical form, yet, on the other, could not abide the transnational impulses of constitutional liberalism that threatened to refashion Europe’s mission. Burgdorf holds true to the conventional interpretation of Metternich as a statesmen resisting – but not guiding – political forces after 1830. Metternich’s system of collective security ossified under the constitutional stirrings of the 1820s, which buckled under the reform energies in the following decade. As Metternich noted in November 1830 during Warsaw’s rebellion, “the old Europe is at the beginning of its end. Determined to go under with it, I must fulfill my duties” (S. 78).
The remaining essays focus sharply on Europe as an ethical ideal and unifying concept after 1830. Erich Schunk’s and Armin Schlechter’s contributions examine the various uses of “Europa” by leading participants of the Hambach Festival. J. G. A. Wirth, for example, mixed his cosmopolitan republican visions with strains of Francophobia. Although he recognized the necessity of French political ideals to combat absolutism, he equally acknowledged France’s vanities and inconsistencies, especially in regard to its Rhine claims. Franz Strohmeyer, Philipp Jakob Siebenpfeiffer, and Christian Scharpff also evinced maturity in their balanced critiques of republican France as Europe’s model; in this regard, they were less the naïve emulators (as some historians view them) than seasoned commentators. For Schunk, the Hambach circles viewed Europe primarily as a geographic expression, an arena of political activity, and as a consortium of national freedoms, all of which remained fluid and indeterminate but nonetheless decisive. Schunk underscores the festival’s support for Greece and Poland and sets in relief Siebenpfeiffer’s sustained pleas for pan-European fraternity and solidarity. Such visions of Europe, however, remained southwestern exceptions to Germany’s larger discourse on national integration. And even Hambach authors subordinated European unity to national goals: “On the Hambach agenda stood national and not continental integration” (S. 97). Whether one can neatly separate cosmopolitanism and nationalism in the radicalism of southwestern Germany remains questionable. By contrast, Schlechter teases out the transnational elements to Wirth’s utopic concepts of the early 1830s, with his interest in American federalism, Spanish constitutions, French republicanism, and a “true alliance of French, German, and Polish peoples” (S. 118). Such syncretic political ideals, Schlechter concludes, were “not only for Germany but also for Europe,” thereby striving to offer “concrete structures for a cosmopolitan orientation for the entire civilized world” (S. 121).
Essays by Hans-Werner Hahn, Gabriele Clemens, and Norbert Otto Ecke further develop the interlaced quality of national and transnational movements. An authority on the Zollverein and early industrialization, Hahn is well acquainted with the national character of economic development, yet his essay stresses the importance of Europe as a space of integration, exchange, and mutual national prosperity. Such publicists as Friedrich List and Conrad von Schmidt-Phiseldeck held up America as a model of a European federal union that could erect a trading system through a common congress (S. 131). Hahn’s analysis of this programmatic literature is an important rejoinder to a literature that falls prey to national determinism; to clinch this argument, this reader yearned for a brief discussion of transnational economies that prospered in the Vormärz. In an essay on the entwined relationship between Young Europe and Italian independence, Clemens adroitly situates Young Italy’s liberal republicanism within the age of democratic revolution and the “liberal international” (Maurizio Isabella) in which so many Italians took part. Central to the Risorgimento was Giuseppe Mazzini’s political education in Switzerland and France. Mazzini was not an original thinker, Clemens points out, but his career as politician and publicist forms a singular moment to understand the ideological elements that made up Young Europe, whose networks spanned Poland, central and southern Europe, and France. As a fitting counterpart, Eke teases out the transnational strands in Heinrich Laube, Ludolf Wienbarg, Ludwig Börne, Heinrich Heine and other authors associated with Young Germany. Their cosmopolitanism grew out of a positive embrace of the French Revolution, whose foundation of freedom was, for Börne, a “European affair” (S. 156). A character in Laube’s novel “Das junge Europa” states that “all nationalities will after a time disappear, which is entirely necessary for the course of world history” (S. 157). Heine certainly worked with the texture and grain of national character, but his political essays strove for the “destruction of national prejudice” and the “demolition of patriotic narrow-mindedness” (S. 161). Collectively, these three essays successfully demonstrate the breadth of the period’s cross-cultural thinking, which envisioned “Europa” as an arena of political emancipation and economic progress.
The final two essays move away from Vormärz idealism to the political realities set by the Revolution of 1848/49. With national statehood, Dieter Hein argues, Frankfurt’s deputies acted as statesmen who adopted a “national orientation, in which there was no room for a European perspective” (S. 175). The emerging principle of national self-determination dismissed the Congress of Vienna’s alliance system without replacing it with a “future pan-European order” (S. 176). Manfred Hettling’s concluding essay, “How European was 1848?” asks whether we should view the revolutionary years as one integrated analytical field. How should one characterize the last decades of research, which have unearthed new levels of local, regional, and national responses to the revolutionary impulses: a semi-attached conglomerate of overlapping influences or an integrated whole, whose interactions form a causal correlative narrative unity? Motives for action, he briskly argues, were more national than European. Circles of intellectuals, academics, and writers, he notes, posited the “phantasmagorical” idea of Europe in the Vormärz, but these “imagined concepts” had little bearing on how revolutionary events played out. Instead, he sees “limited influence of the European [idea] in 1848” (S. 190), and scolds historians for projecting current desires of European unity on the past. Erecting a straw-man argument of stark contrasts, Hettling knocks it down with the conclusion that “Europa” lost out to the nation-state. Because "European" and "national" are not deployed with interactive reciprocity, the argument lacks analytical rigor. The question is not the stark binary of Europe/Nation but, rather, how rights-bearing citizenship ideals of the nation-state served European ideals of freedom. Understanding how international and transnational fields affected local and regional perceptions remains a desideratum of research.
There is much to be praised with these essays. They successfully embed the political and cultural formations of the Hambach years in a broad European perspective. The Young Europe movement, for example, takes on new legitimacy, just as one gains new appreciation of the Risorgimento as a European project. Ries furthermore acquits himself splendidly in making the case that 1830 marks the onset of modern participatory politics. And certainly the collection challenges readers to rethink the mutually reinforcing relationship between Vormärz nationhood and the ideals of European civilization. Yet there are also some missed opportunities with this volume. The subtitle of “transnationale Spurensuche” hints at an engagement with transnationalism as both a method and a research program, but these dimensions go unfulfilled. A collection focused on Vormärz transnationalism ought to have addressed the methods of cultural transfer and histoire croisée, research programs that have refined comparison and intercultural synthesis in the last two decades. This reader further yearned for a broader geographical remit. There are glimmerings of Spain’s Cádiz constitution, American republicanism, and Latin American nationalism in these essays, but the collection doesn’t do justice to the tightened links between central Europe and the Atlantic World. These transnational ties that transformed German citizenship ideals are crucial milestones. Their democratic ideals inspired the Grundrechte of 1848 and served as the lodestar for the Grundgesetz of 1949. If the Federal Republic’s commitment to democratic principles is best told as an achievement of the modern West, that story must include Vormärz political culture. One can only hope that this collection’s comparative angles spur further research in this spirit.
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James M. Brophy. Review of Ries, Klaus, Europa im Vormärz: Eine transnationale Spurensuche.
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