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Mettenich, the Greek Revolution and the "smile of history"



Mettenich, the Greek Revolution and the "smile of history"


16 June 2022


The transition from “histories” to “History” as abstraction and as substantiated “collective singular” is, according to Reinhart Koselleck, a privileged indicator of intellectual changes that characterise modernity. This transition is documented, in particular in the German-speaking world of the late 18th and first half of the 19th century, from the exuberant discourse on “History” not only in the fields of historiography or the idealistic philosophy of History, but also in that of high politics. In the writings of Prince Klemens von Metternich, the emblematic chancellor of Austria, the reflection on History and its “court” that will vindicate or condemn the politician is ubiquitous. However, even in 1844, he noted that “men who make history themselves do not have time to write it; at least I did not have enough”, his resignation and exile after the Revolution of 1848, gave him this opportunity.

In addition to his “Autobiographical Memoir” and other related texts, Metternich’s papers, kept in the Czech National Archives in Prague, include a short handwritten memoir as a preface to an incomplete “History of the Greek Uprising” (Die Geschichte des Aufstandes der Griechen). Despite the expected apologetic and self-righteous nature of the text – Metternich begins, however, with the assumption that he could not approach the issue unbiased – it is interesting to see the Greek Question as central, if not the most important for European politics after 1815, as well as the retrospective interpretation of Austrian politics and the appreciation of the interests of Europe, the Porte but also of the Greek revolutionaries themselves.

The purpose of the paper is on the one hand to present this presumption, on the other hand – on the occasion of Metternich’s retrospective assessments – to discuss his Greek policy in the context of the recent revision of his physiognomy as the predominantly reactionary politician of the Restoration.

(Edited and translated abstract from organiser’s website)

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