History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 1993: Q.5 (b)

Q.5 (b) “For a tired and timid generation Metternich was the necessary man.” Comment.


Metternich was an Austrian Statesman who dominated the politics of Europe from 1815 to 1848 so much that this period is called the “Age of Metternich” and his policies are called the “Metternich System”.

According to British historian Prof Alison Phillips, “For a tired and timid generation, he was a necessary man”.

At his time, Metternich was the necessary man for Europe in general and Austria in particular for the following reasons:

(1) Metternich had many attributes of a great political leader, a brilliant and engaging presence, a cool head, a vast comprehension of diplomatic affairs, a firm and patriotic will. Metternich was skillful in adapting himself to changes of circumstances, and bold in handling them which was useful during his time.

(2) At the crisis of Austria’s fortunes, during the final struggle with imperial France during Napoleon time, when every one was wavering and despairing, it was he who gave to Austrian policy the vigorous and certain direction which enabled him afterwards to be called as “conqueror of Napoleon”.

Austrian intervention proved to be the decisive factor in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 against Napoleon. Due to the decisive part played by Austria under Metternich, the Vienna was chosen for Congress.

(3) By Congress of Vienna, he established peace in Europe for 40 years. In his absence, Europe would have been enveloped by revolutionary wars which might have caused bloodshed.

(4) For a long time, Metternich decided as to how events were to shape themselves in Europe and this was instrumental in preserving peace and stability. In 1824, he stated that “they look for me as Messiah.”

(5) Metternich’s policy was directed by the needs of preserving Austrian Empire was held together by no consistent principle except common obedience to a single law. Metternich fully realized that the unstable equilibrium of the Austrian Empire would be upset by popular or nationalist agitation. So from the Austrian point of view, the maintenance of the status quo became of supreme importance.

Metternich knew full well that democracy and nationalism were not likely to succeed as an integrating policy. Therefore, he sought to base Austrian stability on the status quo and an international alliance of like-minded rulers.

(6) In foreign affairs, Metternich sought to achieve his main aim of preserving status quo in Europe and of checking revolutions. He had supported France in crushing Spanish revolt. His reactionary policy brought stability during his tired and timid generation.

Shortcomings of Metternich System

(1) British historian Prof Alison Phillips says, “Metternich failed to recognize that while he himself was growing old and feeble, the world was renewing its youth”.

His status quo and reactionary policies had hostility to the desires and aspirations of the people. Metternich set himself to suppress the nationalist and democratic movements of Germany and Italy, to counter the aspirations of the people of the Balkans for independence.

If he never came to terms with the new age it was not because he failed to understand its seriousness but because he disdained it. Metternich was in a real sense the victim or the prisoner of his age.

(2) His genius was instrumental, not creative: he excelled at manipulation, not construction.  He was merely an intriguer and opportunist. Napoleon said of him that he confused policy with intrigue.

(3) His policies was only temporarily successful in saving old regime. He himself had to admit that he was fighting for a lost cause. In spite of the efforts of Metternich the old regime was doomed and could not be saved.


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