The Second Concert of Europe

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I have often called the European Union “the second concert of Europe” or “Von Metternich’s dream.”

Many people have a rough understanding of the European Union: how it grew from the European Coal and Steel Community of the 1950s, to the European Economic Community of the 1970s, to its modern political incarnation of today which attempts to build an army, establish free trade and prosperity, and displays an unflinching willingness to crush dissent within its ranks (looking at you Lisbon treaty).

This is the new Europe, or so many have claimed: one which opposes war and chaos and nationalism. What if I told you this wasn’t the case? What if I told you we have had this very concept barely 200 years ago? I would be telling you about the concert of Europe.

The concept of “Europa” was coined first by the Greeks and later accepted by the Romans, but the modern understanding of Europe can most credibly be attributed to the influence of Christianity and the princes of Europe during the middle ages. This created a form of unity between princes, which allowed the tyrannical rulers to justify their brutal and unjust subjugation of the poor: often veiling it in a veneer of Christian thinking.

This came to a head in the 19th century when the first French revolution came to be. The people of France could not bear the brunt of their rulers’ inadequacies anymore and rose up in defiance. While it ultimately failed, it did change the game. Nationalism had been birthed into the modern era. The people were now more likely to see their nations, not their lords, as a symbol of unity, leading to the Irish revolutions, the French sister republics, the end of the Spanish Empire in South and Central America and later the spring of nations in 1848. 

The end of the French revolution though did lead to something we don’t often talk about: the concert of Europe. Klemens von Metternich, the Hapsburg (Austrian) Foreign Chancellor enforced a “holy alliance” to stop nationalism. In other words: to stop the people from ruling themselves and creating states that represented them.

Metternich helped coin the term “the concert of Europe”, where Europe’s Princes would unite to crush any dissent to their “god given” rule. The quintessential example was seen during the spring of nations when the Hungarian people declared their liberty and adopted democracy, liberalism, nationalism and a constitution, only to have all of it crushed by The Kaiser of Austria, with help from The Tsar of Russia. 

This world order would not hold, and fell shortly after as the peoples of Europe recognized their respective nations, and began fighting tooth and nail for them, by both peaceful constitutional ways and through violent revolution. This fight would arguably continue until today, as separatist movements continually endeavor to win their liberty from their old masters. 

So, now that I have explained a little about the concert, you may see my fear when I look at the modern European Union: a system which does not represent the peoples and now seeks to create an army. When the elites of Europe unite, the people have always suffered. They suffer through censorship, brutality and tyranny. We must reject this now while the peoples of Europe hold legislative power.

I do not necessarily believe we must destroy the new concert in its entirety. After all, its benefits are impossible to argue with, and we have seen unprecedented prosperity and free trade. Yet we can have too much of a good thing, and without refinement and tapering of its worst excesses, I fear I will live to see Von Metternich’s dream rise from the ashes by other means.