Conventional wisdom portrays Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister who dominated Europe after the defeat of Napoleon, as an arch-reactionary. And that seems basically right. Metternich opposed liberal nationalism and was an architect of the Holy Alliance, which attempted to defeat Revolutionary ideas in Europe through Christian values, including the divine right of kings. A forthcoming biography from Harvard, Metternich: Strategist and Visionary, by Wolfram Siemann (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) argues, though, that in fact Metternich was a progressive visionary. Readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:
A compelling new biography that recasts the most important European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century, famous for his alleged archconservatism, as a friend of realpolitik and reform, pursuing international peace.
Metternich has a reputation as the epitome of reactionary conservatism. Historians treat him as the archenemy of progress, a ruthless aristocrat who used his power as the dominant European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century to stifle liberalism, suppress national independence, and oppose the dreams of social change that inspired the revolutionaries of 1848. Wolfram Siemann paints a fundamentally new image of the man who shaped Europe for over four decades. He reveals Metternich as more modern and his career much more forward-looking than we have ever recognized.
Clemens von Metternich emerged from the horrors of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Siemann shows, committed above all to the preservation of peace. That often required him, as the Austrian Empire’s foreign minister and chancellor, to back authority. He was, as Henry Kissinger has observed, the father of realpolitik. But short of compromising on his overarching goal Metternich aimed to accommodate liberalism and nationalism as much as possible. Siemann draws on previously unexamined archives to bring this multilayered and dazzling man to life. We meet him as a tradition-conscious imperial count, an early industrial entrepreneur, an admirer of Britain’s liberal constitution, a failing reformer in a fragile multiethnic state, and a man prone to sometimes scandalous relations with glamorous women.
Hailed on its German publication as a masterpiece of historical writing, Metternich will endure as an essential guide to nineteenth-century Europe, indispensable for understanding the forces of revolution, reaction, and moderation that shaped the modern world.
From Princeton, here is an interesting new translation of several contemporary accounts of Galileo Galilei, including a poem written in his honor by the future Pope Urban VIII: On the Life of Galileo: Vivani’s Historical Account and Other Early Biographies. I guess Urban later changed his mind. The translator and editor of the new volume is Stefano Gattei (California Institute of Technology). Here is the publisher’s description:
The first collection and translation into English of the earliest biographical accounts of Galileo’s life.
This unique critical edition presents key early biographical accounts of the life and work of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), written by his close contemporaries. Collected and translated into English for the first time and supplemented by an introduction and incisive annotations by Stefano Gattei, these documents paint an incomparable firsthand picture of Galileo and offer rare insights into the construction of his public image and the complex intertwining of science, religion, and politics in seventeenth-century Italy.
Here in its entirety is Vincenzo Viviani’s Historical Account, an extensive and influential biography of Galileo written in 1654 by his last and most devoted pupil. Viviani’s text is accompanied by his “Letter to Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici on the Application of Pendulum to Clocks” (1659), his 1674 description of Galileo’s later works, and the long inscriptions on the façade of Viviani’s Florentine palace (1702). The collection also includes the “Adulatio perniciosa,” a Latin poem written in 1620 by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini—who, as Pope Urban VIII, would become Galileo’s prosecutor—as well as descriptive accounts that emerged from the Roman court and contemporary European biographers.
Featuring the original texts in Italian, Latin, and French with their English translations on facing pages, this invaluable book shows how Galileo’s pupils, friends, and critics shaped the Galileo myth for centuries to come, and brings together in one volume the primary sources needed to understand the legendary scientist in his time.
Here in the US, we tend of think of Evangelicalism as an American phenomenon. But it isn’t today and has never been. A forthcoming book from the Boydell and Brewer (distributed in the States by the University of Rochester Press), Converting Britannia: Evangelicals and British Public Life, 1770-1840, by Gareth Atkins (Queens College-Cambridge), describes the impact of Evangelical Christian reform movements in early-19th Century Britain. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
The moralism that characterized the decades either side of 1800 – the so-called ‘Age of William Wilberforce’ – has long been regarded as having a massive impact on British culture. Yet the reasons why Wilberforce and his Evangelical contemporaries were so influential politically and in the wider public sphere have never been properly understood. Converting Britannia shows for the first time how and why religious reformism carried such weight. Evangelicalism, it argues, was not just an innovative social phenomenon, but also a political machine that exploited establishment strengths to replicate itself at home and internationally.
The book maps networks that spanned the churches, universities, business, armed forces and officialdom, connecting London and the regions with Europe and the world, from business milieux in the City of London and elsewhere through the Royal Navy, the Colonial Office and East India and Sierra Leone companies. Revealing how religion drove debates about British history and identity in the first half of the nineteenth century, it throws new light not just on the networks themselves, but on cheap print, mass-production and the public sphere: the interconnecting technologies that sustained religion in a rapidly modernizing age and projected it into new contexts abroad.
Several years ago, at a Forum 2000 Conference in Prague, I had the honor to meet Fr. Tomas Halik. An underground Catholic priest and member of the Czech resistance, Halik was important in bringing down the communist regime in that country. My impression is that Halik’s progressive theology and politics have made him somewhat controversial in the Czech Republic and in some Catholic circles today. Whatever one thinks about all that, one has to admire his great courage and contribution to the end of totalitarianism in his country.
This fall, Notre Dame will release a new memoir by Halik of his days in the resistance, From the Underground Church to Freedom. Here’s the description of the book from the press’s website:
International best-selling author and theologian Tomáš Halík shares for the first time the dramatic story of his life as a secretly ordained priest in Communist Czechoslovakia. Inspired by Augustine’s candid presentation of his own life, Halík writes about his spiritual journey within a framework of philosophical theology; his work has been compared to that of C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen. Born in Prague in 1948, Halík spent his childhood under Stalinism. He describes his conversion to Christianity during the time of communist persecution of the church, his secret study of theology, and secret priesthood ordination in East Germany (even his mother was not allowed to know that her son was a priest). Halík speaks candidly of his doubts and crises of faith as well as of his conflicts within the church. He worked as a psychotherapist for over a decade and, at the same time, was active in the underground church and in the dissident movement with the legendary Cardinal Tomášek and Václav Havel, who proposed Halík as his successor to the Czech presidency. Since the fall of the regime, Halík has served as general secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops and was an advisor to John Paul II and Václav Havel.
Woven throughout Halík’s story is the turbulent history of the church and society in the heart of Europe: the 1968 Prague Spring, the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the self-immolation of his classmate Jan Palach, the “flying university,” the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and the difficult transition from totalitarian communist regime to democracy. Thomas Halík was a direct witness to many of these events, and he provides valuable testimony about the backdrop of political events and personal memories of the key figures of that time. This volume is a must-read for anyone interested in Halík and the church as it was behind the Iron Curtain, as well as in where the church as a whole is headed today.
Everybody knows Voltaire’s famous quip about the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation: in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Mock on, mock on. It doesn’t figure much in people’s imaginations nowadays–it’s rather like the Austria-Hungary in that way–but the Holy Roman Empire managed to last for centuries and, although people don’t often acknowledge the fact, it provides much of the substratum for the present-day European Union. A new book from Princeton University Press, The Holy Roman Empire: A Short History, by University of Munster historian Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (translated by Princeton historian Yair Mintzker) works to rehabilitate the empire’s reputation. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:
A new interpretation of the Holy Roman Empire that reveals why it was not a failed state as many historians believe.
The Holy Roman Empire emerged in the Middle Ages as a loosely integrated union of German states and city-states under the supreme rule of an emperor. Around 1500, it took on a more formal structure with the establishment of powerful institutions—such as the Reichstag and Imperial Chamber Court—that would endure more or less intact until the empire’s dissolution by Napoleon in 1806. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger provides a concise history of the Holy Roman Empire, presenting an entirely new interpretation of the empire’s political culture and remarkably durable institutions.
Rather than comparing the empire to modern states or associations like the European Union, Stollberg-Rilinger shows how it was a political body unlike any other—it had no standing army, no clear boundaries, no general taxation or bureaucracy. She describes a heterogeneous association based on tradition and shared purpose, bound together by personal loyalty and reciprocity, and constantly reenacted by solemn rituals. In a narrative spanning three turbulent centuries, she takes readers from the reform era at the dawn of the sixteenth century to the crisis of the Reformation, from the consolidation of the Peace of Augsburg to the destructive fury of the Thirty Years’ War, from the conflict between Austria and Prussia to the empire’s downfall in the age of the French Revolution.
Authoritative and accessible, The Holy Roman Empire is an incomparable introduction to this momentous period in the history of Europe.
Charles de Gaulle was one of the most fascinating and controversial political leaders of the twentieth century. Although a devout Catholic, he did not speak much in public about his faith nor make it an express part of his program: Gaullism was a politics of nationalism more than religion. Yet his writings reveal that, for him, the “idea of France”embodied both nationalism and Christianity–both the Republic and the Church. How he was able to accommodate those two commitments is no doubt discussed in an interesting-looking new biography from Harvard University Press: De Gaulle, by historian Julian Jackson (Queen Mary University of London). Particularly now, as conservatives in France and across Europe seek a new way to negotiate the demands of Christianity and liberalism, de Gaulle’s example could be relevant. Here is the description of the book from the Harvard website:
A definitive biography of the mythic general who refused to accept the Nazi domination of France, drawing on unpublished letters, memoirs, and papers in the newly opened de Gaulle archives that show how this volatile and inspiring leader put his broken nation back at the center of world affairs.
In the early summer of 1940, when France was overrun by German troops, one junior general who had fought in the trenches in Verdun refused to accept defeat. He fled to London, where he took to the radio to address his compatriots back home. “Whatever happens,” he said, “the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.” At that moment, Charles de Gaulle entered history.
For the rest of the war, de Gaulle insisted he and his Free French movement were the true embodiment of France. Through sheer force of personality he inspired French men and women to risk their lives to resist the Nazi occupation. Sometimes aloof but confident in his leadership, he quarreled violently with Churchill and Roosevelt. Yet they knew they would need his help to rebuild a shattered Europe. Thanks to de Gaulle, France was recognized as one of the victorious Allies when Germany was finally defeated. Then, as President of the Fifth Republic, he brought France to the brink of a civil war over his controversial decision to pull out of Algeria. He challenged American hegemony, took France out of NATO, and twice vetoed British entry into the European Community in his pursuit of what he called “a certain idea of France.”
It’s often impossible to know whether religious conflicts are a cause or a symptom of wider social dysfunction. A new history of Muslim Spain from Basic Books, Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Muslim Spain, by Brian Catlos, maintains that disputes among Christians, Jews, and Muslims during the centuries of Islamic rule were typically not about religion. It also offers a corrective to the many popular histories that assert that Al-Andalus was a sort of tolerant religious paradise. Readers can assess the arguments for themselves:
A magisterial, myth-dispelling history of Islamic Spain spanning the millennium between the founding of Islam in the seventh century and the final expulsion of Spain’s Muslims in the seventeenth.
In Kingdoms of Faith, award-winning historian Brian A. Catlos rewrites the history of Islamic Spain from the ground up, evoking the cultural splendor of al-Andalus, while offering an authoritative new interpretation of the forces that shaped it.
Prior accounts have portrayed Islamic Spain as a paradise of enlightened tolerance or the site where civilizations clashed. Catlos taps a wide array of primary sources to paint a more complex portrait, showing how Muslims, Christians, and Jews together built a sophisticated civilization that transformed the Western world, even as they waged relentless war against each other and their coreligionists. Religion was often the language of conflict, but seldom its cause–a lesson we would do well to learn in our own time.
In 1571, at the Battle of Lepanto, a collection of European powers led by Venice (at least that’s how I learned it, notwithstanding Chesterton’s great poem), defeated the Ottoman navy and ensured that Christian Europe, not Muslim Turkey, would control the Mediterranean Sea. A new history from Harvard University Press, Sea of the Caliphs: The Mediterranean in the Medieval Islamic World, shows that the contest between Christian and Muslim states for control of Mediterranean trade routes goes back quite far. The author is historian Christophe Picard (University of Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne). The publisher’s description follows:
“How could I allow my soldiers to sail on this disloyal and cruel sea?” These words, attributed to the most powerful caliph of medieval Islam, Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634–644), have led to a misunderstanding in the West about the importance of the Mediterranean to early Islam. This body of water, known in Late Antiquity as the Sea of the Romans, was critical to establishing the kingdom of the caliphs and for introducing the new religion to Europe and Africa. Over time, it also became a pathway to commercial and political dominion, indispensable to the prosperity and influence of the Islamic world. Sea of the Caliphs returns Muslim sailors to their place of prominence in the history of the Islamic caliphate.
As early as the seventh century, Muslim sailors competed with Greek and Latin seamen for control of this far-flung route of passage. Christophe Picard recreates these adventures as they were communicated to admiring Muslims by their rulers. After the Arab conquest of southern Europe and North Africa, Muslims began to speak of the Mediterranean in their strategic visions, business practices, and notions of nature and the state. Jurists and ideologues conceived of the sea as a conduit for jihad, even as Muslims’ maritime trade with Latin, Byzantine, and Berber societies increased.
In the thirteenth century, Christian powers took over Mediterranean trade routes, but by that time a Muslim identity that operated both within and in opposition to Europe had been shaped by encounters across the sea of the caliphs.
Rounding out this week’s posts, here is a new and well-received book from Penguin Random House, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, by Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin. The book focuses on the period of forced collectivization, during which Stalin consolidated the Communist regime and, in the process, killed almost a million people. The 1930s were also the time of the most vicious persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, led by the so-called League of the Militant Godless. Tens of thousands of churches were closed, and hundreds of thousands of clergy executed. After 1941, when Stalin needed the help of the Church in rallying opposition to Hitler, the persecution lifted a bit, but the real damage already had occurred. Here’s a description of the book from the publisher’s website:
Pulitzer Prize-finalist Stephen Kotkin has written the definitive biography of Joseph Stalin, from collectivization and the Great Terror to the conflict with Hitler’s Germany that is the signal event of modern world history
In 1929, Joseph Stalin, having already achieved dictatorial power over the vast Soviet Empire, formally ordered the systematic conversion of the world’s largest peasant economy into “socialist modernity,” otherwise known as collectivization, regardless of the cost.
What it cost, and what Stalin ruthlessly enacted, transformed the country and its ruler in profound and enduring ways. Building and running a dictatorship, with life and death power over hundreds of millions, made Stalin into the uncanny figure he became. Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 is the story of how a political system forged an unparalleled personality and vice versa.
The wholesale collectivization of some 120 million peasants necessitated levels of coercion that were extreme even for Russia, and the resulting mass starvation elicited criticism inside the party even from those Communists committed to the eradication of capitalism. But Stalin did not flinch. By 1934, when the Soviet Union
Not too far from our university’s Paris campus, on the way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, is the site of the old Carmelite Monastery. A marker commemorates an incident that occurred there that seems entirely incongruous with the quiet neighborhood today: the murder of hundreds of Catholic priests in 1792, part of the September Massacres that took place during the Revolution. I’m not sure if this forthcoming book from Harvard addresses that massacre, or the more famous murder of several Carmelite nuns a couple of years later, but it looks to be a worthwhile history of the Reign of Terror. The book is The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution and the author is UC-Irvine historian Timothy Tackett. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:
Between 1793 and 1794, thousands of French citizens were imprisoned and hundreds sent to the guillotine by a powerful dictatorship that claimed to be acting in the public interest. Only a few years earlier, revolutionaries had proclaimed a new era of tolerance, equal justice, and human rights. How and why did the French Revolution’s lofty ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity descend into violence and terror?
The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution offers a new interpretation of this turning point in world history. Timothy Tackett traces the inexorable emergence of a culture of violence among the Revolution’s political elite amid the turbulence of popular uprisings, pervasive subversion, and foreign invasion. Violence was neither a preplanned strategy nor an ideological imperative but rather the consequence of multiple factors of the Revolutionary process itself, including an initial breakdown in authority, the impact of the popular classes, and a cycle of rumors, denunciations, and panic fed by fear—fear of counterrevolutionary conspiracies, fear of anarchy, fear of oneself becoming the target of vengeance. To comprehend the coming of the Terror, we must understand the contagion of fear that left the revolutionaries themselves terrorized.
Tackett recreates the sights, sounds, and emotions of the Revolution through the observations of nearly a hundred men and women who experienced and recorded it firsthand. Penetrating the mentality of Revolutionary elites on the eve of the Terror, he reveals how suspicion and mistrust escalated and helped propel their actions, ultimately consuming them and the Revolution itself.