Thursday 4 September 2008

Prince Metternich’s Political Testament

Mr Mencius Moldbug recently asked me to translate Prince Metternich’s political testament into English. This I have done, and the result is shown below. So far as the both of us know, this is the first complete translation into English of that testament. I am, I hope you understand, suitably embarrassed by the likelihood that the great Prince’s short work has been first delivered into the English language by my hand. An expert in the German language — and the English one — would have been preferable for the task, but, presumably, due to a shortage, Mr Moldbug was forced to call upon me. If any such expert should be passing, I ask him to look up the original and to indicate where I have beaten the words senseless by the wrong end of the stick.
  Mr Moldbug, upon reviewing my translation, suggested the style was a little stilted and that I had let too many Germanisms creep through; these I have tried to correct for the sake of readability. One can travel only so far, however, before one begins to falsify, and so, in the avoidance thereof, I have tried to remain as true as possible to the text and even to retain a sniff of nineteenth-century air. The Prince would, I suspect, have been the first to admit that he was no great stylist, though I say he was not without talent for formal elegance. Besides, the work, though presumably written with publication in mind, was not finally prepared for such by the man himself, but rather was found in his papers after his death.


“My Political Testament”

Handwritten manuscript, without date, in separate compositions on loose sheets, written down in the years 1849 to 1855.

“There are two kinds of popularity:
one, the true one, follows the deeds;
the other pursues the impatient
without ever catching them.”


The thought of bequeathing these words to the world of today and tomorrow has not arisen owing to my withdrawal from public life, but rather because of the voice which has attached to the former standing of the Austrian Empire the erroneous designation of a system under the address of my name.
  The title “Political Testament” which I give to these pages may be adequate to mark the course which I hold in view for this record.
  The position of a man who himself laid hands on events differs by its nature from that of the historian who chronicles and weighs events according to their worth or lack of it. The former takes on the liability for his deeds, the latter only the responsibility for his judgement.
The materials for the correct view of events lie not merely in the success or failure of the undertakings. Awareness of the situation, in which these undertakings had their grounds, forms an important element of history.
  Here the archives alone are the sources for the necessary clarification, but precisely therefore is the situation of the men who provide the materials for the facts that shape history likewise very different from that of the historians.
  The former are not able to elude the control which lies in the archives. Only a few ministers have held their ground through so long a course of time, as my official work spanned, in a constantly active position, so it brings me reassurance in view of all that I record here to refer the historians to the state-archives for the purpose of further completion, without seeing me exposed to the danger of falsification by the files.

* * *
My adopted motto — “Strength in Right” [1] — is the expression of my conviction and it marks the foundation of my way of thought and conduct.
  I have never attached another value to words than that of the expression of correct concepts, to theories never the value of deeds, and I have always regarded preconceived systems as the product of leisured heads or the outburst of emotional minds.
  Not in the struggle of society towards progress, but rather in progression towards the true goods: towards freedom as the inevitable yield of order; towards equality in its only applicable degree of that before the law; towards prosperity, inconceivable without the foundation of moral and material peace; towards credit, which can rest only on the basis of trust — in all that I have recognised the duty of government and the true salvation for the governed.
  I have looked upon despotism of every kind as a symptom of weakness. Where it appears, it is a self-punitive evil, most intolerable when it poses behind the mask of promoting the cause of freedom.
  Monarchy and republic are to me amenable concepts. Monarchies placed on republican foundations, and republics on monarchical, are arrangements standing in self-contradiction, which I do not understand. Both monarchies and republics can thrive only on those foundations suitable to each. And the best constitution for every state will always be that which best matches the peculiarities that every political body bears within itself. That the monarchical form has to its credit the longer duration in great succession, rests on historical knowledge. As minister of an empire structured as a monarchy, I had only to deal with matters of dispute that concern a monarchy. Accordingly it goes without saying that I excluded matters that concern a republic.
   A state without a constitution I hold for an abstraction, akin to the presumption of an individual without a constitution of his own. I am of the same opinion as regards the application of a uniform constitutional system to all states.
   The concept of the balancing of powers [2] (proposed by Montesquieu) has always appeared to me only as a conceptual error of the English constitution, impractical in its application, because the concept of such a balancing is rooted in the assumption of an eternal struggle, instead of in that of peace, the first necessity for the life and prosperity of states.
  The care for the inner life of states has always had for me the worth of the most important task for governments.
  As the foundations for politics I recognise the concepts of right and equity and not the sole calculations of use, whilst I look upon capricious politics as an ever self-punitive confusion of the spirit.

* * *
I entered political life equipped of necessity with a spirit which is able to represent only the positive.
   My temperament is an historical one, reluctant of any kind of romance.
  My conduct is a prosaic and not a poetical one. I am a man of right, and reject in all things appearance where it divides as such from truth, thereupon deprived as the foundation of right, where it must inevitably dissolve into error.
  Born and brought up under social conditions which the outbreak of the social revolution in France prepared in the year 1789, these conditions are well-known to me. The elements of strength as of weakness, out of which the earlier and later situations developed, have never eluded me. A strict and at the same time calm observer of events, I have always interpreted and pursued them in their points of origin and in their natural as well as their manufactured development.
  I spent my fifty-four years of service first as a socially elevated witness to the French Revolution and later as an actor amongst its monstrous spawn.
  In direct or in indirect contact and in commerce with all regents, first statesmen, and the most important party-leaders, in the course of this period spanning almost three generations nothing of essential influence on the development of events remained unknown to me.
  Accordingly I did not lack in the knowledge of experience.
  Two elements in human society stand and will always stand in conflict with one another: the positive and the negative, the conservative and the destructive. I have always regarded as the most important task of the statesman the concern to fix in sight, and to distinguish between, the things which emerge of themselves and the things which in the course of time are interposed by the party spirit.
  The most ample means of answering this task lies in the concern to interpret and assess words according to the value of the things which they are appointed to denote. This concern I have always made a duty.
  As key to my mindset, I shall cite a few examples.
  For me the word “freedom” has not the value of a starting-point, but rather that of an actual point of arrival. The word “order” denotes the starting-point. Only on the concept of order can that of freedom rest. Without the foundation of order, the call for freedom is nothing more than the striving of some party after an envisaged end. In its actual use, the call inevitably expresses itself as tyranny. Whilst I have at all times and in all situations ever been a man of order, my striving was addressed to true and not deceptive freedom. In my eyes, tyranny of any kind has only the value of absolute nonsense. As a means to an end, I mark it as the most vapid that time and circumstance is able to place at the disposal of rulers.
  The concept of order in view of legislation — the foundation of order — is, in consequence of the conditions under which states live, capable of the most varied application. Considered as constitution, it will prove itself best for any state that answers to the demands of both the material conditions and those moral conditions peculiar to the national character. There is no universal recipe for constitutions, just as little as there is some universal means for the boosting of health.
  The arrangement which has the true value of a constitution is formed in states and can arise only of itself. Charters are no constitutions; their worth does not extend to that of foundations for an emergent and regular order in the workings of the state.
  It is an indubitable truth that constitutions exercise a considerable influence on the formation of popular feeling. The counterpart of this truth, however, is that, in order to endure, a constitution must be the product of this popular feeling, and not that of an agitated and hence transitory spirit.
  A consideration, which the liberal spirit usually disregards and yet which in its consequences belongs to the most important, is that of the difference which in states, as in the life of individuals, ensues between the advance of things by measured steps and by leaps. In the former, conditions develop to a logically and naturally lawful consequence, whilst the latter tears consistency apart. Everything in nature follows the way of development, of the ordered succession of things; by such a course alone is the discarding of the bad and the fostering of the good conceivable. Change by leaps brings about ever new creations — and man is able to create nothingness.
  To step beyond the domain in which principles have their standing, and to trespass on the field of bold theories, I have always regarded as a mistake whose consequences elude reckoning. To give room to the hope that government as well as parties could remain on the incline where they are placed, masters of stopping at the right moment, I have regarded as an ever-active delusion, and I have never granted to the natural powers more rights or less influence than which are due to them.
  Considering all matters entirely, and not by half, knowing no difference between giving and keeping my word, it was only the consequence of my moral formation as a whole that I neither would nor could have been either the promoter of upheavals, which hide themselves behind the mask of progress, or of reforms, which are realisable only by upheaval. The Revolution, in all the means at its disposal, has testified to this.
   I was never a symptom-doctor. I knew to observe symptoms as signs of a cause, but my gaze was always turned to the cause itself, be it good or evil, curative or ominous. That in all matters there is one that has the value of a cause, and to that one is to be given help or hindrance, this I have always looked upon as the true task of the statesman. Long before taking office, I had already regarded Napoleon as the object which I had to hold in view as the most important formation of the time. In him the Revolution had been incarnated; his power had stultified it in the social direction, but in the political it was a double-edged weapon which he knew how to use with a strong arm and an even stronger spirit.
  I did not govern the empire. Therein the powers at every level were not just strictly administered and directed to their competences, but rather in this regard were even relinquished to trepidation, which brought hesitancy to the course of affairs. The principle of government of the Emperor Francis was set forth in the motto “Justitia regnorum fundamentum[3], not only as it lay in his spirit and character, but also as it served him as strict guide in all governmental affairs. He agreed with my observation that the axiom, correct in its point of origin, could be abrogated in the excessive practice of particular cases, but he usually added: “I was born and through my status appointed for the execution of justice; the inevitable hardness in particular cases is better than the slackening of rule through too many exceptions.” My motto is “Strength in Right”. Both sayings run together in meaning, except that the imperial motto has an abstractly judicial significance, whereas mine has a significance more grounded in state law. In this regard, the motto “Recta tueri[4], suggested by me to Emperor Ferdinand upon his most supreme accession, bids a further nuance.

* * *
Affairs are the expression of the men who have influence on them. Concepts, be they slight or grave, refer not just to the nature of affairs; the peculiarities and features thereof, which are called into action in negotiations, must also be taken into fundamental consideration. In no course of affairs do these truths express themselves more forcefully than in the field of government.
  The two worst arrangements affecting public administration are preconceived systems and personal considerations. The first contend with praxis; the latter put petty and transitory considerations in the place of substantive ones.
   One of the greatest impediments in the long course of my ministry was the lack of energy which burdened the internal administration, a matter of fact which I cannot leave untouched, because it is indispensable to the elucidation of the course of world-historical events and was bound to exercise a prolonged influence on my work in the diplomatic field which fell under my remit.
  In the internal arrangement of the empire, the nationalities gained a position which was bound to be expressed by the selection, and in the activity, of public officials from the lowest rank to the highest. In a state thus arranged, it is for natural reasons difficult to find men who might set a dam against the preponderance of nationality and comply with strict impartiality in all directions against the heightened demands emerging out of it.
  That I stood alone on the moral-political field: that I knew, that I had to know, since, daily and in all directions, there was at my command the monitoring of the facts. Should I have changed accordingly my way of thought and conduct? I did not want it so, and had I wanted it, I would not have been able. Against the sayings of my conscience and against the concepts fixed in me of what is right or wrong, shrewd or without hope of success — to act against them I never conceived, and my own deeds I always scrutinised more strictly than the deeds of others!
   The work of any statesman, who was long in office, affords material for varied interpretations of what went through his mind, be it in a straight or skewed direction, of what he wanted and did not want, and of what he achieved or did not achieve. Subject to this fate are all those who have played an outstanding part in the affairs of state, but so much more must such a fate weigh on a name which, in an epoch of unprecedented agitation, presided over the politics of a great empire for almost forty years.
   In what times did my official life fall? Let sight be drawn to the circumstances in which our empire and the whole of Europe stood between the years 1809 and 1848, and then let it be asked, whether a man was able by the success of his insight to transfigure the crises into a recovery! I admit to having recognised the situation, but also to the impossibility of instituting a new structure in our empire and in Germany, which is why my concern was addressed above all to the preservation of the existing one.
   In the Spring of 1848 the state-structures of central Europe were toppled in some places, and destabilised in others, as if by a violent earthquake. The impetus came once again — as always since the end of the eighteenth century — from France. Its effect was expressed according to physical laws; the tremor affected the stand-alone structures differently from the small ones wedged in between them. The former felt it more violently. France, whose superstructure was made out of lighter material, became covered in dust. In the great Middle Empire [5], masonry and beams overwhelmed the ground, burying the old order of things. The same fate was bound to befall me. Yet granted to me belongs one of the rare fates of men: I experienced and survived the turning-point in the world-struggle.

* * *
I made history and therefore did not find time to write it.
   I did not at any rate adjudge myself able to answer this double task. And my years have been too far advanced to devote myself to it after my retirement. Remote from the necessary archival sources, I would have to consult my memory alone.
    I have not subjected myself to this endeavour, but rather seek a surrogate here in denoted form.
    The history of my almost thirty-nine-year ministry lies chronicled in three repositories:
   1. In the archive of the department, over which I presided, the files of which encompass the period from the Battle of Wagram in the Summer of 1809 up until 13th March 1848.
    2. In a file-collection which I bequeath under the title: “Materials for the History of my Time”.
    3. In correspondences and articles which I have maintained and composed during my retirement.
    Combined, these sources offer comprehensive material for impartial historians.
    Neither self-love nor the propensity to dogmatism underlie my urge to make known the views and feelings which I had in mind throughout my time in office. My sentiment rests on another foundation; in it prevails the historical element and the concern for truth.
    I attach to the preceding words the value of a testamentary disposition.

[1] “Kraft im Recht” — could be translated as “Strength in Law”, “Force within Justice”, and other variations.
[2] “Balancing of powers” — i.e., the separation of legislature, executive, and judiciary, and the balancing of each against the others.
[3] “Justice is the Foundation of Kingdoms.”
[4] “To uphold the law” or “To defend rights”.
[5] Refers to an area stretching from Friesland to Provence, and from Aachen to Rome, once ruled by Lothair I (795-855AD), grandson of Charlemagne.

Source: Klemens von Metternich, “Mein Politisches Testament”, Aus Metternich’s Nachgelassenen Papieren, 7.Bd, hrsg., R. Metternich-Winneburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1883), pp.633-642.


Mercurius Aulicus said...

Mencius Moldbug at Craptocracy

I can report this exclusive to Craptocracy: I'm considering running in 2012 on a single-issue platform: of renaming all streets, schools, parks and public toilets named after "Dr." King, to instead commemorate the life and work of Prince Clemens von Metternich.

For example, MLK Way in Berkeley (formerly Grove Street): Prince Clemens von Metternich Way. It's a small change, I know. But think of the symbolism! Yes, we can.

Anonymous said...

Easier to rename your example Milky Way.

Sky Captain said...

As long as the street signs carry the above screed in it's entirety.

Anonymous said...

"The concept of the balancing of powers ..has always appeared to me only as a conceptual error of the English constitution, impractical in its application, because the concept of such a balancing is rooted in the assumption of an eternal struggle, instead of in that of peace, the first necessity for the life and prosperity of states." I suppose that this error of his is entirely natural to someone struggling to hold together a multicultural entity.

Sky Captain said...

Germany had peace from 1933 to 1939.

Mencius Moldbug said...


In fact, I've taken the liberty of making this small change myself in my own personal discourse. For example, if I am meeting friends at the Chaat Cafe, at University and MLK in Berkeley, I will instead direct them to "University and Metternich."

This provokes some mild confusion, which can be used as an opportunity to explain the life and work of the prescient Prince. Also, as the meme spreads, "guerrilla" techniques can be used for "informal" street renaming. Don't hesitate to suggest this to young men of high-school age, whose energy is ever effervescent, and whose "permanent record" will be unblemished by such "hijinks." Yes, we can!

Fans of Prince Clemens also should not miss his confession of faith to the Tsar Alexander I, essentially the manifesto of the Holy Alliance, which is a bit more concrete than the above - and, as a product of the 1820s rather than the '40s, more optimistic.

Also, our designers are developing a line of WWMD bracelets, cravats and tenniswear. Details as they become available.

James Higham said...

I made history and wondered why Deogolwulf translated it.

mtraven said...

This line lept out at me for some reason:
Two elements in human society stand and will always stand in conflict with one another: the positive and the negative, the conservative and the destructive.

What about the creative?

Seems odd, but symptomatic, to recognize Vishnu and Shiva while ignoring Brahma.

Chris Phoenix said...

I wondered that myself, about the lack of "creative." He addresses it later. At one point he says that that valuable change is evolutionary not revolutionary. At another point, he says that humans can create nothingness, which I take to mean that if our creative side is unleashed without (conservative) restraint, we will lack the peace and order on which to build anything worthwhile.

I'm not saying I agree with his worldview, but it does seem coherent. And I'll agree at least this far: it's easier to evolve something worthwhile than to invent it de novo. The process of invention itself is an evolutionary process within your brain... or else it's a simple application of simple (and therefore inadequate) rules.

And I'll agree this far: to gain traction, an invention must either be consistent with society, or must be imposed on it - destructively.

Of course, in a diverse society, things can gain traction in one part and appear destructive to another part. Where I disagree with CvM is that I think diversity is also necessary for positive change - I'd almost go so far as to say the more diversity, the better. Diversity can be seen as a type of freedom, one that he doesn't seem to consider in this document.


Anonymous said...

At Theodore's Monarchist website, I posted on Metternich and his political philosophy and said he was a true conservative. Then, someone posted this:

[QUOTE]Klemens von Metternich is regarded as the ideological progenitor of diplomatic realism for his role as "midwife" to the multipolar balance of power which emerged in Europe after the Congress of Vienna. Diplomatic realism maintains that polities in a multipolar international context will act according to their own enlightened self-interest, rather like economic players in a free market. Diplomatic players will engage their rivals and forge alliances based on strictly pragmatic and amoral considerations, rather than on moral, religious, and ideological concerns. It is, in short, a supremely materialistic school of thought.

Would you believe me if I told you that Metternich actually described himself as a "liberal" on several occasions? He did, and there were several reasons for this. Firstly, because his amoral and pragmatic approach to international affairs clearly distinguished him from his more romantic nineteenth-century contemporaries such as Charles X and Alexander I. And secondly, because domestically Metternich actually favored certain progressive, parliamentary reforms as he correctly recognized that the antiquated structures of the Empire could not survive in a rapidly-changing Europe. Imagine that, Wheeler - posterity dubs him a "conservative", yet he insisted on considering himself a "liberal" within certain specific contexts! Funny how reality tends to contradict itself like that.

As far as Metternich's ideological legacy is concerned, his policies have engendered an entire school of political thought which became particularly vocal during the Cold War. His work inspired American statesmen and analysts ranging from Henry Kissinger and George F. Kennan to Paul H. Nitze, Walter Lippmann and even Fareed Zakaria. In fact, most of Metternich's latter-day political disciples can probably be found in an American context. [/QUOTE]

I wonder what you have to say. Is this a good description of Metternich. Was he really a liberal with a pragmatic utilitarian sophistry?

Deogolwulf said...

"Is this a good description of Metternich. Was he really a liberal with a pragmatic utilitarian sophistry?"

No. The description is bunk. He was, as you say, a defender of the old order. Little can be understood about his actions without understanding that he was essentially a man of the old order who did what he thought was best for the preservation of that order against the vast and hostile forces of the new. No perfect adherence to his stated principles can be claimed for him, but of whom could such be claimed? He was in an extremely difficult position, about which he had few illusions, especially towards the end.

That he occassionally referred to himself as a liberal should not be taken to mean "liberal" in any modern sense or indeed anything attached to liberalism. He was the sworn enemy of that creed. He knew what it portended. He was "liberal" in that he wished to preserve against liberalism that degree of freedom which is preserved by order. Your interlocuter seems to be bewitched by words. The average person calling himself a "conservative" nowadays would look like a radical-liberal leftist in comparison to Metternich. To call Metternich a liberal without qualification as to what he meant on the few occassions where he claimed himself to be such is to mislead as to his nature and to foster a complete misunderstanding of his whole career. By the standards of his liberal contemporaries, Metternich was an extreme conservative and reactionary. By the common standards of today, he is almost off the scale.

That he was a realist in diplomatic relations says nothing against his conservatism. Good diplomacy requires a realistic attitude, and always has. It is today, under the new public order, that fantasy as to international relations prospers, at least in the public sphere -- and yet impersonal ruthlessness has never been greater, partly no doubt as a matter of technological progress; partly because the new public order favours the promotion of ruthless men; and partly because the new ideologies, all for "the benefit of mankind", sanction the "necessity" of the most extreme measures. In Metternich's day, on the other hand, gentlemen and men of honour could still determine the course of affairs. It was indeed a more genteel age.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment.

Deogolwulf said...

My pleasure. And thanks for yours.