The Creation of a Conservative Icon
Book Essay on: Henry Kissinger, A World Restored:
The Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Age.

(New York: Universal Library, 1964 [1957]).

by Nicholas Szamet
December 11, 2006

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
19th Century Germany
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2006

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About Nicholas Szamet

I am a fourth year history major at the University of California Santa Barbara . I received my associate of arts degree at Pasadena City College in December of 2005. My main interests in history revolve around the European and American fields—with special attention to the early twentieth century. I chose this book because its author had profound effects on U.S. foreign policy as the main subject in his book, Metternich, had on European politics.

Abstract (back to top)

In the wake of Napoleon’s defeat a power vacuum was beginning to fester in the once occupied territories, and rather than a singular entity becoming the hegemonic power in Germany —and all of Europe too—one man emerged to lead a conference that saw the restoration of monarchical privilege. Metternich, more then anyone else, in the eyes of Henry Kissinger, was responsible for the balance of power that became the moniker of nineteenth century Europe . A World Restored does have its flaws, there is a body of evidence to lend legitimacy of to Kissinger’s claim. Kissinger’s use of detailed examples, source documents, and an extensive political framework show his veneration of Metternich. In many ways this book reads more like a tribute than a historical narrative, but with the body of evidence presented, Kissinger’s claims are not unwarranted.

Essay (back to top)

The doctoral dissertation of Henry Kissinger is by no means easy to criticize. Henry KissingerHis writing shows a mastering of the English language and a thorough investigation of post-Napoleonic Europe. However, there are some aspects that can be disputed. That is certain areas become too involved in an attempt to show the interdependence of the European continent during and after Napoleonic occupation. At that time the need for the establishment of autocratic authority on the continent—especially for German states—was the only way the old guard could survive. Contrasting the prominent diplomats led to the selection of Metternich as the most proficient diplomat to restore of conservative authority. Kissinger pays Homage to the other attendees of the Vienna Conference, like Castlereagh and Talleyrand, but for the most part focuses on the Austrian diplomat. This book therefore can be considered a biography of Metternich and his diplomatic situation that would shape a century without a major war.

Much of the beginning of the book is dedicated to the construction of the idea of a moral framework. It is Kissinger contends that by developing a situation in which Austria neither supported nor directly defied Napoleon, Austria would be able to advance a peace where they could be legitimate in their post-occupation aims over the claims of legitimacy advanced by other victorious powers. Kissinger does recognize, very perceptively, that Austria needed to preserve the Hapsburg monarchy by restoring the “old guard” of Europe. Kissinger explains:

Why not attempt to adapt the Austrian domestic structure to the national élan sweeping across Europe? But a statesman must work with the material at hand and the domestic structure of Austria was rigid, much more rigid, paradoxically, than the international one. (28)

He understood that in an age that had seen Enlightenment idealism spread across the continent in the wake of Napoleonic conquest the maintenance of monarchial rule was of foremost concern in order to stave off social revolution. C.K. Webster, the venerable biographer of Castlereagh, in a less than friendly review of Kissinger’s work, states that “Metternich with deeper insight wished to prevent a social revolution in Europe” (167). This clearly shows that while Metternich may have had the geographic responsibility of representing fifty million people in the greater Austrian empire, his main concern was in the continuation of Hapsburg rule. To achieve this end, Kissinger maintains, Metternich endeavored to supplant Alexander I of Russia’s idealism and the commercial interests of Britain with the dynastic realism of aristocratic rule (169).

The preservation would come at the hands of an Austrian-led coalition. This Grand Coalition was formed in order to advance Austria to the top of the political hierarchy within the framework of a post-Napoleonic peace. As Kissinger points out, in 1813 there were two choices: a war for liberation led by the people in which royal legitimacy would have been void; or a war of states in which Metternich could substantiate the Austrian monarchy as the legitimate premier power (47). Quincy Wright, in his 1958 review, suggests, “the central theme of the book…is the difference between policies of revolution (imperialism) seeking expansion, reform, or the realization of an idea and policies of conservatism (status quo) seeking tranquility and stability” (954). Kissinger’s dissertation is, however, heavily laden with the intricacies of Metternich’s political maneuvering—often to the sacrifice of this central theme. For example, with so much space devoted to how Metternich was able to play Russia against Prussia, and France against Russia and Prussia, makes the book cumbersome and too focused on the many different correspondences between the Czar and Metternich, for example.

Perhaps this could be attributed to Kissinger’s nature. As a man who would become one of the most prolific diplomats of the twentieth century—perhaps of modern history itself—it is evident that the book is a lesson in power politics, and not completely a historical narrative dedicated to the period in which it delves. I think, however, that Kissinger truly understands the politics of the period. In his discussion of the peace settlement, Kissinger uses several of the traditional axioms that pervade political theory. Kissinger writes:

For this reason an international settlement which is accepted and not imposed will always appear somewhat unjust to any one of its components…because were any one power totally satisfied, all others would have to be totally dissatisfied. (145)

He continues to remind readers of general political theory, and in many ways the dialogue is overbearing. Not that it is irrelevant, but rather that it is more than necessary. This book is not intended for novice historians. Its place is within the academic community, so Kissinger should avoid the rudimentary lessons and focus on the history. Furthermore, many of these lessons come without historical grounding—however relevant they may seem. Webster, with noticeable disdain, characterizes Kissinger as pretentious, and with so much of Kissinger’s book devoted to elementary political thought, the label is apt (167).

There are times when Kissinger gives insight into the nature of the peace settlement that in many ways takes a diplomat of his standing—although the book is written before his diplomatic ascension—to comprehend the situation. As he points out at the Vienna Peace the process of equilibrium to Castlereagh was the “mechanical expression of the balance of forces; to the Continental nations, a reconciliation of historical aspirations” (147). He then ventures into the balance of power doctrine in which he maintains Prussia and Russia were both left hat-in-hand, with Britain and Austria securing their own interests. Kissinger recognizes that France’s place as a legitimate power broker rested in the fact that it was the only major power left to tip the scales in the favor of either power (147). Kissinger suggests that it is not so much that Talleyrand was a major political power broker, but rather that he occupied a key position as the delegate for the House of Bourbon—the envoy of the restored monarch. Furthermore, “it was equally natural,” Kissinger maintains, “that [ France] should attempt to construct a group of powers as a wedge to break up the coalition” (148). He continues to suggest that the fear of the omni-present power of Russia provided a perfect opportunity for this wedge to be presented. With its rise as the dominant continental military power, France came to participate in European affairs, not out of Talleyrand’s diplomatic genius, but because European politics could not be settled without France (148).

For all the emphasis placed on the realpolitik concerning the peace settlement and the maneuvering of the various forces there is an even greater aspect to the book that most of the reviewers seem to overlook, namely Kissinger’s dissemination of conservative philosophy. It is rightly placed too, considering that the Vienna Peace was the archetypal product of the conservative forces of the period—the French revolution must be seen as the opposite end of that spectrum. Kissinger uses Metternich as the personification of the conservative ideal. It would be easy to sum up the idea of the servant of the monarch and be done with it, but it goes much deeper than that, and Kissinger reveled in Metternich’s complete devotion to the rule of the Hapsburgs.

In analyzing the conservative mindset Kissinger comes to some insightful conclusions. He contends, “[a conservative] will attempt to avoid an unbridgeable schism, because he knows that a stable social structure thrives not on triumphs, but on reconciliations” (193). Kissinger’s recognition of the fact that the coalition dominated by the nations with dynastic power structures could have won countless battles, but that victory in itself does nothing to advance the claim of conservative rule. Instead, the necessary validation of power for conservative rule comes not through victory on the battlefield, but in the maintenance of the social order; a seemingly unnoticeable continuation of the same state of affairs in the face of the rapid change brought on by internal and external forces. It then becomes necessary to examine the role of freedom in the conservative ideal as Kissinger does, and it is a rare moment in which he admits that Metternich could not define freedom in the conservative conception. Kissinger explains:Metternich

To be sure, Metternich did not have an answer of his own to the query regarding freedom, because he thought it inseparable from the notion of authority. But, equally, his opponents had not really dealt with the problem of authority which they thought existed in the definition of freedom. (199)

Kissinger’s point is that in the European conception of the time—even more specifically Metternich’s— freedom was not based on the unalienable rights of man For those like the Jacobins, with their ideas of universal suffrage, the best course of action was disenfranchisement. The two factions were diametrically opposed to one another. This is not surprising given the period, but Kissinger fails to recognize that with the overthrow of an autocratic ruler it is likely that there will be no middle ground. The historical examples of the overthrow of conservative monarchial rule that Metternich looked to did not show otherwise: the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and of course the greatest manifestation of popular freedom, the French Revolution.

Francis Fukuyama, writing in a retrospective analysis and comparison with Kissinger’s real-world policies, claims that “Kissinger lays out general principles of balance-of-power diplomacy that would characterize his own polices as national security adviser and secretary of state” (216). And in that sense there is genuine belief in the practice of diplomacy, which Kissinger holds as the key stability in post-Napoleonic Europe. In addition, Wright criticizes the dualistic nature of Kissinger’s work. Inasmuch as the France of Napoleon and the Germany of Hitler manifest the same claims of revolutionary legitimacy (953). These extrapolations often provide vivid examples of the historical timeframe in which they are placed—the end of World War Two was only ten years before the publication of his work.

As a narrative this book works as an Austria-oriented diplomatic history. The major players, however, are all included. It often veers away from the empirical evidence and focuses too much on the intricacies of diplomacy. That is not to say that it does not provide sources for its claims—the bibliography is extensive—but the scope of the work could be tailored to suit a particular section of the discourse like the Vienna Peace rather then being so all-encompassing. Kissinger’s favoritism of Metternich could be based on national affiliation since he is from Bavaria. Webster’s review seems to suggest as much, but the particular interest leads one to see Metternich as Kissinger’s role model. Fukuyama looks past that in some ways or misses the connection. Overall its message suitable for students of advanced diplomacy; it is certainly written by someone who was to earn the diplomatic credentials to back it up.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)


  1. Fukuyama, Francis, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 5. (Sept.-Oct., 1997), pp. 216 (1).
    A retrospective look into the work as political and historical narrative. The article acclaims the book as one of the most significant of the last seventy-five years. The review combines Kissinger’s diplomatic work with the book to present a linking of policies that came to characterize Kissinger’s political work.
  2. Webster, C.K., The English Historical Review, Vol. 73, No. 286. (Jan. 1958), pp. 166-167.
    C.K. Webster presents a fairly subjective argument about Kissinger’s book. His main themes rely on the dualistic nature of the book, and the correcting of Kissinger’s misinterpretation of British policies.
  3. Wright, Quincy, The American Historical Review, Vol. 63, No. 4. (Jul., 1958), pp. 953- 955.
    Quincy Wright made his career as the biographer of Castlereagh, and holds no blows back when critiquing Kissinger’s arguments. He holds that much of Kissinger’s work overlooks the interests and role of Great Britain in the Vienna peace process.

Relevant Books and Articles:

  1. Paul W. Schroeder. "Did the Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power?" The American Historical Review, Vol. 97, No. 3. (Jun., 1992), pp. 683-706.
    Schroeder writes a very detailed and persuasive essay dealing with the Vienna peace. Although he has little to offer to change the standard interpratation of the Vienna Peace, he does an excellent job summing up a incredibly complicated event but presents a very unoriginal argument. As a narrative, it works well with the intricacies of ninteenth century politics.
  2. Hitchens, Christopher. The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Verso Publishing Co.: 2001, 2002.
    This book is indicts Henry Kissinger as one of the world’s greatest war criminals: his role in the Nixon administration and the implication that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of Vietnamese. The sources come from documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and include many state department documents.

External Links:

    This website is the Noble Laureate homepage. Kissinger was awarded the peace prize in 1973 for his role in bringing hostilities to a close in Vietnam. The website has a detailed biography of Kissinger’s political life, and also a selected bibliography of his academic writings.
    This website has links to many of Mr. Kissinger’s articles in their entirety. It is very useful for getting to know more of his work in depth.
    AlthoughWikipedia is not always considered a credible source, its entry on Dr. Kissinger is fairly extensive. It dwarfs any other online biography in the amount of information provided. It pays attention to early and later life.

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

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