History of Austria


International Developments, 1815-48

Clemens von Metternich was initially successful in maintaining a European consensus favorable to Austrian interests. He used the example of liberal revolutions in Spain and Naples and revolutionary activity in Germany to demonstrate the universal menace posed by liberalism and thus won Austria the support of Prussia and Russia. Britain also supported Austria because the two countries had common interests favoring a strong Austrian presence in Germany, limited French influence in Italy, and the maintenance of the Ottoman Empire to prevent Russian advances in the Balkans.

The support from the other great powers dissipated, however, in the mid- and late-1820s. Russia became more assertive in the Balkans, and British policy increasingly reflected that nation's liberal popular opinion. But Metternich was able to regain Russian and Prussian support in the early 1830s, following another round of liberal uprisings in Europe. Even Britain returned to close cooperation with the other powers to block French interests in Egypt. Nevertheless, Metternich failed to respond effectively to Prussia's formation of a German customs union in 1834. The customs union excluded Austria and promoted the economic integration of the other German states, thus facilitating German political unification under Prussian leadership later in the century.

Domestic Policies

Despite Metternich's high profile, it was the emperor's conservative outlook and hostility toward the values and ideas of the French Revolution that set the parameters for Austrian policy. This was especially true of domestic policy, which Franz I retained under his direct personal control until his death in 1835. The composition of the state council that Franz selected to rule in the name of his mentally incompetent son Ferdinand I ensured the continuance of his policies until revolution shook the foundations of Habsburg rule in 1848.

Franz's aim was to provide his subjects with good laws and material well-being. To accomplish the first, he issued a new penal code in 1803 and a new civil code in 1811. He expected that the second--material well-being--would evolve naturally with the reestablishment of peace, and he considered additional measures unnecessary. Political and cultural life was kept under careful scrutiny, however, to prevent the spread of nationalism and liberalism. These two movements were a common threat to Franz's conservative regime because his political opponents looked to the establishment of a unified German nation-state incorporating Austria as a means for realizing the liberal reforms impossible in the framework of the Habsburg state.

Political stagnation, however, did not prevent broader socioeconomic changes in Austria. By 1843 the population had risen to 37.5 million, an increase of 40 percent from 1792. The urban population was rising quickly, and Vienna counted nearly 400,000 inhabitants. Economically, a degree of stability was reached, and the massive wartime deficits gave way to almost balanced budgets. This was made possible by cutting state expenditures to a level near actual revenues, and not by instituting fiscal reforms to increase tax revenues. Austria's ability to protect its interests abroad or carry out domestic programs thus continued to be severely restrained by lack of revenue.

Austria History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress