Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
ALLIANCE, the Holy. Among the alliances of modern times, the holy alliance, which was entered into at Paris, Sept. 14-26, 1815, by the emperor of Russia, Alexander I., the emperor of Austria, Francis I., and the king of Prussia, William III., has a special claim to our consideration, because it is one of the most remarkable attempts to announce a principle of government the adoption and carrying out of which was expected to secure, forever thereafter, the peace of Europe, and justice and prosperity to the nations of Europe. The struggles carried on for a number of years, first against the French revolution and the principles of government which, originating in France, had spread throughout Europe, then against Napoleon's universal supremacy, had awakened a desire in the minds even of European sovereigns—who, leading in the uprising of Europe, had finally entered the gates of Paris as victors—for a principle which might successfully resist and overcome the principles of revolution. This revolution was the work of men. The eastern monarchs, therefore, appealed to God as their only helper. The human laws by which the state was governed, were to be invigorated and purified by the moral precepts of a divine rule, and the rights of man were to be superseded by the authority of Christ.
—The emperor of Russia was the author of this scheme, and the moving spirit of this alliance. It is strange that this declaration of principles, touching a system of government essentially Christian in its nature, was substantially the work of Russian statecraft, and that the German sovereigns had hardly a greater share in it than that of approving and signing it. France, which was the first to embrace the ideas of the new era, was also first to announce her new polity. Russia, which was the most backward in its political ideas, attempted to renew, in opposition to the polity announced by the French, the polity of a by-gone age. Germany alone, placed between the two, did not yet dare to publish its own views to the world. The Germans took the matter under consideration, siding now with the one, and then with the other of these principles, but always with the reservation, that, if they should succeed in their intellectual endeavors, they would break the silence they had hitherto observed.
—All the states of Europe were invited to join the holy alliance. Although the alliance was expressly based on the Christian religion, and although its originators represented three different creeds—the Greek, Catholic, and Protestant—the pope, whose political power was more than any other, based on the authority of Christianity, was, strangely enough, left out. They probably understood, though not very clearly, that the principle underlying the alliance, would, if the pope was to join in it, assign the first place to him, and would, followed out to its ultimate consequences, establish the supremacy of the church over Christian governments. But this was not what they wanted. They, rather than submit to this danger, by inviting the pope to join them, were willing, by failing to invite him, to betray the weak side of this principle which they were ready to proclaim to the world as a new gospel. It was less strange that they failed to invite the Ottoman court, for it was not to be expected that the head of Islam should acknowledge Christianity as the only principle of his policy. Still, Russia, by excluding Turkey from the pale of European peace, had secured her freedom of action, so far as her schemes of conquest in the south were concerned, and might point to the Christian principle, which formed the basis of the holy alliance, while encouraging and protecting the Christian population of Turkey in their efforts to rid themselves of the yoke imposed on them by the Mohammedan government. All the governments which had been invited, joined the holy alliance. The Bourbon kings of France, and even the republic of Switzerland, joined it, the latter, however, giving her assent rather vaguely, in response to the invitation extended to her. England alone, whose political education was of a superior kind, refused to join it, but without proposing any new idea, or even stating that she was opposed to the principle of the holy alliance, in whose favor all European dynasties had declared themselves, and which the king of England personally approved. The objections England urged were simply of a technical nature. In the compact, the following principles were either expressly set forth, or were contained in it by necessary implication: 1. The unity of European Christendom as one family of nations. The allied sovereigns declare, (art. II.), that they consider themselves and their subjects "as members of the same Christian nation"; and their several governments "as three branches of one and the same family." This principle itself was not new. In the middle ages it was more universally recognized, and had become embodied in the two closely related institutions—the papacy and the empire. What was new in this declaration was the effort to revive this principle in the shape of a family alliance as distinguished from the system of the Roman empire of the middle ages, which shortly before had had a passing revival in the universal empire of Napoleon. And this effort was made after, and in spite of the lines which divided Christianity into opposing creeds, and in the face of the national animosities which, for centuries, had broken up the whole fabric of European government, and which had destroyed all thought of a community of interests calculated to sustain it. That thought was indeed alike productive of good results and in keeping with the requirements of the age. The unity of Europe and the essentially Christian character of European civilization are verities of the greatest importance, in their bearing alike on the organization and peace of all European governments and the development of mankind. 2. Then again, the fact that the alliance rose, in point of principle, above the denominational and political differences which divided the nations of European Christendom, was evidence of a noble spirit. The Christian European commonwealth was the principle which embraced all those differences with a spirit of conciliation. If we bear in mind how little in our days even this principle is realized, and the efforts that had been made since its first announcement, and are still made, to have the different Christian creeds recognized, and the diversity of political opinions tolerated, we shall have no difficulty in understanding, that the holy alliance seemed to the sovereigns who had entered into it, and, at the beginning, to nations, to possess, in point of principle, a surpassing wealth of wholesome truths, whose light was to break upon and spread throughout Europe. This was a truly modern principle. It was, not in a religious, but in a political sense, that the middle ages had shown this liberal spirit. The middle ages had tolerated the greatest diversity in the forms of government, while they had persecuted all departure from the orthodox faith as a heresy, and had interdicted communion of any kind with those of a different faith. Now these three sovereigns announced, in principle, freedom of conscience and a community of creed throughout Christendom. And it was the emperor of Russia, whose people, more than any other European nation, had been held captive by their creed, who took the lead in the announcement of so liberal a principle. Yet, the practical workings of the holy alliance did not at all correspond with its principle in the end. The subjection, in the several countries, of all those whose faith differed from the recognized creed, did not cease; and least of all in Russia, whose emperor had been principally instrumental in effecting the alliance. The Græco-Russian church never ceased to oppress other creeds, and tried to spread its dominion by both crafty and forcible measures. 3. The Christian religion was proclaimed as the moral principle which was to govern in the international conduct and comity of the several states, and the relation of the government to its subjects. The allied sovereigns declare, in the introduction to their manifesto, "their ardent conviction of the necessity requiring the reciprocal relation of the several powers to be based on the sublime truths which the holy religion of the Lord and Redeemer," (in the original: l'éternelle religion du Dieu sauceur), and they evince "in the most solemn manner, before all the world, their firm purpose to adopt both in the government of their states, and in their political relations with every other government, the precepts of this eternal creed as their sole guide—that is, the precepts of justice, of Christian love, and of peace, which are not simply applicable to private conduct, which should exercise a direct influence on the intentions of sovereign rulers and their conduct, because they are the only means of firmly establishing human institutions, and of removing their imperfections." Who doubts that a candid observance of the moral commandments of the Christian religion by both sovereigns and their people, as well as by individuals, would have a very wholesome effect; that, by this observance, an absolutely new era of ideal wealth and material prosperity would be inaugurated, the like of which the most vivid imagination and anticipation poets and prophets did not dare to attribute to Paradise Lost or the millennium. The announcement, by the most powerful sovereigns, of intentions and tendencies like these, was calculated to again awaken and strengthen the despairing or slumbering hopes of the people for an improvement in their public affairs. This announcement was in itself—for we believe that it was made in good faith—a deed of great moment. Yet even on this point these hopes were not realized, and politics in their actual state were carried on, in spite of that declaration of principles, in the old way. Their actions differed in so many instances and so strikingly from the intentions of these rulers, that the people could not help losing faith in their honesty of purpose. 4. The Christian religion, moreover, was proclaimed as the political principle which was to regulate and govern the whole system of public law. Just here the grave mistake in point of principle, in the policy of this confederation, one which subsequently provoked the distrust and hate of the people against the holy alliance and caused its final dissolution, was made. We can not, of course, censure the Russian emperor for having mixed up the principles of religion with those of politics, and mistaking the one for the other; for state and church were, in the Russian empire, not separated as distinctly as in the empires of civilized Europe. But the fact is still remarkable, that at that time the German and Romanic sovereigns alike overlooked a distinction which not alone the positive teachings of Christ, but also the primitive political and ecclesiastical institutions of their people had pointed out most emphatically. The greatest danger, however, lay in the manner in which the Christian religion was made the principle which was to govern the system of public law. Christ himself purposely and in opposition to other founders of creeds, never made any public declaration of principles touching the state or the forms of government or its laws. In spite of this, Christian rulers now undertook to base their polity on the positive authority of Christ. They openly declared Jesus Christ as the sole "sovereign of all Christendom to which they and their people belong, who was the only source of power,";*11—and they announced themselves as "representing his divine authority"; as being his viceroys on earth, as it were, commissioned to "govern in the different parts of the Christian world." If we consider, in addition, that this statement does not draw any distinction between God and Christ, it becomes quite evident that this principle of government is none other than that of theocracy, and that it is at the same time, that of absolutism, because God is, as he must be, conceived as the absolute ruler, and because, according to the above statement, His power is simply delegated to His viceroys for them to execute. Indeed, it was but the polity of Russia as it had come from the east. It might agree with the character of the släve, but it was impossible for the Teutonic people or the Romanic nations to submit to it. In the middle ages even, the Teutonic and Romanic nations alike were no longer held captive by the theocratic polity of the eastern nations. They were saved from it by the separation of church and state. The spirit of modern times above all had developed an opposition to theocracy as a form of government. The tendency of the age was too outspoken in favor of the principle that the state was a government of man, and that it was for the human mind to comprehend and determine its nature and proper functions. The absolute power of the kings in the seventieth century, and in a large measure in the eighteenth century, had, moreover, been a favored system of government. Rulers clothed with absolute power, destroyed the feudal powers of the "small lords";—they removed the checks and obstacles placed during the middle ages in the way of progress—they concentrated the power of government and paved, by the destruction of the institutions of the middle ages, the way for the advent of a new era. But no sooner had this work been accomplished than the people became opposed to the exercise of absolute power. The most formidable revolution the world ever saw, followed as a reaction against the spirit of absolutism which had prevailed until then. What reason had men to hope after all these violent agitations and changes characterizing a new era, that the standard bearing the principle of absolute government of a by-gone age, which had shown its weak sides in all these agitations and changes, might be raised again, and that the nations would gather around it in true loyalty? The unbiased could not help but see in this the spirit of reaction as opposed to the revolution. How was it possible to discover in this manner a principle on which the advancement and progressive growth of government and its institutions might be based in future? The extreme ardor of certain parties might be lavish in praise, whereas the instincts of the masses and the minds of the intelligent saw the dangers rather than the benefits which this spirit seemed to prophesy. 5. The promise of mutual aid in all cases, which the allied sovereigns held out to one another,*12 was not calculated to remove the apprehensions caused by the manner in which the polity they intended to pursue was announced. On the contrary, the mutual guarantee of absolute sovereignty soon came to be considered the most practical feature and the very nature of the alliance. This being the case, the fears soon bore down all hopes, and the alliance grew more and more unpopular. The European nations had, in the wars of liberation, taken up arms against the absolute power of Napoleon, the greatest political genius of the age. Was it to be expected that they would now permanently and blindly submit to the absolute power of their rulers, without any guarantee, that the latter were willing to recognize the wants of the age, and to exercise their absolute power for the benefit of the people generally? And in case the people did not submit—in case they exercised their traditional or newly acquired privileges in checking the spirit of monarchical absolutism—in case they demanded some guarantee of good government, such as their generation might ask for—should every sort of tendency toward political freedom be checked or kept down by the force of arms to suit their absolute rulers? Questions of this sort were raised at once; and the events of the following fifteen years strengthened the belief that the alliance was bearing down with a heavy load on every tendency toward a more liberal development of European states. 6. In order to allay these fears some-what, another principle was announced—the patriarchal—that the sovereigns considered themselves, in relation to their subjects and armies, fathers of a family, (Art. 1, "se regardant envers leurs sujets et arméos comme pères de famille.") The allusion to the family relation and to paternal sentiments was to soften down whatever was offensive in the assertion of the principles of the absolute and divine power of kings. Not as slaves to their master, but as children to their father, should subjects look up to their rulers—another Russian idea. The Russian emperor is both revered like a god and loved like a father by his people. But while the patriarchal idea of government in Russia and China and among the eastern nations generally, is still, in a measure, a legitimate factor, the manly European nations have, for centuries past, outgrown its discipline. The educated and thoughtful European is no longer willing to look upon his relation to his ruler as being that of a minor, and can no longer expect his ruler to have the feelings of a father toward him. The European state has long since outgrown the artless views peculiar to family life, and the limitations which characterize the family, and is governed by the broad principles of public law. To the European mind, therefore, that declaration must have seemed like a going back to a primitive age. And likely as it was to respect and be gratified by the benevolence displayed in the paternal sentiments of the sovereign, it was still opposed to a principle which, as was evident, was but a fiction. I have reviewed the principles of the holy alliance critically and somewhat in detail, because it has, in point of principle, still some effect on the present political state of Europe, and because it has an important bearing on the history of political ideas regarding the constitution of the state. Yet, the confederation itself was broken up by the spirit of the age, which it was expected to govern and control. The opposing tendencies, in point of principle, among the sovereign powers themselves, were first in making themselves felt, both at and after the congress of Troppau, in 1820, and subsequently in a more marked manner in the Greek question, in 1827. The July revolution of 1830 caused a wide breach between the parties to the alliance. In its opposition to the French revolution, and even to the Belgian uprising, the alliance showed its utter weakness. It did not dare, in all cases, to furnish the mutual aid and assistance it had promised and to defend its views by force of arms. The formation of the Prussian diet in 1847, the European uprising in 1848, the re-establishment of the Napoleonic dynasty in 1850, the war, finally, of Russia with Turkey and the eastern powers in 1854-6, gave the finishing stroke to the complete dissolution of a confederation whose chief significance lay in its principles, and whose political ideas were not likely to minister successfully to the political wants of the age.
MAX. EBERHARDT, Tr.
Notes for this chapter
Art. 2. "les trois princes allies ne s'envisageant euxmémes que comme délégués par la Providence pour governer trois branches d'une meme famille; savoir l'Autriche, la Prusse et la Russie; confessant ainsi que la nation chrétienne dont eux et leurs peuples sont partie, n'a réelement d'autre souverain que celui à qui seul appartient en propriété la puissance parce qu'en lui seul se trouvent tous les trésors de l'amour, de la science et de la sagesse infinie, c'est à dire Dieu, notre divin sauveur Jésus Christ, le verbe du Trés-Haut, la parole de vie."
End of Notes
Return to top