Political Opposition and Revolution
REFL ECTING WITH BITTERNESS ON the revolution of 1848 that resulted in his ouster from office, Chancellor Clemens Wenzel Metternich condemned the prerevolutionary activities of the aristocracy in Bohemia and Austria, saying, “To the list of symptoms of a sick, degenerate age belongs the completely false position which the nobility too often adopts. It was they, nearly everywhere who lent a hand to the confusion that was being prepared.”1 This sentiment was echoed by Karl Friedrich Kübeck, the president of the General Court Chamber, who wrote in 1850 that the “revolution devoured the nobility and democracy both, from whose union it had originated…. ”2 Both of these observers were referring to the liberal opposition fomented by aristocrats in the Diet in Bohemia as a fundamental cause for the political atmosphere of malaise they perceived prior to the revolution in 1848. The cultural work of the late eighteenth century and early decades of the nineteenth century had engendered a new generation of proto-liberal reformers interested in more widespread political and social improvements. This reform movement, with deep connection to cultural institutions and ideas, targeted a host of areas for prescriptive change, including legal codes and norms, land use and serfdom, language, constitutionalism, economic development, and political accountability and access. However, as in earlier historical moments of political upheaval, aristocrats who supported reform in the 1840s found their commitment profoundly challenged by revolution once again.
Although the aristocracy’s role in creating the destabilizing conditions of the prerevolutionary years may have been clear to Metternich and Kübeck in hindsight, the political situation before the 1840s would have given an independent observer a very different impression. Thanks in large part to