The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848

By Paul W. Schroeder | Go to book overview

6
From Pressburg to Tilsit, 1806-1807

If the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars are seen in the usual way, as a series of attempts to defeat France and restore a balance of power in Europe, 1806-7 brought nothing new. All that happened essentially was the revival of the Third Coalition in a different form, leading to more battles, another Napoleonic victory, and a further expansion of his empire. But if the real story, as this book argues, is the transformation of international politics during this era; if this change required a long, painful process of learning from hard experience; and if what needed to be learned was less how to defeat France than how to construct a peaceful Europe and a stable international system on a new basis, then this period emerges as an important stage in the learning process, in which there were some set-backs but also some irreversible progress.

Some states had already learned various lessons by 1806. The smaller states directly in France's path, having learned the futility of resisting France and the folly of accepting help from other powers, chose to collaborate with the former. Austria had begun to learn from its repeated defeats not only that military victory, gains in power and territory, and useful great-power alliances were extremely hard to obtain, but also that, even if obtained, they might not solve its security problem. Some Austrians already recognized the need for a broader, more political solution, some sort of guaranteed joint security arrangement for all of Central Europe as an intermediary sphere, in which Prussia should be Austria's partner rather than its enemy and the smaller independent states in Italy and Germany Austria's associates rather than its satellites and victims. Gaining this insight, however, was one thing, implementing it quite another. Prussia, though still trying to play the balance-of-power game between the two sides, had become all too aware of its dangers. Like Austria, it wanted stable partners in an independent European centre, and could not see how to get them. Britain and Russia had so far learned little more than to appreciate somewhat better France's strengths and their

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