Uncommon Decency

57. 1848: A European Revolution? with Christopher M. Clark & Jonathan Sperber

On January 29, 1848, at the Assemblée Nationale in Paris, the liberal intellectual and MP Alexis De Tocqueville rose to proclaim: "Gentlemen, I believe that we are at this moment sleeping on a volcano [...] Do you not feel—what shall I say?—as it were a gale of revolution in the air?” Within weeks, Tocqueville’s prediction came to pass—and more. Throughout 1848, nearly all of Europe revolted. The French ousted King Louis-Phillipe, the last in their history, the Austrians got the aging, arch-conservative Chancellor Metternich to retire, and Hungary attempted to become an independent nation. German and Italian idealists saw this as an opportunity to unite theirs. All of Europe was going through the so-called "Spring of the Peoples”, fighting for constitutional rights, representative parliaments, national sovereignty, and other cornerstones of modern democracy. But the Spring of the Peoples was soon followed by a cold winter of repression. The newly-established French Republic shot the hungry Parisian workers dead. The Austrian and Prussian monarchies wrestled back the momentum from the streets of Vienna and Berlin. The dreams of German and Italian unity were crushed by internal strife and the Austro-Prussian armies. The Austrians soon invited the Russians to flatten the Hungarian uprising. Despite the apparent failure of 1848, that year's legacy is seemingly everywhere. 1848 was a learning experience for men like Karl Marx, the godfather of Communism, and Giuseppe Mazzini, one of unified Italy’s founding fathers. Only decades after the failure of 1848, Italy and Germany became nation-states, while the democratic ideals proclaimed that year became entrenched across European politics. And yet today it seems that 1848 has been largely forgotten. To ensure this is not so, this week we discuss 1848's European legacy with two esteemed historians, Chris Clark of Cambridge and Jonathan Sperber of the University of Missouri.

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