1848 Year of revolution

Michael Rapport

Book - 2009

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New York : Basic Books 2009.
Item Description
"Published in Great Britain in 2008 by Little, Brown"--T.p. verso.
Physical Description
xii, 461 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map, ports. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. [419]-446) and index.
Main Author
Michael Rapport (-)
  • The forest of bayonets
  • The collapse
  • The springtime of peoples
  • The red summer
  • The counter-revolutionary autumn
  • 1849: the Indian summer of the revolution
  • Conclusion.
Review by Choice Review

The 150th anniversary of the 1848 revolutions produced a spate of books about 10 years ago, almost all collections of specialized studies, including one truly outstanding and indispensable work, Europe in 1848: Revolution and Reform, ed. by Dieter Dowe et al. (CH, Nov'01, 39-1813). The last important narrative survey of the revolutions, Jonathan Sperber's The European Revolutions, 1848-1851 (2d ed., 2005), is a masterful account, but one targeted at an audience already well versed in 19th-century history. Therefore, there has been a need for a sound up-to-date introductory survey of 1848, and it has now been provided in this splendidly written account by Rapport (Univ. of Stirling). Rapport has an understanding of the fundamental developments and key personalities of 1848 deep in his bones, and he is able to convey this to readers with enthusiasm and clarity. Although the book is based solely on secondary sources (overwhelmingly in English) and breaks no new theoretical or historical ground, even specialists well versed in 1848 studies will find this summary of the vast existing literature a useful guide, and newcomers will find this an excellent introduction. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. R. J. Goldstein University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by New York Times Review

An overview of the Pan-European revolutions of 1848. TWO THOUSAND EIGHT was not a change year. Eighteen forty-eight was a change year. A series of liberal revolutions exploded from one end of Europe to the other, toppling governments from France to Hungary to many of the small German and Italian states. The revolts are not well known in the United States, but they rank in the annals of upheaval alongside the American Revolution in 1776, the French Revolution in 1789 and the end of European Communism in 1989 (relatively gentle though that was). In "1848: Year of Revolution," a lively, panoramic new history, Mike Rapport describes the uprisings of that year while making clear their modern resonance. The revolutionaries, he argues, were overmatched by near-impossible challenges that sound remarkably familiar today. They had to wrestle with the demons of nationalism, which threatened to drag liberal revolutions down into the muck of ethnic conflict. They had to forge new constitutional orders that could temper violent radicalism. And they had to confront the grinding poverty and social misery of the freshly empowered masses, who had unattainable expectations for economic growth and social equality. The book's descriptions of impoverished serfs and alienated city dwellers could equally well be about peasants in the Chinese countryside and migrant workers in Beijing and Chongqing today. Rapport, a lecturer in history at the University of Stirling in Scotland, begins by explaining that European order had been frozen since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, with conservative rule imposed by the great imperial courts. Chief among the absolutists was Klemens von Metternich, Austria's icy chancellor, haunted by memories of the cataclysmic wars after the French Revolution. "In times of crisis," the loftily paranoid Metternich wrote, monarchs had to show themselves as "fathers invested with all the authority which belongs to heads of families." The flesh-and-blood emperors were rather less impressive: Czar Nicholas I was a pioneer in creating Russia's brutal secret police, while Austria's "mentally disabled" Emperor Ferdinand was called "Ferdy the Loony" by his subjects. Revolutionaries confront Prussian troops on the Alexanderplatz, Berlin, March 1848. During a deep economic crisis in the 1840s, the desperate misery of peasants, artisans and the urban poor generated popular rage at the Metternichian system. In the past, nervous governments had censored their press, clamped down on labor unions and froze the middle class and professionals out of politics. When liberals rose up in places like Naples and Piedmont, they were crushed by Austrian forces. Polish nationalists got stomped under Austrian, Prussian and Russian boots; in 1830, a Polish revolt ended with Russia hauling 80,000 Poles off to Siberia in chains. What were wild demands in 1848 are democratic dogma today: free speech, parliaments, religious liberty, jury trials. But despite such noble goals, the revolutionaries were easily enraptured with violence. The great Italian democrat Giuseppe Mazzini, whom Metternich called the most dangerous man in Europe, believed that "ideas ripen quickly when nourished by the blood of martyrs." The insurrections were astonishingly widespread, with different local grievances detonating in sequence across the continent - a virtual European Union of rebellion. They were ignited by a riot in Austrian-ruled Milan, which was followed by a revolution in Sicily. Next, protest marchers in Paris clashed with the municipal guard, prompting riots across the city. The French government had no stomach for the military onslaught necessary to crush the revolt, and King Louis-Philippe helplessly fled to Britain with his queen, assisted by a British vice-consul who provided the royal couple with the alias "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Then German liberals and workers, thrilled by the news from Paris, took to the streets. In Hungary, Lajos Kossuth, a noble turned vehement radical against Austrian domination, thundered for self-government free from "the pestilential air" of Metternich's absolutism. In Vienna itself, troops opened fire on rebellious crowds; the shaken Austrian government allowed a constitution and forced Metternich to resign. Even in reactionary Prussia, where soldiers unleashed artillery against the mutinous citizenry in Berlin's streets, the king had to grant a constitution. The only great powers spared bloody chaos were Britain, where constitutional government and middle-class support were already established, and Russia, where the czar choked off any hint of revolt, radicalizing subsequent generations of revolutionaries. After the electric jolt of success, the revolutionaries staggered under the weight of governing. One of the most neuralgic issues was nationalism. Metternich had struggled to maintain an empire made up of at least 11 nations, including restive Hungarians and Italians. After him, the "springtime of nations" left the continent awash in conflicting ethnic claims. In Frankfurt, radicals demanded a unified German state. But what about non-Germans living in that future Germany, like Danes and Poles, and what about Germans living outside a united Germany? One German politician chillingly noted "the preponderance of the German race over most Slav races ... is a fact." Many Austrian monarchists and Catholics, although ethnically German, disliked the prospect of joining their ostensible brethren. Smaller nations weren't much kinder. Hungarians simultaneously demanded an end to Austrian rule and authority over Transylvania, to the resentment of many Romanians living there. The prospect of allowing Jews to vote in a liberated Hungary set off a wave of anti-Jewish riots, scaring the government into postponing Jewish emancipation temporarily. Some members of minorities in Hungary, particularly many Croats, decided they had preferred Austrian rule. Croatian troops marched to within 30 miles of Budapest before being routed by Hungarian forces. When Romanian and Serbian peasants rose against Hungarian rule, they were slaughtered. As the revolutionaries struggled to provide social and economic progress, the old order reasserted itself. The liberal government in Hungary was crushed by devastating invasions from Austria and its ally Russia. In German lands, disillusionment after 1848 paved the way for experiments in dictatorship. Asked what could restore Prussian authority, Otto von Bismarck, sitting at a piano, played the Prussian infantry's charge march. He later said, "The great questions of the age are not decided by speeches and majority decisions - that was the big mistake of 1848 and 1849 but by blood and iron." In France, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the callow nephew of the famous conqueror, launched a coup d'état in 1851, rounded up dissenters and installed himself as Emperor Napoleon III. Rapport sees in 1848 the "germinating bulbs" of European authoritarianism. He tells a good yarn, with a keen eye for ground-level details, like the "constitutional pastries" produced by revolution-minded Viennese bakers. Still, while trying to keep readers from getting lost in the deepening blizzard of revolts and interventions, Rapport sometimes strains for writerly effect, as when he calls Napoleon "the incorrigible Emperor" - a cutesy description of a military tyrant seen by many Russians at the time as the anti-Christ incarnate. He also stumbles when he says that Metternich "was not troubled" by the Greek rebellion against Ottoman rule; in fact, the Austrian minister described it as "six years of torments." It's hard to read this book without feeling a deepening reverence for successful postrevolutionaries like Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel, who first made revolution and then made the unheroic compromises that are the lifeblood of actual democratic government. People will always thrill to utopian demands for perfection, from Mazzini to Che. But it's what comes next that counts: the daily humdrum of effective governance. What were wild demands in 1848 are democratic dogma today: free speech, parliaments, religious liberty. Gary J. Bass, a Princeton professor, is the author of "Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention" and "Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009] Review by Booklist Review

In this account of a turbulent year in which most European thrones were shaken or toppled, Rapport smoothly blends drama of battles on the barricades and perspective on the causes and consequences. As ever in revolution, severe economic distress of workers dovetailed with protest by liberals and radicals to ignite a political explosion, initially in Italy but contagiously in France. Rapport's telling of the February Revolution in Paris, and of ensuing popular revolts in Prussia, the Hapsburg Empire, and the Italian states, periodically pauses for his keen observations about disagreements within the temporarily triumphant revolutionary camps. After the political revolutions, discord between liberals hoping to establish constitutional order and radicals fomenting social revolution gave conservatives and reactionaries openings to mount counterrevolutions. Such are the political labels of the contending forces, but Rapport's emphasis on leaders installed in the history books about 1848 including Mazzini, Kossuth, Bismarck, and Marx reminds readers of the force these key individuals exerted on the course of events. Striking an excellent balance between narrative and explanation, Rapport will engage the history audience.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2009 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Library Journal Review

In 1848, the first (and only) trans-European revolutions erupted to protest over 30 years of antidemocratic rule, termed "springtime of peoples." By the end of the year, these revolts had been quashed, and authoritarian rule reestablished in France, the Austrian Empire, Germany, and Italy. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Densely written account of a turning point in European history. Scottish academic Rapport (History/Univ. of Stirling; The Shape of the World: Britain, France, and the Struggle for Empire, 2006, etc.) argues that the import of this revolutionary year is misunderstood when compared with more famous flashpoints such as the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Although the serial revolutions of 1848 failed, "the brick-built authoritarian edifice that had imposed itself on Europeans for almost two generations folded under the weight of the insurrections," he writes. They rippled across the continent, starting fires in various cities within Germany, Italy, France and central Europe. Rapport captures their breadth in a narrative of equally staggering scope, tracking a score of factions and provocateurs across numerous countries and cascading periods of violence and fitful reconciliation. He shrewdly divides the text into digestible sections. "The Forest of Bayonets" shows old-line statesmen like Metternich, credited with holding together the Habsburg regime, failing to anticipate the resentment of diverse groups of peasants and artisans against calcified political systems. "The Springtime of Peoples" depicts fast-spreading popular liberalism being checked by the Prussian military. "The Red Summer" and "The Counter-Revolutionary Autumn," portray the peak of urban street violence and the rural populations' emergence in support of the established order, which effectively terminated the revolutionary arc. Yet Rapport argues that the effects of 1848 were long-lasting. Serfdom was abolished, and "no country was wholly unaffected by the upheavals, even if they did not directly experience an uprising." These "broad similarities in the revolutionary experience were all the more remarkable," he continues, given the various nations' ethnic rivalries and distinct differences in political orientation. His conclusion, which links the revolutions of 1848 with the seismic changes of 1989, suggests convincingly that the 19th-century upheavals fueled both a greater tolerance of European liberalism and the sense of grievance that would eventually produce two world wars. Authoritative, but detailed to the point of being somewhat unwieldy. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.