Vienna 1815: The making of a European Security Culture

The Hague / Amsterdam
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences/The Young Academy; Utrecht University; the National Archives
05.11.2014 - 07.11.2014
Wouter Klem, Utrecht University

Two hundred years ago the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) convened.[1] The statesmen present did not only redraw the map of Europe and discuss peace conditions. Negotiations took place to perpetuate the wartime alliances and to provide for security provisions in peacetime. Thus, the congress marked the start of an institutionalization of European collaboration in the security field. This consideration was the starting point of an international academic conference on the Congress of Vienna, organized by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences/The Young Academy, together with Utrecht University and the National Archives. The conference also functioned as the take-off of the ERC Consolidator Research Project “Securing Europe, fighting its enemies 1815-1914”[2], hosted at Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

During the conference “Vienna 1815” a new perspective on nineteenth-century European history was presented. Rather than focusing on a “balance of power” or bellicose nationalism, the lens of security provides new insights on forms and practices of international and supranational cooperation. In her position paper, disseminated in preparation for the conference, BEATRICE DE GRAAF (Utrecht) operationalized the concept of a European security culture, conceived as an aggregation of collective threat perceptions, shared interests and the resulting practices and discourses. This conceptualization formed the basis of a set of diverse contributions to the conference. The contributors presented well and lesser known expressions of European security interventions – for instance, transnational extradition and expulsion of political criminals, a common European intervention in Syria, but also the development of a collective European attitude with regard to the Jewish minority. The conference thus combined interesting historical cases with ideas and theories from International Relations and the cultural sciences. In three keynote speeches, performed by Marieke de Goede, Matthias Schulz and Eckart Conze, these new ideas and concepts concerning this emerging “security culture” were further elaborated.

The conference started with a very lively and crowded public opening in the National Archives of The Netherlands in The Hague, including a discussion on the merits and weaknesses of the Viennese congress system and the resulting (European) culture of security. NIEK VAN SAS (Amsterdam) posited the establishment of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands within the international state system or Concert of Europe: an act that reflected international perspectives on security. He argued that the Belgium independence of 1831 formed a major testing ground for the Concert, as it was considered to be a flexible interpretation of the congress order. On the other hand, CHRISTOPHER CLARK (Cambridge) treated the congress as a political revolution, and not so much a restoration of ancient regime Europe. The Congress deeply influenced political and international developments in the following century, predominantly manifested in the ascent of Prussia. Clark considered the expansion of Prussia and the centralizing power of the German Federation as a development that would completely turn around the European balance of power and eventually induce the First World War. This revolution, however, was not a liberal one, but brought to the fore extremely nationalist, chauvinist and reactionary forces. MARK JARRETT (author of the book “The congress of Vienna and its legacy”) pleaded for a more nuanced perspective: although the congress did not restore the old order, neither did it create a new one. After the congress, the emphasis came to lie on international cooperation and counter-revolution, in order to secure Europe. In this new order, nationalism functioned as a tool rather than as an end in itself, with the creation of a security system encompassing long-term peace and stability as an end goal.

Over the following two days, three keynote speeches and four workshops elaborated the notion of security culture. Presenting the first keynote, MARIEKE DE GOEDE (Amsterdam) discussed different approaches to study European security cultures in history and the social sciences. This included her own research project, which focuses on threats, technologies and temporalities as key factors for comprehending and critically analyzing European security cultures. De Goede used the term “security culture” to investigate how security practice is affected by factors that exceed the political and institutional structures, in order to include factors that influence the interdisciplinary perspectives on the mutual implication of culturally mediated threat perceptions, institutional imaginaries and policy adjudications.

MATTHIAS SCHULZ (Geneva) operationalized the security culture into history. In order to preserve peace, a culture emerged that consisted of normative ideas, rules, practices, institutions, instruments, and strategic compromises, and influenced the thoughts, actions and behavior of state actors. This implies that certain ideas, rules and practices prevail within a given states’ system at a given time. Through his seminal work on this field, “Normen und Praxis” (2009), and his speech, he has paved the way towards developing a profoundly transnational and multidisciplinary, and also culturally-discursive, perspective on the combined history of international relations and internal policy.

Applied to the Vienna Congress, ECKART CONZE (Marburg) defined the differences between the Vienna system and the new Vienna order after 1815. The former, he argued, was a system of conferences that already fell apart in the 1820s. The Vienna order, on the contrary, persisted in the decades thereafter, consisting of new diplomatic techniques and joint measures against European problems that came on top of traditional unilateral actions that continued of course as well. This shared approach is what Conze defines as a security culture. To study this culture, the term “security” needs to be historicized through the use of political and social sciences methods. For instance, after the Congress of Vienna and after 25 years of war, in the collective experience, security meant peace – also inner state and social peace and the prevention of revolution. Decades later this unified vision changed when security policies conflicted with upcoming nationalism, resulting in conflicting ideas on how to produce security. Ideas of security became increasingly connected with ideas of state sovereignty. Conclusively, Conze favored the implementation of the concept of a “community of power” over the worn out “balance of power” idea, while adhering to Christopher Daase’s work and de Graaf’s position paper in adopting the notion of ‘security culture’ as a dynamic concept, consisting of a sum of practices and threat perceptions, which differ in different countries and different regimes.

The keynotes provided methodological context on security cultures and further complemented the positional paper mentioned above. During the conference, these cultures were operationalized in four workshops: 1) threat perceptions, 2) new institutions, 3) professional agents and 4) impact and (cultural) legacy of the congress. All participants used the essentially contested concept of the postulated security culture in their own way, applied to 19th century history. Was this culture homogeneous, convergent and inclusive, or rather conflictual and exclusive versus non-Europeans and minorities? And how can it be visualized; by studying law, political cartoons, diplomatic notes or rather moments of common action? Below, the outcomes of the four workshops are briefly summarized and some examples of the variety of contributions are presented.

In the first workshop, old and new threat perceptions, both domestic and international, were discussed. Threat demarcations could be defined by distinct lines of inclusion and exclusion, underpinned by particularist or more universalist principles. CHRISTOPH NÜBEL (Berlin) presented on the security culture in Prussia and Britain as a “monarchism of fear”. Monarchy meant stability, order and moderate reform to deal with popular demands and the threat of revolution. Similar revolutionary threat perceptions developed in Austria, as MICHAL CHVOJKA (Trnava) showed. The Habsburg police transferred foreign threat perceptions into the Austrian Empire and regional level. This resulted in internal monitoring of domestic networks of exiles and new surveillance systems and antirevolutionary policies.

These threat perceptions were fed into new institutions, established during and after the congress. Although traditional historiography points to a balance of power, STELLA GHERVAS (Cambridge, MA) rather speaks of a (diplomatic) balance of negotiation, with contrasting views on the Vienna peace order by the Holy Alliance and Quadruple Alliance. Negotiations resulted in a new, single, European order of active cooperation, based on peace and security. Indeed, from 1815 onwards until the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853 no major war on the European continent erupted. KARL HÄRTER (Frankfurt am Main) argued that a new, one could almost argue, ‘soft’ power arose within this field of Great Powers: The German Confederation tried to establish a new federal security regime, based on an interdependence between internal and external security issues. This resulted, among others, in extraditions on transnational and international levels and the control of constitutions in internal affairs.

Fine examples of new institutions on a more transnational (cultural) security level were fleshed out by CONSTANTIN ARDELEANU (Galati) who discussed the Danube navigation. A transnational Commission, established after the Crimean War, deployed diplomatic and maritime juridical activities, culminating in several European conferences and the drafting of several regulations. In a comparable fashion, ROBERT MARK SPAULDING (Wilmington) eloquently discussed the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine in the workshop on professional agents. This commission played a crucial role in fighting arbitrary acts by large and smaller potentates. This was an important element in the European security culture and a model for supranational governance through a unified commercial code for the river.

The workshop on the congress’s cultural legacy preserved insights into the effects and workings of the public voice and the interactions between popular culture and transnational politics. This included political cartoons, literature and poetry, to contextualize the world of the involved actors and their audiences. LOTTE JENSEN (Nijmegen) analyzed public opinion and public sentiments on all of the fundamental diplomatic and domestic changes in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in the immediate Vienna-aftermath. With a focus on the “Hundred Days of Napoleon” she investigated the definition and shaping of a Dutch identity in occasional writings, and the lack of negative voices on the Dutch unification with Belgium. JANNEKE WEIJERMARS (Groningen) looked into the battle of Waterloo and the congress using literature, demonstrating a strict distinction between “Europe” on the one hand, and “Napoleon’s world”, as a bygone, historical phenomenon, on the other. The former was associated with peace and solidarity and the latter with violence and slavery. A more visual example of the ways the Vienna outcome was perceived at home was lucidly presented by JOS GABRIËLS (The Hague), using political caricatures and satirical prints from Great Britain, France and the German states. These cartoons highlighted the territorial greed of the Great Powers and the return of Napoleon in March 1815, which made a huge impression at the time.

During the conference “Vienna 1815” the existence of a European security culture was identified and outlined, and the added value of studying international relations, diplomacy and collective (security) enterprises in joint cooperation with detailed historical empirical research was demonstrated. As the contributors to the conference made clear, research on security culture is highly fruitful, but very much in its infancy yet. New insights could be gained, for instance in the field of (transnational) networks, specific actors or the role of new techniques in countering threats.

Conference overview:

Public event
Day chair: Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University)

Jozias van Aartsen (Mayor of The Hague), 200 years Conference of Vienna and the Creation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Niek van Sas (University of Amsterdam), The United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1814-1831). European Bulwark or Security Risk
Christopher Clark (Cambridge University), From collective security to European catastrophe, 1815-1914
Mark Jarrett (author of the book “The congress of Vienna and its legacy”), Commentary: Architects versus Sleepwalkers? Discussing the system of Vienna for today

Conference day I
Day chair: Ido de Haan (Utrecht University)


Marieke de Goede (University of Amsterdam), Studying European Security Cultures across History and the Social Sciences
Matthias Schulz (University of Geneva), After Napoleon, the construction of a new European security culture: Institutional innovations, norms, paradoxes

Workshop 1: Vienna 1815 and its old and new threats
Chair: Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University)

Michal Chvojka (University of Trnava), Between observation, prevention and prosecution. Habsburg security policies following the Congress of Vienna
Gabriel Leanca (Alexandru Ioan Cuza University), The Eastern Question (1821-1861): a Catalyst or a Threat to the 1815 Settlement
Christoph Nübel (Humboldt University of Berlin), Monarchism of fear? Security as a culture in British and Prussian political thought, 1814/15-1850
Claudia Reichl-Ham (University of Vienna), Peace and Stability? Austria’s Security-Political Role after the Congress of Vienna with Respect to the Oriental Question
Jeroen van Zanten (University of Amsterdam), Brussels as a liability, 1815-1820

Workshop 2: Vienna 1815 and it cultural legacy I
Chair: Lotte Jensen (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Jos Gabriëls (Huygens Institute The Hague), Cutting the Cake. The Congress of Vienna in British, French and German political caricature
Janneke Weijermars (Groningen University), The Conference of Vienna and the Battle of Waterloo in Dutch, Luxembourgian and Belgian literature, 1815-1915
Eva Maria Werner (University of Innsbruck), The memory of the Congress of Vienna in the context of World War I

Workshop 3: Vienna 1815 and its new institutions
Chair: Ido de Haan (Utrecht University)

Stella Ghervas (Harvard University), The Holy Alliance versus the Quadruple Alliance. Two Contrasting Views of the Vienna Peace Order
Karl Härter (Max Planck Institute Frankfurt am Main), Transnational Security and the Protection of the Constitution in Central Europe after 1815
Constantin Ardeleanu (University of Galati), Danube navigation and the application of the principles of the 1815 Vienna Congress
Karin Schneider (University of Innsbruck), A chance to participate. Criteria of inclusion and exclusion at the Congress of Vienna
Jens E. Olesen (University of Greifswald), The representation of Denmark and Sweden as small states at the Congress of Vienna

Conference day II
Day chair: Herman Paul (Leiden University)

Key note

Eckard Conze (Phillip University Marburg), Lessons from 1815. Peace, Security and the Vienna System in History and Politics (1815 to present)

Workshop 4: 1815 and it professional agents
Chair: Duco Hellema (Utrecht University)

Mark Jarrett (author of the book “The congress of Vienna and its legacy”), Castlereagh and Counter-Revolution, at home and abroad
Robert Mark Spaulding (University of North Carolina Wilmington), Professional Agency in Negotiating the ‘Articles concernant la navigation du Rhin’
Marion Koschier (University of Klagenfurt), ‘This Government gives us our Bread and Butter’ - The Role of Merchant Bankers and Speculators in the Creation of the Vienna Peace System
Frederik van Dam (University of Leuven), The poet as diplomat: The Congress of Vienna and Thomas Moore’s The Fudge Family in Paris
Raphaël Cahen (University of Munich), Friedrich Gentz and the Right of Intervention around 1815

Workshop 5: 1815 and it cultural legacy II
Chair: Henk te Velde (Leiden University)

Lotte Jensen (Radboud University Nijmegen), 1815: The shaping of a Dutch identity
Marcus Kirchhoff (Saxonian Academy of Sciences in Leipzig), The Jewish Question at the Congress of Vienna. On its Legacy within the ‘European Concert of the Jews’
Matthijs Lok (University of Amsterdam), Conservative critics to the Viennese international order: Conservative notions on European regeneration and security (1795-1830)

Concluding remarks

Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University), Vienna 1815: The making of a security culture in Europe and beyond

[1] A shorter version of this report has been published in Dutch. See: <> (8.1.2015).
[2] See <> (8.1.2015).

Tagungsbericht: Vienna 1815: The making of a European Security Culture, 05.11.2014 – 07.11.2014 The Hague / Amsterdam, in: H-Soz-Kult, 19.01.2015, <>.