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The Congress of Vienna Revisited

Two hundred years ago, on September 25, 1814, the start of the Congress of Vienna ushered in the longest period of peace Europe had known for centuries. So why, in a time of growing global disorder, has its anniversary all but been ignored?

PARIS – Two hundred years ago, on September 25, 1814, Russia’s Czar Alexander I and Friedrich Wilhelm III, the King of Prussia, were greeted at the gates of Vienna by Austria’s Emperor Franz I. The start of the Congress of Vienna ushered in the longest period of peace Europe had known for centuries. So why has its anniversary all but been ignored?

True, the Congress of Vienna is mostly viewed as marking the victory of Europe’s reactionary forces after the defeat of Napoleon. Yet, given today’s growing global confusion, if not chaos, something like “Proustian” nostalgia for the Congress may not be out of order. Here, after all, was a meeting that, through tough but successful negotiations, reestablished international order after the upheavals caused by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Can we apply any of its lessons today?

To answer that question, we should consider not just the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, but also the 1648 Peace of Westphalia and the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, each of which in its own way brought to an end a bloody chapter in European history.

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