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Review: A Believer in European Unity

Reviewed Work(s): Friedrich von Gentz. Defender of the Old Order by Paul R. Sweet
Review by: Hannah Arendt
Source: The Review of Politics, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Apr., 1942), pp. 245-247
Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on
behalf of Review of Politics
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R E VIE W S 245

As to Jewish influence, it is m
contact with Jews, but certainly it
sources to explain Eike's predilectio
man's likeness to God as the found
both of these are commonplaces in
A recent attempt on the part of
ideology in terms of the modern
and refuted by Professor Kisch
required of the incompatibility of
Socialism it may readily be found
dignity of the human person ma
sembles particularly in the matte


Victrix causa Diis placuit sed victa Catoni. Friedrich Gentz-a Be
burgher's son driven into the sphere of high politics, a Prussian hirelin
Austria and servant to Metternich, a journalist always in debt, who k
how to sell his talents to England, Prussia, Austria, Russia, the hospodar
Wallachia and the Rothschilds-Gentz, at the end of his life, courageou
concluded the justification of his policy with words which, since ancient ti
have characterized the political attitude of the West.1 It is not likely that
correspondent believed in the sincerity of his political creed. Her disapp
of his political line and her lack of confidence in his person, which had
voked his vindication, very probably represented the attitude of most o
contemporaries; and until today, historical works are haunted by descripti
of his vanity, his sensuality and his supposedly inherent disloyalty.
Moreover, the arguments which Gentz concluded with these proud w
were scarcely such as to inspire immediate confidence. In the language o
time and especially of his generation, Gentz describes the drama of w
history in which a role has been assigned to everyone. Without objectin
all to Frau von Helvig's reproaching him as a reactionary, he points out
it has been his role "to uphold the old order" in spite of his realization
the "Zeitgeist," "the spirit of the age would in the end remain the m
powerful" (294). In not being able to defend himself more appropriat
Gentz paid tribute to his generation-the generation of Schlegel and H
boldt, whom the unfortunate circumstances of German history had so effecti
cut off from political reality that they were inclined to judge political mat
merely from without, like spectators of a play. Thus, they had built
sense of their being close to political reality in the so-called "Mitwissersch

*Paul R. Sweet: Friedrich von Centz. Defender of the Old Order, Madison, Wisc
sin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1941. Pp. 326, $4.00.
1 In a letter of 1828 to Amalie von Helvig in "Schriften von Friedrich von Gent
by Gustav Schlesier, vol. V., p. 319 sq.

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(Schlegel), an intimate knowledge of what is g

secrets of the "spirit of the age." In accordanc
nourished his tremendous vanity by intercou
that is, with those who actually made politi
knowing more of the events and of the secre
person. His thirst for knowledge determined
started with the drafting of protocols for P
activity threw him into a state of "deligh
European fame as the secretary of the Cong
vanity, he readily agreed to remain anonymo

The great merit of this outstanding book i

psychological speculations but concerns itself
Gentz' political intentions and career. This h
knowledge of the time, with a very unusual sen
political entanglements and with a most keen
the book come to life.

This monograph on Gentz' political develop

disloyalty to friends and to his paying patron
to his own poltical convictions. He tried to pl
own account. The amusing and carefully-elabora
system of self-financing proves that he certain
he felt to be right, but that he did not do ever
him a nice gift. In this part as in some others,
to another often wrongly-defamed politician of
only an allusion, Talleyrand. (197).
At a time of growing nationalism, the cause w
unpopular. All his life he was advancing the
had still known in the 18th century and whic
the Napoleonic wars and the ruthless nationalism
Gentz thought fit to counterbalance these tre
policy of "balance of power" and, later, the
which was based on a principle opposed to the
ests, for several reasons coincided with the ge
In pointing out all the changes and inconsiste
Sweet very ably expounds this fundamental lin
famous "opponent of Napoleon" advocated ne
1813, because he was afraid the new Prussian na
European balance. (182). Thus, after a long
interests and of enthusiastic admiration for En
against England in the '20's, when she was un
in concert with the Continental powers (in th
colonies in South America, 240-41). This stran
in the eyes of faithful reactionary politicians, w
"holy" principle of legitimacy was "born in tim
not in an absolute, but only a relative, sense"

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objected as little to Napoleon w

Philippe enthroned by the
Finally, during the Greek revo
Greek independence, but actua
(257, 295).
While Metternich stood for A
Castlereagh and Canning for
defend the interest of Europe.
for the position of permanen
that there was no such thing as
into a violent chauvinism. Gen
to accept the decay of the enli
who based a completely indep
existence of a German nation
Prussian friends, he exposed h
hireling without a country. It
sold his soul and pen to the str
freedom of press or against the
concern about these questions
the restoration of balance of
Miiller scornfully junked 'all t
thirty years, Gentz recoiled as
itself" (209). That spirit of the
was nothing else than the grow
destroyed the unity of Europe.
Every historiography which is
justification and salvation of its
enment will be glad that Gentz
the 19th century has so severely
i.e., the historian who "likes h
The only serious mistake is t
(18), who really can't be seen
appraisal was part and parcel o
and was motivated by her stup
Besides, the doubt of Humboldt
dation in view of the complimen
in view of his own writings.
To emphasize only the high
biography, however, would not
book, written with a deep com
is of a strange and exciting tim
unity presents one of the most
a tradition of political thinking
and which seemed almost lost

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