The increasing distribution of books, newspapers and pamphlets, which in the 18th century increasingly devoted their attention to the discussion of fundamental political questions – such as the structures of an ideal constitution – was the main prerequisite for the formation of political networks.1 Censorship, which varied between the different European countries, partially hindered this development, but did not prevent it. In particular, a number of large and expensive works, which were believed not to pose a risk of wider political mobilization, became international bestsellers of the time. This was particularly likely if they were written in Latin or French, and were thus accessible to an international readership. A prime example is the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers published by Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1717–1783) and Denis Diderot (1713–1784) between 1751 and 1780.2 This created a Europe-wide context for discussion, which enabled individuals to align themselves politically with or against positions connected with specific publications or authors. This identification with a political direction in turn became the basis for correspondence networks that emerged between authors and readers. Already in the 18th century, the expansion of the postal system and the gradual improvement of roads and canals began to reduce the delivery time of letters.
However, such networks formed in a restricted public sphere were only rarely able to achieve real political effectiveness. Firstly, due to their social composition and their limited size they did not aim to bring about political change through mass protests. The option of exercising influence as a political party was also largely precluded by the fact that parliaments or assemblies of the estates with real decision-making powers only existed in a small number of jurisdictions, such as Great Britain, Württemberg, Poland and Sweden. It was thus primarily government ministers, high-ranking officials or members of courts who could make political interventions based on discussions in publications and correspondence networks of ideal forms of government or forms of government that had proved their worth elsewhere. During the course of the 18th century, it became increasingly common in many monarchies in Europe to attract experts from across Europe for specific areas of politics, economics, the military or fundamental political questions. The perception of the qualifications of these individuals was often based on their publications and the opinion of these held by the public. Prominent examples of this were the presence of Voltaire (1694–1778) at the court of Friedrich II of Prussia (1712–1786)3 between 1750 and 1753, Diderot's visit to the court of Catherine II of Russia (1729–1796) in 1773–1774, and the adoption during the Polish constitutional reform of 1791 of positions that Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) had formulated on the Polish constitution in 1771/72 and which had been published in 1782.4 In more technical areas, there are the examples of the Scotsman John Law (1671–1729) and the Swiss Jacques Necker (1732–1804), who served as finance ministers of France.
A fundamental discussion of political systems had thus already commenced before the outbreak of the French Revolution. In this discussion, relatively clear positions had already begun to emerge, which clearly differed with regard to views on monarchy as the dominant form of rule, evaluations of parliamentary assemblies, views on the effectiveness of bureaucratic organization, respect for an order based on estates, perspectives on church structures, and attitudes towards the poorer classes of society. Authors (mostly male, but also some female) who either personally travelled a lot or whose works were read and discussed beyond their native countries played a central role in this discussion. However, their ability to influence politics in a practical way was primarily dependent on the favour of individual monarchs, which could be granted for a period of time but could also be quickly withdrawn. Networks between people were based on largely anonymous communication through print media, and on the direct exchange of information through correspondence that was private to a greater or lesser extent.5
The French Revolution
With the start of the French Revolution, the formation of Europe-wide political networks entered a new phase. Firstly, the central role of France and French authors in previous European debates6 meant that changes in France were particularly keenly observed. Secondly, the course of the French Revolution caused considerable population movements, particularly among people who were politically engaged or politically exposed, who either travelled to the centre of the revolutionary changes or fled from the Revolution and often set about forming counter-revolutionary political networks in exile.7 Thirdly, the wars that followed the Revolution, during which revolutionary and Napoleonic France continuously expanded its territory in continental Europe up to 1812, resulted in elements of the revolutionary policies being implemented or becoming a concrete challenge to the existing order in large parts of Europe.8 As a result, pre-existing intellectual connections were supplemented by similar experiences of revolution and reform in many parts of Europe.
Attitudes towards programmatic texts – such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,9 the Marseillaise10 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760–1836) or the various French constitutions decreed from 1791 onward, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, analyses skeptical of the Revolution such as Edmund Burke's (1730–1797) Reflections on the Revolution in France (1789),11 Francois Rene de Chateaubriand's (1768–1848) Génie du christianisme12 and Joseph de Maistre's (1753–1821) Essai sur le principe générateur des constitutions politiques13 – played an important role in the identification of ideological commonalities and differences. After the Congress of Vienna, the content of political programmes was readjusted. "Parties" underwent consolidation or greater differentiation. It was typical of political discussion after 1789, and particularly after 1793/1794, that positive or critical references to the different phases of the Revolution played a large role in the definition of political standpoints. This made it possible, in spite of the spectrum of constitutional arrangements in Europe that ranged from republics to parliamentary monarchies to absolutist monarchies, for European political networks to form and to identify common positions.
The power positions of various networks changed over the course of the decades. While after 1789 conservative networks were in many cases on the back foot, their position became stronger after 1815 and particularly in the 1820s. Core conservative convictions included the central role of the monarchy as part of the only legitimate and divinely ordained order, the importance of the church and religion for social cohesion, and the indispensability of stable social hierarchies. The conservative position implied the veneration of King Louis XVI (1754–1793) – who had been executed during the French Revolution – as a "martyr",14 attempts to resurrect traditions such as the "royal touch" during the coronation of a French king (laying on of hands to cure illnesses) during the coronation of Charles X (1757–1836) in 1825.15 the rejection of reforms such as a written constitution, parliamentary assemblies, and the codification of citizens' rights outside of the estates. The political aim was sometimes to retain a traditional structure that had not been affected by the Revolution, at other times it was to restore a traditional order to the way it had been before 1789, thereby erasing the changes of the revolutionary years, which were illegitimate in the eyes of conservatives. This was attempted, for example, in the kingdom of Sardinia, in Spain under Ferdinand VII (1784–1833), in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies and in Electoral Hesse by means of severe punishment for revolutionary activities in the past and the strict repression of dissent in the present. After the restoration of the monarchy in Sardinia, there was even a policy of restoring all offices and property to the status before the French invasion.
In line with the focus on monarchy, monarchs played a central role for conservatives, serving as the initiators of movements or as projections of political longings. However, not all monarchs advocated exclusively conservative positions. Many became open to liberal practices and concepts.
The label of liberalism proved to be particularly mutable and broad in this period.16 In the context of debates about the Spanish constitution of 1812, the term developed into a designation referring to political concepts, and it was subsequently used as a party name, initially in the Mediterranean world and subsequently throughout Europe. Liberals advocated a constitutional system of rule, in which (male) representatives of wealthy families would have influence over political decision-making. Estate differences, which had far-reaching consequences for the political, social, economic and legal status of the individual, were viewed critically. It was considered a central duty of state power to protect individual liberties, including in particular property rights, freedom of the press and of assembly, and the inviolability of one's residence, one's family life and postal correspondence. However, as regards the concrete realization of these expectations, liberal positions diverged considerably, both from country to country and between liberal movements within the same country.
Demands for the introduction of a constitution in line with the model negotiated in 1812 in Cádiz thus played a central role for liberals in the Mediterranean world in the 1820s.17 However, this implied, for example, that one was prepared to tolerate the Catholic religion being defined as the state religion. Liberals in other countries also had reservations about unqualified religious equality – particularly as regards the status of Jews and of pacifist religious movements – but most adherents of liberalism attached a high value to individual freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. While most liberals were open to monarchy as a form of government, there were also those in liberal circles who supported a republican order in line with the example of Switzerland and the USA. Bicameral parliaments based on the example of the British parliament (and the American Congress) seemed plausible to some liberals, others preferred to have all the parliamentarians debating together in one chamber as happened in the French National Constituent Assembly of 1789. Some liberals accepted the right of the monarch to decide who serves in the government. Others demanded that the government should enjoy the confidence of a majority of the elected members of parliament above all else. As regards the political order of Europe, some viewed the borders established after 1815 to be acceptable. Others demanded a reordering of statehood based on the nationality principle, particularly in Greece, Poland and subsequently Belgium. Consequently, the liberal "centre" in political discourse was particularly apt to separate into moderate and radical variants, which assumed clearer contours at different times in different countries – in general, they became visible earlier in parliamentary assemblies than in contexts where the lack of a parliament and the small number of press publications subject to strong censorship meant that no space for open debate existed.
While in parliamentary or constitutional monarchies liberal movements generally became an integral part of parliaments, from the late-1790s socialist positions largely stood outside of institutionalized politics. Their ideas derived from the "Jacobin" positions of the French Revolution, which emphasized the equality of all people and the primacy of social questions as well as unconditional loyalty to the revolutionary nation as a defensive community, which justified extreme measures against "traitors". As the positions of "radical" liberalism and those of socialism overlapped, contemporaries sometimes found it difficult to differentiate between the two, and the distinction is often not clear in retrospect either.18 Consequently, some authors date the start of an unambiguously socialist movement to the middle of the 19th century,19 even though the Communist Manifesto itself, which was published in 1848, documents a progression of communist positions reaching back to the early-19th century – and in doing so develops a terminology for these positions that had not necessarily existed before.20 "Radical", "socialist" or "communist" positions all advocated a fundamental reorganization of the relationships of production, often based on the example of a rationally organized, largely egalitarian factory. It was in this political camp that republican constitutions enjoyed most support, though there were differing views on whether it should be achieved by means of revolution or fundamental reforms. There were also differing opinions on the question of whether a socialist society should be established in Europe first or whether the ground should be prepared by means of appropriate social experiments elsewhere (in the USA, in North Africa or in other regions). There was broad agreement on the rejection of slavery, serfdom and other forms of coerced labour, as well as the rejection of estates and of the unequal distribution of wealth. By contrast, there was no consensus on the potential benefits of economic modernization that factory production and global free trade were likely to bring. Neither was there broad agreement on whether direct revolutionary measures had better prospects for success than political or economic reform efforts, or on how flexible the demand for a philosophical and religious reorientation of individuals and of society should be. This resulted in part from the fact that socialist thinkers tended (even) more than representatives of other political movements to argue on the basis of philosophical considerations and to thrash out intellectual differences in minute detail. The elaboration and differentiation of their positions thus proceeded at a rapid pace. At the same time, very individual suggestions, which were perceived as extremely innovative or extremely disturbing, offered opponents ample opportunity to attack socialists. These suggestions included the abolition of marriage, equality between men and women, the abolition of burial of the dead in favour of cremation, and the rejection of all systems of rule. Consequently, the terms "communist" and "socialist" (just like "Jacobin") were often intended as a pejorative description that also encompassed demands that were only seriously put forward by a small number of individuals. In this way, the term was used to discredit the political position as a whole.21
Forms of communication and organization
The structure of political networks was determined by their political programme in two respects. Firstly, the programme implied an orientation towards specific institutions or excluded certain institutions. Thus, conservatives were drawn to monarchs and courts, liberals preferred associations, communal political institutions or parliamentary committees, while socialists sought to utilize models of journeymen's federations and workers' associations, and often maintained – and had to maintain – a distance from formalized politics. This was due to the fact that the political programme – in addition to other factors such as the social background of the members – played a decisive role in whether political networks were promoted, tolerated or persecuted by governments. Which conditions prevailed for which political groups in which countries in turn affected where and how networks were able to develop over the shorter and the longer term.
While the repression of political networks by governments was one decisive factor, the active promotion of these networks was another. For example, those driving the French Revolution attempted from an early stage to draw people from other countries who had gained prominence through their political pronouncements or artistic endeavours closer to them by making them honorary citizens.22 While this effort was later suspended with the persecution of foreigners during the Terror,23 it was subsequently continued in the form of a plan to make Paris a European cultural and political centre. On the other side of the ideological divide, the imperial court of Russia under Alexander I (1777–1825) was deliberately developed into a focal point for the conservative, legitimist counter-position, with advocates of this position and personal enemies of Napoleon being attracted to the court by offers of posts or favourable working and living conditions.24
Conservative networks had an advantageous starting position – particularly as regards interaction across the borders of European states. Their reference points – monarchs and their courts – were already connected by kinship ties, even if these networks were weaker across confessional boundaries than they were within the Catholic or Protestant marriage circles. However, strictly legitimist positions – that is, the adherence to the divine right of kingship even in situations where it contradicted the actual conditions of rule – were often politically on the back foot between 1789 and 1850. After the French Revolution and again after 1830, exiled Bourbon rulers (and their followers) became as much a burden for relatives and hosts as other individuals who had to relinquish their rule during periods of political upheaval. Still, they and their supporters were treated as part of the high aristocracy, which was interconnected throughout Europe, and they were at least tolerated by the governments of the countries that received them; in some cases they were even supported financially in accordance with their position. However, numerous countries refused to receive them, and exiled monarchs were only recognized as reigning sovereigns when it appeared particularly advantageous to do so – because of an imminent restoration – and even then only for short periods.25 When legitimist positions were in opposition to actual republican or monarchist rule, such as the French Republic and its subsidiary republics, the rule of Napoleon I (1769–1821) and Louis-Philippe (1773–1850) in France, these political networks were also placed under police surveillance, their publications were censored or suppressed, and their supporters were expelled, even if the suppression was generally less intensive than the suppression of liberal, radical, Jacobin or socialist critics of regimes.26
With the conclusion of the Holy Alliance in 1815 – initially between the rulers of Russia, Austria and Prussia, with all other European monarchs (with the exception of the pope) subsequently joining either as heads of state or (as in the case of the British prince regent) as private individuals – the conservative legitimist network received a legal basis and simultaneously a loose organizational form. The European foreign policy congresses after the Congress of Vienna served simultaneously as meetings of the Holy Alliance. The image of monarchist fraternity in a spirit of Christianity and paternalism that the Holy Alliance was supposed to communicate was also disseminated by means of pamphlets, pictures and song lyrics.
In many parts of Europe, liberal networks could depend on the support of parts of the state bureaucracy and the army, as well as parts of the educated elite at the universities and in the professions. In countries that had parliamentary assemblies, liberals constituted significant groups in the elected assemblies and sometimes even formed governments, as happened temporarily in Spain, and after 1830 in France, Great Britain and Belgium. The limits of what liberal networks were allowed to say and do thus differed considerably from country to country. The focus on the army, the bureaucracy and the well-educated highlights continuities from the Enlightenment experts of the 18th century to the supporters of rational reform efforts in the revolutionary period and the Napoleonic period, and to the period after the Congress of Vienna. However, after 1815 it was considerably more difficult for foreigners to obtain an official post or to be appointed a minister than it had been in the 18th century.
Liberal groups in western and central Europe organized themselves in associations, around newspapers and as parties in elected assemblies, as they did within the Russian empire in Poland (up to the suppression of the Revolution of 1830) and in Finland. However, in the Italian states, Russia proper, the Habsburg empire and Prussia they were more dependent on connections between individuals, which at times gave rise to organizations that were clandestine to a greater or lesser extent: the Carbonari in Italy and the states on the Mediterranean rim,27 the Union of Salvation (1816) (Союз спасения; Soiuz spaseniia) and the Union of Welfare (1818) (Союз благоденствия; Soiuz blagodenstviia) in the Russian officer corps, and the student fraternities (Burschenschaften) and sport clubs in the German Confederation.
The fact that revolutionary and liberalizing efforts in the 1820s were repeatedly defeated by the intervention of conservative forces contributed to the interconnection of these networks across state borders in two respects. Firstly, individuals whose membership of these networks became known and who managed to escape arrest and execution were forced to leave their native countries. They went to similar places, which became the hubs of liberal networks – in particular, the metropoles of liberal states, such as London, Paris, Brussels and Zürich. Here liberal salons became places where personal contacts were maintained, while news about the protagonists and their activities spread more widely – to the extent that censorship allowed, through the market for newspapers, pamphlets and books, as well as through letters, by means of illicitly imported texts passed along secretly, and through word of mouth.
Secondly, after 1820 the struggle for liberal values seemed like a Europe-wide project, at times even a transatlantic project, in which one could join the fight literally on various fronts. Thus, the Cologne liberal Franz Raveaux (1810–1851) participated in the Belgian Revolution in 1830, and then in the Spanish Civil War in 1831–1835. After the failed revolution in Genoa in the kingdom of Sardinia in 1834, the activist Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882) spent the period 1836–1848 serving as a soldier in South America. The English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788–1824) died as a volunteer for the Greek Revolution. Gerolamo Ramorino (1792–1849), a native of Genoa who trained at the French military academy Saint-Cyr, participated in every large revolutionary event from the Napoleonic Wars to the Polish campaign of 1831 and subsequently the actions of Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872) and the Roman Republic of 1849. These connections assumed institutional form through associations which formed around individual activists, such as the "Young Italy" association founded by Giuseppe Mazzini in 1831, which in 1834 was expanded (predictably in exile in Switzerland) through the formation of a "Young Poland" and a "Young Germany" to give a "Young Europe".
At the centres of liberal political emigration, individuals and groups received support from wealthy and politically influential figures, which ranged from welcoming them into their salons and circles, to finding them employment and ways of earning money, to organizing financial support for them through charitable events. The network of Henry Richard Vassall-Fox (Lord Holland) (1773–1840) in England, and the network around the former Russian minister Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770–1861) in France, who had fought for Polish independence in 1830 and subsequently went into exile in Paris, were examples of this.
Political groupings (or individual members of these) were sometimes able through the publication of newspapers and journals, journalistic texts and books to not just generate media attention, but also an income, which could be used to promote their political aims. Some liberal politicians also travelled to find out more about the situation in other countries and formed networks in the process; Richard Cobden's (1804–1865) visits to the European continent in the 1830s are an examples. A small number of governments also propagated liberal views. For example, the British government promoted the spread of the idea of free trade.28
As discussed above, the boundaries between liberal, "radical" and socialist networks were blurred. One reason for this was that the distinction between liberal, radical and socialist positions was heavily dependent on the political climate and the structure of the constitution in the respective country. Things that represented normal practice or at most a modest reform proposal in one country seemed in other countries like evidence of uncompromisingly radical opposition – for example, calls for ministers who were answerable to a parliamentary majority, and calls for a written constitution and the guarantee of fundamental rights. A position could lead to one getting expelled from Switzerland as a result of pressure from neighbouring states, but in Britain the same position – while not enjoying majority support – could be viewed as worthy of protection. This was illustrated by the scandal that occurred in 1844 when it became public knowledge that the British government had been opening Mazzini's letters to find out more about his activities and his networks, and had passed on this information to other governments.29
The difficulty of differentiating between liberal and radical positions also resulted from the overlap in personnel between liberal and radical circles, and the gradual development of radical positions out of liberal values by some advocates of these values. For example, Karl Marx (1818–1883) moved to Paris in 1843 after the "Rheinische Zeitung", of which he was the editor and which was financed by liberal Cologne businessmen, was banned by the Prussian government for being too radical.30 In Paris, Marx maintained contact with the political left of France, with exiled German Left-Hegelians like Arnold Ruge (1802–1880), who had also been driven to Paris by Prussian censorship, and with representatives of the workers' movement. Marx's biographical development and his part in writing the Communist Manifesto did not prevent the same Cologne financiers from supporting in 1848 the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which now explicitly described itself as an "Organ der Demokratie" (organ of democracy).31
Differences in organizational forms between liberal networks and more radical networks resulted not least from the different levels of persecution they faced, but also from the social profile of the respective groups. In the case of radical movements, the connection with "workers", tradesmen and journeymen was stronger. Travelling journeymen played a more prominent role as a connection between organizations, and there was less trust in established modes of communication such as the post.32 However, there were scarcely any differences of principle in this regard. As soon as the pressure of persecution reduced, radical movements also employed the organizational form of the (political) association.
It is difficult to determine the size of political networks. Easily identifiable positions – whether it be support for the monarchy and the "Holy Alliance", or "Jacobinism" or "communism" – were sometimes attributed to individuals as a realistic assessment of their position, but in other cases it was an effort to defame them. The further away one moves from individuals who were well known and can be clearly linked to a political position, the more nebulous the composition and structure of networks become. Networks also proved very changeable over time. People were constantly drawing nearer to these networks or pulling away from them. Internal differences and splits occurred and were plastered over again. Personal positions, scope for action and priorities were constantly shifting. While the party affiliations of members of the politically active electorate – which up to 1848 usually only constituted a minority of the adult male population – can be at least approximately determined in parliamentary systems using the election results, this is more difficult in other political systems. Estimations thus vary from the (generally not very plausible) assumption of a largely apolitical population to a more nuanced description of the political mood.33
It is clear, however, that political allies and political opponents alike tended to overestimate the size and stability of political networks. While the political opposition after 1815 suspected that the influence of the "Holy Alliance" was behind many developments, in the revolutionary period and after 1815 governments often assumed – on the basis of limited and often interest-driven information – the existence of opposition networks with large memberships. The assumption that a global conspiracy existed, which was common among conservative ministers, was largely generated by the political imagination of a few statesmen and members of the secret police.34 Beliefs about political threats were often overly simplistic and only loosely connected with reality, which was much more complex.
This reality consisted on the one hand of long-distance and long-lasting connections between individuals with similar ideological sympathies, which in some cases survived the whole period from the French Revolution to the Revolution of 1848 – particularly in cases where they were strengthened by additional ties such as personal friendships, family ties or similar fields of activity. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for individuals to undergo an ideological reorientation with direct consequences for networks, which were often kept alive by a small number of people and which, due to the lack of a formal organization and their uncertain financial situation, proved particularly changeable.
Additionally, both in conservative and in liberal contexts the geographical range of networks could be restricted by their aims. Thus, on the conservative side the focus on the ruling dynasty and the state competed with the goal of a general anti-revolutionary policy, though loyalty to one's own dynasty ultimately trumped the latter. On the liberal side, there was widespread support for a reordering of Europe on the basis of nation-states that were at least constitutional and preferably also democratic, but this could turn – just when political success was close at hand – into enmity due to disputes over specific territories, as happened between the advocates of a German nation-state and the advocates of a Polish nation-state.35
For European political networks, the years between the French Revolution and the revolutions of the mid-19th century were a period of transition. During the Enlightenment, networks had to a large degree revolved around individuals, but by the latter half of the 19th century more institutionalized "parties" had emerged. While organizational forms changed and personal networks retained considerable importance, political figures became more clearly differentiated in their views, and in some parts of the political spectrum the positions of parties also became more clearly discernible. These positionings in many cases became considerably more fixed during the Revolution of 1848.
With the spread of constitutional monarchy to central and southern Europe and the extension of the vote to a majority of the adult male population (ranging from almost universal male suffrage in France to the universal but very unevenly weighted three-class franchise in Prussia), there was a growing opportunity and incentive to found explicitly political associations with a potentially very large social reach. Though the legal status of "parties" remained controversial and even in the same country they could range from permanent structures to purely electioneering associations, networks of institutions could now emerge as a complement to, or a replacement for, networks of individuals. In some cases this still included a keenness to cooperate and organize across state borders (for example in the "Internationals" of the workers' movement), but there was in many cases a growing focus on organizing political success within the individual state, and the intensity of cross-border political connections consequently decreased.