The French Revolution

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What did Metternich mean by "When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold"? Was he correct?

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Metternich's phrase "When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold" means that political upheavals in France often lead to widespread consequences across Europe. He was correct, as the French Revolution and Napoleon's conquests significantly impacted European politics, leading to wars and the spread of revolutionary ideas. This influence persisted, inspiring liberal reforms and revolutions across Europe, especially in 1848.

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Metternich was an Austrian alive during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Era.  He would have been around to witness the revolution in France and its wide-reaching consequences, like involving his native Austria in a war to quell the rebellious revolutionaries and reinstate a monarch to the throne in France.  Once Napoleon took control of France with a coup d'Etat in 1799, Metternich witnessed Napoleon's attempt to create a French Empire that encompassed much of mainland Europe.

When Metternich used the metaphor "when France sneezes, Europe catches a cold", he was referencing both events.  When France's people rebelled against the absolute monarchy, the rest of Europe was tangled in the mess.  When Napoleon seized power as dictator in France, he brought his war and political goals all around Europe- from trying to plant his brothers and sisters on the thrones of other European kingdoms to attempting to expand French boundaries as far as Moscow.  

This metaphor can also be used to explain the series of liberal reforms that broke out in Europe a few decades after the French Revolution- most notably are the Revolutions of 1848, where liberal-backed revolutionaries fought back against the monarchies in their respective countries.  Many countries saw attempts at political reform or revolution, including Poland, Austria, Italy, and Russia among others.  These reforms were also partly inspired by the events of the French Revolution, which lends into Metternich's metaphor about how France impacts the rest of Europe.

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Prince Metternich (1773-1859), Austrian statesman, witnessed the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and, being one of the ruling class, become a reactionary, wishing to restore Europe to a pre-revolutionary "order" by containing and crushing any populist or revolutionary movements.

His quote is in reference to the movement among various Europeans who attempted to alter their various governments through revolution in the first half of the 1800's, following the example of the French Revolution, and culminating in wide unrest throughout Europe in 1848.  See link for a time line.

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What Metternich meant by this line was that France was the most important power in Europe.  He was saying that whatever happened in France affected every other country in Europe.  He does this via the metaphor of a cold -- by saying that germs that start out in France spread to the rest of Europe.

Metternich said this in the context of the Napoleonic era.  During that time, he was undoubtedly correct.  Everything that happened in France ended up affecting the rest of Europe because of the power that Napoleon and his army gave France.  This power allowed France to spread its ideas and influences across the continent.

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