In order to understand the foreign policy of Austria, inseparably Internal affairs of Austria under Francis II. and Metternich. associated with the name of Metternich, during the period from the close of the congress of Vienna to the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848, it is necessary to know something of the internal conditions of the monarchy before and during this time. In 1792 Leopold II. had been succeeded by his son Francis II. His popular designation of "our good Kaiser Franz" this monarch owed to a certain simplicity of address and bonhomie which pleased the Viennese, certainly not to his serious qualities as a ruler. He shared to the full the autocratic temper of the Habsburgs, their narrow-mindedness and their religious and intellectual obscurantism; and the qualities which would have made him a kindly, if somewhat tyrannical, father of a family, and an excellent head clerk, were hardly those required by the conditions of the Austrian monarchy during a singularly critical period of its history.
The personal character of the emperor, moreover, gained a special importance owing to the modifications that were made in the administrative system of the empire. This had been originally organized in a series of departments: Aulic chanceries for Austria, for Hungary and Transylvania, a general Aulic chamber for finance, domains, mines, trade, post, etc., an Aulic council of war, a general directory of accounts, and a chancery of the household, court and state. The heads of all these departments had the rank of secretaries of state and met in council under the royal presidency. In course of time, however, this body became too unwieldy for an effective cabinet, and Maria Theresa established the council of state. During the early years of the reign of Francis, the emperor kept himself in touch with the various departments by means of a cabinet minister; but he had a passion for detail, and after 1805 he himself undertook the function of keeping the administration together. At the same time he had no personal contact with ministers, who might communicate with him only in writing, and for months together never met for the discussion of business.
The council of state was, moreover, itself soon enlarged and subdivided; and in course of time the emperor alone represented any synthesis of the various departments of the administration. The jurisdiction of the heads of departments, moreover, was strictly defined, and all that lay outside this was reserved for the imperial decision. Whatever was covered by established precedent could be settled by the department at once; but matters falling outside such precedent, however insignificant, had to be referred to the throne. A system so inelastic, and so deadening to all initiative, could have but one result. Gradually the officials, high and low, subjected to an elaborate system of checks, refused to take any responsibility whatever; and the minutest administrative questions were handed up, through all the stages of the bureaucratic hierarchy, to be shelved and forgotten in the imperial cabinet. For Francis could not possibly himself deal with all the questions of detail arising in his vast empire, even had he desired to do so.
In fact, his attitude towards all troublesome problems was summed up in his favourite phrase, "Let us sleep upon it": questions unanswered would answer themselves.
The result was the gradual atrophy of the whole administrative machine. The Austrian government was not consciously tyrannical, even in Italy; and Francis himself, though determined to be absolute, intended also to be paternal. Nor would the cruelties inflicted on the bolder spirits who dared to preach reform, which made the Austrian government a by-word among the nations, alone have excited the passionate spirit of revolt which carried all before it in 1848. The cause of this is to be sought rather in the daily friction of a system which had ceased to be efficient and only succeeded in irritating the public opinion it was powerless to curb.
Metternich himself was fully conscious of the evil. He recognized that the fault of the government lay in the fact that it did not govern, and he deplored that his own function, in a decadent age, was but "to prop up mouldering institutions." He was not constitutionally averse from change; and he was too clear-sighted not to see that, sooner or later, change was inevitable. But his interest was in the fascinating game of diplomacy; he was ambitious of playing the leading part on the great stage of international politics; and he was too consummate a courtier to risk the loss of the imperial favour by any insistence on unpalatable reforms, which, after all, would perhaps only reveal the necessity for the complete revolution which he feared.
The alternative was to use the whole force of the government to keep things as they were. The disintegrating force of the ever-simmering racial rivalries could be kept in check by the army; Hungarian regiments garrisoned Italy, Italian regiments guarded Galicia, Poles occupied Austria, and Austrians Hungary. The peril from the infiltration of "revolutionary" ideas from without was met by the erection round the Austrian dominions of a Chinese wall of tariffs and censors, which had, however, no more success than is usual with such expedients. The peril from the independent growth of Liberalism within was guarded against by a rigid supervision of the press and the re-establishment of clerical control over education. Music alone flourished, free from government interference; but, curiously enough, the movements, in Bohemia, Croatia and elsewhere, for the revival of the national literatures and languages - which were to issue in the most difficult problem facing the Austrian government at the opening of the 20th century - were encouraged in exalted circles, as tending to divert attention from political to purely scientific interests.
Meanwhile the old system of provincial diets and estates was continued or revived (in 1816 in Tirol and Vorarlberg, 1817 in Galicia, 1818 in Carniola, 1828 in the circle of Salzburg), but they were in no sense representative, clergy and nobles alone being eligible, with a few delegates from the towns, and they had practically no functions beyond registering the imperial decrees, relative to recruiting or taxation, and dealing with matters of local police. Even the ancient right of petition was seldom exercised, and then only to meet with the imperial disfavour. And this stagnation of the administration was accompanied, as might have been expected, by economic stagnation. Agriculture languished, hampered, as in France before the Revolution, by the feudal privileges of a noble caste which no longer gave any equivalent service to the state; trade was strangled by the system of high tariffs at the frontier and internal octrois; and finally public credit was shaken to its foundations by lavish issues of paper money and the neglect to publish the budget.