For people of a certain temperament, politics should be all about spontaneity and the release of natural energies. In order to build a new Jerusalem, it is only necessary to raise a flag, sing a martial song and adorn the body with cockades and armbands. For a few months in the spring of 1848, it looked as though there might be something in this idea. In the great cities of Central Europe, students and artisans built barricades and demanded constitutions; in the countryside, peasants destroyed what was left of feudal institutions. The careers of prominent people as diverse as Prince Metternich and Lola Montez were dramatically ended. As Alexander Herzen remembered, in 1848 ‘all Europe took up its bed and walked ... I do not envy those who were not carried away by that exquisite dream’.
These events were all the more shocking because, in the previous thirty years, Europe had been governed by men of a very different temperament. Many of them recalled without pleasure the great revolution of 1789. These men could not distinguish between dissent and anarchy. With the assistance of censors and