Christopher Clark

Christopher Clark is Regius Professor of History at Cambridge. His books include The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

A Rock of Order: Through Metternich’s Eyes

Christopher Clark, 8 October 2020

In the course of a face-to-face meeting in Dresden in June 1813, Metternich, by now the Austrian foreign minister, reminded Napoleon of the appalling human cost of his wars. ‘In ordinary times,’ Metternich observed, ‘armies are formed of only a small part of the population. Today it is the whole people that you have called to arms.’ This was a matter also of ‘future generations’, he remarked, in reference to the extreme youth of many in the latest cohort of recruits who had perished on the Russian campaign. Napoleon made an extraordinary reply. ‘You are no soldier,’ he barked, ‘and you do not know what goes on in the soul of a soldier. I was brought up in military camps, I know only the camps, and a man such as I am does not give a fuck about the lives of a million men’ – ‘un homme comme moi se f(out) de la vie d’un million d’hommes.’ Metternich sometimes wondered how Napoleon did not shrink from himself in horror at the pain and injury he had inflicted. Here was the answer.

Still messing with our heads: Hitler in the Head

Christopher Clark, 7 November 2019

Knausgaard recalls the sensation of near nausea that overcame him as he began reading Mein Kampf: ‘Hitler’s words and Hitler’s thoughts were thereby admitted to my own mind and for a brief moment became a part of it.’ Brendan Simms confesses a similar apprehension: ‘the author,’ he writes, ‘has tried throughout to get into Hitler’s mind, without letting [Hitler] get into his.’ Whether Hitler gets into our minds, or we mislay something of our own inside his, it’s clear that this strange and hateful man, who has been dead for 74 years, is still messing with our heads.

Short Cuts: What would Bismarck do?

Christopher Clark, 26 September 2019

What​ would Otto von Bismarck, the chief architect of Germany’s 19th-century unification, do in the situation currently faced by the British government? This apparently esoteric question is more pertinent than one might think, because ‘what would Bismarck do?’ is something that Dominic Cummings, political playmaker to Boris Johnson, who has been ‘gaming’ the...

In their combination​ of intensity and geographical extent, the 1848 Revolutions were unique – at least in European history. Neither the French Revolution of 1789, nor the July Revolution of 1830, nor the Paris Commune of 1870, nor the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 sparked a comparable transcontinental cascade. While 1989 looks like a better comparator, there is still...

God bless Italy: Rome, Vienna, 1848

Christopher Clark, 10 May 2018

On the evening​ of 24 November 1848, Pope Pius IX fled from the city of Rome. At 5 p.m., he took off his Moroccan silk slippers with crosses embroidered on their uppers, put aside the red velvet papal cap and dressed himself in the black cassock and broad-brimmed hat of a country priest. Half an hour later, in a state of great agitation, he left the papal audience chamber in the Quirinale...

Some saw the collapse of the German Empire as a decisive and traumatic break in the historical continuity of the state. Nothing, in Christopher Clark’s view, more profoundly exemplified this revolt against...

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The weakness and unreliability of the alliances, and the lack of certainty about who would be on whose side, exacerbated the crisis of summer 1914.

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Black Legends: Prussia

David Blackbourn, 16 November 2006

Too much history can be bad for you. ‘The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’ – that was Marx’s famous comment on...

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