The real focus of the gathering was the image created, though the Europeans, even with the celebrity of our leader, can hardly hold a candle to the kind of spectacle put on by Napoleon at the Congress of Erfurt in 1808. Seeking to awe the Russian emperor Alexander and all the other European eminences with the glory of France, Napoleon even brought along the Comédie Française, which presented sixteen French tragedies over the course of the Congress. Goethe, who went to Erfurt on September 29 at the request of Carl August, attended a performance every night that he was in Erfurt. No doubt, he would have appreciated Carla Bruni. She is real French "culture"!
Goethe was certainly much impressed with Napoleon, who he believed would ensure the security of Europe and guarantee peace. As if peace could be secured once and for all, for ever. A description of their meeting can be found at this site. Though I haven't read his account, Arthur Schopenhauer seems to have been rather cynical about the proceedings at the Congress. I am with Arthur.
Europe, as much as it has meant for my own self-formation, seems to have lost its way. Every time I read European newspapers, I can't help but feel that Europe's leaders are ignoring the problems of their own peoples and countries ("democracy deficit" anyone? demographics? unsustainable spending?). Instead, as during the Enlightenment and into the early 19th century, Europe imagines that, via international agreements and diplomacy, it can fix the world's problems, "once and for all." The catch, of course, is Europe's reliance on the U.S. to turn over barrels of our own citizens' hard-earned money to Europe's enlightened ends. Well, we have plenty of Europeanists in America for whom all problems can be solved if only enough money is thrown at them.