In Honor of Franz Joseph
Carlo Lottieri and Carlo
by Carlo Stagnaro
the European ruling classes are trying to unify the continent by
adopting a radical socialist approach, a few people have been getting
together in recent days in the north-eastern Italian village of
Giassico. They come from Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Croatia,
the Czech Republic, Italy, and all the other countries which were
once part of the Habsburg Empire.
meetings have been organized by the Associazione
Culturale Mitteleuropea (Middle European Cultural Association)
every year since 1975 on the weekend the nearest to the anniversary
of Emperor Franz Joseph’s birth (b. August 18th, 1830 – d. October
21st, 1916). Why do these people find it important to keep the candle
of his memory alive almost a century after the end of the Empire?
Why do many others join them spiritually, if not physically?
politically correct media, not to mention history books, say that
the Empire was the anachronistic relict of past ages. It represented
all that democratic, socialist and egalitarian culture condemns:
an institution whose roots were in the Roman Catholic tradition,
and very aware of the cultural and religious complexity of Central
Europe; the idea that we can live within institutions with no national
identity; the view that the Emperor got his authority directly from
God and for this reason his power was limited by well-defined moral
rules; and finally, an order descending from the Middle Ages.
World War I, the Jacobin spirit triumphed over Western society.
President Wilson’s "project of a new American century"
(as his modern heirs would define it) needed to normalize the Austrian
exception. As Ralph
Raico notes, "Wilson was a ‘progressive,’ a leader in the
movement that advocated using the full power of government to create
‘real democracy’ at home. But Wilson’s horizons were much broader
than the United States. Preaching the gospel of ‘making the world
safe for democracy,’ he aimed to extend the progressive creed to
the ends of the earth. More than Franklin Roosevelt himself, Woodrow
Wilson is the patron saint of the ‘exporting democracy’ clique in
propaganda put the three Central Empires (Austria-Hungary, Germany,
and Turkey) in the same category of non-democratic regimes. However,
Vienna was not the capital of a centralized, militaristic, and despotic
system. Emperor Franz Joseph viewed himself as first among public
servants. He well knew that the entire world was radically changing;
there was no place for his ancient imperial institutions. Notwithstanding,
he conceived his own life as a service to "my peoples"
(as he always called all the people of the Empire) because the very
existence of the Empire was in their interest. For centuries, Empire
was a guarantee for many small nations which could have not survived
otherwise – or at least would have found it much harder. It is not
by chance that Jews lived much better in that Catholic Empire than
in the neighbouring nation-states, whether Protestant or Orthodox.
And when the old order disappeared and Vienna became only the capital
of a small state in the Alps, that space was quickly occupied by
the Nazi army and, after World War II, by Soviet imperialism. (Erik
von Kuehnelt-Leddihn told the story of an arrogant Teddy Roosevelt
calling on Franz Joseph and asking what possible point there could
be to a monarch in the modern 20th century. "To protect my peoples
from their governments," replied the Emperor.)
Joseph Roth points out in his masterpiece, The
Emperor’s Tomb, "The so called extraordinary is obvious
for Austria-Hungary. By this I mean that only in this crazy Europe
of nation-states and nationalists what is obvious seems bizarre...
Austria’s soul is not the centre, it is the periphery. Austria should
not be looked for in the Alps, where they have chamois and edelweiss
and gentian, but no idea of what the two-headed Eagle is. The substance
of Austria is fed and ever restored in the territories of the Crown."
In other words, Roth remarks that imperial institutions were important
especially because they gave security and protection to the mosaic
of small communities of Central Europe and the Balkans.
old Habsburg Empire was 676,616 square kilometres in size and had
52 million inhabitants, including 12 million Austrians, 10 million
Hungarians, 5 million Poles, more than 5 million Serbs and Croatians,
4 million Ruthenians, less than 9 million Czechs and Slovaks, and
1 million Tridentate, Venetians and Friuli’s. There were 34 million
Roman Catholics, 4.5 million Orthodox, as many Protestants, 2.5
million Jews, and 700,000 Muslims. The peaceful coexistence of such
different realities was granted by the structure of the Empire.
This complexity prevented any single identity from emerging as a
leader able to impose uniformity on the others.
Franz Joseph’s reign (18481916), Vienna was not only the capital
of a wealthy Empire, but also the cultural capital of the whole
world. The major philosophers, scientists, and artists of the time
had their roots within the Empire: Brahms and Kafka, Doderer and
Klimt, Brentano and Mahler, Husserl and Kokoschka, Freud and Popper,
Wittgenstein and Kelsen, and so forth. And, of course, the Austrian
school of economics owes its name to the fact that Carl Menger had
the opportunity to work and develop a new economic theory in Vienna.
By noting that, we don’t mean that Franz Joseph was some sort of
patron; indeed, most intellectuals lived without his support (though
he did hire Menger as tutor to his son, the Crown Prince). The point
is that culture finds the ideal conditions to emerge in a context
of liberty and wealth; and especially in a society which understands
the central importance of exchange and debate. The Soviet Union
and Nazi Germany could not tolerate internal dissent, and thus knew
less intellectual vivacity. In fact, most worthy intellectuals were
dissidents who "needed" to be purged....
merit of Franz Joseph, then, was that he understood the importance
of and was able to manage such a pluralistic organization. While
in other parts of Europe the idea was growing that the state must
coincide with the nation (i.e., it should have one language, one
religion, one culture), the Empire was a miraculous example of spontaneous
pluralism (which is the contrary of multi-culturalism imposed by
force). Since it couldn’t define itself in terms of language, race,
religion, etc., it was able to maintain a regime of liberty until
its fall in World War I.
the Empire, as those in Giassico are doing, is a way of expressing
nostalgia for the traditional, tolerant Europe which was literally
destroyed by nationalism and socialism. The Empire certainly had
democratic bodies; however, its odd and old-fashioned equilibrium
of powers and traditions prevented the dramatic rise of "national"
exploitation and the consequent decline of liberty that other nations
experienced at least 50 years before Austria. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe
would say, the democratic devil tempted Austria and could conquer
it by the harsh apple of war.
Werfel once said that "nation-states are demoniac units by
their own essence." For this reason, the Austrian novelist
celebrated the wisdom of the Austrian Empire, pointing out the impossibility
(in Vienna, Prague or Budapest) of creating a mystic and romantic
idea of the nation-state.
fact, the Empire was only a large space where small, different communities
could live together with their natural rights protected. Significantly
enough, Franz Joseph was always opposed to the anti-semitic movement
of Karl Lueger, the Christian-Socials: "any anti-semitic movement
should be halted at its birth." He repeatedly vetoed Lueger’s
election as Mayor of Vienna, showing how the "absolute"
power of the Emperor was less absolute, and far less dangerous than
the power of democratic bodies. The fall of Austria-Hungary left
the road free for all the nationalisms, including Mussolini’s and
could infer that today’s neo-conservative project; that is, building
an American Empire, follows the example of Austria-Hungary, and
therefore libertarians should support it. Unfortunately not. George
W. Bush will not be a new Franz Joseph. Basically, the Habsburg
Empire was a multi-national, largely pre-state Empire, while what
the former Trotskyites who are running the federal government aim
at creating is one global, stars-and-stripes state. They want to
create a super-state at a global level, while the old Empire was
the survival of a completely different way of organizing social
we compare it to US imperialism, the European Union is actually
part of the same paradigm. In Paris, Berlin or Rome we don’t have
ruling classes determined to conquer the world – probably because
they do not have a strong enough army – but it’s evident that they
would like the United Nations to become a legislative body with
democratic elections and an absolute power – some sort of command
and control headquarters.
contrast, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was implicitly "federalist";
within it the instances of local communities were taken into great
account. While both the EU and the forthcoming American Empire are
modelled on the basis of the modern nation-state, the old Empire
had its roots in medieval polycentrism and pluralism, and was the
heritage of Catholic universalism, which was peculiar to Europe
before the idea of "sovereignty" deeply harmed all those
are very good reasons to praise the memory of the Emperor Franz
Joseph of Habsburg.
Stagnaro [send him mail]
co-edits the libertarian magazine "Enclave"
and edited the book "Waco.
Una strage di stato americana." Here's his
website. Carlo Lottieri [send
him mail] teaches Philosophy of Law in Siena (Italy)
and he’s the author of "Il pensiero libertario contemporaneo"
(Macerata: Liberilibri, 2001).
© 2003 LewRockwell.com