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Rudolf’s Sad Descent and the Habsburg Fall

Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs, Greg King and Penny Wilson, St Martin’s Press, 273 pages [1]

At approximately ten past six on the snowy morning of January 30, 1889, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary emerged from his bedroom in the remote hunting lodge at Mayerling, deep in the Vienna Woods. Dressed in his usual hunting clothes, the 30-year-old prince entered the small anteroom, closing the bedroom door behind him. He was met by his valet, Loschek, who was given meticulous instructions to prepare the horse and carriages needed for the day’s hunt. The prince made it clear, though, that he was not to be disturbed until half past seven and that under no circumstances was anybody to come near his room.

Within a couple of minutes two gunshots were fired.

Adhering to his instructions, Loschek refused to approach the room for 90 minutes. But when he finally did, the valet needed an axe and blade to chop through the bolted door.

Entering the room, Loschek saw Baroness Mary Vetsera, Prince Rudolf’s mistress, lying slumped on the right side of the bed. A single bullet had entered the 17-year-old’s left temple, traversing her skull at roughly a 33-degree downward trajectory, passing from the upper left temple to the brain. Not far away lay Rudolf, also dead.

The imperial physician, Dr. Hermann Widerhofer, arrived from Vienna a little after midday to inspect the bloodbath: “I hope I may never see such a sight again,” he remarked. “There was blood everywhere. It stained the pillows, it bespattered the walls and it had flowed in a sluggish stream from the bed to the floor [making] a horrible pool.”

Mary was in full rigor mortis, while Rudolf was only in the primary stages. It appeared he shot his lover approximately six hours before he turned the gun on himself, meaning the baroness already was dead when Rudolf issued his instructions to Loschek. Rudolf’s head was so badly damaged that a mortician spent many hours reconstructing the prince’s head and face with wax and paint. He completed the job just in time for the royal funeral in Vienna, which was attended by more than 100,000 people.

The prince and his mistress both left suicide notes. Mary’s farewell words were addressed to her mother, Helene Vetsera, no stranger herself to promiscuous love affairs in high Viennese society. “Dear Mother!” the note began. “Forgive me for what I have done; I could not resist in love. In agreement with [Rudolf] I wish to be buried by his side in the cemetery at Alland. I am happier in death than in life. Your Mary.” Rudolf wrote four separate farewell notes, including one to his valet, the last man to see him alive: “Dear Loschek,” he wrote: “Fetch a priest and have [Mary and me] buried together in a grave at Heiligenkreuz.”

change_me

The lovers’ final wishes—romantic and Shakespearean, as they appeared in prose—were blithely ignored by Emperor Franz Josef I and his wife, Empress Elisabeth, who viewed their son’s final act as a great source of shame. Maintaining some semblance of dignity became their central concern. Publicly, of course, the emperor grieved for his son. Privately, he may have been relieved in some ways, as Rudolf’s erratic behavior had become a source of embarrassment at court. As heir to the Habsburg throne, the 30-year-old prince once had held great promise, hope, and initiative. But now, with so much controversy and potential criminality connected to the Mayerling tragedy, a cover up by the Habsburg family was quickly set in motion.

The autopsy report from Mayerling remains missing to this day. What little is known of its findings comes from excerpts released by the imperial court three days after the deaths, but given their obvious bias the excerpts can hardly be seen as reliable evidence. It was noted, for instance, that the prince ended his own life in a “state of mental derangement.” The Habsburgs initially sought to cover up the suicide as a heart attack. But such lies and changing narratives raised prospects that the prince could be denied a Catholic burial. Thus suicide was reluctantly declared as the cause of death, along with revelations of an unsound mind. Under strict Catholic doctrine, suicide under normal circumstances was considered a terrible sin.

But that left the need to keep the murder of the prince’s mistress, and the affair itself, a secret. Remarkably, there was no mention in any public statements at the time about Mary Vetsera. Based on instructions from the imperial court, she was buried in secret in an unmarked grave. Indeed, within hours of Mary’s death, the Habsburgs had instructed her mother, Helene Vetsera, to leave Vienna, lest she blow the lid on the coverup. On the day of her daughter’s funeral, Helene Vetsera complained that she had been “treated like a criminal.” A short obituary, documenting Mary’s death, was published in a provincial Austrian newspaper by Helene Vetsera. Written by the Habsburgs, it reported falsely that Mary had died while travelling to Venice.

She had been the mistress of Prince Rudolf for almost a year and had become a regular feature of gossip in the salons and coffee houses of Vienna, even gaining a reputation as a promiscuous young social climber with a penchant for connecting with red-blooded high rollers from the Austrian aristocracy. The veil of secrecy that followed Mary’s death was so clinical, however, that her name would not appear in any Viennese newspaper for 29 years, until the curtain finally fell on the Habsburg monarchy in 1918.

More than a century later, many mysteries still surround that gruesome episode. What set of events led Rudolf and his mistress to meet such a cataclysmic end? Was it a suicide pact of lovers…or a cold-blooded murder…or did something far more disturbing take place inside that bedroom in 1889? Finding answers, at today’s remove, is rendered all the more difficult by the gossip, rumor, conspiracy theorizing, hearsay, and loaded emotion that emerged in the wake of those bloody events.

Still, Greg King and Penny Wilson, two esteemed authors on European imperial history, doggedly pursue answers to such questions. Their rigorously researched Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and The End of the Habsburgs makes excellent use of numerous interviews with members of the Habsburg family as well as recently released archival material on the Habsburg dynasty in Vienna. The analysis and commentary are measured and insightful. As both authors explain, sentimental romanticism is so strong today in modern Austria that many still refuse to accept that Rudolf shot himself or that he killed Mary Vetsera.

Unsurprisingly, many explanatory conspiracy theories have surfaced over the decades, including: the prince faked his own death and moved to the United States; his suicide letters were cynical forgeries; he was murdered for political reasons. Some have pointed a finger at Berlin as originator of some of this speculation. German Chancellor Otto von Bismark, it is noted, always publicly expressed his disdain for the idea of Rudolf eventually ascending to the Habsburg throne.

But there is also what is known as the Hungarian conspiracy. Although Rudolf had once insisted that the country must forever remain part of the Habsburg empire, his views softened over time.

And King and Wilson give a great deal of evidence here to suggest that Rudolf was secretly pledging to support a rebellion that would give him the Hungarian crown. In essence, a coup against his own father for the glory of the Hungarian throne.

Moreover, both authors claim that any of Rudolf’s papers related to his Hungarian plans mysteriously vanished from the Habsburg archives.

This Hungarian conspiracy lays out the claim that Franz Josef learned of his son’s plot in late January 1889, where he then confided in his uncle Archduke Albrecht, who planned to confront Rudolf at a family dinner. But when Rudolf failed to show up, and went to Mayerling instead—so the story theory goes—a small group of trusted soldiers were dispatched to arrest Rudolf: a scuffle broke out killing Rudolf and Mary in the process.  

King and Wilson impressively adhere to the facts at hand and make their judgments based on the limited available evidence. That evidence suggests, they write, that only two people were responsible for the Mayerling events: Rudolf and Mary. Yet exactly what took place behind the locked bedroom door can never truly be known. There is no question, however, that Rudolf’s mental state deteriorated progressively over the last two years of his life. The authors believe he probably suffered from what modern psychologists call bipolar disorder.

But Rudolf also felt disconnected and isolated from his family and friends during this period. He and Franz Josef were worlds apart in their politics and also in temperament. The reactionary emperor ruled his kingdom with a firm hand, believing that God had put him on the throne to preside over his subjects with paternal authority. The bureaucratic emperor had little time for books, ideas, or even people as he went about the drudgery of tending to the papers on his desk, seldom making distinctions on what was crucially important and what was merely routine.

The rebellious son turned his back on the father’s values and rejected anything that smacked of conservatism. He welcomed robust change, both for his father’s vast empire and for Europe at large. Given his rebellious nature, Rudolf carelessly began sharing sensitive political and diplomatic information publicly, which undermined his father’s trust. Although heir to one of Europe’s oldest royal dynasties, Rudolf was forbidden to publicly express any kind of intellectual or political ideals. Humiliated and condemned to the role of passive onlooker at court, the frustrated prince took to a life of decadent pleasure-seeking involving women, booze, and drugs.

Even by the liberal sexual mores of the Viennese aristocracy at the time, Rudolf’s sexual appetites were considered excessive. Despite his marriage to Princess Stephanie of Belgium, the prince openly pursued prostitutes and flights of drunkenness. It seems he contracted gonorrhoea and passed it on to his wife. Interestingly, the same fate befell Rudolf’s mother, Elizabeth, who apparently contracted the dreaded sexual disease from Franz Josef a generation before.

The close correlations between the prince’s unstable mental state and the symptoms of gonorrhoea—infected eyes, joint pains, insomnia, and a continual sense of nervous restlessness—are difficult to overlook. In fact, it has been suggested that the prince suffered from syphilis, a more deadly disease that, if not treated, can lead to brain deterioration. Indeed, some autopsy snippets leaked to the press shortly after the prince’s death hinted at some unnamed abnormality in Rudolf’s brain. In any event, attempting to numb his physical and mental ailments, the prince increasingly dabbled with drugs such as cocaine, morphine, and opium.

He also began to talk openly, usually after copious amounts of brandy and champagne, about death and suicide.

His own wife even wrote that Rudolf “suffered more and more from nervous unrest and from violent temper, culminating in what was tantamount to complete mental decay.” Their relationship deteriorated, with Rudolf even threatening to shoot the crown princess and then turn the gun on himself.

“I no longer find it within me to worry about anything at all,” Rudolf confided to Latour von Thurmberg in the October before his death. To another confidante he wrote, “The pursuit of high ideals has died within me.”

♦♦♦

The prince was not alone among royal family members in suffering mental disorders. Numerous relatives on both sides of the prince’s family showed signs of insanity and mental illness. And the authors suggest that this dark tendency in the prince towards anxiety and depression may have been hereditary, stemming from some kind of genetic dysfunction brought on by generations of incestuous marriages of first cousins. Franz Ferdinand, who became archduke after Rudolf’s death, once remarked of his extended royal family that “man and wife are always related to each other twenty times over [and] that the result is that half of the children are idiots or epileptics.”

As the new heir to the Habsburg throne, Franz Ferdinand looked ahead to ruling over a polyglot empire of disparate lands artificially united beneath the yellow and black imperial banner that had ruled Europe’s preeminent Catholic dynasty since the 13th century. In the summer of 1914, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie visited Sarajevo, in Bosnia, then rent by powerful crosscurrents of ethnic and sectarian animosity. Twenty-six years earlier, Rudolf and Stephanie had visited the Bosnian city amid worries of possible assassination. Nothing happened. But the successor archduke and his wife would not be so lucky.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand was once called an unexpected gift from Mars to the Viennese war party. Austria-Hungary accused the Serbian government of involvement in the assassination and issued an ultimatum to Serbia in late July 1914 that was intended to strip the Balkan nation of much of its sovereignty. When Serbia complied nonetheless because of fears of its fate in any resulting war, Vienna upped the ante and war became inevitable, with the entire balance of power throughout Europe now threatened. The localized Balkan conflict quickly turned into a global conflagration. By the time the Great War ended four years later, the Tsarist, Habsburg, Ottoman, and German empires had all collapsed, and their crowned heads were all gone. The European continent and the world would never be the same.

It is probably idle to speculate on how things might have turned out differently had Crown Prince Rudolf not ended his life that frigid winter morning in 1889, just 25 years before the Great War commenced. It’s entirely possible that, given Rudolf’s physical and psychological impairments, the history of Austria-Hungary and of Europe might have moved in even more nasty and distasteful directions. One needn’t engage in any counterfactual history, though, to find satisfaction in this very human story, rendered in stark yet sensitive prose in this volume, that serves as a kind of table setting for Europe’s final game of thrones.  

JP O’ Malley is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. He has written for a number of newspapers and publications around the globe, including the Irish Times, the Sunday Independent, the Washington Post, The Weekly Standard, the Chicago Tribune, and numerous others.

 

23 Comments (Open | Close)

23 Comments To "Rudolf’s Sad Descent and the Habsburg Fall"

#1 Comment By Youknowho On January 3, 2018 @ 8:45 am

Alas, you have deprived us of such a romantic tale with this reality-based approach…

#2 Comment By Conewago On January 3, 2018 @ 10:15 am

The fall of Austria = divine punishment for their decadence. They even lied to the clergy to get their boy his proper burial. Despicable.

#3 Comment By Slugger On January 3, 2018 @ 12:22 pm

There have been a couple of postings on this site recently that tend to romanticize the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My ancestors lived in what is now Poland but was under the Habsburg rule prior to WW I. It is my impression from my family that imperial rule was not something they wanted. There were several periods of civil unrest and mass outmigration from Galicia in the 19th century. We celebrate the collapse of the USSR and its dominion over eastern/central Europe during the late 20th century, and while I freely acknowledge that the Habsburgs were a lot better than Stalin we should recognize that many in Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, etc., celebrated the end of the Habsburg empire in their time.

#4 Comment By Liam On January 3, 2018 @ 12:51 pm

And, were the Habsburg empire suddenly revived in some form, the non-Hungarians would immediately wary of inevitable Hungarian bids for dominance thereof.

#5 Comment By hooly On January 3, 2018 @ 1:22 pm

A cautionary tale for those Reactionaries out there who despise Democracy and yearn for a Christian Monarchy again.

#6 Comment By Colonel Bogey On January 3, 2018 @ 1:46 pm

Actually, the Ottoman sultanate didn’t end with the Great War in 1918, but lasted until 1922. The Ottoman caliphate didn’t end until 1924. The Crown Prince Rudolf, with his grandiose liberal ideas, would not have been a good emperor-king. Francis Ferdinand would probably have been better, had he lived. It is probable that he would have arranged for the succession of his son by the Countess Sophie, Prince Maximilian von Hohenberg, who was competent and conservative. But that would have moved the line of succession away from Charles (now a beatified saint) and his son Otto. We can’t second-guess Divine Providence.

#7 Comment By Steve Naidamast On January 3, 2018 @ 2:13 pm

As to the comments from “Slugger”, I too have met people in Austria whose family lived under Hapsburg rule and were also not happy under the empire.

However, according to a definitive study by Edward Crankshaw, “The Fall of the House of Hapsburg”, he lays out a completely different view of emperor Franz Josef to which he attributes a character of greatness never equaled by other European monarchs. Franz Josef was a man of his time who ruled his empire with the intent that all his subjects should benefit since their welfare was inextricably entwined with the destiny of the Hapsburg dynasty. To this end Franz Josef accomplished some remarkable achievements, one of them being experimentation with different forms of rule.

However, as it regarded Rudolph, even Crankshaw demonstrates that Franz Josef was a terrible father and father figure. He had little time for Rudolph and would not allow him even in his later years to learn or understand anything about the governance of the empire.

Such isolation from not only a father but the expected duties as the heir apparent may have led to terrible depressions as his early brain formed abnormally under such poor conditions of proper socialization.

No doubt, the findings in this new book should lend substantial weight to alternative or possibly additional reasons as to why Rudolph’s personality had a sense of the erratic to it.

Nonetheless, according Crankshaw, Rudolph did want to reform the governance of the empire to be a more liberal order. With his death Franz Ferdinand wanted to do the same and would have enacted new policies that would have appeased the Hungarian upstarts who wanted their own national sovereignty.

As a student of WWI history, the only comment I would make about this otherwise very interesting and informative piece concerns the Viennese reaction to the Serbian assassination of the Archduke.

In this regard, there was a lot of animosity by the Viennese military high command under Hotzendorf and numerous politicians who saw Serbia as a literal pain in the butt as Serbian forces and other fighters were constantly nipping at the Austrian borders causing all sorts of mayhem and disruption. As a result it was this group of people who wanted to wipe Serbia out. However, not all Austrians wanted a conflict with Serbia. Nonetheless, the Viennese devised a set of demands that were designed to be refused, though surprisingly the Serbian government acquiesced to most of them. And though there is evidence that members of the Serbian government were aligned with the Black Hand, the group that set up the assassination of the Archduke, the government itself so far has shown not to have been in league with that terrorist organization.

It should be noted also here that the assassination of the Archduke was not the cause of WWI or even initiated it. Even after this tragedy no one was rushing into a war footing until six weeks later when Austria made its punitive attack on Serbia. Instead of simply assisting the Serbian Army, which in the end needed no such assistance since it would summarily defeat the Austrians, Russia instead mobilized its own armed forces causing the entangled alliances to come into play; specifically between France and Russia. Mobilization of armed forces up through WWII was a definitive indication in Europe that a nation was intent of entering into armed conflict…

#8 Comment By Waz On January 3, 2018 @ 2:50 pm

@Slugger

Yes, the Polish factor is as important in the history of Austria as it’s commonly overlooked.
Poland, virtually single handedly,saved Austria from the Turkish conquest in 1683. In less than century later Austria, to it’s shame, took part in the partitions of Poland, grabbing among others, Galicia. Prussia, it’s partner in crime, strenghtend by the Polish loot, grabbed Silesia from Austria and the process of Austria’s imperial demise had begun. The most egregious strategic mistake of the Hapsburgs was not to enter into alliance with Poland, the largest Catholic country in Europe. This alliance would have lead to creation of a very stable Austro-Hungarian-Polish state, given the long standing Polish tradition of pacta sund servanda, as well as the tradition of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, the largest union of two countries created entirely by peaceful means, 400 years old by the time of partitions. Such a very powerful state would have completely changed balance of power in Europe for a long time and neither the Bolshevik revolution nor WWI would have happened.

#9 Comment By Dennis On January 3, 2018 @ 3:11 pm

Typically trite amerocentric analysis of the Holy Roman Empire.

#10 Comment By mrscracker On January 3, 2018 @ 3:29 pm

Thank you for this sad story. I’d only heard the more sanitized, romantic version.

#11 Comment By Conewago On January 3, 2018 @ 4:04 pm

Oh yeah, Dennis? Do you care to defend that analysis? It is an avowed fact that the successor state to the Holy Roman Empire had fallen into a kind of decadence which one associates more commonly with the worst of American Presidential administrations.

“Amerocentric”? That doesn’t make any sense at all, in light of the fact that America isn’t referenced at all.

I am very sympathetic to monarchism. I am not sympathetic to monarchies that fail to act in accordance with the DUTIES associated with divine RIGHTS.

#12 Comment By JonF On January 3, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

Re: Poland, virtually single handedly,saved Austria from the Turkish conquest in 1683.

The Turks might have taken Vienna but they would not have held it long. Their empire was already rotting from within and would soon begin its long, slow collapse. The real danger to Vienna, and to all Germany and Italy too, came in 1529 when Vienna was besieged by Suleiman the Magnificent– the Turks’ answer to Alexander the Great. The Emperor was too busy with his wars elsewhere to care, and his brother ran away and hid in Prague. The citizens of Vienna, with help from a capable German count they hired as general, held off the Turks until winter and a typhus outbreak forced Suleiman to retreat. Had he taken Vienna all of Germany– riven by religious dispute– lay open before him, though he might have turned south toward the treasures of Italy (also riven by the war between France and the Hapsburgs) instead.

#13 Comment By Kizhe On January 3, 2018 @ 4:57 pm

Please read a brilliant satirical book “Good Soldier Švejk” by Jaroslav Hašek about Austro-Hungarian empire at that period.

#14 Comment By Whine Merchant On January 3, 2018 @ 6:04 pm

Dear Friends,

This is one of the reasons I visit TAC. Commentators display genuine education about history and context as well as understanding about current affairs, share ideas, and keep their disagreements civil and reasoned. This is a site for [genuine] Conservatives, Libertarians, and even thoughtful Progressives to come together, seeking common ground rather than emphasising discord. Unlike some pseudo-conservative sites with their GOP/Tea Party diatribe, one can find constructive remarks about the topic at hand rather than invective.

Thank you –

#15 Comment By Toby Guise On January 3, 2018 @ 6:10 pm

Nice sketch of how honkingly f*cked up the late Hapsburgs were. Valets waiting attentively after the fatal shots were fired; faces being reconstructed; denials issues. Stone-dead 17 year old girls keeping company with living princes. Interestingly – yet unmentioned here – FF also got together with an unrelated commoner, which makes me think nature was asserting her wisdom against the pathological venality and self-regard of the Hapsburgs. They and their retrograde (effectively medieval) world-view caused both World Wars; with brash, ever-keen Germany taking the fall for both. And having done so, they swanned right into the late C20th with their Luegerging and their WW2 gun-platforms intact. Seriously, the only northern countries where Catholicism has done a blind bit of good are Slavic ones like Poland and bits of the Baltic. In Austria, Belgium and most of all Ireland, its been a disaster. But most of all, Austria.

#16 Comment By M. Orban On January 3, 2018 @ 11:27 pm

@Liam
The revival of any kind of Austro-Hungarian anything is the farthest thing from political reality. But technically you are correct, wariness of Hungarian ambitions are still there in those parts.

@Dennis
Franz Joseph’s Austria-Hungary has nothing to do with the Holy Roman Empire.

@Conewago
Hereditary autocracies, like monarchies are inherently unstable, dangerous structures of governance.
The Romans almost figured it out, but after the five good emperors there came Commodus. The middle ages are littered with subpar monarchs. In modern times the Showa emperor lead three million Japanese to their deaths and there was no one and no mechanism to stop the bloodbath.
Boing back to Austria-Hungary: we can debate the details, play what if-s, but one thing is certain: breathtaking political incompetence lead to the death of millions. And because of autocracy – and the culture of autocracy – there was no mechanism to stop the slaughter. My ancestors lived in those lands and some of them were nostalgic of those years… but I say good riddance of the Habsburgs. Every last one of them.

#17 Comment By peter On January 4, 2018 @ 10:53 am

The country ruled by Franz-Josef evolved from a basically absolute monarchy – Austria – to a a fairly democratic Austria-Hungary.
The Habsburgs were a very formal dynasty but were hard working and committed to the welfare of their subjects.
Franz-Jozef was concerned about his subjects and – for his time – he ruled over a country where merit mattered. The country was able to include in the ruling elites people of lower ancestry, with less concern about nationality or religion.
While the highest ranking aristocrats were mostly Catholic, there nobility included Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Jews.
Nationality mattered less – the Austro-Hungarian princes were Austrian, Hungarian, Polish, Czech. The same was true for lower ranking nobles. In fact, the ancestors of the Germanic sounding Habsburgs included Poles, Magyars, Czechs.
The country currency – the crown – was written in ten languages.
None of the successor states – not even the democratic Czecho-Slovakia – made this symbolic concession to national minorities.
The country was a global center of culture and science and had many beautiful cities all over. They were large: Viena, Budapest, Prague and smaller: Zagreb, Ljubljana, Lvov, Trieste.
The evolution of other European countries from absolute monarchies to democracies was bloody and many monarchs lost their heads. Not so with the Habsburgs.
Their motto was “to Austria felix nube” – – the ancient version of make love, not war!
Nationalism, with substantial help from France who wanted to eliminate the traditional Habsburg enemy, destroyed the country.
What was left was a collection of small countries, with lots of national minorities and bitterness.
The European Union could be Austria-Hungary’s grand-child.
Let’s hope it will have more success.

#18 Comment By Youknowho On January 4, 2018 @ 12:10 pm

Sad story, that of Rudolf.

I’d rather have the Charles Boyer/Danielle Darrieux version

#19 Comment By norman ravitch On January 6, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

Rudolph or no Rudolph. The Habsburg enterprise was an anachronism bound like the Ottoman empire and the Tsarist empire to fall.It had some good features but the future belonged to nationalism not imperial internationalism.

#20 Comment By connecticut farmer On January 7, 2018 @ 11:02 am

Reading this, is it any wonder that Bismarck warned his boss not to throw in his lot with Austria-Hungary? And for that, the “Iron Chancellor” was dismissed. Later, circa 1896, he predicted that the whole European house of cards would collapse in twenty years or so. This prediction turns out to be for all intents and purposes spot-on. As to how things would’ve turned out had the Kaiser heeded the words of his chancellor we will never know for sure, but with the benefit of hindsight it becomes more and more clear that Wilhelm II put his money on a losing horse–and lost his fortune in the process.

#21 Comment By DDT On January 8, 2018 @ 12:17 am

In recent decades, the study of Austria-Hungary and the Habsburg state has undergone a major resurgence and is now considered one of the most innovative areas in the field of history. It’s not surprising that many of the commentators hold to an older, retrograde vision of Austria-Hungary. Post WW1, the dominant myth of Austria-Hungary was that it was a creaking empire unable to reform, led by a reactionary dynasty unable to change. This was for a time a convenient myth and one that has yet to fade, especially in older circles. It’s important to note that there was strong incentive to de-legitimize the Habsburg state by every success nationalist government in the area, from the newly independent countries, to the Soviet controlled proxies. Yet for all its many faults, recent studies show that despite the rise of nationalism, it was by far one of the most ethnically, linguistically and religiously tolerant places in the world (where a Jew could for instance, rise in the government and military, where high civil service was dominated by a dozen ethnic groups, etc). Recent studies have shown that its government spearheaded policies very far ahead of its time in terms of regional rights, delocalized democracy, etc. It’s also easily forgotten by many that it was one of the most vibrant artistic, scientific and industrial countries in the world at the time.

The Habsburgs had a keen interested in promoting inter-ethnic, linguistic and regional cooperation, and in its last few decades began to promote economic development of even long neglected areas such as Galicia. Although the charge of stagnation could be leveled during some of those years, there is now a strong case to be made that had it not been for the fatal mistake of WW1, the wide-ranging reforms which began in the last few decades would have completely transformed the area and the Habsburgs may have continued to hold power over a very different empire. For those interested, I recommend new works such as “The Habsburg Empire” by Pieter M Judson, and for those with access to journals I recommend the works of John Deak.

#22 Comment By Ulrich MoE On January 24, 2018 @ 2:53 pm

Charming that right after the “We are so civilized entre nous” comment of Whine Merchant, Toby Guise spews trollish venom.” Interesting is the usual moral romp through past history to nationalistic markers or to what great-aunt Mabel said so as to “order” the telling correctly. Like the tongue going back to a sore tooth.

Sorry, history is telling us something? The fall of A-H is indicative of a grand narrative (likely), a narrative that is deep (not likely). And what kind of “conservative” is nationalistic? A vile deformation of political understanding.

#23 Comment By wraparound On February 20, 2018 @ 11:34 pm

good read here
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