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Post Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires "Beautiful"?
Created by John Eipper on 02/15/12 2:30 AM

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Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires "Beautiful"? (Alain de Benoist, -France, 02/15/12 2:30 am)

In response to my post of 14 February, JE asked:  "In what way are the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empires 'beautiful'? 'Dysfunctional' is the term we more commonly expect. Just ask the Good Soldier Schweik.

They were not perfect, of course. But I think they constituted two very achieved examples of multinational political bodies which, through a patient process of construction, reached a good equilibrium between unity (transcending the differences) and diversity (recognizing the liberties of the different peoples living together in the Empire). Quite the contrary of the Jacobine Nation-State. Unfortunately, as always, I do not have time enough to develop this judgment...

JE comments: I have a colleague in Political Science at Adrian College, Philip Howe, who is currently spending his sabbatical year in Vienna researching the Austro-Hungarian political system. I'll see if he'll comment.

Might the Ottoman and A-H Empires, the "Sick" and "Almost as Sick" Men of Europe, be ripe for a re-evaluation? We recently observed that Ottoman nostalgia appears to be on the rise in the Middle East--at the very least, Turkey is becoming very popular.  I sense this is due to Turkey's embracing modernity without "selling out" to the West.



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  • Austro-Hungarian Empire "Beautiful"? Philip Howe Responds (John Eipper, USA 03/23/12 2:46 AM)
    On 15 February, Alain de Benoist described the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires as "beautiful" examples of multinational political entities (https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=68193&objectTypeId=62413&topicId=106 ).   At that time I mentioned my friend and colleague at Adrian College, political scientist Philip Howe, who is presently in Vienna researching the A-H political system. Just yesterday Phil sent a comment, which I post below.

    Thank you for the interesting note, Phil! We miss you very much in Adrian.


    Philip Howe writes:


    Thanks for the mention, JE! I would only slightly amend your judgment concerning Austria-Hungary: it is not "ripe for a re-evaluation," said re-evaluation is already well underway, in particular for the "Austrian" half of the Dual Monarchy. Aside from my own work on the subject (shameless plug: I am currently completing a book manuscript on parliamentary elections and politics in Austria 1867-1918), a growing number of historians are providing increasingly nuanced accounts of the practical accomplishments of Austrian political parties and politicians, including a sizable literature on specific parties and regional elections (Binder, Boyer, Garver, Höbelt, Winkler, etc.). For those who read German, Höbelt's Franz Joseph I. Der Kaiser und sein Reich provides an excellent, brief, provocative defense of the overall political system. One should also check out Jonathan Kwan's recent review article "Nationalism and all that" in the European History Quarterly.


    Simultaneously, our picture of the "Nationalities Question," indeed of nationalism in general, has shifted considerably since the mid-1980s. Of particular note is the recently arisen "national indifference" or "national flexibility" school of Habsburg historians (Cohen, Judson, King, Wingfield, Zahra, and others), one that has brought such phenomena as widespread multilingualism, "national amphibians," and popular reluctance to accept the rigors of nationalist politics to the center of scholarly discussion. This has been accompanied by an increased awareness of alternatives to national identities, such as dynastic loyalism (e.g. Cole & Unowsky, Deák) and regional identity (e.g. Wolff's work on Galicia).


    I have emphasized electoral politics and nationalism here because those are my immediate interests. Much the same could be said of Habsburg economic historiography, however, and of course recognition of the Monarchy's contributions to modern culture goes as far back as Carl Schorske's classic Fin de Siècle Vienna.


    In short, there is much good to be said of Austria-Hungary. Such praise should not be exaggerated, however. Although politics were certainly becoming more democratic by the turn of the century, it was still not a democracy, and Austrian parliamentary life, though in my view not as useless as generally believed, remained messier than was probably healthy. State finances were shaky towards the end. The Hungarian minority's privileged position within the Dual system and within Hungary itself was an ongoing source of instability. And the Imperial government did manage to make at least one fatal foreign policy misstep. Nevertheless, in my judgment much potential for progressive development remained had WWI only been avoided. At the very least, the standard textbook portrayal of Austria-Hungary as an archaic "Cage of Nations" inevitably torn apart by the rising modern forces of nationalism does not retain much credibility these days.


    I will refrain from judgment on the Ottoman Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries, as I am not (yet) sufficiently informed. It is worth noting, however, that its millet system, which granted non-Muslims a large degree of communal autonomy, has given that state a reputation for religious tolerance far exceeding conditions in Europe in the early modern period.


    JE comments:  I've been a numismatist since I could barely read, and foreign money was my first encounter with WAISworthy topics.  The Austro-Hungarian banknotes have always struck me as fascinating--they were written in German, Hungarian, Italian, Czech, Polish, Slovene and two or three other languages as well.  Soviet currency also featured many languages and scripts.  Now we are stuck with the incomparably bland Euronotes.


    Germanic-dominated patchwork of incompatible nationalities, opaque governance, Byzantine bureaucracy--might the EU be the spiritual successor to the Austro-Hungarian empire?  Discuss.

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    • Austro-Hungarian Empire "Beautiful"? (Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium 03/24/12 12:58 PM)
      Plaudits all around, to our Moderator and to Philip Howe for opening this fascinating subject. (See Philip Howe's post of 23 March.)

      Something like three years ago, at the start of the Obama regime, our foreign policy heavyweights, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Clinton, were explaining to the press, and over their heads to the general public, what would be the underpinnings of US foreign policy going forward. They instinctively threw out the notions of balance of power as outdated, ideas dating from what?, the 18th, maybe even the 17th century? Heaven forbid! Just look at the calendar and you know those notions will not fly in our super-duper 21st century, when Soft Power and Public Diplomacy are all the rage.


      Indeed, when you haven't the intellectual wherewithal to explain yourself, nothing serves better to dispatch an opponent than the "old hat" argument, unless, like some, you just go ad hominem.


      Wilson may have been misunderstood and ineffective in his age among Americans, though he was given all chances to use his "self-determination" of nations dynamite in Europe, but his disparaging view of multinational empires as prisons has lived on and has become the mantra of the American foreign policy establishment, whatever its intrinsic merits.


      Therefore it is delightful that some today find a good word for multinational states--not multi-ethnic states, but precisely multinational states such as was the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


      Bravo to Professor Howe for his mention of Wolff's book on Galicia. I had the great pleasure to attend the panel session devoted to that book at last year's ASN (Association for the Study of Nationalities) convention in New York. The author beamed as he collected the professional bouquets for his labor of love. Among those with laudatory remarks was indeed Professor Istvan Deak.


      However, I must remark, regrettably, that study of nationalities has in recent years taken a very special coloration. Out of the more than 100 panels last year, nearly all were dedicated to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The one exception, a case of nationalities strife in a "normal" West European country that almost brought the country to break-up, was the Round Table on Belgium that I shared. It says volumes that this year, the ASN directorate could not find room in its 140 panels for one to deal with follow-up in Belgium.


      Indeed, the area has become a haven for Russia-bashers, as each smaller nationality or ethnos gets its place in the sun to complain about how they "was had" under the Soviet empire. It is in that very context that sentimental tears tend to be shed among those reminiscing about the jolly old Kaiser Franz Josef and A-H.


      Meanwhile the Russian Federation under its fearless leader Vladimir Putin (statesman or no statesman, I expect even his opponents concede his personal bravery) has come out differing with the US not only over the validity for our time of certain relic ideas from the past like balance of power, Realpolitik and pursuit of national interests as opposed to universalist ideals as the basis for conducting foreign policy. No, the debate goes even further and deeper into the very question of multi-national states, which the present-day Russian Federation claims to be. Putin specifically rejects the American notion of "melting pot" and insists on the Russian tradition of a state comprising many nationalities, though with one lead nationality, all of which is bound together by shared language and civic culture, and by first (not sole, just first) loyalty to the Russian Federation. For anyone with an interest in going to primary sources, do check out the Prime Minister's website, where you will find his position paper on The Nationalities Question among the 7 pre-electoral manifestos to which I have alluded previously. And do judge for yourselves whether this idea is any more antiquarian than E pluribus unum.



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