Tuesday, September 10, 2019

What the Hapsburg Empire Got Right

...While few people were willing to stand up for the old empire after four years of world war, a century later scholars are rethinking its legacy, eager to assert its multifaceted attributes and surprisingly progressive institutions. Stretching from today’s western Ukraine to Switzerland and from the Czech Republic’s northern border with Germany down Croatia’s Adriatic coast, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy had no internal borders, one currency, two parliaments (in Vienna and Budapest), 11 officially recognized peoples/languages and almost as many religions, including Yiddish-speaking Jews, Bosnian Muslims and a variety of Orthodox Christians and Protestants to complement its Catholic majority. Formed and reformed through six centuries of feudal alliances, dynastic marriages, wars and Great Power bargains, the Hapsburg Empire was on its way to becoming a modern multinational state by the late 19th century. The army accommodated linguistic diversity in its regiments, schooling was available in different languages, and the bureaucracy was multilingual.

Although institutional changes for more political inclusivity and democracy moved slowly in the conservative monarchy, by 1907 the Austrian Parliament was elected by universal male suffrage, and a participatory public sphere was thriving. Hapsburg citizens were hardly living and working in isolated ethno-national enclaves. To this day, the turn-of-the-century architecture of train stations and other public buildings attests both to the population’s mobility and to the vast empire’s economic vitality. The similar layout of Central European cities is another visual reminder of a shared past.

The “outdated” old monarchy also produced a remarkably rich and innovative cultural life. In 1900, its multiethnic capital, Vienna, the world’s sixth-largest city, was home to such international luminaries as the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, the composer Gustav Mahler, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the painter Gustav Klimt, the Nobel Prize-winning peace activist Bertha von Suttner, the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, the architect Otto Wagner, the feminist/freethinker Rosa Mayreder and the writers Stefan Zweig and Arthur Schnitzler.

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1 comment:

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Diversity is your strength until it isn't.