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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 28 June 2018

"The Hapsburg Monarchy 1809 - 1918" by A J P Taylor

With his characteristic piercing insight this classic historian dissects the long-time-dying Austrian Empire from the Congress of Vienna to the end of the First World War. Although the intricacies of the politics proved too much for me to follow, the essence of their problems was (a) that Prussia, under Bismarck, was creating its own German Empire by defeating France during the Franco-Prussian war and persuading all the little principalities of the German Confederation to join the Reich while excluding Austria which Bismarck saw as a rival against Prussia for predominance  and (b) the challenge of the many nationalities within the Empire who all wanted some form of autonomy and (c) the fact that they were run by a single man who was determined to hang on to his Emperorship. 

There wasn't much they could do against Prussia although industrial modernisation might have helped. As for the nationalities question they were stymied by the Magyars. They were a minority in Hungary (“In Budapest the Hungarians were little more than a third of the population as late as 1848.” p 24) and yet they predominated and bullied the Empire not only into giving them self-government for themselves but also to retain power over the oppressed minorities in ‘Greater’ Hungary: the Romanians in Transylvania, Slovenes in what is now Slovenia, and Croats in what is now Croatia. Winning self-government they refused to share it with any other nationalities except for the Austrians, not even the Czechs who were part of Austria and whose independence would only damage Hungary in its prestige. But Hungary grew the wheat which fed the Empire. They wanted the Magyars to be in charge. One of their politicians said “Our citizens of the non-Magyar tongue must, in the first place, become accustomed to the fact that they belong to the community of a nation-state, of a state which is not a conglomerate of various races.” (p 222) Attitudes die hard.

What made the book great were the many asides that show how much AJPT understands of the world:
  • Often when European serfs were freed “when the peasants were freed from serfdom, the land was free from the peasants.” (p 18)
  • In Northern Italy “all land was owned by the lords ... this is, no doubt, the principal reason for the industrial development of northern Italy.” (p 18 fn)
  • Backward industry sheltered behind prohibitive tariffs” (p 19)
  • Regimental officers, in every country, are narrow and blundering politicians.” (p 28)
  • They did not understand that politics is a conflict of forces; they supposed that it was a conflict of arguments.” (p 29)
  • Rural life cannot survive the impact of rationalism.” (p 30)
  • Everywhere monarchy was treated as a sentiment rather than as a force; and kings hope to save themselves from Jacobinism by a ‘historical’ camouflage. They collected traditions as geologists collect fossils, and tried to make out that these fossils were alive.” (p 42)
  • The revolutions of 1848 were not caused by the Industrial Revolution, but by its absence. Towns increased faster than the industries which provided employment and goods; and, as a consequence, their growth lead to a declining standard of urban life. Industrial development ... is the remedy for social discontent, not it's cause.” (p 58)
  • University students were the field officers of the revolution; they had not the maturity to provide responsible leadership and certainly did not find it in their professors. Besides, apart from the medical students, they were all bureaucrats in the making; and sooner or later felt the pull of real life.” (p 58)
  • The eighteen-fifties were everywhere in Europe a period of great capital investment; in the Habsburg monarchy barracks took the place of factories and railways, and Austria now lost the economic lead over Prussia which she had hitherto possessed. Even the economic achievements of the old regime was sacrificed. The state railways ... were handed over to a company of foreign capitalists.” (p 89)
  • There was no attempt to consult the peoples and no intention of taking them into partnership; they were regarded as tiresome, wayward children, and the only problem was how to put them in a good humour so that they would pay their taxes and serve in the army.” (p 96)
  • National frontiers, like natural frontiers, are advocated only when they involve an accession of territory.” (p 115)
  • The limitless continents of the idealist.” (p 146)
  • A later attempt to differentiate them [the Ruthenes] from the Russians led to the invention of a Ukrainian nationality; Ukraine is merely Russian for the frontier.” (p 149)
  • “It was common doctrine among nineteenth century conservatives that nationalism was a middle-class movement ... and, if government could not be kept as an aristocratic monopoly, the masses should be called in against middle-class nationalism and liberalism.” (p 165)
  • The greatest consolation of an oppressed class or nationality is to feel itself superior to one still more oppressed.” (p 189)
  • War can only accelerate: it makes a dictatorial state more dictatorial, a democratic state more democratic, an industrial state more industrial, and ... a rotten state more rotten.” (p 232)
  • Until the end of 1915, the war had seemed a purely military affair ... Suddenly, the initial impetus exhausted ... decision cpassed from generals to peoples. In every country new ministries were formed or new courses followed. ... Compromise or the knock-out blow was the issue which lay behind the events of the bitter winter of 1916-17 - behind the rise to power of Lloyd George ... behind the first Russian Revolution and the French mutinies.” (p 240)
  • Every ‘Austrian’ had to be easy going and flirtatious, to love music, and to wear to Tyrolese costume. It would have been as sensible to dress English factory-workers in pink hunting-coats.” (p 258)
  • Slovakia and Croatia could be ‘ independent nations’ only in a German system.” (p 260)
  • During the second world war Austria’s “record of resistance against Hitler was inferior to that of Prussia.” (p 260)

There are some moments of fun too, if humour can be found in the absurdities of autocracy:
  • The new emperor Ferdinand was an imbecile, epileptic and rickety; his character was expressed in his only sensible remark, ‘I'm the emperor and I want dumplings!’” (p 47)
  • With the characteristic impulsiveness which, throughout his life, followed his long delays, Francis Joseph, who had evaded decision for more than a year, now demanded a settled constitutional draft within a week; indeed the general principles was settled during a single conversation ... in the train between Salzburg and Vienna.” (p 100)
  • The foundations of the Austrian Empire were discussed; the fortunes of the Empire swung violently into a federalist, and then back into a centralist channel; but the discussions took place ... in the Emperor's study, and the decisions depended not on the wish of the peoples, but on the sudden autocratic resolve of Francis Joseph.” (p 96)
  • The Habsburg administrators prevented any element of education [in Bosnia Herzegovina]. Kallay ... who directed the administration of Bosnia and Hercegovina for more than twenty years, forbade there the circulation of the History of Serbia which he has himself written.” (p 153 - 154)
Heavy going at times but some great maps.
June 2018; 261 pages

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