Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Death of the Habsburg Eagle: A Lesson on Sound Judgement

I recently came across several articles discussing and commenting on the dissolution of the Habsburg (a.k.a. Austria-Hungary) and the profound effect it had on the history of central and eastern Europe. Indeed, it is the opinion of the authors (and my own view, personally) that much of the bloody and brutal history of this region could have been avoided had the men of Versailles taken a less radical approach and ideology in their zealous vengeance on the Central Powers after the First World War. Having studied the partitioning of Hungary and its descent into darkness following the Dual-Monarchy's defeat, I am all too familiar with the history involved.
In my research paper, I concluded that the rise of the fascist Arrow-Cross Party and, indeed, the rise of fascist and communist movements in Hungary and the former Habsburg nations were the direct result of the progressive West's radical ideology of "freedom" and "self-determination" and their successful efforts to divide up the Monarchy. Instead of paying attention to the culture, history, and the actual benefits inherent in keeping the Dual Monarchy alive, they blindly ripped apart Hungary and Austria and fed the radicals within Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Croatia, and even the Romanians with greater territory. If the Allies had kept the Dual Monarchy together, it could have prevented the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
I must be admitted that the Dual Monarchy had inherent problems: unrest in the provinces, a lack of real political leadership, and the overbearing shadow of the German Empire to the north proved to be difficult problems to deal with. However, there were three important bright spots in the situation that, had they been exploited properly and with sound judgement, could have prevented the next world war just twenty years later: the respect (nearly universal) of Kaiser-Konig Franz Josef, seen as an almost grand-fatherly figure, and the example of the Compromise of 1867, which gave the restive Hungarian state and minority (the largest minority in the Empire) near equal status with the majority Germans. Also important was the linguistic link provided by Austrian German, particularly in the intelligentsia, academia, and military.
The Dual Monarchy could have been kept together after the war not only as a buffer to any further north-German aggression, but also as a kind of "Habsburg League" or "Federation", with all minorities given equal status and opportunity to rise in Habsburg society, the peoples left to manage their own affairs with nominal governance from Vienna (unless of course a threat to the league arose, and then all would provide their own troops to the defense). The people could speak their own language and practice their own culture in their own lands, but the linguistic link with the rest of the "League" would be Austrian German. The Emperor Charles (or Karl) who took over after his father's death in 1916 (or '17), could easily have made a settlement in 1917 with the Allies, which could have ended the war earlier, and more or less left the realm intact.
Instead, the Habsburg realm became the victim of a lack of sound judgement, or what Edmund Burke called "prudence", on the part of the victorious Allies, especially by that ideologue Woodrow Wilson and his infamous "Fourteen Points", which gave radicals everywhere the ammunition they needed to achieve their goals at Versailles. Blinded by progressive, egalitarian notions and ideas, they allowed the radical and rapacious minorities in the realm tear it asunder and creating small, squabbling states infinitely weaker than they had been under the Dual Monarchy. The acts alienated not only the Austrians but also the Hungarian Magyars, and thus both fell victim to their respective radical fringes-Austria the Nazis, the Hungarians suffering a Bolshevik revolution and then a anti-communist counterrevolution and reprisals. It cannot be forgotten that Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian regent from the partitioning of Hungary until his overthrow by Nazi collaborators in the fascist Arrow-Cross Party in 1944, was a former Habsburg admiral, a war hero, a defender of Hungarian Jews and a Habsburg sympathizer.
Thus we see the effects of the lack of prudence and sound judgement that is still evidenced today by progressive politicians. No matter where one goes, one will see how radicals, then and now, do not practice prudence or prejudice (and by that I mean a respect for the accumulated wisdom of generations of humanity, as laid out by Burke) but are forever guided by abstract notions and failed ideas. How much could have been saved, what calamities prevented, if these ideologues and their followers had stopped and considered the consequences of their actions? Richard Weaver's seminal work "Ideas Have Consequences" could not be more accurate. Too often, radicals are blinded by the idea and pay no mind to the consequences, and then maddeningly argue that the idea is sound in theory and would work if put into practice correctly. Was it not implemented just as you wanted the last twelve times you tried? And did it not fail every time? How much death, poverty, and injustice will you coldly observe before you are convinced of your folly?!

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