Ib First Things, George Weigel calls Otto von Hapsburg, son of Austria-Hungary’s last emperor, who died at the age of 98 this past July 4th, “The First– and Last European.” I have a feeling Hapsburg’s cousin, Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon-Dos Sicilias, who continues to reign in Spain — I think she’s got it! — would deck him for that. Still, I’m glad someone’s paying attention. As far as dethroned royalty goes, Hapsburg, who was 98 when he died, seems to have been a pretty all-right guy.
He had a first-rate mind, for one thing. He earned a doctorate in political and social sciences from the University of Louvain in Belgium, and put it to good use in opposing Hitler’s annexation of Austria. This was by no means a safe proposition: Hitler’s agents had murdered Engelbert Dollfuss, Austria’s president, and imprisoned his successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, in a concentration camp. Many of Hapsburg’s supporters were executed; two of his own relatives spent the war in Dachau. Hapsburg himself came to no harm, and managed to help 15,000 of his countrymen to escape. He spent most of the war in the United States.
In 1961, after renouncing his claims to the Austrian throne, he entered politics, As befitted a man with an imperial outlook, he became an early advocate for European unification. From 1979 until 1999, he represented the Christian Social Union of Bavaria in the European Parliament. Onat least one occasion, he executed his duties with real physical dash. In 1988, during an address by Pope John Paul II, Ian Paisley, head of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party, interrupted the pontiff to tell him, “I denounce you as the Antichrist!” Hapsburg, then aged 66, was among the members to give Paisley the bum’s rush. Paisley ended up in the hospital, and Hapsburg — perhaps unknowingly — earned the right to drink free for life at any number of pubs on America’s Eastern seaboard.
Intellectual accomplishments, détente with democracy, a useful career and essentially humane views are anything but obligatory baggage for former crowned heads. Some would-be monarchs, like Bonnie Prince Charlie, take to the bottle. Others, like Kaiser Wilhelm II, go completely out of their tree. In Anglomania, Ian Buruma describes the former Kaiser’s exile at Huis Doorn, in the Netherlands as two-decade exercise in self-delusion. Wilhelm stuffed the relatively modest residence with statues and paintings of himself, striking heroic poses in various uniforms. Behaving, as Buruma puts it “as though he were still ruling the German Reich,” Wilhelm spent his days lecturing courtiers on subjects like racial hygiene and Germany’s destiny to subsume Britain in “a European union of Aryans.”
Not even those who shared the Kaiser’s views could stand to be harangued in his “odd but apparently not wholly unattractive bark.” Long before these briefing sessions ended, Buruma writes, his listeners had nodded off “their eyes carefully hidden behind their hands.”
Now, it’s entirely possible that Vati und Mutti von Hapsburg brought young Otto on a visit to Huis Doorn, pulling him aside and telling him, “Whatever you do, don’t turn out like this guy.” But I don’t think they had to. The Hapsburgs weren’t parvenus like the Hohenzollerns, who only dared raise themselves to the kingship of Prussia in 1701. They began ruling Austria as dukes in 1282, and from then until the end of the First World War, managed to rule someplace, under some title or other. The family suffered its share of setbacks — the madness of Don Carlos, Prince of Asturias, the deformities and idiocy of Charles II of Spain (known to contemporaries as “the bewitched“), the beheading of Marie-Antoinette, the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf, the murder by Serbian terrorists of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. No, growing up Hapsburg meant knowing that life was not going to be one long Strauss waltz.
If the Spanish branch of the family tends to leave one a bit cold –what with the gruesome deeds of the conquistadores, atrocities in the Netherlands and the Armada — the Austrian branch settled early into a sensible urbanity. “Let others fight wars — you, happy Austria, marry” went a saying that explained why so many Bourbon boys of baroque era took long-jawed Hapsburg girls to wife. In fact, the Austrian Hapsburgs could wage war when it suited them — aided by Prince Eugene of Savoy, they pushed the Turks out of Croatia and Hungary and the French out of the Low Countries, but they never adopted a culture of militarism. More often than not, Austria under the Hapsburgs played the placid middle child to France (the domineering older brother), Russia (the younger brother with serious behavioral problems) and Prussia (the eerie boy genius).
When the partition of Poland delivered an unprecedented number of Jews into Austrian hands, Empress Maria Theresa took an oddly progressive approach to them: she pushed for their integration into Austrian society. Integration depended on assimilation, so she compelled them to attend state-run schools where lectures were delivered in German. Her son, Joseph II, issued the Edict of Tolerance, which permitted Jews to live wherever they liked and enter any profession they chose. In return for these basic rights, Jews would serve in the army, and keep their community records in German, as well as Yiddish. There’s certainly a case against forcing any minority group to assimilate; the case for exists in the likes of Freud, Arthur Schnitzler and Theodor Herzl. It can also be seen in the young Adolf Hitler’s refusal to serve in the Austrian army, since service would bring him into contact with racial undesirables.
For buying into pan-Aryan, anti-Jewish, anti-Slavic racial mythologies Hitler was by no means unusual among Austrians of his generation. But none of those ideas found support with the Imperial family. Franz Joseph I granted full citizenship rights to Jews in 1852. When the Viennese elected an outspoken anti-Semite named Karl Lueger mayor, he tried his utmost to bock Lueger from taking office. Franz Joseph could be flexible in other ways, too. In 1867, long before anyone in Britain thought seriously about granting Home Rule to the Irish, he recognized Hungary as a separate kingdom with its own parliament.
The Hapsburg ideal — cosmopolitan, tolerant, federated — was quite a bit ahead of its time. But it’s a fine cultural and political heritage for Otto von Hapsburg to have embodied. For him, it was inseparable from his religious heritage; as he wrote in 1958, “then, as now, the Christian faith is the great bulwark against totalitarianism’s prospect of immediate success.” In fact, he goes on to describe some communists of his acquaintance as ruined idealists who might have been saved by Christian faith.
Titled “The Divine Rights of Minorities,” Hapsburg’s 1958 essay is fascinating. It calls for Christian governance and at the same time acknowledges the problems inherent in any government that seeks to call itself Christian. If Hapsburg was a Dominionist, his Dominionism was remarkably open-ended. It’s an interesting read, particularly for these times. With Michele Bachmann placing first in this latest Iowa straw poll, I predict we’ll soon be hearing more about Christian government and Christian jurisprudence than ever before. A good many apologists will argue the alternative is some kind of totalitarianism — either Pope Benedict’s “dictatorship of relativism,” or some hidden Marxist agenda that Obama has yet to reveal. The spirit of Old Vienna may live on yet…in Washington.