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Monarchy, Not Legitimism

Mises Daily: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 by and

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"The best conceived and most desirable solution to the Austrian question is a monarchy with the legacy of the Habsburger tradition."

[Memo to Otto von Habsburg, dated New York, April 20, 1942, and never before published]

Response to His Majesty's Interrogatory

The term "legitimism" is usually used for a claim to power that is unrelated to the will of the people and not derived from it. Adherents of the older line of the House of Bourbon in France are the foremost proponents of this concept. This term, however, does not serve well as a symbol of what the Austrian monarchical movement is working for.

To start with, it is certain that hardly anywhere in the world is there a significant number of statesmen who would advocate any such legitimistic claim. According to modern doctrine, a dynasty's claim to the throne can be realized only through the assent of a majority of the people. This is the democratic concept of a hereditary monarchy. Only this concept can hope for support from the powers allied in the defense of democracy.

Among the monarchs ruling on the eve of the current war in Europe, not one based his claim to power on a ruling position that his ancestors occupied at a time long since lost in the darkness of the Middle Ages. All kings who ruled in 1938 traced their claims back to popular elections or revolutions that took place in the full light of history.

The House of Savoy had an ancient claim in Savoy that it voluntarily ceded to France; its Italian kingdom is of revolutionary origin. According to legitimism, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria is the legitimate successor to the thrones of England and Scotland.

The royal house won the crowns of Saint Wenzeslaus and Saint Stephan through elections. The head of the house ran as a candidate and was elected by the estates of the realm. In the Austrian states, the Habsburger princes ruled as feudal tenants of the German Empire; as such, they were not sovereign until the breakup of the empire. According to the doctrine of the German nationalists, the sovereignty of the former German princes is usurpacious, since they appropriated it to themselves without the sanction of the Regensburg Parliament (over which Emperor Franz II presided).

As German princes, the emperors of Austria since 1815 have belonged to the German Federation. Emperor Franz Joseph explicitly styled himself as a German prince and in 1863 called a council of the German princes in Frankfurt and served as its chairman himself.

It was not until the Treaty of Prague that Austria was pushed out of the German Federation. The German nationalists refuse to recognize this act because it was consummated without a popular referendum. There is only one argument that can be counterposed, namely, the wish of the people of Austria for national independence under the leadership of the head of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen.

Even from the viewpoint of legitimism, the Austrian Republic that existed from 1918 to 1938 cannot be invalidated. At the time, Emperor Karl, without renouncing his rights and those of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen, agreed in advance to accede to whatever form of constitution the people chose; the cabinet appointed by the emperor turned the matter over to the Republican authorities under his instructions.

Parliament then decided for the republic. This decision is not irrevocable. It could be revoked through a new act, whether direct referendum or a vote of Parliament.

Austrians living in exile are in no position to anticipate the decision of the people. They can make their feelings known that the best conceived and most desirable solution to the Austrian question is a monarchy with the legacy of the Habsburger tradition, and can work for a restoration, but they must never lose sight of the fact that only the people themselves can decide.

The resurrection of the House of Habsburg cannot be brought about by any convention. Likewise, it must not be established via an "understanding" with foreign powers, thereby acquiring in the eyes of Austrians those characteristics that brought such woe to the Kingdom of France of 1814–1830; it must come from the people. Only thus can it last and bring blessings.

"The monarch is emperor and king of the entire people, including those in opposition who employ law-abiding means."

It would be vain to indulge in wishful thinking about the present state of things. The historical precedents mentioned are known to everyone in Bohemia and Hungary. In Austria, thanks to the nationalist propaganda, they are common knowledge.

The Nazis repeat day after day the notion that Austria's separateness is a product of usurped power and the bloody suppression of Protestantism through the Counter-Reformation. Schönherr's "Faith and Homeland" made the second of these assertions especially popular.

Therefore, it would be a mistake for the Austrian National Committee or the Free Austrian Movement to embrace legitimism. Such a profession would destroy all sympathies in the Anglo-Saxon countries and in Latin America.

The world today recognizes the principles of self-determination and the sovereignty of the people. In conformity with this principle, the position to take is, "Let the Austrian people decide. We would recommend a return to the monarchy and democratic parliamentarianism, but the people have the last word, not we."

Only thus can the monarchy be restored in Austria, only thus can it last. The clinging to legitimism of the Duke of Chambord thwarted the restoration of the Bourbon kings. It would be no different in Austria.

For the Austrian political movement in exile, the head of the royal house can be nothing but the most prominent Austrian, in whom — as it believes — the majority of the people see their future Crown Prince. Because they want to build a better future in a new state, the monarchists advocate the monarchical form of government.

The royal house itself will be better served by this policy than by harking back to a past that had shadows as well as light, and to documents that can be interpreted in various ways by judges. Imitating the tactics of French legitimism that have failed this past 112 years, will not lead to success.

There are among the exiled Austrians, aside from the Social Democrats, many opponents to the restoration. The adoption of legitimism by any group would split the Austrian movement. It would draw the crown, which can preserve its imperial prestige only through nonpartisanship, into partisan strife.

In the new democratic Austria, there will undoubtedly be Republicans, perhaps also a strong Republican Party. The democratic monarch may not deal even with Republican-minded citizens as enemies; doing so would compromise the dignity of his position.

The monarch is emperor and king of the entire people, including those in opposition who employ law-abiding means. This principle must also apply to all political activities in exile. Here also one has to consider Republican-minded Austrians as comrades whose patriotism cannot be questioned in the struggle against Nazism.

It is the first duty of the crown to ameliorate the sharpness of rivalry between parties, and to ensure that in their differences of opinion, they never forget the wellbeing of the whole people. This function falls to the head of the royal house in exile, as well. He stands not only above the differences of doctrines among the Austrian parties, but also above the conflicts that exist among the various national groups.

Through this truly imperial posture, the head of the royal house has raised the image of Austria in the world's eyes under the most difficult circumstances, and has won many Austrians over to the idea of the restoration, who doubted the value of the monarchical form of government. There is no reason to deviate from this policy.

Relationship with the Hungarian Movement

The current Hungarian regime, like all its predecessors since November 1918, and like all Hungarian political parties, takes the position that Hungary must be restored to its territorial extent of 1914, and that the Hungarian hegemony over the nationalities must be reinstated to the way it was before 1918. Because of their propaganda, this position of the Hungarians is common knowledge.

If the Austrian National Committee is to enter into even a loose, neighborly alliance with the Free Hungary Movement, this question will have to be totally cleared up. The Free Hungary Movement must unequivocally and emphatically state that it makes no such claims whatsoever on Bratislava [Czechoslovakia], Moháczi-Sziget, Bresov [Rumania], Timisoara [Rumania], Zagreb [Yugoslavia], Fiume [Italy], and Eisenstadt [Austria].

This statement must be made so often and so loudly that everyone in Hungary as well as elsewhere will know it. Only when public opinion on this matter has been thoroughly informed and settled can the two movements set more specific cooperative efforts in train.

Without the fulfillment of this requirement, any suspicion that the Austrian movement was allied with the Free Hungarian Movement would be fatal. The Hungarian efforts to regain lost territories are supported only by Hitler and Mussolini. In Austria, they are generally denied; the entire rest of the world opposes them energetically.

Mr. Tibor von Eckhardt cooperated in earlier years with the Awakening Magyars, made himself known as an opponent of democracy, and supported the anti-Semitic legislation of Hungary. It is no shame for a politician to change his position; Mr. von Eckhardt may quote famous precedent.

But on this point also, we must be perfectly clear. If Mr. von Eckhardt is not in a position to persuade public opinion of the sincerity of his change of heart, he will be of no use as a comrade in arms to the Austrian movement, whose only proposition is its dedication to the right of democratic self-determination.

If the Free Hungarian Movement openly and without reservation places itself on a democratic footing, and abandons every claim of Hungarian domination in the lands of the crown of Saint Stephan, the Free Austrian Movement can then join up with them, just as with all other democratic movements.

The Problem of an East European Union, And Relations with the Peoples of Eastern Europe

The main problem of the European future is the establishment of a closer union of all the peoples and states of Eastern Europe, whose independence is threatened by the imperialism of Germany, Russia, and Italy.

Unfortunately, it cannot be denied that the Habsburg monarchy has been unable to win the allegiance of these nations. The responsibility for this failure is borne in part by the three groups of noblemen who dominated in this empire: the Polish and Hungarian nobilities, and the "feudal nobility" of the Bohemian countries. In Hungary, the non-Hungarian nationalities have been suppressed with bloody force since 1867, and it has been little better for the Ruthenians [Ukrainians] in Galicia.

The Perthaler Constitution of 1867 was old Austria's glorious achievement. Article XIX of the Law of the Land concerning the essential rights of the citizens will remain forever memorable as a great attempt to solve the problems of the multilingual state. This article today presents the most important argument in support of the Habsburg monarchy to be found outside German Austria.

In the time of economic nationalism, a multilingual state could not assert itself. The customs and currency union seemed intolerable to each of the nationalities, because it limited their scope of action in pursuit of their territorial ambitions. The Hungarians and Poles fought it, because they saw in it an exploitation of their countries by the industrially advanced western Austria; the western Austrians saw in it an exploitation of the industrialized population by the Hungarian and Galician agrarians.

The successor states to the Habsburg monarchy encountered unmitigated disaster, and their failures have helped resurrect thoughts of a supranational state. In time, history will judge the old empire more justly than has happened so far. But today, public opinion still labors under the influence of anti-Austrian literature. This is the situation with which the statesman must contend.

Even if it is introduced under the name of the Danube Confederation, every hint of a restoration of the old monarchy will get a poor reception with the nationalists of all peoples. Despite this, a union of the eastern European countries must come about if the area is not simply to be divided up between Germany, Italy, and Russia.

"A union of the eastern European countries must come about if the area is not simply to be divided up between Germany, Italy, and Russia."

I have worked out a plan for the establishment of such a state; perhaps it will become usable at some point in the future. The alternative is simply going back to the situation that was put into place in 1919, and following that: war, chaos, and subjugation by powerful neighbors.

If this plan were to be realized, then it could happen that not only the Austrians, but also the Hungarians, the Slovaks, the Slovenes, the Croats, and perhaps also the Ukrainians would place the head of the dynasty as hereditary monarch at the head of their state.

But this restoration would have to come from within each people, it cannot be instituted by foreign statesmen or movements, because if so, it would be stigmatized as alien rule. On their interest in this, the Austrians must remain completely neutral.

However, it is hardly likely that in the foreseeable future, the dynasty could be promoted to a restoration in the Czech, Polish, Rumanian, or Serbian countries. The Battle of White Mountain and the execution of the leaders of the rebels is still alive in the memory of the Czechs; their historians and popular writers know nothing else to report regarding the Habsburgs. It is telling that the Czechs in 1918 destroyed the statues of Emperor Joseph II erected in the memory of the abolition of serfdom.

For the Poles, Austria is tied up with the most painful experience of their history: partition. The Rumanians and Serbs hold the House of Habsburg responsible for their suppression under the Hungarians. The best that one could hope for from these countries is neutrality in the matter of the constitution of Austria.

It is of note that every language group of Eastern Europe lives in implacable enmity with their immediate neighbors. Every nationality claims territory that at the same time is also claimed by their neighbors. Each one sees in its neighbors worthless barbarians, who must be fought back at any price.

As long as these circumstances prevail, it is impossible to enter into any alliance with any one of these national groups without arousing the enmity of its opponents. The Austrian movement must therefore remain strictly neutral.

On the other hand, it is indispensable that talks be initiated with all these groups as soon as possible on a strictly nonbinding basis. For this purpose, the Austrian National Committee should make a number of delegates ready to hand. These gentlemen should be eloquent in our language and others, and have the highest levels of attainment in politics, history, economics, and constitutional law. They would have to have at least equivalent vision, talent, and political and scientific prestige as the representatives of other countries and parties.

"It is of note that every language group of Eastern Europe lives in implacable enmity with their immediate neighbors."

Austria will become the laughingstock of the world if things continue as they have been going. Right now, all manner of politically clueless dilettantes are pressing the Czech and Polish statesmen to gain an audience for their naïve viewpoints.

There would be no instructions to give to the delegates. They would have to conduct nonbinding talks to promote bilateral contacts and understanding, but not make any commitments. For this, it is still too early.

At this time, it cannot be overstated how urgent it is to institute a press bureau. Austria's political reputation in the world is deplorable. The press presents Austrian policy and the goals of the Austrian movement mostly in an unfavorable light. There will be a lot of work for the press bureau.

It is still too early to try to gain recognition of an Austrian government in exile. The immediate task is to regain respect and a good reputation for Austria. Winning over public opinion is more important than competing for the favor of individual officials. The success of the Austrian cause depends not on bureaucrats, but upon public opinion.

Another urgent undertaking for the Austrian National Committee is the improvement of the standing of Austrians in the USA.

Relation with the German and Italian Freedom Movements

These movements are, so far as they are not Communistic, radically nationalist and imperialist. The nationalists are incorrigible.

The Germans want to keep Austria, the Sudeten Germans, Danzig and the Corridor, and even Posen and all of Silesia. The Italians want the South Tyrol, the Slavic coastal regions, Krains and Dalmatia, and Fiume and the Croatian littoral.

It would be idiocy to put faith in the private statements of individual persons. Such questions are not resolved over the breakfast table. We must make it clear that German and Italian nationalism, which has unaccountably found favor among many Englishmen, are inimical to all Austrians.

"Russia today is a friend to the democracies. But after the defeat of Hitler, Bolshevism will pose an enormous problem."

Relation with Russia

Russia today is a friend to the democracies. But after the defeat of Hitler, Bolshevism will pose an enormous problem.

The Russians are trying to bring about a Pan-Slavic union, of which they would be the leaders. The realization of such plans would place a future Austria in a difficult position. It would however be incomparably more dangerous for the independence of the Poles, Czechs, and Rumanians.

These things would have to be emphasized in discussions with the representatives of the other East European peoples. This situation will immediately make an Eastern European Union much more attractive to the far-seeing among their politicians.

Relation with France

The Austrian movement is in the fortunate position of not having to concern itself with French problems. Here, it can remain totally neutral and confine itself to the observation of the rules of social politeness.

General de Gaulle rose to prominence from the Action Francaise, which has always been anti-Austrian. Forbearance is also appropriate in his case.

French royalty is an internal problem of France, in which Austria may not mix.

Relation with Latin America

In Mexico, Austria is still associated with the unfortunate episode of Archduke Ferdinand Max. But Mexico has not recognized the annexation of Austria, and accordingly deals with Austrians as citizens of an independent state.

There is sympathy for Austria also in the other countries of Latin America. Austrian art and science have very great standing there. With regard to all these countries, a friendly discretion under correct observance of diplomatic conventions is to be recommended.

Political Relation with the Church

It is a regrettable fact that the Vatican today is under Mussolini's thumb. Therefore, it cannot become a political ally in the battle for Austria. To the contrary, the liberation of the papacy is one of the goals of the democratic movement.

The Catholic Church of Austria gave up its political role when the bishops and archbishops placed their religious offices in the service of National Socialism, and encouraged the faithful to vote for Hitler. For the immediate future, there can be no talk of political activity for the church in Austria.

It would be dangerous for the Austrian movement to seek any closer alliance with the Catholic powers in the United States and Canada. Nothing much could be hoped for from such a connection, but it would drive the non-Catholic majority of the Anglo-Saxon world to take an inimical position toward Austria.

It is still suspected — perhaps unjustly — that the Catholic circles of Latin America sympathize with the Spanish Phalangists and work against the allied democracies. As long as this impression remains, the Austrian movement must keep its distance from them.

Position with Regard to the Socialists and Communists

It would be good news if it were possible to motivate a part of the Social Democrats to cooperate with the Austrian National Committee. But such a cooperation must not assume the form taken by the Christian-Social/Social-Democratic Coalition of 1918/1919. Max Adler characterized this alliance very rightly when he said that the Social Democrats work with the "bourgeois" parties the way a wolf works with sheep.

The Communists rebuff any connection with the bourgeoisie. Even if the Front Populaire were to be renewed, an affiliation with the Communists would hardly be realizable for monarchists.