Anthony Bushell describes Polemical Austria as “an attempt to follow the emergence of particular rhetorical traditions employed to express the often nebulous concept of Austria” (5–6). The attempt succeeds admirably. It grew out of the author’s curiosity about Austria’s identity crises after the Waldheim controversy of 1986 and the international reaction to Jörg Haider’s fpö joining the governing coalition in 2000. The operative questions are: “When did the need for a definition of Austria become urgent, and who required such a definition?” (7). Bushell traces the roots of these questions as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, and the book’s structure is accordingly organized both chronologically and thematically. The book’s nine chapters appear over three parts: “Towards a Theory of Austria”; “Writing Austria”; and “Austria: Revived, Reviled, Revised.” Part 1 establishes a theoretical basis for discussing what is Austrian; Part 2 locates the basis of a modern identity in Austrian responses to nineteenth-century revolutions and establishes Vienna and the printed word as its epicenters; and the four chapters in Part 3 examine the First Republic, Austrofascism and National Socialism, the Second Republic, and developments after 1986, respectively.
In the first chapter, “Felix Austria?” Bushell demonstrates his text-analytical approach, treating a preface written by former chancellor Wolfgang [End Page 145] Schüssel for an official publication as an example of how Austria’s successes since World War II have been officially presented without reference to past upheavals, as if more recent (and admittedly indisputable) economic improvements and political stability eliminated the need to think about 1918, 1934, 1938, and 1945. Bushell finds a similar myopic optimism in a preface by Schüssel’s forerunner Josef Klaus and contrasts these official positions with commentaries from intellectual critics such as Robert Menasse and Anton Pelinka. If episodes like the civil war of 1934 and the Anschluss were merely things of the past, they could be mentioned without threatening the postwar social and political consensus of the Sozialpartnerschaft. Their absence in official texts betrays their continued presence in the Austrian consciousness and subconscious.
Bushell characterizes this book about the concept of Austria as “in large measure also a study in the language used to evoke this concept, for Austria has often existed principally in its evocation” (25). He explores the languages of journalism, popular culture, literature and drama, political platforms and campaign materials, memoirs, and other forms of the printed and spoken word, which sets this book apart from more strictly historical and literary-historical presentations.
In establishing a theory of Austria, Bushell traces how Austrian history over the past two hundred years has witnessed decisive action imposed from without (Napoleon, Saint Germain, the Anschluss, the occupation, and the State Treaty) combined with undermining actions and rhetoric from within (the Revolutions of 1848, the Badeni crisis of the 1890s, support for the Anschluss). The resulting “frustration and disenchantment” (33) has produced “an unmistakable air of regret, of weariness, or even of impotence in Austrian writing regarding the notion of Austria,” a “pre-emptive resignation and fatalism, and often a self-deprecation rarely encountered in German discourses on the idea of a German nation” (33).
Rhetorically speaking, “Austria” has therefore more often been a term of argument than a name with any clear denotation. It has been employed sometimes expansively, sometimes reductively; now geographically, now culturally; sometimes politically and sometimes linguistically, depending on who was using it and why: “In the nineteenth century the term ‘Österreich’ could be used variously as a geographic concept […], as an administrative term, […] and as a form of shorthand to denote the German-speaking and therefore the most influential elements of the population within the Empire. This [End Page 146] instability is compounded once a further question is added, namely: who is using the term?” (42).
At this point, those acquainted with Austrian history and the vicissitudes of the name “Austria” (as readers of The Journal of Austrian Studies are likely to be) might well be thinking that most of this is...