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Justifying Political Power in 19th Century Europe: the Habsburg Monarchy and Beyond MACIEJ JANOWSKI Two connected problems gave rise to the present essay.1 The first is that of the specific character of imperial legitimization. Did “empires” and “nation states” (however imprecise the division between them) try to justify their power in the same or in different ways? The second problem is that of specifically “modern” or “pre-modern” modes of legitimizing political power. We would probably tend to treat some arguments as more “traditional” (e.g. divine right of kings) and others as more “modern” (e.g. popular sovereignty). Even casual knowledge of the sources demonstrates, however, that numerous authors tend to “switch” (often in the same paragraph if not the same sentence) from one mode of explanation to another. This, I believe, does require some explanation. Did they fail to notice the internal discrepancy of both modes of argumentation ; did they ignore it consciously? Or is our initial supposition not well founded that two separate modes existed? Before we come to the sources, let us note that Weberian concepts of legitimacy, whatever their value, are of no use here. By “legitimization” or “justification” I simply mean attempts to ground the right to rule in universally accepted principles.2 My task, therefore, is to examine which principles were invoked for this purpose. Treated in this way, the enquiry into the legitimization principles is not an enquiry into how power works; it is rather an interrogation of images; it forms a part of the history of mentalities rather than of political history. I consciously put aside the whole problem of authorial “intent” in the texts under analysis. The eternal question “did they really mean what they wrote” is irrelevant for my present aim. Metaphor matters, phraseology matters; it is, I believe, perfectly reasonable to assume that a text usually represents the ideas of somebody but not necessarily its author’s. Even pure propaganda is usually written to convince somebody, therefore the author must take into account the opinions of his age. Even if, as is undoubtedly often the case, various expressions of loyalty were written only to conform to expectations of the ruling strata, they could still not fail to be influenced by really professed opinions. Cynical sycophants are, as a rule, much more sincere than they themselves perhaps suppose. IMPERIAL RULE From my present point of view the context of everyday politics is irrelevant too. Every text can be explained by showing that it was meant to fit a specific context at a specific time, whether it concerns party strife, personal or ethnic rivalry, etc. There is, however, more than that in the sources. We are entitled to treat them as elements of long range developments of intellectual history irrespectively of their immediate context. Like everything else “justification” of political power can be more or less understood widely or narrowly. In the widest sense, everything is legitimization . A sociologist as ingenious as Norbert Elias can easily demonstrate how the fact of using or not using handkerchiefs can serve as an important indicator of our beliefs about the nature of social organization. Art historians are able to show how numerous and various structures of power and domination are coded in such a seemingly innocent genre as landscape painting. I admire such attempts without trying to emulate them and I prefer the narrower understanding of justification. I am not interested in “unmasking ” anything, in showing something that allegedly is hidden behind something else. I understand the task of a historian as that of reconstructing the inner logic of actions, ideas or events rather than of unveiling the “real” motives or implications. Half-jokingly (but half-seriously too) I would like to counter the prevailing “methodology of suspicion” with the contrary principle of “unlimited confidence in the sources.” Let us try to list, without any claim to order or a deeper analysis, the main arguments that could have been used by defenders of any political regime in the 19th century. This list is meant only to promote further reflection . To start with—history: it can be used in two different meanings. First of all as “historical right,” then—as “logic of history.” Opposed to history— nature. The conflict between “natural” and “historical” rights forms an important element of the ideological struggles in the period under consideration . Opposed to nature, but under a different angle—“culture.” The quality of being “cultural” was universally supposed to give some rights that the “non-cultural” ones...


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