- The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary: The Image of the Habsburg Monarchy in Interwar Europe by Adam Kożuchowski
The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary and the postimperial role of the “Austrian Idea”
Adam Kożuchowski’s recent book The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary examines the interwar discourses that provided a postmortem examination of the Habsburg Empire. Through the lenses of historians, political theorists, and novelists, Kożuchowski shows the simultaneous deconstruction of Habsburg sympathy and construction of Austrian identity. The Afterlife of Austria-Hungary presents a thorough study of discourses as constructed by interwar Austro-German men of letters. While he is not in direct dialogue with previous Habsburg historians, his examinations of the “Austrian idea” provide a significant contribution to the field, encouraging historians to consider how the Austrian idea applies to the postimperial Habsburg space.
Kożuchowski’s text aims not to comment on the state of present-day Habsburg historiography, but to illuminate [End Page 437] common themes among interwar thinkers (1918–1939). In his introduction, Kożuchowski argues that the critical years between World Wars I and II permanently shaped discourses on the Habsburg Empire. Kożuchowski focuses his study on three types of writers: professional historians in chapter 1, political theorists in chapter 2, and literary craftsmen in chapter 3. His fourth chapter stands alone as an exposition of interwar depictions of Emperor Franz Joseph. While Kożuchowski identifies and uses these categorizations, he admits that the differences in form matter less than the various national and political affiliations of the authors. Perhaps the only critique against the author’s analysis is the occasional overdependence upon tropes of national identity, at the expense of thought-provoking discourses on modernity, class, and gender.
The creation of Austrian identity was an important theme to the men of letters Kożuchowski considers. Some theorists argued the small, postwar Austria was the same as it had ever been. The period of Austrian imperial rule had merely ended, leaving just the core of the empire, as it had been 400 years previously (P. 69). Inspired by this, as well as a distrust of nationalism as the source of the monarchy’s woes, theorists, led by the poet and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, proposed the creation of an “Austrian idea.” The Austrian idea was a set of characteristics, defining Austrianness, and standing in for Austrian nationalism. As explained by Kożuchowski, the Austrian idea included exclusionary elements, seeking only to appeal to “true” Austrians, including the peasantry, nobility, and the “patriotic middle class” (P. 99). The Austrian idea excluded nationalists of all ilks, as many post-Habsburg intellectuals blamed successful national movements (including the Czechs and Hungarians) for the breakup of the monarchy.
Kożuchowski finds that many intellectuals, from both ends of the political spectrum, understood the Austrian idea as essential for delineating Austria from its German cousin, Prussia. For some Catholic thinkers, fiercely loyal to the fallen monarchy and suspicious of Protestant Prussia, the blame lay at the feet of Prussian and Hungarian politicians who manipulated the Austrians into warring against Serbia and caused the escalation of hostilities, expanding the scale of warfare to become the Great War (P. 57). Writing in exile from his Nazi-occupied homeland, the Austrian Communist Albert Fuchs held similar levels of suspiciousness toward German nationals. Fuchs found balance between the internationalism of the Communist movement, and his homeland pride. For him the blame [End Page 438] rested not with Prussians abroad, but with the German nationalists within the Habsburg monarchy. German nationalists prevented the growth of true Austrian identity during the period when it might have saved the monarchy, and forced an artificial alliance with the German Empire (P. 61).
Interwar intellectuals also varied in their attitudes toward turn-of-the-century Austrian thought. The optimism of “la belle époque,” the golden era, contrasted with the cynicism and anxiety of the “fin de siècle,” or turn of the century. More optimistic authors presented the...