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  • Forging a Multinational State: State Making in Imperial Austria from the Enlightenment to the First World War by John Deak
  • Janek Wasserman
Forging a Multinational State: State Making in Imperial Austria from the Enlightenment to the First World War, by John Deak. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2015. xiii, 355 pp. $65.00 US (cloth).

John Deak's meticulous history of the Austrian bureaucracy from the late eighteenth century until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 offers a compelling counter-narrative to the standard account of the Habsburg Empire's decline and fall. By focusing on the state-building efforts of Austrian Emperors and state officials, he challenges assessments of the state that present Austria as backward. Instead of viewing the Austrian state as an anachronism in the age of modern nation-states, he suggests that it presented an alternate model, since state building was "utterly transformative" (4) for Austria. Moreover, its development has lessons for us about the "emergence of states and about the possibilities and challenges of multinationalism, or transnationalism, in Europe" (5).

Deak's operative concept is state building, a term he takes from Charles Tilly. According to Tilly and others, state building encompasses the formation of state apparatuses and institutions, and the building of armies, taxation, policing, education, and infrastructure. State building tends to disrupt traditional authorities, such as guilds in towns and the nobility in the countryside. Deak argues that writing Austria back into European narratives of state building fructifies this interpretation by shifting our attention away from the nation-state that has dominated historical narratives for too long.

Forging proceeds chronologically from the accession of Maria Theresia in 1740 to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. The introduction outlines the reformation of bureaucracy under Maria Theresia. During and after the War of Austrian Succession (1740–1748), the Empress needed a bigger army and better taxation mechanisms, prompting the creation of a new state. Maria Theresia had to overcome the inefficiency of an empire comprised of multiple administrative units and an entrenched nobility that [End Page 345] stymied reform. Her son, Joseph II (ruled 1780–90), made the most ambitious attempts at reform. As chapter one describes, Joseph II expanded and modernized the state, unified territories, and challenged traditional prerogatives. He introduced a new science of governing called cameralism, and Vienna became a centre for the study of statecraft. More importantly, he inspired the ethos of the state service, an attitude of self-sacrifice for the common good, which the bureaucracy carried with it until 1918. Francis I (1792–1832) and Ferdinand I (1832–48) backed away from Joseph's state-building project to stave off unrest, yet the bureaucracy continued to harbour Josephinist ideals. The bureaucracy had emerged as the third pillar of central authority beside the army and the Church, and Joseph's successors could not reverse that trend.

Chapters two through four look at the efforts of bureaucrats like Count Franz Stadion (1806–1853) and Alexander Bach (1813–1893) to address Austria's major issues between 1848 and 1867: centralization versus federalism; liberalism versus conservatism; absolutism versus participatory politics. Deak argues provocatively that the real revolution in Austria was not the bloody events of 1848 but a revolution from above, initiated by Stadion and carried out within the administrative apparatus. Even though the state veered in the direction of centralized neo-absolutism in the 1850s under Bach, the last vestiges of the old state had been removed and the statebuilding process could no longer revert to earlier forms.

The final two chapters track the course of the new state until 1914. The imperial bureaucracy and elected public servants developed procedures to adjudicate the boundaries between these groups during the "years of procedure" (1868–1900). Conflicts arose over provincial, national, and linguistic matters, yet the administration continued to expand out of necessity. Unfortunately the bureaucrats could no longer extricate themselves from politics. The very survival of Austrian democracy seemed to depend on the bureaucracy, yet even the best-intentioned efforts of officials, typified by the technocratic government of Ernest von Koerber, could not resist the centrifugal tendencies in Austrian politics. The end of the Austrian state was not...


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