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Some cultural influences contributing to the dissolution of the dual monarchy Koerner, Nicholas Thomas

Abstract

This inquiry is concerned with some of the cultural influences which contributed to the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy. Before an attempt could be made in this direction, a brief historical survey had to precede the detailed analysis, to show the evolution of the Dual Monarchy of the Danube basin from an unpretentious principality to the "universal" realm it ultimately became. Highly important was the mission of the Hapsburgs, in their sincere endeavours as defenders of the Christian faith against the Turk. In this they believed themselves to be the champions of Western civilisation - to them the process of empire building was legitimate and fitted in with the German drive to the East and the rulers thus were able to absorb numerous non-German peoples. Already by 1620 the state had nearly reached its greatest degree of expansion. The Hapsburgs during the ensuing centuries achieved much to make the disparate "ramshackle" state into some sort of a whole: such was the state-idea, their substitute for the naturally evolved nation. This was exemplified by the dynasty with its experienced time tested paternalism, in which the last Hapsburg emperor, Franz Joseph, was a past master. Their system depended heavily on a conservative bureaucracy nurtured through generations. The Roman Catholic Church served as a handmaiden in helping the Hapsburgs achieve conformity among the many peoples of the realm in a way comparable to the process of educational proselytism as practised in the Army. Abstract concepts such as tradition, firmly embedded in all subjects of the Empire, helped in the process of Gleichschaltung so that all the citizens instinctively knew their fixed place in the state. During the whole nineteenth century convulsive outside influences beset the empire; these forces were the harbingers of what was to come. The French Revolution led on to modern nationalism, first only felt on an intellectual plane in Central Europe. Eventually there were open revolts in 18I4. Although the risings came to nought, their repercussion was great. After 1850 the nationalities within the empire were an ever present explosive element and much of the thesis shows the part they played in the break-up of the old regime. Nationalism was centrifugal, affecting those nations partially within the empire, who wished to rejoin the remainder of their brethren outside. Even the Austro-Germans were in that position. It also affected the other two nations completely within the empire; the Czechs, who were asserting themselves strongly and were ripe for the winning of independence; the Hungarians enjoyed special rights thanks to the Ausgleich of 1867. The French and Industrial revolutions helped also to loosen other ties of the empire: the rise of industry and of cities led to a change in the social fabric. New communications made enlightenment easy, even to the common man. New industry and growth of education shaped the modern secular man, a thinking sceptical, mundane person, who was as disruptive a factor as any; a force stimulating social disintegration, already sapping the old traditional order. The influence of archaic feudalism and power of the church was waning. Even the "patriotic" cohesion achieved by the army was to be challenged, and a special appendix devoted to švejk will show that the feeling of localism, also fostered by nationalism, would prevail over state and universalism. This was true for all monarchical institutions - the state could not keep abreast of the new times, its subjects were changing and were ready for radical reform - instead of obedient children the state was faced with doubting adults. Some prescient diagnosticians foresaw that a catastrophe was inevitable. Two novelists are discussed, Kafka and Musil, who in their writing demonstrated that the individual was utterly frustrated by the unhealthy and antiquated environment around him. The musician, Mahler, was chosen to illustrate how artists were already conscious of the impending collapse and transmitted this through his innate pessimism and spiritual uprootedness, of which his works are the vehicle. Finally Masaryk is the prime example of the frustrated statesman whose outstanding talents were rejected because the State did not desire forthright individuals in power. The conflict of Masaryk with the surviving old order is the pivot of the whole argument. He exemplified the new forces which could not be contained in the old system, and the inability of the regime to adjust itself to the new trends is what made for its eventual downfall.

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