JOSEPHINISM. The meaning of the term, as well as the origins and nature of Josephinism, have been the objects of one of the most savage controversies in Central European historiography. Initially coined in the nineteenth century to describe the reform program implemented in the Habsburg Monarchy during the reign of Emperor Joseph II (co-regent 1765–1780, ruled 1780–1790), "Josephinism" came increasingly to apply specifically to the measures undertaken against the social, economic, political, and cultural position of the Catholic Church in the monarchy. Definitions have ranged across a broad spectrum, from seeing it as a general ideology of reform—a kind of Austrian variant of the Enlightenment—to interpreting it narrowly as state control over the ecclesiastical sphere. All interpretations have come to agree, however, that the roots of the reform momentum go back to the early eighteenth century, and that the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (ruled 1740–1780) was the critical era during which reform ideas crystallized.
In the seventeenth-century Counter-Reformation, Catholicism was in many ways the integrating ideology of the highly pluralistic patrimony of the Habsburgs. It involved not only a set of confessional dogmas, but broader patterns of thought and culture inextricably intertwined with a social and political infrastructure that had grown out of the economic and social upheavals of the era. When this polity proved unequal to the challenges it faced in the first half of the eighteenth century, the remedial measures undertaken identified confessional issues among the central problems to be addressed. Because of the degree of integration between political and confessional issues in the Counter-Reformation state, however, these reforms were not effected in discrete confessional spheres but had broad social, economic, and political consequences. Political economists argued that confessional policies were responsible for the relative economic underdevelopment of the Habsburg lands, while various ecclesiastical reform movements within the church became increasingly disenchanted with most ritualized form of baroque piety and advocated more internalized forms of worship. Secular, rational, and utilitarian values and a simpler, internalized religious ethos thus came to constitute the backbone of Josephinism.
By the time Joseph II became sole ruler of the Habsburg lands in 1780, all the main features of the "Josephinist" program were already in place. Both the pace and scope of reform accelerated, but even then its most prominent aspects remained those that touched on the religious sphere: the dissolution of about one-third of the monarchy's monastic institutions with its concomitant confiscation of church property, the proclamations of confessional tolerance for Protestants and Jews, the effective establishment of a civil constitution for the Austrian clergy through state control of seminaries and the wide-ranging reorganization of parishes, and the promulgation of civil marriage and austere burial ordinances. Attitudes underlying these reforms remained alive well into the next century, despite the monarchy's sharp turn to political conservatism during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and the subsequent Age of Metternich. Josephinism can thus be seen as one of the most important roots of nineteenth-century Austrian liberalism.
See also Bohemia ; Enlightenment ; Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Joseph II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Maria Theresa (Holy Roman Empire) .
No study specifically devoted to Josephinism exists in the English language. The reform momentum of the eighteenth century with its central ecclesiastical dimension, which culminated in the reign of Joseph II, can best be approached through Ernst Wangermann, The Austrian Achievement, 1700–1800 (London, 1973). More recent discussions can be followed in the relevant chapters of Derek Beales, Joseph II, Vol. 1: In the Shadow of Maria Theresa, 1741–1780 (Cambridge, U.K., 1987) and Franz A. J. Szabo, Kaunitz and Enlightened Absolutism, 1753–1780 (Cambridge, U.K., 1994). The major studies in German are by Fritz Valjavec, Eduard Winter, and Ferdinand Maass.
Franz A. J. Szabo
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