AUSTRIA-HUNGARYan age of reform
failed absolutism and liberal reform
hungary after 1867
austria after 1867
foreign policy in the final decades
In 1789 the Habsburg Monarchy covered an area that today lies within the borders of Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Belgium, and Italy. By 1914 the Monarchy was geographically more consolidated, having lost its outlying territories in today's Belgium and most of those on the Italian peninsula, and having gained Bosnia-Herzegovina at the expense of its Ottoman neighbor to the south. In the west, the Habsburg dynasty's holdings included Bohemia and Moravia, territories originally acquired by marriage and election in 1526, and later claimed through hereditary rule. The family's traditional hereditary lands included the provinces of Lower and Upper Austria, Carinthia, Carniola, Styria, Salzburg, and Tirol—essentially today's Austria and Slovenia. To the east, the Habsburgs ruled as elective, and later hereditary, kings of Hungary, a kingdom that in 1789 included the semiautonomous regions of Transylvania and Croatia. Although the dynasty had acquired Hungary in 1526, it had fought the Ottoman Empire for control over that kingdom in a series of wars that had ended only at the beginning of the eighteenth century and that had prevented the Habsburgs from consolidating administrative control over Hungary. More recently the dynasty had augmented its holdings in the northeast with the first partition of Poland, gaining the newly invented Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria in 1772 and, in 1775, a slice of neighboring territory farther to the east that was christened the Duchy of Bukovina.
As in the case of many other European states around 1800, the Habsburg Monarchy included diverse regions that had experienced very different degrees of economic development and urbanization, and whose people had access to different types of education and social mobility. Particularly in the west, Bohemia, Moravia, Lower Austria, Styria, and Lombardy had developed strong interregional markets and boasted levels of industrial production as sophisticated as any in continental Europe. Here urban merchants, artisans, elements of the aristocracy, and immigrants from western Europe with access to capital had founded textile, mining, and agriculturally based industries. The spread of large-scale commercial firms had begun to challenge the prevailing legal and customary concepts of property ownership, banking and commercial practices, labor organization, and technological development. To the east and south, however, economies remained relatively isolated from interregional trade, overwhelmingly agricultural in nature, and far less productive. At the start of the eighteenth century all these territories had sported very different administrative structures and legal relations to the regime in Vienna, and in some cases, little or no relationship to each other. The central government in Vienna had in turn exercised its power differently over most of these territories. Local elites expressed their provincial interests in traditional noble-dominated diets that generally met irregularly and that struggled increasingly during the eighteenth century to enforce traditional privilege against their Habsburg rulers' administrative encroachments.
The year 1789 found the Habsburg Monarchy in considerable political turmoil due to the imposition of a series of particularly radical reforms authored by Emperor Joseph II (r. 1780–1790) and enforced against the wishes of most interests represented in the regional diets. During the eighteenth century the Monarchy had experienced an inexorable progression of reform initiatives from Vienna that sought to forge a centralized state and to create an economically more productive society out of the diverse collection of territories that owed allegiance to the Habsburg ruler. A series of agreements in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had already transformed the dynasty's rule from elective to hereditary in character, and the acceptance of the Pragmatic Sanction (1713) had ensured the succession through the female branch of the family as well. Maria Theresa (r. 1740–1780) sought not only to consolidate her political power vis-à-vis the diets, but also to transform, rationalize, and improve all aspects of society. She, her sons, and her ministers intended to reinvigorate a stagnating empire, to stimulate greater economic growth, to ensure generalized prosperity, and to raise the moral and educational level of their poorest subjects. By 1789 the Habsburgs' centralizing efforts had largely succeeded in wearing down the most stubborn cases of institutional and administrative diversity. In their place, the contours of a centralized state had emerged, one administered by a professional bureaucracy loyal to Vienna.
The main obstacles to royal reform, however, remained the crushing social and economic weight of local noble privilege, the often-landless and unproductive peasantry enserfed by that nobility, the monopolistic power exerted over production by local guilds, and the lack of an educated citizenry. Maria Theresa took steps to remedy each obstacle with the aid of a greatly expanded state civil service that gradually assumed the local and regional powers of administration from local nobles and the noble-dominated diets. Members of this growing civil service, in turn, whether themselves of noble or middle-class origin, identified their interests increasingly with those of the reforming state from which they derived their mandate to interfere in local society. In the 1770s Maria Theresa even instituted a mandatory system of schools in her Austrian, Bohemian, and Hungarian lands as a means not only to improve knowledge and morality among her peasant subjects, but also to produce a cadre of educated commoners for the expanding civil service.
With the accession of Joseph II in 1780, the pace of imperial reform moved swiftly to more radical conclusions. Joseph was a tireless worker who traveled frequently across his vast realms with the object of observing local conditions, cataloging and measuring economic resources, and developing effective policies for their rational exploitation. In 1781 Joseph abolished the physical rights nobles exercised over serfs in Austria and Bohemia, giving peasants the right to move, marry, and gain an education without their lord's permission (although the manorial system continued to remain in effect). In 1785 he extended this abolition of physical control over peasants to Hungary as well. Edicts promulgated in 1784 and 1786 further relaxed local guild powers of economic regulation, and in 1785 Joseph undertook a land survey of the entire Monarchy as the prelude to developing a unified system of land taxation.
In cultural matters Joseph also proceeded rapidly, issuing an Edict of Toleration in 1781 that legalized the practice of Protestant, Orthodox, and Uniate (Greek Catholic) religions, placing their adherents on an equal legal footing with Catholics and removing many forms of discrimination against Jews. Jews were now eligible for military service, a transformation that called into question remaining limits on their freedom as citizens. Joseph's intentions regarding the Catholic Church were not to subvert its predominant position in Austrian society so much as to bring it and the other constituted religions under the control of the state. He established seminaries for Catholic and Uniate (Greek Catholic) priests in Galicia, as well as a university in L'viv/Lwów/Lemberg, for example, thus raising the level of required education for priests, but also exerting state control over its content. Joseph also relaxed censorship laws and encouraged the expansion of public and private education at all levels. Radical new civil and criminal codes followed in 1786 that applied equally to noble and non-noble offenders.
What later nationalists considered the most execrable or praiseworthy of Joseph's many acts, depending on their political outlook, was the privileged legal status he assigned to the German language in the civil service and much of the school system. Joseph himself would not have understood the controversy because to him and his successors, these measures had nothing to do with a German nationalist impulse, a desire somehow to "Germanize" the Monarchy's linguistically diverse peoples. Rather, Joseph believed that using the German language would enhance the institutional unity of the state and facilitate inter-regional commerce and administration. Latin, which had previously been the language of much official communication (serving, for example, as the language of the Hungarian Diet), was considered by Joseph to be inadequate in an age of technical innovation. The language law provoked angry reactions, however, particularly in Hungary where, in 1785, administrators were given just one year and judicial officials three years in which to learn German as a replacement for Latin. Proof that Joseph did not envision a Germanization of his peoples may be found in his policies to promote use of vernacular languages other than German in some provinces as well. While its implementation as the new lingua franca for the Monarchy required the greater promotion of German language study in secondary schools and universities, the regime continued to recognize the importance of communication with the population in other locally used languages. The dynasty did not intend German to replace customary usage in regions where the vernacular differed from it. In Bohemia, for example, the government continued its traditional custom of proclaiming new laws in both the Czech and German languages.
In 1789 Joseph announced a tax law based on his new land survey that would have diminished the money paid by peasants to their lords and increased the amounts owed by those lords to the state. This measure would have completed the abolition of serfdom and in some parts of the Monarchy would have cut noble agricultural income by more than half. As Joseph's reign came to a tumultuous close, the dynasty faced growing revolts in the Netherlands, in Hungary, and among nobles throughout the Monarchy. Joseph's temperamentally more moderate brother and successor, Leopold II (r. 1790–1792), hoped to calm the uprisings by moderating the reforms, without backing down from their original intent, and in 1791 he reached a compromise with the Hungarian Diet. But by this time the reformers faced an entirely different set of challengers who forced nobles, bureaucrats, and emperor together in a common alliance to protect the social order at home and to combat military aggression from abroad.
The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, its subsequent radicalization and military challenge to aristocratic Europe, forced the dynasty to reconsider
the measures it had taken to weaken the powers of the nobility and church, two potentially conservative and stabilizing elements in Habsburg society. Threatened by the specter of revolutionary social unrest, Leopold's son Francis II/I (r. 1792–1835) made peace with the nobility. He did not, however, renounce the centralist achievements of his predecessors. Instead, he used their formidable bureaucratic machinery for more socially conservative ends. During the next fifty years the Austrian bureaucracy assumed the unfamiliar and often uncomfortable role of preserving a socially conservative status quo, often by intruding on and censoring the activities and writings of an emerging middle-class civil society. Prince Clemens von Metternich, foreign minister from 1809 to 1848, epitomized this harsh domestic Habsburg policy that sought to suppress any signs of revolution, both at home and abroad.
During the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) the Monarchy survived countless defeats and considerable territorial losses. The Holy Roman Empire, of which the Habsburgs were nominal emperors, collapsed in the face of Napoleonic alliances and armies. In 1804 Emperor Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire declared that the Habsburg realms constituted an "empire" of their own and that he would henceforth be known as "Emperor Francis I of Austria." The final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 made the Habsburg state victorious in Europe, but victory came at the price of near bankruptcy. Financial crisis combined with Metternich's ambition to police the rest of Europe led Emperor Francis to try to squeeze greater funds and soldiers from his territories. During the Napoleonic Wars the nobility had provided increased revenues for the military, while the Habsburgs had provided the nobility with protection against popular sedition. Nobles in some regions had prospered thanks to their exploitation of wartime economic needs. But by the 1820s they were doing much worse economically, and when, for example, the Hungarian nobles finally refused to pay up any longer, they also demanded the convocation of a Hungarian national diet in 1825.
Already during the eighteenth century, protesting nobles had couched their political opposition to Maria Theresa's and Joseph II's reforms in a language that invoked the concepts of "states' rights" and "national liberties." The Hungarian Diet of 1825 (as well as those that followed in the next decade) was understood by the nobles to speak for the so-called Hungarian nation. At this point in history, however, the term Hungarian nation (or in Latin, natio Hungarica) referred only to those groups with the right to representation in the diet: the nobility, the Catholic clergy, and a few enfranchised burghers of the free royal town. The vast majority of the country's population, those who paid the taxes, served in the military, and bowed to the whims of the nobility, were commoners with no public role or voice, and no part in the political "nation." This traditional understanding of the term nation applied equally well, for example, to the Polish nation, which is how nobles in Galicia referred to themselves. Nowhere in this region did the term nation share the more socially universal definition it had gained under the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic regimes. Furthermore, while language use and religious practice later came to define national identity, at this point the number of self-styled nationalist nobles who could even speak the Magyar or Czech languages was quite small. While some historians believe that Joseph II's centralizing policies had inadvertently "awakened" the slumbering consciousness of nations in the Monarchy, this formulation presumes there was something there to be awakened in the first place. Noble opponents of royal centralization framed their opposition to absolutism increasingly in terms of their so-called national liberties, but the collective body they invoked referred to their own narrow social class interests. It did not refer to some imagined mass of people who consciously shared some vital (if nebulously defined) characteristics such as language use, a common "culture," or religion. The nobility spoke for the rights of their ancient states (Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland) against the encroachments of their imperial rulers.
Some critical observers such as Count István Széchenyi (1791–1860) in Hungary blamed Hungary's political weakness and economic poverty precisely on a shortsighted nobility that gave little thought to the economic welfare of the larger society and fought only to maintain its class privilege. Nobles in Galicia learned the hard way that if a Polish nation did in fact exist, its membership was limited to the uppermost classes, who were often hated by the rest of society. In another sign of the limited extent of national self-identification in these regions, peasants often mythologized their Habsburg rulers for having attempted to intervene on their behalf over the years against their noble masters. Such peasants did not see themselves as part of an imagined Hungarian or Polish nation. When in 1846 Polish nobles in Galicia rebelled against the Habsburgs, Polish- and Ukrainian-speaking peasants famously turned on their rebellious landlords in large numbers and massacred them, claiming to oppose the oppressive Polish nation in whose name the nobles had rebelled.
Nobles invoking national myths were not the only emerging opponents of the regime under the harsh rule of Francis and his mentally incompetent successor, Ferdinand I (r. 1835–1848). During the 1830s and 1840s an emerging urban civil society in cities throughout the monarchy (Vienna, Pest, Pressburg/Pozsony, Prague, Graz, Ljubljana/Laibach, L'viv) created social and economic institutions that posited alternate models of rule to Habsburg despotism or noble privilege. Early industrialist associations lobbied for more industry-friendly policies from a government that seemed intent on holding the potentially political ills of industrialization at bay. Noble and middle-class educational, scientific, professional, gymnastics, choral, and charity societies all attempted to effect some kind of social change through collective activity. Historians developed nationalist histories in vernacular languages serving the interests of incipient Czech, Hungarian, and Polish nationalist movements. The noble-dominated diets remained the locus of whatever forms of political protest were possible, but the discourses their members invoked and the policies they promoted began to follow more middle-class and less purely aristocratic formulations of interest. When strikes in the textile industry threatened social order in Moravia in 1844 or hunger threatened disorder in Vienna in 1847, middle-class journalists and reformminded noble nationalists alike blamed both the incompetence and the arrogance of the oppressive central government.
In 1848, when a series of revolutions broke out across Europe, Pest, Vienna, and Prague were among the cities at the forefront of experiments with political reform. In Hungary, under the leadership of Lajos Kossuth (1802–1894), the diet rapidly proclaimed a new constitutional regime in April (the April Laws). This arrangement confirmed Hungary's existence independent of other Habsburg territories, promised liberal rights of citizenship and enfranchisement to many more inhabitants (although not to Jews or to small property owners), and maintained full enfranchisement for any noble, no matter how poor. The Hungarian reformers postponed any significant transformation of the manorial system, a tack that pleased the broad gentry class and nobility but did little to satisfy the peasantry. Furthermore, the April Laws imposed the Magyar language on state and society, and this tended to diminish revolutionary unity, provoking opposition among leaders in Croatia and Transylvania who rejected Magyar predominance and insisted on using Latin in their communications with the government. In fact the question of defining the nation and the privileged role of the Magyar language helped to alienate many who spoke other languages and who might otherwise have sympathized with the new liberal constitutional regime. Later in 1848 and 1849 the Habsburg military carefully exploited this alienation as the dynasty struggled to reimpose control over Hungary. The dynasty's strategy of divide and conquer ultimately provoked the Hungarian revolutionaries in turn to depose the Habsburgs and to declare full independence in April 1849.
In Vienna the government collapsed in March 1848, Metternich fled, and the emperor's advisors promised a constitutional regime with liberal franchise laws, civil rights, the abolition of censorship, and, eventually, an end to the remaining vestiges of serfdom and the manorial system (which in Galicia were considerable). Occasional outbursts of popular violence in Vienna throughout the spring continued to drive the revolution further to the left, until the court found it expedient to remove itself to the safer, more conservative city of Innsbruck. In July an Austrian parliament elected by means of an extremely generous suffrage set about writing a constitution, and it too was eventually removed to the sleepy town of Kremsier/Kroměříž in Moravia in order to avoid the political pressures exerted by the radical crowd in the streets of Vienna. At the same time, the issue of political nationalism came to the fore in several different and often contradictory contexts. Austria sent a large delegation to the Frankfurt National Assembly, which struggled in 1848 and 1849 to forge a new united Germany. Liberal Austrians who sat in the Frankfurt National Assembly tended to share an idealistic vision of a future united Germany that would include the non-German-speaking Habsburg territories. The inhabitants of these territories, it was imagined, would receive linguistic rights where necessary from the fraternal German people, and they would reap considerable benefits from their participation in the high cultural and economic development of the German nation. In fact, using a universal language of inclusion, many Austro-German liberals imagined their nation to be defined by its very commitment to the values of liberal humanism, values available to any struggling people in east-central Europe.
At the same time, and in reaction to the events at Frankfurt, Czech national liberal leaders proclaimed their own adherence to an Austria separate from Germany and defined by Slav interests. The (bilingual) Bohemian historian František Palacký (1798–1876), who had been invited to participate in the planning process for the Frankfurt National Assembly, used the occasion of his reply to articulate this Austro-Slav position most effectively. Calling for an Austria organized around a principle of Slav solidarity, since this would protect the so-called smaller nations of central Europe from German and Russian hegemony, Palacký argued that had Austria not existed, it would have had to be invented for this very purpose. In June an informal Slav Congress even met in Prague, although its activities tended to demonstrate the difficulties of forging a common program that would unite the political interests of Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak, Serbian, and Slovene speakers across the Monarchy.
Many historians have since judged nationalism rather than liberalism to have been the major source of discontent in 1848. Such a judgment accepts the nationalist rhetoric of 1848 at face value, and views it in the context of modern nationalist sensibilities, rather than in terms of the specific and limited meanings that attached to such language over 150 years ago. The fact that Austro-Slav declarations by Czech nationalist leaders caught their German-speaking counterparts in Bohemia by surprise should alert the observer to the relative novelty and insignificance of the national issue to most Austrians in 1848. Nationalist discourse became a critical vehicle for conveying regional demands that year, but the nations it invoked were largely figments of the nationalists' own imagination. More often than not, regional and class loyalties far outweighed their nationalist counterparts. German and Czech-identified deputies to the Austrian parliament from Bohemia (many of whom were bilingual) agreed more often with each other, for example, than they did with German-speaking delegates from Lower Austria or Styria. And unlike their Polish noble counterparts, Polish-speaking peasant deputies to the parliament sought an immediate end to all forms of manorialism. Many historians of 1848 have also argued that the work of the constitutional committee at the parliament in Kremsier constituted the last possibility for a friendly constitutional understanding among the various "nations" of Austria. Indeed the work of the committee provided a notable model for later Austrian constitutions, but the compromises achieved by the committee emerged from its members' powerful conviction that their common liberal sympathies far outweighed nationalist differences. Whether they held centralist or federalist views, German national or Slav national orientations, the men at Kremsier largely put aside their differences over the latter issues to produce a bill of rights and state structure that would have transformed dynastic Austria into a genuinely constitutional regime.
Their efforts, however, would not pay off for another twenty years. Already in the summer of 1848 the regime had begun to reassert its dominance against the revolution, even against its more moderate proponents. In June, Field Marshal Prince Alfred Windischgrätz successfully laid siege to Prague, ending both the Slav Congress and a radical student uprising there. In October the military besieged revolutionary Vienna, long since abandoned by the court and most moderates. In early December the regime replaced the faltering Emperor Ferdinand with the eighteen-year-old Francis Joseph I (r. 1848–1916), and in the spring of 1849 the new emperor and his prime minister, Felix Schwarzenberg, sent the Austrian parliament home, imposing a constitution of their own devising on Austria. Later in 1849, with the help of the Russian military, the Austrians finally managed to defeat the armies of the Hungarian rebels, and in 1851 the emperor decided to rule openly as an absolute monarch by abrogating the constitution he had issued a year before.
The absolutist system of the 1850s did not, however, represent a return to the Metternich years. After a brief period of harsh retribution following the revolutionary denouement, the regime focused on promoting industrial development, economic modernization, educational reform, and political quiescence. The regime invested close to 20 percent of its annual expenditures during the 1850s in railway construction, for example, an unheard of amount second only to its expenditure on the military. Starting in 1850 the state also sponsored the creation of chambers of commerce to promote local business interests in cities and towns throughout the monarchy. Several revolutionary reforms,
including the abolition of serfdom (confirmed in 1849 in Austria and 1853 in Hungary), and the beginnings of municipal autonomy remained in force. Censorship returned, but in far less draconian form than its pre-1848 versions. Liberalism as a set of progressive and modern attitudes toward the transformation of society grew ever more popular throughout Austrian and Hungarian society, but was now shorn of its radical democratic implications.
Two severe and related weaknesses undermined the potential success of this new absolutist system, and eventually provoked liberal political reform, an international reorientation of Austria's foreign goals, and a radical structural transformation of the monarchy. The first of these weaknesses was financial. Economic growth was substantial during the 1850s, but so was investment. Economic consolidation at home demanded a less activist policy abroad. Yet Francis Joseph and his ministers were determined during the 1850s to maintain both Austria's great-power status and its political hegemony in the German Confederation. Both of these policies demanded significant investment in the military. In 1858 already 40 percent of the government's expenditures went to service the state debt. An expensive mobilization during the Crimean War (1853–1856) and a disastrous campaign against Piedmont-Sardinia in 1859 brought the state to the verge of bankruptcy. The threat of fiscal insolvency and the demands of his creditors for an open and credible budgetary process forced the unwilling Francis Joseph to authorize political reform. The second and related weakness in the 1850s was the government's inability to rule Hungary successfully. Widespread passive resistance in the form of withholding taxes in Hungary did not help the fiscal situation either. In the face of attempts to reintroduce German as the language of administration and to restructure and centralize local administration, the regime faced determined hostility and a resurgence in Magyar nationalism among the political classes.
For these reasons, the regime was forced to offer significant political reform both to the liberals and to the Hungarians, eventually creating the Dual Monarchy, Austria-Hungary, from the ruins of the unitary absolutist Austrian state. Military defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1866 also reoriented Austria's foreign policy decisively by removing it from the German question. What is often forgotten is that domestic reform in 1861 and 1867 established firmly constitutional, if structurally very different regimes in both halves of the Dual Monarchy. The dynasty managed to retain its supremacy in foreign policy and military affairs, but liberal reform ended the unquestioned dominance of the Catholic Church in domestic affairs and established an independent judiciary as well as public school systems. Even Francis Joseph's powers in foreign and military affairs were restricted by constitutional budget procedures. The compromise agreement, or Ausgleich, that created Austria-Hungary in 1867 gave each of the two new states complete independence from the other in its internal affairs, and required only that representatives from the two parliaments renegotiate common tariffs, debt policy, and joint finances every ten years. The emperor/king appointed three joint ministers for foreign affairs, defense, and joint finances. In his capacities as emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, Francis Joseph I appointed the prime ministers of each state and presided over both sets of cabinet meetings as well as the meetings of the joint cabinet (usually the three common ministers plus the two prime ministers). Finally it is important for subsequent developments to note that each state maintained the capability to block any significant constitutional change proposed by the other.
In Hungary the new regime immediately orchestrated a compromise of its own with Croatia, the nagodba of 1868, which offered broad administrative autonomy and a smaller degree of legislative autonomy to Croatia within the Kingdom of Hungary. The governor or ban of Croatia, however, was appointed from Budapest, and this arrangement eventually created considerable unrest among Croatian nationalists after 1900. The Hungarian regime formulated a comparatively generous nationality law, designed to facilitate the voluntary assimilation over time of several language groups who together accounted for over half of Hungary's population. In the 1870s, however, this law was augmented by increasingly draconian policies of forced Magyarization that reduced the rights of linguistic minorities (except for the Croatians) to organize their own education and voluntary cultural associations. Additionally, the restrictive suffrage laws in Hungary privileged the gentry and aristocracy and ensured that political parties representing linguistic minorities never elected more than a 5 to 6 percent share of the deputies to the parliament. In this sense, Hungary constituted a nation-state (or nationalizing state) similar to many of the successor states of the Habsburg Monarchy in the interwar period. But a critical difference between the liberal Kingdom of Hungary and those later interwar states was the relative openness and tolerance the country's leading classes maintained toward those who chose to assimilate, most notably the Jews. An individual who adopted the Magyar language and adhered to its cultural norms gained national rights, whatever religion the person practiced, a situation that was rarely the case in the region after 1918. According to census statistics, these policies had a powerful transforming effect on Hungarian society. Whereas in the 1840s and 1850s only 40 to 42 percent of the population had spoken Magyar, by 1910 that figure had reached 55 percent with the figure for the urban population standing closer to 75 percent.
Hungarian national economic policy produced intensive investment both by the state and private banks in industry and particularly in railroad construction. Although Hungary remained an important agricultural exporter to the Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy, it also experienced significant industrial and per capita income growth during the sixty years after the Ausgleich. Nationalist concerns tended to dominate politics in Hungary, and both social antagonisms and political opposition to the ruling elite liberal party were frequently expressed using a nationalist discourse. At the turn of the century nationalist radicals frequently demanded a revision of the links between Austria and Hungary to loosen the relationship to a merely personal union, and to create a separate Hungarian military with Magyar as its language of command. Francis Joseph parried these challenges by threatening to impose universal manhood suffrage on elections to parliament, a reform that would undoubtedly have weakened the Hungarian political class to the benefit both of linguistic minorities and a disaffected peasantry, landless peasants making up a quarter of the total population in 1900.
Politics in the Austrian or Cisleithanian half of the Monarchy too were dominated by questions of nationalism, but for the opposite reason as in Hungary. Austria was neither a national nor a nationalizing state. The Austrian constitution provided for full equality of language use in the schools and in the civil administration. These guarantees created a significant political space in which nationalist activists might agitate for full implementation and then extension of this promised equality into ever-increasing areas of public life. Although Czech nationalists may have failed to achieve their own compromise that would have given the Kingdom of Bohemia an independent status similar to that enjoyed by Hungary, their activism in the parliament and diets and in the courts helped transform the school system, the internal civil service, and the judiciary by institutionalizing the official use of the Czech language in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. Slovene nationalists gained the same rights for their language in Ljubljana and Carniola as did Italian nationalists in Trieste. Galicia, meanwhile, gained a significant degree of autonomy that gave Polish nationalist politicians broad powers of self-government and replaced the German language with Polish in the administration of the province. This arrangement helped Polish nationalists maintain a harsh political, social, and cultural hegemony over the largely peasant Ruthene or Ukrainian-speaking population that constituted a majority in eastern Galicia. As Ruthene nationalism gained adherents and momentum under the guidance largely of Uniate priests in eastern Galicia, however, Polish rulers were eventually forced to accede to some compromise in their nationalist rule.
As a result, nationalist parties appeared to dominate legislative bodies and popular political discourse throughout the Austrian half of the Monarchy. Most historians have seen this development as injurious to the unity and broader interests of the Monarchy. As suffrage reform mobilized growing numbers of people into public life, political conflict around national issues became increasingly polarized. Activists used strategies of boycott, filibuster, and occasionally street violence to gain their political ends, or to prevent their opponents from gaining theirs. Historians and contemporary observers, however, often misread the significance of much of this radicalism in three distinct ways. First, the radicalizing dynamic was far more the product of conflict within the nationalist communities than between them. As a political tool, nationalism tended to produce greater radicalism, as one faction tried to defeat the other by comparing its own virtuous intransigence to its opponent's alleged willingness to compromise. This tactic characterized both the Czech and German nationalist parties in Bohemia, which directed their ire as much against rivals within their national communities as against their national opponents. Second, with some marginal exceptions such as pan-German Georg von Schönerer, nationalist politicians before 1914 never conceived of secession from the Monarchy as their aim. They worked within the system and did not seek its destruction, only its reform. Third, nationalists frequently strengthened dynastic loyalty by counterposing their own loyalty to the crown to the questionable loyalty of their opponents. This last point can be applied to the case of religious diversity in the Monarchy as well. Catholic emperor-king Francis Joseph became the unquestioned and beloved patron of many of the Monarchy's varied religious communities, often seen by them as a beneficent protector in the face of local intolerance from practitioners of other religions.
Taken together these points suggest that traditional interpretations that questioned the state's ability to maintain the loyalty of its peoples, and therefore the very viability of the Austrian half of the Monarchy before 1914, should be treated with caution. If one adds to the equation the significant economic transformation of Austrian society in the two decades before 1914—the growth of a social democratic movement largely loyal to the idea of the multinational state, the success of local self-government institutions, the advent of universal manhood suffrage in 1907, and the national compromises in Moravia, Bukovina, and Galicia—the image of a society on the verge of destruction seems difficult to justify.
If anything, Austria-Hungary's foreign policy ambitions and not its domestic political situations suggested far more reasons for concern about its long-term ability to survive. In 1873 Austria-Hungary had joined in a conservative alliance with the Russian and German Empires, the so-called Three Emperors' League. The alliance with Germany outlasted that with Russia, however, as Austria-Hungary clashed continuously with the latter for hegemony in the Balkans. At the Congress of Berlin of 1878, referred to by one historian as "the Monarchy's last unqualified foreign political success" (Okey, p. 370), Austria-Hungary's intervention served the interests of the British and French by helping to check Russian expansion in the region. The Monarchy's subsequent occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina was controversial at home for its budgetary implications, and among its neighbors because it effectively prevented Serbia from gaining a desired outlet to the Adriatic. The Three Emperors' League was renewed in 1881 at the insistence of Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, but it collapsed later in the decade during the Bulgarian crisis when Austria-Hungarian and Russian rivalry over influence in Bulgaria brought the two powers close to war. In 1897 Russian preoccupation with events in the Far East helped make an implicit agreement possible between the two states that informally divided their spheres of influence between the west and east Balkans. Following Russia's defeat at the hands of Japan, however, the Balkan agreement collapsed when Austria-Hungary suddenly annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. The annexation was meant to counter Young Turk designs to give Bosnians representation in the new Ottoman parliament, as well as to give Austria-Hungary a foreign policy success. Instead, the annexation permanently frustrated Serb ambitions and severely damaged relations with Russia. The subsequent Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 effectively removed the Ottoman Empire from Europe and also saw the considerable territorial expansion of Serbia and the creation of Albania, once again to frustrate Serb hopes for an outlet to the Adriatic. Bosnia-Herzegovina, meanwhile, did not join either half of the Monarchy, but was given special status outside the dual system with its own elected diet.
In 1914 Austria-Hungary certainly had enemies in Serbia and Russia and among Romanian irredentists. Nevertheless, both the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria were anxious to ally themselves with the Central Powers (the Monarchy, Germany, and Italy), and it could be argued that these developments pointed toward a new balance of power in the Balkans. As in the case of domestic politics, it is difficult to maintain a balanced view of the Monarchy's foreign policy that does not depend in some way for its coherence on the particular outcome of World War I.
See alsoAdler, Victor; Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia; Ferdinand I; Francis I; Francis Joseph; Kossuth, Lajos; Lueger, Karl; Metternich, Clemens von; Palacký, František; Prague Slav Congress; Revolutions of 1848.
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"Austria-Hungary." Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe 1789-1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/austria-hungary
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