Lueger, Karl

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the catholic politician
the anti-semite
lueger in the political context of fin-de-siÈcle austria

LUEGER, KARL (1844–1910), Austrian politician.

Karl Lueger was arguably the most consequential mayor of Vienna from 1848, the year of European revolution, till 1938, the year of Anschluss. His rule lasted nearly thirteen years (1897–1910), longer than any other Viennese mayor during the sixty-eight-year reign of Francis Joseph I, emperor of Austria-Hungary. As mayor, Lueger occupied the highest elective position in the Habsburg Empire, and he was at the same time the leader of the Austrian Christian Social Party.

Lueger remains a controversial figure and his is a dual legacy. He socialized and improved many of Vienna's municipal services, and built schools, parks, and public facilities. But some consider his ideas to have had an ominous impact on Adolf Hitler, who acknowledged him in Mein Kampf as "the greatest German mayor of all times." Lueger, however, was an unsystematic anti-Semite whose most remembered words—"I decide who is a Jew!"—were echoed both by Hitler and one of Hitler's most important followers, Hermann Göring. Lueger led Austria's first successful mass political party, having formed a coalition comprised of many interest groups. According to the American historian Richard S. Levy, creating such a coalition was perhaps Lueger's most important contribution to Hitler's political education. The Christian Social Party came into its own during Lueger's mayoralty and extended its influence into imperial politics as the leading party in the Austrian parliament from 1907 to 1911.

Coming to the fore during the waning years of Austrian Liberalism, Lueger built on its foundations just as the Social Democrats would carry on some of the Christian Socialists' unrealized projects. His family background marked Lueger as a man of the people, but it was somewhat unusual for the pre-1918 period that he achieved a significant leadership role belying his lower-middle-class origins. It was said that no prime minister could be appointed without his approval, and Lueger was dubbed "the uncrowned king of Vienna." In spite of his personal background, Lueger received an elitist education at the exclusive There sianum preparatory school, where his father was a custodian, and at the University of Vienna. He received his doctor of law degree in 1870.

the catholic politician

Lueger was an important champion of fin-desiècle Austrian political Catholicism. Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878–1903) thought well enough of him during his struggle for the mayoralty to display Lueger's picture on his desk. Some aristocratic Austrians, including Emperor Francis Joseph himself who three times denied Lueger the necessary sanction of his election to mayor, disliked his anti-Semitism. But other Catholic conservatives saw Lueger and his movement as important bulwarks against "godless socialism," a concern that Lueger and his propagandists skillfully exploited. Lueger made a show of religious devotion, but this may well have been calculated to create an image of himself as a defender of traditional religious values. His relationship with certain radical priests attempting to win back their wandering flocks was thus of mutual advantage, because the priests stumped for Lueger from their pulpits.

the anti-semite

Surprisingly, one of Lueger's early friends, the physician and politician Ignaz Mandl, was Jewish. As early as 1877 Mandl's party campaigned against a rival on the grounds that he was a Jew. Though out of office at the time, Lueger nonetheless assisted Mandl's party. This may have been Lueger's first initiation into the tactics of expedient anti-Semitism, a technique that later played a major role in defining his politics. During most of the 1880s Lueger's anti-Semitism was more implied than overt, but he did cooperate with a number of outspoken anti-Semites, including the racist Georg von Schönerer, whose Jewish exclusion bill Lueger supported in 1887. During that same year Lueger began to make anti-Semitic speeches and thus contributed to the increasing radicalization of Austrian politics. While some of Lueger's anti-Semitic activities were doubtless opportunistic and calculated to capitalize on popular sentiment, there is no denying that, as a "respectable" politician with an elitist education in the eyes of his followers, he legitimized anti-Semitism in Austrian politics. His successors had their work done for them.

Lueger avoided violating the letter of the law: Jews had been granted legal equality together with most other religions in the empire, so anti-Semitic Austrian politicians eschewed the older religious line of attack. Instead, anti-Semitism assumed a

racial or political shape and would in the century to come aim at depriving Jews of the franchise, their civil rights, and ultimately their lives. Schönerer was one of the new school of extremist anti-Semites. He possessed a violent and unsavory reputation after he led his followers in wrecking the editorial office of the Neues Wiener Tagblatt (New Vienna daily) in 1888. Schönerer believed this newspaper had prematurely reported the death of William I, emperor of Germany, in order to manipulate stock prices. Schönerer was arrested, tried and found guilty of assault, and sentenced to jail and forfeiture of his political rights until 1893. He also lost his patent of nobility. Lueger defended Schönerer in parliament, stating that one of his constituents had told him at a party meeting that there were "enough Jewish journalists in Vienna, but only one Schönerer" (Geehr, 1990, p. 74).

In 1889 Lueger broke with Mandl. Thereafter, until he died in 1910, Lueger continued to make anti-Semitic remarks in parliament, the Lower Austrian diet, and the municipal council, and to his local constituents. Sometimes his remarks anticipated those heard later in Germany. Thus Jews were "the destructive element" wherever they settled. Jews in Austrian education became a favorite target, as was "the Liberal Jewish Press." Both before and after he became mayor, Lueger asserted in parliament that Jewish sects murdered Christians for their blood for use in ritual practices.

But Lueger's anti-Semitism included more than verbal abuse. During his mayoralty Jewish teachers were denied promotion and sometimes fired. And during this same period there are recorded instances of anti-Semitic violence. From 1898 to 1903 the Vienna municipal government supported an anti-Semitic theater, the Kaiserjubiläums-Stadttheater, now the Volksoper, second only in seating capacity to the national Burgtheater. According to its bylaws, the Stadttheater, or "Aryan Theater" as it was sometimes called, was prohibited from employing Jews in any capacity or performing plays by Jewish authors. The Aryan Theater actually produced anti-Semitic agitational plays and only the imperial censor prevented production of more violent works. Undaunted, the theater director Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn published some of the unperformed dramas at his own expense and distributed them in thousands of copies.

Lueger was aware of anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia during the revolutions of 1905. At an electoral assembly toward the end of 1905 he warned Jews in Vienna that if they behaved as had their "co-religionists in Russia" and agitated for revolution, "if the Jews should threaten our fatherland then we will show no mercy" ("Grosse Wählerversammlung" [Large electoral meeting], p. 5). Three days later in a municipal council meeting, one of Lueger's opponents charged him with "legally prohibited incitement against a religious community." Lueger treated the charge as an irritation and replied with racist slurs against Viktor Adler, the leader of the Austrian Social Democratic Party.

But perhaps the most damaging aspect of Lueger's anti-Semitism was its legacy to his Christian Social successors, some of whom remained lifelong anti-Semites, even after the Holocaust. Many years before that event the Hungarian Zionist leader Theodor Herzl saw Lueger outside a polling place in 1895. He heard one of Lueger's supporters remark "That is our Führer!" This taught Herzl more than any tirade how deeply rooted anti-Semitism was among Lueger's followers. Lueger nourished the growth of this pernicious tendency.

lueger in the political context of fin-de-siÈcle austria

Awakening mass political consciousness, the extension of the franchise, and his charisma facilitated Lueger's rise to power. An erstwhile Liberal from 1875 to 1882 seeking a direction, he flirted with a number of parties including the Socialists, before settling in the newly created Christian Social Party in the late 1880s. Lueger was more than a clever demagogue. He instinctively and accurately gauged the mood of his audience and played on or reinforced existing prejudices—hallmarks of the master propagandist.

As an inventor of mass politics, Lueger exploited his stately appearance and lifelong bachelor status. He persuaded women who were denied the franchise to influence their male relatives to vote for him. The mayor created a party organization, the Christian Viennese Women's League, for this express purpose. Most agree that Lueger owed a substantial measure of his early success to his female supporters.

If Lueger drew significant strength from women, normally a nontraditional source of political power, he also won early support from a youth organization named after him. This won the young Hitler's admiration. Other important Lueger bodies included a Christian Social workers association and groups of publicist priests. Lower-middle-class property owners also saw him as their champion, and the shopkeepers, artisans, cab drivers, and small grocers—all of them plentiful in Vienna—and later rural conservatives as well, came to form his voting base. Lueger did not set out to invent mass politics, but he understood early on the significance of the widening franchise and the political awakening of those he represented. A keen observer, he selected the precise moment for directing his appeal to as many groups as possible, rather than concentrating on any one large group such as unskilled laborers or pan-German nationalists, whose political hour, he sensed, had not yet arrived. When it did, Lueger's creation was replaced by yet more radical politics. Lueger left Vienna a better place to live, with its improved transportation, parks, schools, and other public amenities, but a question remains as to the true cost of these achievements.

See alsoAnti-Semitism; Austria-Hungary; Francis Joseph; Socialism, Christian; Vienna.


Primary Sources

"Grosse Wählerversammlung." Deutsches Volksblatt. 6 December 1905, 5.

Secondary Sources

Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews, 1867–1938. Cambridge, U.K., 1989.

Boyer, John W. Political Radicalism in Late Imperial Vienna: Origins of the Christian Social Movement, 1848–1897. Chicago, 1981.

——. Culture and Political Crisis in Vienna: Christian Socialism in Power, 1897–1918. Chicago, 1995.

Geehr, Richard S. Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn and the Aryan Theater of Vienna, 1898–1903. Göppingen, West Germany, 1973.

——. Karl Lueger: Mayor of Fin de Siècle Vienna. Detroit, Mich., 1990.

Pauley, Bruce F. From Prejudice to Persecution: A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1992.

Schorske, Carl E. Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture. New York, 1979.

Richard S. Geehr