Wednesday 8 January 2014

Back To The Hapsburgs

As there is flying about the media and the web debate about full political and financial  union of Europe, a raid on the archive was called for.  This is a tidied up repeat of an earlier post which deserves another outing.

Looking at all the options the Habsburgs may have been right in trying to maintain a patriarchal governance of Europe.  It is admitted by our present leaders in Europe, not all of them elected, that after about six hundred years, those wars of ideologies, wealth and empire seeking, dynastic disputes, and sundry fighting between other groups with particular agendas were a waste of time, men and money.

If only those misguided people our forebears, who we trusted with power in the past had let the Habsburgs, their Emperors, Princes, Dukes and the rest get on with running the show, religion, trade, and everything we could have lived happily ever after.

Perhaps Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton do not much resemble King Philip II of Spain, and Queen Mary Tudor of England who married at Winchester in July 1554 (above), but they are the best Europe can do for the time being.  Cam and Sam would be a little too Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.  As for Ed and 'Er Indoors, no, really, no.

I will skip the complicated history of the Habsburgs, it is all there on the web and Wikipedia.  Nor do I suggest that the various descendants of Habsburg’s line scattered about the world should be elevated to high positions in Europe.  They seem to be a sociable lot, but their heritage has meant exclusion from politics.  They could almost claim to be an ethnic group who have suffered social and political isolation and apply for the relevant grants from Brussels.

The point is that the Habsburgs, Holy Roman Emperors and all that, not only ruled much of Europe and beyond, but in the parts they did not have direct rule, exercised a profound influence over what went on.  Moreover, many went in for micro management to an astonishing degree, complaining that they were slaves to their peoples. 

We can ignore their foibles, eccentricities, difficulties in personal relationships and the consequences of genetic inbreeding.  They are minor compared to those of many of the current European and UK leaders.  We can substitute “political” for “genetic”.  The effects of that are infinitely more serious and damaging to the business of ruling than the odd twitching of the DNA.

The Europe of the Habsburgs was a sprawling regime with its many parts rarely functioning in connection with the others.  It was a massive tax and wealth gathering entity which spent vast sums on prestige projects, personal palaces, and in enforcing the doctrines of which they and only they determined and defined.  

It was multi layered to a bewildering and complicated degree.  Most of the time of its functionaries was spend in working out who they were and what they were supposed to be doing.  If they found that out, then someone higher up would confound it, and it will all start again.

Public decrees would be made, laws and regulations issued, but how they came to be or why would be shrouded in deep secrecy, and only the powerful or the proximate would be party to any of it.  This meant that as you went down through the levels of administration, matters became slower and more uncertain.  Nobody quite knew what decisions might be made and when, unless, of course, they paid good money to find out and obtain the right result.

There was a proliferation of senior, high paying, posts to satisfy the many clients of the state, and as many of the highest gathered so many of them to themselves, then there was extensive delegation to much cheaper and junior officials whose only hope of survival was to extract as much income and as quickly as possible.   

The Empire had a monopoly of policing and military matters that were closely combined and under the instruction of the doctrinal and legal administrative classes and any reformers or opposition would be classed as rebellion or heresy and dealt with accordingly.

At the highest levels it was necessary to have connections and background that were absolutely correct.  Without the sixteen heraldic quarterings of the right families you could neither be admitted to nor held worthy of the elite.  Then it was ancestral because that was held to the test of rightness or wrongness. 

Today there are other tests of political correctness that amount to the same thing.  The are boxes that contain the right configurations of display, beliefs, and membership.

Nobody really knew where the money went, and accounting was simply an exercise in writing fiction.  Who was supposed to get the money was one thing.  Who really benefited was quite another, sometimes completely random in effect, and at others going to people who had abused every office they held. 

There were some political jurisdictions which held out against the Habsburg system, but in the 21st Century by the more effective methods of modern communications and means of propaganda they have been suborned and defeated. 

For almost a century Europe was freed of the last of the Habsburg heritage.  But it has been too difficult to shake them off.  They may not be back in person, but their political tradition has triumphed.  Their system is back, bigger and better than ever and we are all now subject.

At least we will not have dynastic or other European wars.

Well, not for a year or two.


  1. I enjoyed that, a good start to 2014. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

  2. If you Gogle ""Beerdigung Otto von Habsburgs" you will see that he had at least a funeral fit for an Emperor. Apart from the Archdukes being in lounge suits rather than splendid uniforms , you could be back in the good old days, including the singing of the Imperial Anthem. In fact, the family continues to exercise considerable behind the scenes political influence. George von Habsburg was Hungarian ambassador for the negotiations to join the EU.
    Otto was influential in the "picnic" on the Hungarian border which resulted in East Germans being allowed to cross the border, thus bringing down the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. He was a big pal of Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Beneict.