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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter I. Making of the modern state in a multi-national context

Austria and The guarantee Of its existence

Adolf Fischhof
Traduction de Simon Garnett

Texte intégral

1Title: Österreich und die Bürgschaften seines Bestandes. Politische Studie (Austria and the guarantee of its existence. A political study)

2Originally published: Wien, Wallishausser’sche Buchhandlung, 1869

3Language: German

4The excerpts used are from the original, pp. 1–8.

About the author

5Adolf Fischhof [1816, Óbuda (Ger. Alt-Ofen, Hungary) – 1893, Emmersdorf (near Klagenfurt, Austria

6Main works: Zur Lösung der ungarischen Frage [Concerning the solution of the Hungarian question] (with Joseph Unger) (1861); Ein Blick auf OesterreichsLage [A view on Austria’s position] (1866); Zur Erweiterung der Munizipal-Autonomie [Concerning the extension of municipal autonomy] (1868); Osterreich und die Burgschaften seines Bestandes. Politische Studie [Austria and the guarantee of its existence. A political study] (1869); Zur Reduktion der kontinentalen Heere [Reduction of the Continental armies] (1875); Die Sprachenrechte in den Staaten gemis-chter Nationalität [Language rights in states of mixed nationality] (1885); Der oesterreichische Sprachenzwist [The Austrian language conflict] (1888).


7The failure of the revolutionary movements of 1848 in Central Europe was to a large extent due to the clash of liberalism and nationalism, which in the Vormärz period were still considered to be closely related. 1848 opened ‘Pandora’s box’ of defining the nation both in vertical and horizontal terms and the presumed common interest of nations to achieve freedom was superseded by a competition of nation-building projects. While in most of the cases it remained an open question whether the national program also entailed an aspiration for independent statehood, it became clear that the Herderian dream of peaceful coexistence of cultural nationalisms was seriously hindered by the overlapping territorial aspirations which turned most of the multiethnic regions into hotbeds of violent conflict. This also made the Austrian liberals turn to the problem of nationalities as a cornerstone of their political agenda. One possible answer was the emergence of constitutional centralism—manifested in the proposed reforms of Anton Schmer-ling (1805–1893) in the early 1860s—putting forward a liberal constitutionalist program while keeping up the unitary character of the state and disregarding the national demands of Hungarians, Croats and other national groups of the Monarchy who professed a constitutional tradition of autonomy.

8Adolf Fischhof came from a similar ideological background as Schmer-ling, participating together in the stormy events of the 1848 Revolution in Vienna and opposing the absolutist government in the 1850s; nevertheless, his diagnosis of the situation was diametrically opposed to that of the minister of state. Arguably due to his Jewish-Hungarian background, he had considerably more empathy for the individual national movements than the nobleman-jurist Schmerling. He believed that Austria faced a lethal danger due to the national disaffection of the majority of its citizens and that the only way to save the Austrian state was to solve the nationality question in a liberal spirit, offering national emancipation and considerable cultural and administrative autonomy for all the nationalities of the Monarchy. In contrast to the centralist faction of the Austrian liberals, in his writings of the first half of the 1860s, he also accepted the Hungarian argument that nationality and constitutionalism could not be separated. Consequently, he published a series of pamphlets such as Zur Lösung der ungarischen Frage (On the solution of the Hungarian question) (co-written with the liberal politician Joseph Unger), suggesting a reconciliation with Hungary and putting forward an arrangement—the separation of common issues (such as foreign policy, military and some fiscal policies) and national competences in administration and establishing the institution of delegations based on parity—which in many ways anticipated the 1867 Compromise.

9He welcomed the Hungarian nationality law of 1868 as a milestone in establishing a truly liberal nationality policy in the Monarchy, although he criticized the Hungarian claim to supremacy and emphatically rejected the notion of an official state language. In a critical dialogue with the theoreticians of the time dealing with the nationality question (such as J. S. Mill, the Austrian Viktor von Andrian-Werburg, the Bohemian Germans Ludwig Löhner and Friedrich Deym, the Czech František Palacký, or the Hungarian Jozsef Eötvös), he tried to formulate a theoretical framework harmonizing the interests of a supra-ethnic state structure and the various nationalities. His principal problem was how to establish the territorialization of national self-government without creating oppressive majorities and disaffected minorities (such as in the case of Galician Poles and Ruthenians) and thus proliferating the nationality conflicts even further than it was in the case of the clash of privileged Germans and disfavored non-Germans in the 1850s. Going back to the precepts of the Kremsier Constitution, he suggested that the solution to the problem was the extension of rights delegated to the municipal governments—Kreise—combined with an active protection of minority rights in multiethnic zones, guaranteeing the use of the native language in the administrative, judicial and educational spheres. He hoped that 1867 opened the way towards further federalization of the Empire, and actively promoted the cause of Slavic nations in the Monarchy. At the same time he retained a dose of German cultural patriotism, arguing that the envisioned liberal Austrian monarchy could simultaneously be the homeland of a dozen free nations and draw an increasing number of citizens into the orbit of the German language as a supra-ethnic lingua franca offering them access to a European “high culture.”

10His most important book, Österreich und die Burgschaften seines Bestan-des, was written in the atmosphere of the optimistic expectations following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise. While registering the national conflicts ravaging the state in all its provinces, he stated that the specific balance of forces in Austria made it impossible for one nationality to dominate the others. He also criticized the Western European model of nation-state formation based on homogenization, arguing that this was suicidal for the Austrian state. Instead, he put forward the model of Nationalitatenstaat (nationality state), which aimed at the preservation of the multiplicity of its constitutive national units. Consequently, he formulated the Austrian mission in terms of creating the possibility of free national development for all the nationalities living in the Empire and thus providing a shelter for the small peoples between Germany and Russia. In addition, he envisioned broadly conceived social and educational reforms, turning the Monarchy from a backward state into the most advanced polity in Europe.

11His proposal, however, met with violently critical reactions from the mainstream of Austrian-German national liberals, who considered it a capitulation to the “subversive” Slavic national movements. As the new generation of politicians in the Monarchy, as well as in the whole of Europe, opted for a more nationalistic agenda in the 1870s, Fischhof’s ideas became increasingly anachronistic. Nevertheless, he persevered in making efforts to bring the different national movements to a reasonable compromise. Trying to mediate between the Austrian-German and Czech elites, he was the key figure behind the Emmersdorf Memorandum of 1878, seeking to find a common platform between the Czech movement (represented by František Ladislav Rieger) and the Viennese liberal circles (represented among others by Michael Etienne, the editor of the most important liberal newspaper, Neue Freie Presse). Finally, in 1882, he made an attempt to establish a transnational liberal party. While these attempts failed in political terms, in intellectual terms Fischhof’s heritage proved to be exceptionally rich. Most importantly, at the turn of the century some of the ideologists of the emerging Austrian Social Democratic movement (see Karl Renner, State and nation) who also had to face the national divisions turned to his federalist conception for inspiration. Also, his influence can be detected in the discussions of Hungarian civic radicals (see Oszkár Jászi, The future of the Monarchy), searching for a solution to the nationality conflicts in Hungary. Finally, through Count Heinrich Couden-hove-Kalergi, the father of the founder of the Pan-European movement after the First World War, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, Fischhof also had an impact on the idea of European federalization.


Austria and the guarantee of its existence. A political study

13“None of the large nationalities of Austria can alone guarantee the continuing existence of the monarchy, however each of these can jeopardize the state by their opposition; individually they can act destructively, only in unison can they proceed constructively. If the government, the Parliament (Volksvertretung) and the press, both this side of the Leitha and beyond, bear this in mind at all times, then Austria will consolidate, if not—it will not.”

14These were the words with which I concluded an article published on 18 July 1867 in the Neue Freie Presse, which also contained the following passage:

  • 1 Crown lands (Kronlander): administrative units of the Austrian Empire. After 1867 the notion refer (...)

15“It is to be regretted when the wishes of the majority are not respected in the constituent assembly. This disrespect is the primary reason for the fruit-lessness of most of these assemblies. When the parliamentary minority is a national party, and if it has behind it the majority of the population, then this disrespect can be fatal. And indeed, the minority of the state Parliament (Reichsrat) undoubtedly has behind it the majority of the Cisleithanian population: the number of Slavs in the German-Slavic crown lands1 compared to Germans themselves stands at around 10 to 6.”

16These words were published at a time when the Parliament had not yet begun the discussion of the new basic law; they were not the consequence of impassioned bias, but rather the result of calm deliberation. Barely two years have passed since then and how closely the facts match my prediction!

17With the exception of a few small provinces of unmixed nationality, we are seeing everywhere the old quarrel blaze up with renewed violence. In Bohemia, as well as in Moravia, the Czechs, who make up the majority in both provinces, did not attend the most recent session of the provincial Parliament (Landtag); in Galicia the Poles are resisting the constitution, while the Ruthenians are resisting the violence inflicted upon their language by the Poles; in Tyrol, the Italians have yet to make peace with the Germans and the Reich; in Trieste and Dalmatia, the Italian city dwellers and the Slavic rural dwellers are battling it out, and in the provinces, where the Slovenes live alongside the Germans, numerous smaller frictions occur that, though not major, are increasingly souring the mood and hindering prosperous collaboration between the parties.

18Are not such facts enough to cause deep concern in the sympathetic observer and to prompt the politician who rates nothing higher than the common good to serious reflection?

19Austria possesses a constitution that offers asylum to freedom; men of great talent, moral seriousness and stamina have been involved in its construction. How has it come to pass that this edifice, despite its lauded architecture, fails to seem homely to those meant to dwell in it? Is the reason really the stubbornness of those to be accommodated, or is it perhaps due to mistakes in the architect’s drawings, to faults in the structure? Does this question not suggest itself, and is not the search for an uninhibited, seriously considered response a moral duty for those who seek the truth elsewhere than in the fleeting opinion of the day?

20Observing the imperatives of this duty, I will attempt to analyze this question and, true to the habits of my profession, will in doing so maintain the calm and objectivity of a natural scientist who, examining an organic being, first of all tests its constituent parts, its construction, its coherence and its significance, then looks at the medium in which it lives as well as the means by which it sustains itself and the hostile forces by which it is threatened, in order, finally, to abstract from the sum of these observations the conditions under which it may evolve and prosper.

21According to this method, I wish to examine the Austrian state, which, like all living things, sustains itself, grows and strengthens only if it is constructed according to the conditions of its existence and if it lives with these in harmony. In order to understand the conditions of its existence, I will primarily conduct an examination of its constituent elements and their relation to one another; then I will look at the medium, namely the spiritual atmosphere of our times, and finally at the hostile forces with which it must do battle, either to be victorious, or to perish.

22The elements that make up the body of Austria are: ethnic, its nationalities, and territorial, its crown lands.

23The ethnic elements of Austria are so heterogeneous and of such seemingly antithetical nature that many politicians conclude that these components cannot be joined organically but can only be lined up against one another. In the current times, in which peoples keenly desire to gather together their disparate national elements and increase their power by means of national unification, these politicians claim that an aggregation of individual peoples such as Austria is doomed. Piece after piece, they say, will detach itself from the loose structure; either that or, during a storm, the whole rotten edifice will fall apart completely.

  • 2 Allusion to the Czech historian, František Palacký.

24Contrary to the views of these pessimistic politicians, the most important statesmen of Europe along with many political thinkers have not only declared this state to be viable, but have also called its continuing existence the surest guarantee of European stability. One important historian has even commented that were there no Austria in Europe, diplomats would have to create one.2

25Which of these voices are right? The pessimists or the optimists? I believe both the one and the other, depending on whether or not the policies that Austria follows are in harmony with the conditions of its existence.

26Austria is reminiscent of those great but contradictory natures that we sometimes encounter, whose glaring contrasts, confined within the narrow limits of the human soul, elicit fascination. Such characters attract us, as much as they repel us at the same time, exercising upon the attentive observer an almost demonic power, while filling the fleeting acquaintance either with repulsion or admiration, depending on whether they see the bad side or the good. The Austrian state has a dual character of this kind; sometimes it is of high moral and cultural import, sometimes corrupting and hindering of spiritual progress; sometimes it is full of strength and stamina, sometimes decrepit and weary; and sometimes all of these in the most abrupt contrast, with no transitions to make them milder. It has never been quicker to race to unimagined heights as when it appears to have sunk to its lowest, and has never been so close to collapsing as when it seemed to be at the zenith of its power. These contrasts inspire researchers to make careful studies, while the masses are quickly ready to sing a Hosanna or a de profundis.

27However, such violent and sudden jumps in the character and life of a state, and in the public's judgment of the moral significance and viability of the same, are highly alarming; apart from a clear inability to exist, there is hardly anything more dangerous for a state than constantly reoccurring doubts about its vitality; it discourages friends, encourages opponents, and undermines trust in one’s own strength.

28For that reason, such contradictions must not be allowed to reappear in our times; if Austria wishes to guarantee its continuing existence, it must from now on be the bearer of a lofty ethical idea; and without doubt this is also its vocation, since justice is the highest moral notion, and no other major power exists in Europe that in its innermost nature is able to identify more with this than Austria.

29In a unified nation state, the national idea is foremost. Everything else is rigorously subordinated to the unity of power and the nation, and since not a single state exists in Europe without the admixture of foreign nationalities, this idea of state attains its fulfillment only at the expense of justice for those peoples in the minority. France spares no thought for the interests of its non-French speaking inhabitants, nor does Russia those of the Poles, etc. Austria on the other hand, where there is not one people powerful enough to subordinate the others and to stamp its nationality upon the state, but rather where the various peoples maintain the equilibrium, and where each is an important factor in public life, Austria, I say, is advised by its own closest interests to treat all nationalities with equal justice. Hence, its foremost idea is justice itself, and if it is governed in a way that corresponds to its individuality, it will, with regard to the ethical significance of its stately existence, stand out above all the other major European states.

30If it is able to prove that, as soon as this idea finds a clear and definite expression in the Austrian constitution, all its peoples and cultures can go undisturbed, and can maintain their spiritual, moral, and physical property better than in any other common body, then the great factual importance of Austria and with it its stability will be placed beyond doubt. Once the Austrian peoples have realized that it is only through harmonious coexistence that they can guarantee the most precious things in life, then their solidarity of interests will coincide with their solidarity towards the state, which will in turn protect them; a recognition of individual welfare will then gradually develop into a recognition of the common good and the feeling of mutual belonging, which will bind these heterogeneous components into an organic whole and slowly but surely awaken an Austrian consciousness, which to inculcate by means of force has so far failed.

31Borne by the loftiest ethical idea, seeking the roots of its strength in the combined consciousness of its peoples, Austria will then be no arbitrary conglomerate, but rather a necessary political entity, a highly important, many limbed, closely entwined, able-bodied state.

32Finally, if it is proven that the destruction of this state would mean forfeiting the high cultural duty incumbent upon its German inhabitants and mutilating terribly or crushing mercilessly its other peoples and that further afield in the south east of Europe conditions would arise that would disturb the equilibrium in Europe and put occidental culture at risk, then it is also proven that the continuing existence of Austria not only has a local importance, but also a major European importance.

33Austria will only have this importance, however, so long as it rests firmly and unshakably upon its ethical priorities; if it shifts these, however slightly, in one direction or another, be it in the favor of this or that nationality, then it will lose its balance and begin sway; its stately structure will relax and a premonition of imminent collapse will overcome the spirits.


1 Crown lands (Kronlander): administrative units of the Austrian Empire. After 1867 the notion referred to the Cisleithainian parts represented in the ‘Imperial Council,’ that is to say, excluding the lands of the Hungarian Crown.

2 Allusion to the Czech historian, František Palacký.


Simon Garnett (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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