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“Whether Race or Conviction Should Be the Standard”: National Identity and Liberal Politics in Nineteenth-Century Austria

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 February 2009

Pieter M. Judson
Assistant Professor of History, Pitzer College, 1050 North Mills Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711–6110.


In the last decade historical writing on the Habsburg monarchy has begun to stress the contingent, constructed, and historically determined qualities of nineteenth-century nationalist ideologies. This reexamination of nationalism questions long-held assumptions about what it actually meant to define one's community identity in terms of belonging to a particular nation. It also suggests that as a historical process, the rise of nationalisms creates spaces where conflicts of a non-nationalist nature can be fought out within a community.

Copyright © Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota 1991

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1 See for example the following works on ethnic and national identity in the Habsburg monarchy: Cohen, Gary, The Politics of Ethnic Survival: Germans in Prague, 1861–1914 (Princeton: 1981)Google Scholar; Rozenblit, Marsha, The ]ews of Vienna, 1867–1914: Assimilation and Identity (Albany: 1983)Google Scholar; Segal, Dan, “Nationalism, Comparatively Speaking,” in journal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 1, No. 3, 09 1988, pp. 301321CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Verdery, Katherine, Transylvanian Villagers: Three Centuries of Political, Economic, and Ethnic Change; (Berkeley: 1983)Google Scholar.

2 Among contemporaries the sense of a crisis in liberalism was articulated more on the editorial pages of Viennese newspapers like Die Presse or the Neue Freie Presse (NFP), which represented traditional liberalism, than in the more populist-oriented Deutsche Zeitung (DZ) or the Konstitutionelle Vorstadt-Zeitung. Major provincial newspapers which articulated a different set of worries also conveyed less urgency regarding a crisis in liberalism. Individual journalists and historians (Richard Charmatz, Heinrich Friedjung, Ferdinand von Krones, Heinrich Pollak, Walter Rogge) all speak of a growing liberal crisis in the 1870s, usually from a teleological perspective based on the crisis of 1879–1880. According to Harry Ritter in his excellent review of the literature, “Austro-German Liberalism and the Modern Liberal Tradition,” German Studies Review, v. 7 (May, 1984), p. 238, “the terms and metaphors which control present-day discourse about nineteenth-century liberalism are, to a great extent, taken over directly from the figurative language of pathology invented in some cases … by insecure or disillusioned turn-of-the-century liberals themselves."

3 Schorske, Carl, Fin-de-siècle Vienna; Politics and Culture (New York: 1980), p. 119.Google Scholar

4 Ritter (see note 2 above) locates the origin of this dialectic conceptualization of the relationship between liberalism and nationalism particularly in the works of Adam Wandruszka. See for example, Wandruszka, “Osterreichs politische Struktur; die Entwicklung der Parteien und politischen Bewegungen,” in Benedikt, Heinrich, ed., Geschichte der Republik Österreich (Vienna: 1954), pp. 291485Google Scholar. For more recent versions of this view on the rise of a radical nationalism among a disaffected lower middle class, see John Boyer's pathbreaking Political Radicalism in Late Imperial Vienna (Chicago: 1981); Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Antisemitism in Germany and Austria (Cambridge, MA: 1988); Hans Rosenberg, Grosse Depression und Bismarckzeit. Wirtschaftsablauf, Gesellschaft und Politik (Berlin: 1967); Andrew Whiteside, The Socialism of Fools (Berkeley and Los Angeles: 1975).

5 Liberal politicians helped found and run Austria's largest nationalist organizations, the German School Association (Deutscher Schulverein), which numbered over 107,000 in 1886, and the German Union of the Bohemian Woods (Deutscher Bdhmerwaldbund) which numbered over 20,000 in the same year. Both organizations maintained close political ties to the German Liberal parties in the Reichsrat, and both eschewed the type of anti-Semitic or democratic radicalism proposed by Schonerer. Other important nationalist organizations with liberal ties include the German Gymnastics Association (Deutscher Turnverein), the Association of Germans from Gottschee, a Slovene region of Styria (Verein der Deutschen aus Gottschee), and the Union of Germans from Northern Moravian (Bund der Deutschen Nordmahrens). Both the Gottschee Germans and the North Moravian Germans actively opposed a more radical or anti-Semitic form of German nationalism. For statistics, see August Wotowa, Der Deutsche Schuherein, 1880–1905 (Vienna: 1905), p. 72, and Mittheilungen des Deutschen Bohmerwaldbundes (MDB), 8, November 1886, p. 97. See also the Mittheilungen des Vereins der deutschen aus Gottschee, no. 12, February, 1892, DZ, September 8,1890, p. 5; and Friedrich Pock, Grenzwacht im Südosten. Ein halbes jahrhundert Südmark (Graz: 1940), p. 21.

6 For a general overview, see Cohen, pp. 140–168. For more specific examples, see Julius Gierschick, Dr. Karl Pickert. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der deutschnationalen Bewegung in Böhmen (Leitmeritz: 1913), pp. 10–13; Paul Molisch, Geschichte der deutsch-nationalen Bewegung in Österreich (Jena: 1926), pp. 82–86. On specific electoral conflicts in Bohemia see also editorials and reporting in DZ, May 20, 1873, and NFP, Abendblatt May 19, 1873.

7 See in particular the work of Philipp Knoll on the potential benefits for liberalism of developing a more unifying politics of nationalism in his Beitrage zur heimischen Zeitgeschichte, (Prague: 1900). Knoll's advanced ideas were not necessarily typical of thinking in Liberal party circles. Nevertheless, party leaders, including the most visible (Eduard Herbst, Ernst von Plener, and Franz Schmeykal), gave public support to nationalist associations and participated in developing nationalist rituals.

8 Within the middle-class association, for example, professional success had replaced corporate status or noble birth as a social standard of achievement. This new standard depended on quite visible factors like property ownership, education, or achievement within the community. For a discussion of this process in the German context, see Blackbourn, David, “The Discrete Charm of the German Bourgeoisie,” in his Populists and Patricians: Essays in Modern German History (London: 1987), pp. 6783Google Scholar; also Blackbourn's related essay in his and Geoff Eley's book, The Peculiarities of German History (Oxford and New York: 1984), especially pp. 176–205; and Rudy Koshar, Social Life, Local Politics, and Nazism: Marburg, 1880–1935 (Chapel Hill: 1986), pp. 45–90. On Austria, see Cohen, pp. 52–60, 158–175, and Pieter M. Judson, “German Liberalism in Nineteenth-Century Austria: Clubs, Parties and the Rise of Bourgeois Politics,” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University (New York: 1987), pp. 293–323.

9 Since the late eighteenth century, voluntary associations in Central Europe had increasingly brought together individuals of diverse middle-class occupational backgrounds, giving them a new basis for a common social life and strengthening their consciousness of shared concerns and a larger class identity. Voluntary associations also provided their members, both conceptually and practically, with a public space largely free from government control. Their independent status conferred on these associations a powerful potential for social theorizing and reform, while their organizational structures posed intriguing alternatives to the reigning local and national systems of government. On the function of voluntary associations in Central European social and political life, see sources cited in note 6 above.

10 Referring to a similar phenomenon in Germany, David Blackbourn has noted precisely the rise of this latter function for the clubs: “In [voluntary associations] the underlying economic, social and moral principles of bourgeois life were publicly acted out as a universal model for both the petty bourgeoisie and working class.” Blackbourn, “The Discrete Charm of the German Bourgeoisie,” p. 75. See also Koshar's important local study of voluntary associations and politics in Marburg, particularly pp. 45–90.

11 See club statutes and programs in Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv (AVA), Ministerium des Innern, ct. 785–787, association numbers 2, 44, 59, 66

12 From Schwarz Roth Gold, (SRG), No. 1, July 11, 1848. The newspaper stated further: We believe in the holy spirit of humanity … which is embodied in the German people, whose breath … serves to awaken all peoples … so they might become great and do well on earth. We want a German Austria … a powerful leader for the brother nationalities (Bruderstdtnme), not through the (coercive) power of the Crown of Charlemagne, but rather through the voluntary respect which we earn when we deal in freedom and humanity…. Therefore our highest commandment: Thou should love humanity above all else! Germans for the sake of humanity, and Austrians for the sake of Germans!

13 The Association of Germans in Austria split over the events of June 1848 in Prague. Delegates from the Constitutional Association in Prague, for example, regarded Windischgratz as the deliverer of the Germans, while Viennese liberals tended to view him as a counterrevolutionary. See SRG, no. 3, July 18, 1848. For other discussions of this problem see Häusler, Wolfgang, Von der Massenarmut zur Arbeiterbewegung; Demokratie und soziale Frage in der Wiener Revolution von 1848 (Munich: 1979), pp. 280287Google Scholar; Polišenský, Josef, Aristocrats and the Crowd in the Revolutionary Year 1848, translated by Snyder, Frederick (Albany: 1980), pp. 113115Google Scholar. See also the eyewitness account of the Windischgrätz siege of Prague by the later liberal politician Leopold Hasner in his Denkwürdigkeiten. Autobiographisches und Aphorismen (Stuttgart: 1892), pp. 45–47.

14 See, for example, Liberal arguments used in discussions surrounding the issue of internal state administrative language in the 1860s and Reichsrat discussions in the same period over the issue of founding institutions of higher learning in languages other than German. Stenographische Protokolle über die Sitzungen des Houses des Abgeordneten (SPHA) Vol. I, sessions of May 17, June 19, and June 23, 1862.

15 Most Liberal party and Liberal associational programs in 1848 used a discourse that linked their specific constitutional program to the fact of their so-called Germanness. In a similar fashion, many also linked the lack of a German nationalist consciousness among the rural population in Austria to peasant suspicion of progressive liberal ideas (SRG no. 13, August 22, 1848). The typical solution posed to this lack of awareness of Germanness was the education of all Austrians in their constitutional rights and duties.

16 On the development of this Czech strategy see Garver, Bruce M., The Young Czech Party 1874–1901 and the Emergence of a Multi-Party System (New Haven: 1978), pp. 1315, 21–22, 29–55.Google Scholar For the Czech federalist strategy in 1848, see Palacký and Rieger's arguments regarding sources of legitimacy, the nationality question, and the problem of centralism or federalism in Anton Springer, Protokolle des Verfassungsausschuss im österreichischen Reichstag, 1848–1849 (Leipzig: 1885), particularly pp. 30–76.

17 On the circumstances surrounding the founding of this association, see “Die Lage in Bohmen” in Die Grenzboten, no. 1, 1848, p. 179; Kudlich, Hans, Rückblicke und Erinnerungen (Vienna: 1873), Vol. I, pp. 228229Google Scholar; 299; Ernst Sieber, ludwig von Löhner. Ein Vorkämpfer des Deutschtums in Böhmen, Mähren und Schlesien im Jahre 1848/1849 (Munich: 1965), p. 67.

18 The statutes are reproduced in SRG, July 18, 1848. See also Wiener Zeitung, June 25, 1848.

19 See, for example, editorials in SRC endorsing a centralized state structure over a federalist one (nos. 7 and 8, August 1 and 4, 1848), on nationalism and freedom (no. 6, July 28, 1848), on the economy (no. 1, July 7, 1848). On the issue of Germanness, an interesting debate took place within the association on July 20 regarding whether to petition the Austrian Parliament to declare German the official “Handlungssprache” of the monarchy. Four Association members opposed this idea because it would only increase petty jealousies among nationalities. They pointed out that German, owing to its unique situation, would naturally remain the common discourse not only between Germans and Slavs, but among Slavs themselves. SRG no. 4, July 21, 1848

20 Stenographischer Bericht über die Verhandlungen der am 28. August in Teplitz in Namen deutscher Städte, Gemeinden, und konstitutionellen Vereine Böhmens zusammengekommen Vertrauensmänner (Teplitz: 1848). See also Polišenský's account, pp. 141–143, which derives from the diaries of a participant as well as the protocols, and mentions a second meeting at Eger in November of 1848.

21 See Gerald Stourzh, “Die osterreichische Dezemberverfassung von 1867,” in österreich in Geschichte und Literatur, January 1968, pp. 1–16. On the discussions surrounding the development of a nationality clause for the constitution see the records of the constitutional commission in the Parlamentsarchiv, Verfassungsausschuss, carton I; for an excellent analysis of the clause see Stourzh, , “Die Gleichberechtigung der Nationalitaten und die österreichische Dezemberverfassung von 1867,” in Berger, Peter, ed., Der österreichisch-ungarische Ausgleich von 1867. Vorgeschichte und Wirkungen (Vienna: 1967), pp. 186218.Google Scholar

22 On the Hohenwart cabinet and its attempted reform of the system see Kolmer, Gustav, Parlament und Verfassung in Österreich, vol. II (Vienna and Leipzig: 1902), pp. 111198Google Scholar; also Garver, pp. 56–57.

23 See, for example, the sentiments expressed in the “Programm des ersten deutschosterreichischen Parteitages vom 22. Mai, 1870,” reproduced in NFP, May 25, 1870, p. 2 and “Programm des zweiten deutschosterreichischen Parteitages vom 26. Februar, 1871,” reproduced in NFP, February 27, 1871, p. 3. Both programs are also reproduced in Diethild Harrington-Müller's descriptive study of the Progressive Party, Der Fortschrittssklub im Abgeordnetenhaus des östermchischen Reichrats, 1873–1910, (Vienna: 1972), pp. 157–160.

24 Gierschick, pp. 10–13; Harrington-Müller, pp. 18–26; Kolmer, vol. II, pp. 60–63, 238, 278–279; Judson, pp. 340–345; F. von Krones, Moritz von Kaiserfeld, sein Leben und Wirken (Leipzig: 1888), pp. 352–353; Molisch, Paul, Geschichte der deutsch-nationalen Bewegung in Österreich (Jena: 1926), pp. 8286Google Scholar. For a comparison of the relative ages of the Jungen and Allen, see Judson, Appendix 3, pp. 462–463.

25 DZ, May 20, 1873; NFP, May 19 (Abendblatt); Kolmer, vol. II, p. 279.

26 On the origins of the Linz Program, see McGrath, William, Dionysian Art and Populist Politics in Austria (New Haven: 1974), pp. 165181Google Scholar

27 See Friedjung, Heinrich, Ein Stück Zeitungsgeschichte (Vienna: 1887); McGrath, pp. 182207.Google Scholar

28 The statutes of many associations also reaffirmed their members′ commitment to the endangered Liberal school reform, thus illustrating the ways in which national identity was still defined primarily by an adherence to liberal values. See Eduard Unterberger, “Der Liberalismus in St. Pölten (1870–1918),” Phil. Diss., University of Vienna, 1979, pp. 18–20. For more examples see Judson, pp. 374–378.

29 Knoll, Philip, “Das Deutschtum in Prag und seine augenblickliche Lage,” in his Beiträge zur heimischen Zeitgeschichte (Prague: 1900), p. 191.Google Scholar

30 Knoll, pp. 191–192. For a discussion of Knoll's activities in Prague and an analysis of the Handworkers′ Association, see also Cohen, pp. 161, 189–191, 201, 207.

31 On the founding of the German School Association, see August von Wotowa, Der deutsche Schulverein 1880–1905 (Vienna: 1905), pp. 7–8; McGrath, pp. 168–169; DZ, June 26, 1880. For membership statistics see Wotowa, p. 72.

32 See Mittheilungen des deutschen Schulvereins [MDS] no. 6, February 1883, p. 10. According to the survey of local officers, the most common occupation listed was school teacher, followed by shopkeepers, lawyers and notaries, white-collar employees, artisans and manufacturers, house owners, and factory (management) employees.

33 See the annual executive committee election reports in MDS, 1882–1896.

34 Schulvereinskalender für 1884 (Vienna: 1884), pp. 6–7.

35 DZ, March 3, 1881: “Mahnruf an die deutschen Frauen.” See also the pamphlet Ein ernstes Wort über den deutschen Schulverein von einem katholischen Priester (Vienna: 1885).

36 DZ, March 3, 1881: “Mahnruf."

37 In a theatrical piece presented to honor the School Association at Karlsbad, and in the presence of Prince Karl Auersperg, “Germania” soliloquized atop a German peak that the unity of her children has made her mistress from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, from the Vosges to the Carpathians: “Two German thrones reign mightily, in brotherhood allied to keep the peace.” See MDS no. 32, October 1889.

38 See MDS no. 16, October 1885, pp. 13–16.

39 MDS no. 16, October 1885, p. 13.

42 Letter from Georg and Philipine von Schönerer reproduced in MDS, no. 18, April 1886, p. 5. On the German National School Association, see Whiteside, pp. 124–127; Wotowa, p. 25.

43 Wotowa, p. 72.

44 See, for example, the account of an attempted takeover of the largest German liberal political organization in Austria by anti-Semites in Wimmer, Kurt, Liberalismus in Oberösterreich; am Beispiel des Liberalen-Politischen Vereins für Oberösterreich in Linz, 1867–1909 (Linz: 1979), pp. 4350.Google Scholar

45 See, for example, William Hubbard's discussion of the failure of artisanal anti-Semitism to dislodge traditional Liberal elites in Graz during the 1880s and 1890s in his Auf dan Weg zur Grossstadt: Geschichte der Stadt Graz 1850–1914 (Vienna: 1984). On Liberal party alliances in a rural setting see Ernst Bruckmüller, Landwirtschaftliche Organisation und gesellschaftliche Modernisierung. Vereine, Genossenschaften, und politische Mobilisierung der Landwirtschaft Österreichs vom Vormaärz bis 1914 (Salzburg: 1977), pp. 213–214.