Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria

by Josef Redlich. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1928. ,8vo. 540 pp. $4.00.
THE lives of two sovereigns span the history of Europe from the downfall of Napoleon through the cataclysm of the World War. Both reigned for remarkably long periods — Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, Emperor Francis Joseph from 1848 to 1916. Both ruled as well as reigned, for we now know that Victoria was much more than a decorative symbol. But how different the instruments of their rule; how different the results of their reigns. Victoria governed through prestige. Her scattered domains were more and more welded together in loyalty to the idea of imperial union, and her successors retrieved the great blemish of the Boer War and solved the bitter riddle of the Irish feud. For Queen Victoria and her statesmen assimilated the emergent forces of democracy and nationality, and out of the strange medley of classes and races constituting the British Empire evolved the present British Commonwealth of Nations.
Francis Joseph, a lad of eighteen, was the product of the counter-revolution of 1848 — the answer of absolutism to revolutionary liberalism. To the forces which thus elevated him to the throne and shaped his conceptions of the State he remained loyal during all the profound changes which transformed the world from 1848 to 1916 A centralized structure of imperial power governing forty millions of people composed of ten
nationalities, in which the rôle of the citizen was ’vegetative’ and the imperial will was enforced by a bureaucracy resting on military authority — that was Francis Joseph’s lifelong recipe for the Habsburg State.
Francis Joseph’s life is a moving chapter of the book of tragedy. But the essence of his tragedy lay not so much in the cruel vicissitudes of his personal life — his sad marriage to the beautiful and moving Elizabeth of Bavaria, the humiliating death of his son, the Crown Prince Rudolph, the insensate assassination of the Empress, and, finally, the assassination of the heir apparent, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand. These, in the life of one man, were sorrows which must deeply touch the springs of pity. But his personal life was completely subordinated to his professional duties as a Habsburg sovereign. The tragedy of his life lies in the tragedy of his rule: he never realized the dynamic power of ideas. Francis Joseph came to the throne with a deceptive promise of constitutionalism. He never meant to keep that promise and never did. Through force, through foreign wars, through entangling alliances, he sought that security for his throne which only the friendly coöperation of all the nationalities within it could give him. He denied the peoples of his realm those aspirations for cultural and political development the fulfillment of which, through the device of the dominion status, has created the British Commonwealth of Nations, but which Francis Joseph’s former feudatories achieved only through the bloody ’self-determination’ of the World War.
It is an epic story, and no one is better qualified to tell it than Professor Redlich. He broods upon problems of government with a statesman’s experience and an artist’s insight. The book is not a history of Europe, nor even of AustriaHungary since 1848, but an unfolding of the life of Francis Joseph — his temperament, his education, and the historic forces that made him. The World War was the last, one hopes, in a series of Balkan wars which began in the Crimea in 1853. To an understanding of the causes and forces that begot that war Professor Redlich gives us illuminations of first importance. The response to this book will test the seriousness of contemporary interest in biography. Here is a powerful piece of portraiture, to be sure, but one that has its roots deep in the soil of scholarship and the historian’s judgment.