In Vienna, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart rates a statue, an alley, and a square. Karl Lueger is honored with a bigger statue, a bigger square, and the most august section of the Ringstrasse, the Dr. Karl Lueger Ring, which is the site of Austria’s parliament, the university, the Burgtheater, the town hall, and the Volksgarten, a large park. Lueger, who was Vienna’s mayor at the turn of the century, is, together with another Austrian politician of the same period, Georg von Schönerer, one of the fathers of modern anti-Semitism. “I regard this man as the greatest German mayor of all times,” Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. “If Dr. Karl Lueger had lived in Germany, he would have been ranked among the great minds of our people.” Upon receiving the news of an election victory by Lueger in 1895, Theodor Herzl, a Paris-based Viennese journalist and the father of Zionism, drew up a plan for a Jewish exodus from Europe.
Lueger, Von Schönerer, and Herzl are the central figures in Carl E. Schorske’s famous essay “Politics in a New Key: An Austrian Triptych,” originally published in 1967. These three men, in Schorske’s view, expressed (in different ways) an abrasive, reactive, “post-rational” type of politics that “constituted part of the wider cultural revolution that ushered in the twentieth century”—and that contributed mightily to Europe’s social and political disintegration. (Austria, as the nineteenth-century poet Friedrich Hebbel once wrote, is “the little world in which the big one holds its tryouts.”) The process began in Vienna in the second half of the nineteenth century, when liberalism rose to challenge a fossilized political system and ruling class. Though “strong enough to dissolve the old political order,” Schorske wrote, “liberalism could not master the social forces which that dissolution released.” Vienna at the time was flooded with immigrant laborers from throughout the Hapsburg Empire, which encompassed all of present-day Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, and parts of Germany (until 1866), Italy, Yugoslavia, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Romania. Once freed of the empire’s autocratic shackles, these masses proved ready not, as the liberals had hoped, for a tolerant social democracy but for various kinds of exclusivist nationalisms, as well as a virulent anti-Semitism