A lost era loses its last human thread
The news is obscure in the United States, but a milestone passed yesterday, with the death of Otto Habsburg-Lothringen, a man most people have never heard of. OHL, you see, when he was born in 1912, was the eldest son of the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, immediately named Archduke, and in line to become Emperor. The wave of destruction and chaos brought about by a war unlike any other humanity had ever known, ended his empire and his imperial destiny, and with it the Old Order of Europe stretching back to feudalism.
The modern world really began with World War I, which smashed the old monarchical stasis which had held Europe for centuries under a system of rulers claiming a divine right, hand in glove with the church. Central to the old system was Austria-Hungary under the Hapsburgs, an empire comprised of many different ethnicities. Nationalism and centralized states were rising in the 19th century, but Austria-Hungary held on to the old order in which national destinies followed royal marriages.
Following the defeat of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Ottoman Turkey, the maps of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn, with national states replacing the components of Austira-Hungary. Vienna, now capital only of a shrunken Austria, became an incubator of socialism and other political viruses, and home to young painter Aldolf Shickelgruber.
Otto Habsburg-Lothringen lost his chance at the throne when Austria, the successor to the collapsed empire, abolished its monarchy in 1919, confiscated imperial assets, and drove the Hapsburg family into exile in Switzerland.
OHL eventually settled down to a life of promoting European unity in the wake of the second, equally if not more disastrous war that consumed Europe in the 20th century. Michael Shields of Reuters writes:
He made a name for himself as a member of the European Parliament for the German state of Bavaria for two decades and lectured throughout the world on international affairs.
Habsburg officially relinquished his claim to the throne in 1961 and was allowed to return to post-war Austria only in 1966 after years of political and legal jousting. (snip)
An opponent of the Nazis who criticized Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938, Habsburg joined the Paneuropean Union movement and took up the cause of former subjects in eastern Europe oppressed during communist rule.
He helped arrange a "Pan-European Picnic" on the Austro-Hungarian border in 1989 which led to a brief opening of the Iron Curtain dividing capitalist West from communist eastern Europe, fostering the movement that would lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later.
Ironically, the paneuropean dream that replaced the old system of empire for uniting diverse peoples into a single European entity, is now struggling for survival, much as the old Hapsbrug empire did a century ago. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and even Italy are struggling for financial survival within the euro zone, which threatens to fall apart. Denmark has reinstituted border controls.
The ethnic melange of Europe remains a troubled polity. The more things change...
Hat tip: Matthew Lifson