As has already been noted on the SBC website, Archduke Otto von Habsburg, who in 1916 became heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, has died. I’d like to offer a couple of additional thoughts.
The Archduke passed away in his sleep at his home in Bavaria during the night of July 3-4. He was 98. He lived long enough to see his father, Emperor Karl I, beatified, and for a cause for the canonization of his mother, Empress Zita, to be officially opened.
It could be said his life was largely shaped by a U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson and his closest advisers at the time of World War I disliked the Prussian-dominated Second Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm II, but they hated Bl. Emperor Karl and the Empire. Why?
In the words of the late Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn in his book Leftism Revisited (Regnery, 1990): “Austria was far more wicked than Germany. It existed in contradiction of the Mazzinian principle of the national state, it had inherited many traditions as well as symbols from the Holy Roman Empire (double-headed eagle, black-gold colors, etc.); its dynasty had once ruled over Spain (another bete noire); it had led the Counter-Reformation, headed the Holy Alliance, fought against the Risorgimento, suppressed the Magyar rebellion under Kossuth (who had a monument in New York City), and morally supported the monarchical experiment in Mexico — the very name evoked memories of Roman Catholicism, of the Armada, the Inquisition, Metternich, Lafayette jailed at Olmutz, and Silvio Pellico in Brunn’s Spielberg fortress. Such a state had to be shattered, such a dynasty had to disappear.”
So it was that Wilson required dismantling the Empire as a condition for peace. He said its peoples had a “right” to “self-determination.”
So it was, also, that Bl. Emperor Karl died in penurious exile on the island of Madeira in 1922. Had he died still exercising the powers of his office and been succeeded at that time by his rightful heir, Otto’s reign would have become the longest of any monarch in recorded history.
It is true that some of what was done by the Archduke in his declining years would disappoint even his own brothers, not to speak of other men faithful to the imperial dynasty and all it represents, but this is not the time to recall that.
Deprived of his proper destiny, Otto did mainly fill the many years of his life worthily, not least by his devotion to the cause of European unity.
On that score — how to put it? — there is unity and there is “unity”. “Unity” is embodied by the wretched EU-rule over the heart of ex-Christendom, Europe, by the faceless Socialist bureaucrats of Brussels. Otto’s unity was more a development, in the circumstances prevailing in our time, of the universal Christian empire dreamed by his ancestor Charles V and symbolized by the Habsburg double-headed eagle looking to the West and East. Bl. Emperor Karl had also striven for it in his desperate, failed effort to reshape the Empire’s institutions.
Was there one moment of it that can stand as representative of Archduke Otto’s life? I think so. It came on a day back in 1988 when Pope John Paul II was addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg. A member of the body, the awful Rev. Ian Paisley, a man who has done as much as any individual to promote rancor between Ulster Protestants and Catholics, took the occasion to unfurl a banner: “Pope=Antichrist.” Seeing it, another member of the parliament rushed up the aisle, ripped the offensive banner from Paisley’s hands, and then helped hustle him out of the hall. That was Archduke Otto.