As we saw in our last instalment, the House of Habsburg carried on the traditions of the Holy Roman Empire into the 20th century, via the relatively new political construction called Austria-Hungary. Shepherded through the last half of the 19th century into World War I by Franz Josef, its last Emperor-King was Bl. Emperor Karl, whose equally devout Empress-Queen is now likewise a Servant of God. After the holy Sovereign’s untimely death, his indefatigable consort guided her eight children through the horrors of the early 20th century. Her eldest, the Archduke Otto, as we saw, gradually changed his efforts from restoring the Monarchy – broken into ethnic bits as it had been – to uniting Europe. The fall of the Soviet Union allowed, with his help, the entrance of most of the Eastern bloc nations – including his former realms of Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia – into the EU. But it also allowed the revival of Monarchist sentiment, which had never died out in Austria, and its adjoining Habsburg fragments of South Tyrol and Trieste (Italian since 1918).
Certainly the institutional imprint of the Habsburgs remains throughout their former lands, in both Church and State. Despite the secularising tendencies of past decades, there remain functioning chapels in various government offices. Tourists and locals alike flock to see Habsburg residences such as the Vienna and Innsbruck Hofburgs, Schoenbrunn, Eckartsau, Laxenburg, Brandys, Artstetten, the Ischl Kaiservilla, Prague Castle, Konopiste, Buda Castle, Godollo, Bratislava Castle, and so on. Government offices throughout the former Empire are often inherited from the Monarchy – and very often bear their builders’ marks. In the Hungarian Parliament, the revived Crown Guard protect St. Stephen’s Holy Crown, last worn by Bl. Karl. The armies of Austria, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and even to some degree Poland retain many Habsburg-era traditions – this is particularly true among presidential Guard units. Cultural and educational institutions founded under the dynasty also rejoice in their origins. Even in countries such as Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro, there is a major difference in political attitudes and voting patterns between the areas that were part of Austria-Hungary and those that were not, that sociologists have dubbed “the Habsburg Effect.”
A potent source of affection for the Habsburgs, of course, is the ongoing devotion to Bl. Karl and S.G. Zita. His deathbed offering of his sufferings for his peoples’ reunion may well be having an effect, as the Gebetsliga, the Prayer Union which looks after his cause for canonisation, has flourishing branches in Austria, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, Italy, and for that matter Brazil, Mexico, and our own United States. Zita’s cause too has its proponents in Austria, Slovenia, and elsewhere.
The Archduke Otto’s State Funeral in 2011 showed the world how strong affection for the House of Habsburg has remained. As with his mother’s 1989 obsequies, the Archduke’s requiem was accompanied by various reenactment military units and civic guards from around the former Empire (most notable among the latter were St. Veit, Carinthia’s own Trabanten Guard, who clustered around the coffin in their uniforms reminiscent of the old Imperial Guard). As it happens, these sorts of units – like our own Centennial Legion of Historic Military Commands in the United States – straddle the ground between reenactment and serious citizen-soldier ideals. There is even a “Military Chancery” that serves as a sort of clearing house for them. Without a doubt, many of the members have varying degrees of loyalty to the Old Monarchy; certainly they are available for any events concerning the Imperial House.
Of course, the head of that House and heir to its traditions is the Archduke Karl von Habsburg, grandson of the last Emperor (thus far). He heads up various organisations whose members are more or less Monarchist: the Order of the Golden Fleece, an ancient chivalric body; the Georgsorden, an organisation of knights dedicated expressly to his ideals; the Catholic Austrian “Landsmannschaften” – Monarchist student fraternities; the “European Wine Knights,” an association of connoisseurs of the Vine; the European Shooters Association, which encompasses groups of traditional archers and marksmen across the continent; the Austrian branch of the Paneuropa Union; the Blue Shield, which acts to defend cultural treasures across the globe in wartime; the European Parachutists’ Union (which headship reflects his own branch of military service); and a number of others. The Archduke has an Adjutancy General, which consists of a small staff who serve to coordinate his activities with various groups, and award bodies he deems worthy of his patronage the “Sub Auspiciis” seal modelled on his personal seal.
To mark Karl’s 60th birthday, a “Kaiserparade” was held at the Austrian city of Korneuburg (which was also entered on to the cultural route “Via Habsburg” that day) on June 26, 2021, at which this author had the pleasure of being present. There, with the presence of so many re-enactment groups and the Adjutants, and the Archduke’s participation, the event looked and felt like an official occasion in a Monarchy. But this feeling of a “phantom empire” can be experienced at any number of events around what was Austria-Hungary, to include the annual celebration of Franz Josef’s birthday at his town of Ischl, the “Audience with Kaiser Karl” in Brandys, Czechia; and the Kaiserball in Korneuburg itself. More than mere recreation like one of our Renaissance Faires, these events not only invoke the spirit of the Monarchy and remind the onlookers of what they had – they speak also of what could be had again.
That being said, there are certainly active Monarchists such as the Weisse Rose and the Schwarz-Gelb Allianz, who seek to restore Karl not only to his Austrian throne, but to those of Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia. Echoing these efforts in Austria are the “Regnum” group in Hungary; the Koruna Ceska in Czechia; the Croatian Royal Council; and several others. Of course, among these and all the other organisations mentioned so far, there are differences of opinion regarding goals, specific ideologies, and – bane of any group – personalities. But as we shall see with other countries, there is an overarching and basic Catch-22 difficulty with Monarchism in Central Europe. On the one hand, the traditional role of the Sovereign being that of Father of ALL his people, there is always a fear of being too identified with one side. On the other, Monarchists instinctively look to the heir to their country’s throne for leadership and direction in the effort for restoration. It is a conundrum noticed as early as the French Revolution, when the exiled Louis XVIII warned his followers not to be “more Royalist than the King.” Their leader, Georges Cadoudal, snippily responded, “if His Majesty expects his Crown back, we had better be!” It is a dilemma that of itself seems insoluble.
However, as with Louis XVIII and Cadoudal – neither of whom could have foreseen at the time of that exchange the circumstances that led to the Restoration in 1814, other forces are at play. The first, of course, is the afore-mentioned devotion to the Saintly last Imperial couple, whose intercession for the cause is no doubt continuing on Heaven as it was on Earth. The number of shrines to the Blessed Emperor in his former countries continues to grow, as it does in the United States, and one cannot help but think this is having an effect.
Beyond this, it becomes ever more apparent that the core countries of Central Europe – Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, and Croatia – have far more in common with each other in terms of beliefs and mores than they do with the morally bankrupt leadership of Western Europe and North America. Moreover, they have a shared fear of Russia. Both of these phenomena have their roots in the countries’ shared experience of Communism; they have no desire either to have it reimposed by woke elites from the West, nor to be dominated by a non-Communist eastern neighbour that is struggling with the same legacy (and retains some of the same personnel). Then there is also the fear of massive immigration from the Muslim world. Such ventures as Visegrad and the Central European Defence Cooperation (which includes Austria) may well be the beginning of a closer unity brought on by necessity.
Nevertheless, these countries remain haunted by the ethnic hatred stirred up by 19th century nationalism and exacerbated by the experiences of the 20th century. To overcome them, mere mutual need is not enough – there must be something positive. Here is where the House of Habsburg and the Church have so very much to offer. The resurrection of Austria-Hungary as it was is impossible; the creation of a Monarchical Central European Federation – sufficiently united to keep exterior foes at bay, sufficiently loose to allow for national differences – may paradoxically soon become not merely possible but essential if these nations are to survive in any like their current form. Ironically, such a scenario closely resembles Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s and Bl. Emperor Karl’s ideas of a “United States of Greater Austria,” under Habsburg leadership. If only that had become a reality without the slaughter of the first World War and ensuing revolutions and conflicts! It may be that the rebuilding of the Marian Column in Prague last summer (destroyed in 1918 to show victory over the Catholic Altar and Habsburg Throne) may presage better times.
And what of rump Austria itself? Well, its political leadership is as ridiculously woke as any in Washington or Brussels, and certainly much of its elite wishes to be as moronic as anywhere in the West. But the sad truth is that Austria shall always be tenth rate in Western Europe; in Central Europe it has cachet. A resurgent Central Europe shall no doubt bring Austria with it – and no doubt the Austrian leadership shall assert that it was all their own idea! There is a great irony here. In order to achieve the Habsburg Dynasty’s perennial principle of a Christian, united, peaceful, and free Europe, Archduke Otto came to believe that it was more important to pursue the Paneuropean ideal of such devout Catholics as Schuman, Adenauer, and de Gasperi than to work for his own restoration. But current conditions being what they are, it may well be that a Habsburg restoration in Central Europe is now essential to building the kind of Continent they envisioned.
At the Kaiserparade in Korneuburg, I had two young friends – both in their early 20s – with me. One was Slovak, the other from German-speaking South Tyrol (now in Italy). Although friendly enough with each other before, witnessing the units march past the heir of the Habsburg Emperors led them to say to me afterwards that they had never before realised that they were countrymen. To the believing Catholic, the lands of the Old Empire – well, to be fair, all of Europe – seem like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. One cannot say who must kiss whom, which sword must be drawn from what stone, or what challenge issued to which Green Knight. But if Central Europe’s peoples are to remain themselves, the sleepers must wake and the bones live; what is now sentiment must become a cause. Now more than ever do they need the Habsburg motto: Viribus Unitis!