THE Austrian Empire was the creation of one family. In the course of its six centuries of existence, the Habsburg dynasty built up around the middle Danube a state which was held together largely by loyalty to the ruling family, a dynastic estate rather than a nation-state in the sense of Britain or France or Sweden. Dynastic motives and the incidents of history gathered together a territory where many races, nationalities, and languages intermingled. Only in the nineteenth century did it become a constitutional unit, the Austrian (and, after 1867, the Austro-Hungarian) monarchy. Its new form coincided with the rise of nationalism in Central Europe, which in many ways rendered the Austrian monarchy an anachronism bitterly contested by its component nationalities, German and Magyar, Czech and Croat, Polish and Italian. Throughout the nineteenth century, from the end of the Napoleonic wars to the end of the First World War, the monarchy stood out as a conservative force against the new movements of the period which threatened its existence. During this whole century it showed a surprising continuity, for it was truly ruled by two statesmen only: by Prince Metternich from 1815 to 1848, by Emperor Francis Joseph from 1848 to 1916. Both visualized their task as the preservation of the heritage of the past, though the methods they employed changed with the changing social and intellectual climate of the period.
The strange political structure of the Habsburg monarchy fulfilled a unifying and civilizing mission in its early history, not without some success and some dignity. In the nineteenth century it lacked the surging vitality of some of the more progressive countries like modern Germany, but its slower and quieter pace of life had a mellow and melancholic charm. Within the vast realm, with its surprising diversity of folkways, tongues, and creeds, of landscape and climate, a traditional civilization formed a uniform surface beneath which the energies of
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Publication information: Book title: Central-Eastern Europe: Crucible of World Wars. Contributors: Joseph S. Roucek - Editor. Publisher: Prentice-Hall. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1946. Page number: 31.
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