Czech, German, and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg Bohemia

Czech, German, and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg Bohemia

Czech, German, and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg Bohemia

Czech, German, and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg Bohemia

Synopsis

Czech, German, and Noble examines the intellectual ideas and political challenges that inspired patriotic activity among the Bohemian nobility, the infusion of national identity into public and institutional life, and the role of the nobility in crafting and supporting the national ideal within Habsburg Bohemia. Patriotic aristocrats created the visible and public institutional framework that cultivated national sentiment and provided the national movement with a degree of intellectual and social legitimacy. The book argues that the mutating identity of the aristocracy was tied both to insecurity and to a belief in the power of science to address social problems, commitment to the ideals of enlightenment as well as individual and social improvement, and profound confidence that progress was inevitable and that intellectual achievement would save society. The aristocrats who helped create, endow and nationalize institutions were a critical component of the public sphere and necessary for the nationalization of public life overall. The book explores the myriad reasons for aristocratic participation in new or nationalized institutions, the fundamental changes in legal and social status, new ideas about civic responsibility and political participation, and the hope of reform and fear of revolution. The book examines the sociability within and creation of nascent national institutions that incorporated fundamentally new ways of thinking about community, culture, competition, and status. The argument, that class mattered to the degree that it was irrelevant, intersects with several important historical questions beyond theories of nationalism, including debates about modernization and the longevity of aristocratic power, the nature of the public sphere and class, and the measurable impact of science and intellectual movements on social and political life.

Excerpt

In the eighteenth century, Slavic identity and language barely registered on the intellectual landscape in the Kingdom of Bohemia. As in much of the Habsburg realm, German and French were the governing languages of public and intellectual life in the kingdom. Bohemia’s ancien régime social hierarchy was dominated by aristocrats whose background and traditions made them uniquely cosmopolitan and, initially, nonnational. Cosmopolitanism was a function in part of habits, as the social whirl of the Habsburg aristocracy included the loose international sociability of the spa towns, the court life and rituals of power in Vienna, and extensive travel to the West. Cosmopolitanism was also tied to intellectual expansion as international contacts, university training in Germany, and the importation from abroad of not just taste and social norms, but ideas, came to frame and shape the identity of Habsburg elites. in a sense, the aristocracy were also agents of “contagion,” as they brought in baggage and carriage the banned books and publications of the Enlightenment. Ethnicity, a problematic marker for all groups at any time, was particularly so for the Bohemian aristocracy, whose constituent families came through war, intermarriage, and land-holding patterns to be a European elite deeply integrated into political, social, and economic life across the Habsburg lands in the eighteenth century and beyond. Bohemian statehood, insofar as it was enunciated by the Bohemian aristocracy, was based on ancient noble rights and the heritage of a kingdom that had lost the last vestiges of its independence in the seventeenth century.

Yet, by the mid-nineteenth century, this eighteenth-century ancien régime had been transformed to the degree that the intellectual elite, including aristocrats, began to articulate a novel sense of community and public . . .

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