Hungarian Culture and Politics in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1711-1848

Hungarian Culture and Politics in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1711-1848

Hungarian Culture and Politics in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1711-1848

Hungarian Culture and Politics in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1711-1848


This book describes and analyzes the critical period of 1711-1848 within Hungary from novel points of view, including close analyses of the proceedings of Hungarian diets. Contrary to conventional interpretations, the study, stressing the strong continuity of traditionalism in Hungarian thought, society, and politics, argues that Hungarian liberalism did not begin to flower in any substantial way until the 1830s and 1840s.

Hungarian Culture and Politics in the Habsburg Monarchy also traces and evaluates the complex relationship between Austria and Hungary over this considerable span of time. Past interpretations have, with only a few exceptions, tilted heavily towards the Austrian role within the Monarchy, both because its center was in Vienna and because few non-Hungarian scholars can read Hungarian. This analysis redresses this balance through the use of both Austrian and Hungarian sources, demonstrating the deep cultural differences between the two halves of the Monarchy, which were nevertheless closely linked by economic and administrative ties and by a mutual recognition that co-existence was preferable to any major rupture.


The question of how to define “culture” has produced an immense number of answers and interpretations. To Raymond Williams, “the concept is among the two or three most complicated words in the English language,” and Peter Burke, after registering two hundred definitions, concluded that “there is no agreement about what constitutes culture.” Indeed, the treatment of this concept has become an interdisciplinary matter. Anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and historians have offered different definitions, as have scholars whose views have been influenced by particular ideologies. For instance, anthropologists such as Clifford Geertz or Marshall Sahlins have emphasized the importance of symbols in their definitions of culture. Interpretations by Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson illustrate a different ideological emphasis. While both of them were Marxists, Williams characterized culture as “a whole way of life,” but Thompson defined it as “a whole way of struggle.”

In Germany, Kultur acquired an elitist meaning of refinement, but it has been widely agreed that the scope of culture is and should be broader. Particular definitions usually encompass multiple aspects of society, manners, customs, attitudes, politics, and even economics. T.C.W. Blanning used a definition by Sir Edward Tylor, dating back to 1871, which declared culture to be “that complex whole which in cludes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Most subsequent definitions are variations on this basic theme. As far as the connection between politics and culture is concerned, “politics is an aspect of the overall cultural system,” George Schöpflin has written, also stating that “every political action is embedded in a wider cultural context.” In Lynn Hunt’s opinion, “the chief accomplishment of the French Revolution was the institution of a dramatically new political culture.”

1 Raymond Williams, Keywords (London, 1976), 76; Peter Burke, Variations of Cultural Histories (Ithaca, NY, 1997), 1.

2 Quoted in Peter Brooker, A Glossary of Cultural Theory (London, 2003), 60.

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