Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Judson, Peter M.: The Hapsburg Empire: A New History

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Judson, Peter M.: The Hapsburg Empire: A New History

Article excerpt

JUDSON, Peter M. The Hapsburg Empire: A New History. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press at The Harvard University Press, 2016. xiii + 367 pp.--The book takes as its subject the Hapsburg Empire (1770-1918), known in its various stages as the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrian Empire, and after 1867 as the Austrian Hungarian Empire.

Peter Judson is professor of nineteenth- and twentieth-century history at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He offers a "new history" in the sense that he differs from many contemporary historians insofar as he approaches his material from the perspective of empire, from the top down rather than by attempting to explain how its ethnic and regional components came together to create what Judson calls the "Accidental Empire." At the height of their power the Hapsburgs governed territories that today are located in twelve different countries. Fifteen different languages were spoken in the lands they controlled. In the eighteenth century, Hapsburg rulers managed to create a unified and centralized set of institutions in the territories they controlled, and yet many of those territories functioned largely according to their own laws, institutions, and administrative traditions. Although the Roman Catholic Church traditionally held a privileged place in Hapsburg lands, their subjects included Orthodox Christians, Greek Catholics, Calvinists, Lutherans, Jews, Armenian Christians, and Unitarians.

Confronted with such diversity, Judson shows why the Hapsburg Empire mattered for so long to millions of central Europeans, across linguistic, regional, and cultural divides. With ample documentation he explains why ordinary men and women felt a common attachment to their empire in spite of their national origins. For many the empire constituted an alternative source of real power that tempered the power of local elites.

No brief review can do justice to this very rich volume, but any review would be amiss if it did not devote attention to the rule of Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) and the cultural wars of the 1850s and 1860s, a period that transformed Austria and Hungary. In her day, Maria Theresa was herself a reformer. Tom between liberal and conservative advisors, her personal religious practice often governed her decisions. Hers was a life of simple forms of devotion, a life of internal personal piety and good works. In Judson's description, she "emphasized, simple, modest, and pietistic virtue, while avoiding the overtly emotional excesses of baroque ritual practice." When under her rale new primary schools were created, most of the teachers were local members of the clergy with varying degrees of education and ability. The nature of the Church's influence on public education depended a great deal on the attitude and ability of the local priest. In the interest of uniformity, if not quality, Maria Theresa eventually imposed state supervision over the Church in all matters, save the purely spiritual, from the education of priests in state-run seminaries to the appointment of bishops. Under her rule, the regime reduced the number of religious holidays and dissolved contemplative orders whose members did not serve a charitable purpose in the community, appropriating their property to help fund local educational and welfare institutions. …

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