Century Europe: the Habsburg
Monarchy and Beyond
Two connected problems gave rise to the present essay.1 The first is that of the specific character of imperial legitimization. Did [empires] and [nation states] (however imprecise the division between them) try to justify their power in the same or in different ways?
The second problem is that of specifically [modern] or [pre-modern] modes of legitimizing political power. We would probably tend to treat some arguments as more [traditional] (e.g. divine right of kings) and others as more [modern] (e.g. popular sovereignty). Even casual knowledge of the sources demonstrates, however, that numerous authors tend to [switch] (often in the same paragraph if not the same sentence) from one mode of explanation to another. This, I believe, does require some explanation. Did they fail to notice the internal discrepancy of both modes of argumentation; did they ignore it consciously? Or is our initial supposition not well founded that two separate modes existed?
Before we come to the sources, let us note that Weberian concepts of legitimacy, whatever their value, are of no use here. By [legitimization] or [justification] I simply mean attempts to ground the right to rule in universally accepted principles.2 My task, therefore, is to examine which principles were invoked for this purpose. Treated in this way, the enquiry into the legitimization principles is not an enquiry into how power works; it is rather an interrogation of images; it forms a part of the history of mentalities rather than of political history.
I consciously put aside the whole problem of authorial [intent] in the texts under analysis. The eternal question [did they really mean what they wrote] is irrelevant for my present aim. Metaphor matters, phraseology matters; it is, I believe, perfectly reasonable to assume that a text usually represents the ideas of somebody but not necessarily its author's. Even pure propaganda is usually written to convince somebody, therefore the author must take into account the opinions of his age. Even if, as is undoubtedly often the case, various expressions of loyalty were written only to conform to expectations of the ruling strata, they could still not fail to be influenced by really professed opinions. Cynical sycophants are, as a rule, much more sincere than they themselves perhaps suppose.