The introduction discusses the Habsburg monarchy in the context of European history and the themes of state building and state making. State building as a concept has been seen largely through the histories of nation states and nation-state development. This concept stems from the philosophy of history and progress outlined by G.F.W. Hegel in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, first posthumously published in 1837. Such a view, however, leaves out or unfairly judges much of non-western Europe and, importantly, alternatives to the nation state in history. This introduction puts the history of the Habsburg Empire squarely in the center of European state building and its accompanying social and political transformations.
Chapter 1 presents the dialectic of Austrian rule: the tradition of reform and the desire for inertia. The reform emperor, Joseph II, bequeathed a spirit and attitude that made the state a good in itself. Importantly, he worked to instill this attitude in growing cadres of bureaucrats. But Joseph II died in 1790. Joseph's twenty-four-year-old nephew, Francis, assumed the head of the House of Habsburg in 1792. Francis came to represent the defender of the old regime. He made peace with the nobles and the Church, the very institutions that had come under relentless pressure by Joseph II's state-building project. The transformation of society that Joseph envisioned went into a state of hibernation as Francis ruled for more than forty years. The bureaucracy that Joseph refined languished under low pay, scant possibilities for advancement, and a state policy that lost its will to evolve.
In March 1848, revolution came to the Habsburg lands driving the forces of reaction underground. Revolution might have forced the government to act, but the empire's officials responded with more than barricades and gunshot. With revolution came constitutions, land reform, press freedoms, local and state-wide elections, and parliamentary life. Over the course of 1848, the old regime melted away as Austria's parliamentarians and governments passed and decreed new laws. One official in particular, Count Franz von Stadion, wrote a constitution for Austria that would never be enacted, but would serve as a model for integrating bureaucratic authority and representative institutions. Stadion's ideas proved to be of great value, but the tide of events forced his ideas to be put on hold. It would take a generation before they would return.
In the 1850s, the Austrian bureaucracy was reconstituted and the structures of the state were rebuilt to lead Austria into a new age. This era has been widely criticized for a spirit of repression, but in many ways it opened an era of reform. Austria emerged from the revolutions of 1848 on a much different trajectory than before. In fact, it is possible to say that it returned to the Josephinian idea, a strong central state and powerful and interventionist bureaucratic apparatus. In many ways, the central state was an essential, if unintentional, product of the revolutionary program.
This chapter discusses the era of reform into the 1860s. Government by bureaucrats is an expensive prospect. Austria could not solve its financial difficulties and secure necessary loans without parliamentary assistance and institutions of self-government. The Austrian state experimented with federalism, the development of local institutions of self-government, and parliamentary government during the 1860s, never fully replacing one system with the other. By the time Hungary had become its own constitutional entity and the Habsburg monarchy became the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy in 1867, the Austrian side of the monarchy had developed institutions of federalism, centralism, local government, and a strong, interventionist bureaucracy. A key feature of Austria's political development, and one which made the state all the more complicated, was that Austria had become a multinational state, with representative institutions, a monarch who continued to wear the military uniform, and a largely independent bureaucracy.
Chapter 5 turns to the roughly thirty years following the establishment of the December Constitution in imperial Austria, what the book calls "the years of procedure." The chapter describes how the unique Austrian constitutional system had to be worked out amongst representatives of the provinces, the towns and communes, and the empire's bureaucratic apparatus. In the process, the multilayered structure of the monarchy gave an opportunity for political groups of all persuasions to attach themselves to various levels of the state. German liberals defended the rights of the towns; clerical parties and emerging national parties defended provincial institutions; while the bureaucracy maintained the rights of the central state. Expanding representation and suffrage reform brought more and more groups into parliamentary bodies. These bodies legislated new laws and an expanding role of the state in social welfare, which in turn made the administration grow.
Chapter 6 covers the period between 1895 and the year 1914, which was marked by parliamentary crises, political stalemates, and the start of the First World War. The important role of the bureaucracy in the political system of the empire meant that the administration could exert a calming influence in politics and keep political parties involved in governance behind closed doors. In the meantime, high-ranking officials searched for structural solutions to the monarchy's political problems. The search for solutions actually dominated the last twenty years of peace in the monarchy, culminating in an Imperial Commission for Administrative Reform. The work of the commission was cut short by the outbreak of the First World War, but not before it indicated a snapshot of what imperial Austria might have looked like had it continued to evolve under bureaucratic and parliamentary leadership.
This chapter serves as an epilogue to the book. In the first few weeks of the First World War, a state of emergency permanently derailed Austria's 150-year state-building project. Military necessity became the order of the day, implementing new draconian laws and leaving the administration of justice to local military commanders and over-zealous gendarmes. Mobilization depleted the ranks of local bureaucrats in the center of the monarchy while invading Russian armies expelled administrators from Galicia and the Bukovina to far corners of the monarchy. The state that had evolved over the past 150 years had become a multinational polity and was in a continual process of renewal and reform. That process came abruptly to an end.