Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Missed Opportunities

The current issue of Harper's contains a very interesting review of Timothy Snyder's book on the Archduke Wilhelm of Austria, member of the Hapsburg dynasty, who attempted to forge and reign over an independent Ukraine. Wilhelm is described, along with Henryk Józewski, as believing:

passionately that the state shouldn't seek to impose a cultural identity on its citizens, and both were prepared to risk their lives for the idea of pluralism. This makes them romantic heroes for our times as well as true Europeans.

Of course Harper's, despite being the pinnacle of print media for the left-leaning intelligentsia, is trying to make the comparison between Wilhelm's politics and those of the European Union. The EU, it should be noted, is really trying to regain independence for Europe by trying to out Americanize the Americans. This is not too dissimilar from the way former British colonies would flaunt their Britishness, hence the penchant for cricket in the West Indies, as if to say, "It's okay. You can go now. Your work is done."

But Wilhelm's politics were probably much closer to an anarcho-nationalist imperium or Alain de Benoist's 'Europe of 1000 flags.' The article goes on to describe what could be interpreted as Wilhelm's attempt at a form of national communism:

Broke, an exile in republican Vienna and Bavaria, he drifted into the shadowy world of royalist conspiracies. He started a newspaper that bore as its slogan "Ukrainians of all lands, unite!" and a masthead featuring a Ukrainian worker with a hammer and sickle. Wilhelm offered himself as the only man capable of reversing the tide of Bolshevism. He enlisted the help of the most dubious partners, including syndicates of extreme right-wing German nationalists, to whom he proposed shares in the trade of the yet-to-be nation in return for the cash required to install himself. His effort, in 1924, was foiled by an anti-monarchist movement, which organized its own effort to topple Stalin. Predictably, this rival movement was a failure, resulting in a massacre of Ukrainians

There is no doubt that the Archduke was motivated by self interest and a desire to claim his title as ruler of a sovereign nation. Descriptions of his personal life show that, like many aristocrats, he was possessed of a certain libertinism:

Although Wilhelm enjoyed dressing up in women's clothes and visited male brothels in Paris, sometimes in the company of his valet (a police report stated that Wilhelm frequented "assiduously" establishments on the Left Bank with Arabic names), he appears also to have acquired a mistress.

Despite this seeming egoism, there is now doubt that Wilhelm was intensely serious about an independent, sovereign Ukraine. The article states that the Hapsburgs:

"did love" their ungrateful subjects, a love that "was cosmopolitan, indiscriminate, selfish, unreflective, and thus in some sense perfect."

In other words, Wilhelm would have been a very laissez faire Prince, leaving the task of organizing the social, economic, cultural and political structures of the country to the Ukrainians themselves, while the monarchy would provide the backbone of stability and symbolic authority. Funny how common sense, self determination and self interest work together.

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