Tag Archives: Marx & Engels

A Lament for Austria, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Hapsburg Dynasty, on the Centennial of the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

I cannot say whether my own fondness for the late 19th century/early 20th century results from the fact that I was, in large part, raised by my grandparents who were born and grew up in that last generation before World War I, but whether from personal prejudice or not, I think it is fair to say that the late 19th Century in Europe was the apogee, the Zenith, of Western Civilization, and it’s been straight downhill since 1914 for everything that one might value in the traditions of the West.  This decline actually began a half century earlier in the United States with its own fratricidal “rehearsal” for the 20th century in 1861-65.  But it was Europe’s “Great War” that brought the most beautiful things to an end, and one of the most beautiful things to be destroyed in that War was the Hapsburg Empire of Austria.  

Previous moments of glory for Hapsburg Austria had included (1) the reign of Maria Theresa, mother of Marie Antoinette, and the not entirely unrelated life and career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the late 18th Century, (2) the final defeat of the Ottoman Turks on September 11, 1683 (yes, September 11 has always been a critical day in Christian-Muslim relations, apparently, or at least for over 330 years now), (3) the battle of Lepanto in the Gulf of Patras in the Ionian Sea off the western Greek Peloponnesian Peninsula (Peloponnesos) on October 7, 1571, and last but not least, (4) the first siege of Vienna by Suleiman the Magnificent which ended on October 11-12, 1529 with the retreat of the Ottoman forces, literally, from the Walls of Vienna.  

Hapsburg Austria was instrumental in saving Christendom, and so Austria’s final destruction as a world power in 1918 may be symbolic of the final demise and destruction of Western Europe as a truly Christian continent in the world.

Although everyone knows the title of Adolf Hitler’s Mein KampfI am willing to bet that few have read it closely enough to recognize why Der Fuhrer would hate the title of this essay and have no sympathy with its content.   In brief, Mein Kampf starts off with an indictment of Hitler’s native country, its role in history, and its very existence.  It’s pretty clear to me from his introductory diatribe against the “Eastern Empire” and its 700 year ruling dynasty, the Hapsburgs, that Hitler had only the shallowest comprehension of European history.  This failure to understand history was most notable in Hitler’s ill-fated invasion of Russia, the single “event” which turned his nearly victorious conquest of Europe into an abject failure, but that’s a separate topic for another essay.

On June 28-29, 2014, the Hundredth Year since Gavrilo Princip’s  (pardon my saying so) idiotic act of assassinating the Austrian heir apparent, I cry for the loss of Austria as a world power, for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and for the Hapsburg Dynasty as among the most valuable and stabilizing elements of European history EVER.  

Though p’raps I may incur your blame, the things are few I would not do to convince you that the demise of Austria as a power in Central Europe is truly much more at the root of the troubles of the rest of the 20th Century (and even today) than is normally given credence or credit.  

(1) Hapsburg Austria was the most stable power on the Continent, with a longer-continuity of rulership (since their Rheinisch Swiss origins in the early 11th Century, taking charge of Austria in 1276, and remaining there until 1918) than any monarchy in all of Europe save that of England, and rendering Austria the most stable institutional configuration in Europe after the Vatican first and England Second.

(2)  Austria—etymologically “Österreich, the Eastern Empire” (or more metaphorically, the Empire of [Christian] Easter)—defined the eastern boundary of Western, Christian Europe for most the same six and a half centuries of Hapsburg domination.   Both before after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, the Armies and Navies of Austria kept the Saracens and other Muslims at bay, doing on the East Side of Europe for nearly three gifts of a millennium what Charlemagne did in 800 by defending the Pyrenees  Mountains on the South from the Islamic Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain.

(3)     Austria was a greater center of music and arts than any other region of the German speaking world during most of that time, but especially after A.D. 1600. Nuremberg in Bavaria was Vienna’s nearest competitor.  Berlin never amounted to much of anything until the later 19th Century.  Frankfurt, Mainz, and Cologne, and Württemberg all pale compared with Vienna, equal at most to Salzburg.  The monastery of Melk knows few if any peers anywhere in the world.  Mozart simply knows no peers anywhere.  Vienna during the 19th Century was a much more stable center of intellectual and scientific development than Paris, albeit quieter.

(4)    The Nineteenth Century, which effectively died on 28 June 1914 at Gavriolo Princip’s hand, was defined by the greatness of Vienna, Paris, and London in nearly equal terms.  But, remarkably, Austria, second oldest of the monarchies, and center in 1815 of the reactionary Congress of Vienna, where Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich orchestrated not only the end of the Napoleonic Era set the stage for a very conservative post-revolutionary generation-and-a-half Europe brought to an end by the uprisings of 1848 which followed the publication of Marx’ & Engels’ Communist Manifesto in February of that year.  

Ironically, in light of what followed in Europe, by 1914 Vienna, Austria was clearly the most liberal and most enlightened, free-thinking spot in Europe, even including England.  Just how liberal was Austria?  For the heinous crime of assassinating the Heir Apparent Archduke and his Duchess-Consort, Austria knew in 1914 no  more severe penalty than life imprisonment.  How liberal indeed? At least as amazing as the abolition of Capital Punishment in Austria, it is remarkable that Hitler’s homeland was not only not anti-Semitic, but Vienna had a higher status Jewish middle and professional class than anywhere else in Europe: Sigmund (and his daughter Anna) Freud, Alfred Adler, and Melanie Reises Klein in psychology and psychiatry, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schönberg in music, among many others.   Some have speculated that “familiarity bred contempt” in the young Hitler who went to private school in Linz side-by-side with the much wealthier future Jewish-born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (born, coincidentally, to Austria’s second wealthiest Jewish family, second only to the Austria Rothschild’s only 6 days after Hitler, on April 26, 1889, and thus also celebrating his 125th birthday this year).  The anti-Semitic scandal known as Dreyfus affair was French and Benjamin Disraeli, although the U.K.’s First (and only originally) Jewish Prime Minister, converted to Christianity and died a practicing Anglican.   Alfred Adler and Ludwig Wittgenstein also converted, but until 1938, Vienna was perhaps the most comfortable place in Europe to belong to the continent’s most traditionally detested minority.

(5)   So in short, Austria was far ahead of its time in so many ways: multi-cultural and embracing more “minor” nationalities than any other place, liberal in every social and cultural regard, and yet supremely civilized in the best traditions of Western European Christendom, led by a Kaiser of ancient lineage.  Multi-culturalism as defined in Austria-Hungary somehow did seem “degenerate” as it does today and certainly, not cause the degeneration of European civilization in Vienna, but offered a strong and positive “road not traveled by” (multiculturalism under German Christian leadership) since the collapse of that empire in 1918.

Austria’s natural and architectural beauty survived the brutality of allied bombing during World War II better than the rest of the German Third Reich, and Austria endures until today, little larger than Switzerland where the original castle Hapsburg was located not so far from the Rhein and the Carolingian relic principality of Liechtenstein (where some of my ancestors come from), but it is strange that Prague and Budapest were once respectively the Second and Third Cities of the Austrian Empire, Prague being Mozart’s preferred venue for premiers, and that Trieste was Austria’s harbor from which the great Austrian Navy was launched for roughly 400 years.  But by the truncation of Austria to its very German nub, Europe after Versailles lost the great balancing power of Central Europe, and the greatest historical “defender of the Faith” against Islamic and other Eastern Invasions….  

Of course, once again, in the 1950s through 70s, Vienna was once again at the gate of the terror that was the East (this time defined by Communism)….but it had lost all realistic power and position of leadership to do anything about it—leaving a power vacuum which ultimately was filled, ironically, by the American Empire, about as far to the West as one can imagine…. Had Austria survived, or could we reconstitute the Christian Led nature of Austrian multi-cultural liberalism, the world today would be a much better place.

The French Opera at Bourbon and Toulouse, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112 (or “dialectic process engendered by the contradictions inherent in all things is the prime mover of cultural and political change and evolution”)

For one who was raised on heavy doses of opera, and with a great reverence for the heritage, history, and traditions of the American South, Louisiana, and in particular of New Orleans, I do not know how it never registered with me before last week that the first opera house in the United States opened in New Orleans on December 1, 1859, in an impressive neo-Classical structure which stood for exactly sixty years at the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse in the Vieux Carre (French Quarter) of New Orleans, Louisiana 70112 (http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/arts/operano.html)

The site is now occupied by the Ramada Inn on Bourbon, Ramada being a distinctly “LMC” hotel chain, and this particular Ramada caters to the alcohol-soused and unwashed masses who parade up and down Bourbon Street in a nearly continuous year round nightly ritual re-enactment of the ancient and Mediaeval “Wild Hunt” of Northern, Western and Central Europe.

Opera is, or at least Opera was for about 250-300 years, an elite marker of the very height of European artistic achievement in music and theatre.  From the time of Henry Purcell to Giaccomo Puccini, it was the standard to which all other art forms aspired—or which comedians ridiculed as symbolic of what was wrong with the elite (e.g. W.S. Gilbert).

As an art form Opera is now semi-fossilized—for my part I cannot accept the legitimacy of contemporary works such as the “Ghosts of Versailles” or “Nixon in China” as “real” opera, nor do I see these efforts as having much longevity or legitimacy—and so the mainstay of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Covent Garden in London remains the repertoire of 18th, 19th, and very early 20th century opera by Mozart, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Verdi, Bizet, and Puccini, with the ten gesamtkunstwerken of Richard Wagner enjoying a perpetual “special status”, the elite of operas even among opera-goers.

Bourbon Street today is….a hedonistic extravaganza of booze and sex at its most vulgar.  The gangs there during this Christmas-to-New Years’ Holiday are mostly white, aged 16-40 (I’m definitely one of the older codgers on the scene).  The men are dressed moderate casually while the women tend do be casually to-only slightly sexy, better-dressed in a kind of trashy, “party” sense.   Young girls are the center of attention.  Just as if it were Mardi Gras people stand on balconies and toss beads.  And on New Year’s Eve and the night before, the feeling has been very raucous.  Across the street from the site of the French Opera House of 1859-1919, the bar opposite the Ramada Inn on Bourbon was playing, at 3:45 am—cranked up to highest volume—“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga.   Many operas were in fact really bad romances, but the connection and parallel pretty much ends there.  The claim of sex-traders everywhere is that their work is Erotic Art, but Bourbon Street’s domination by the purest pornography is epitomized by the several “Larry Flynt/Hustler/Barely Legal” clubs in a three block stretch.  Yankee lumpenproletariats from Portland to Peoria to Pittsburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Providence converge on Bourbon Street attracting just a sufficient number of really attractive girls to make the place an enjoyable walk for people-watching. Southern rednecks of the recovering Southern Baptist variety keep alive the twisted memory of the South with Confederate Battle Flag bandanas, grossly juxtaposed to the large minority of African-American performers and tourists (who come from both the North and South in neither greater or lesser style and “class” than their white counterparts).

In short, Bourbon Street today, and so far as my memory of it goes back (early 1970s), has been a nightmare of the worst of modern thoughtless self-indulgent LMC America.  While the small space permits the “Wild Hunt” Ritual—(hunt for beer and flashing….flesh I guess)—in a manner unparalleled anywhere, Bourbon Street’s complete moral corruption at leasts equals Las Vegas and Atlantic City.  The drunkenness, debauchery, and generally lecherous is economically parasitic and exploitative in the extreme, but it is cheaper than Las Vegas or Atlantic City. The nature of discounted debauchery reminds me of Richard Blaine’s comment in Casablanca that he had no problem with parasites, what he objected to was a cut rate one.

In short, and my own mild hypocrisy here can only shine forth as clearly as it is true—Bourbon Street offers lowbrow people a lot of genuinely lowbrow fun—at least if you can tolerate a lot of gross behavior framed by beautiful old wrought iron balconies and Spanish, French, and 19th Century American architecture.

Despite Bourbon Street, New Orleans remains one of the cultural centers of the world for at least one very active and vital art form and that is cooking and cuisine.  The food of New Orleans is incomparable: Antoine’s, Court of Two Sister’s, Tujague’s, Emeril’s Delmonico and Commander’s Palace are only among the oldest and most recognizable names in restaurants in the United States.  At least some of the lumpenproletariats who enjoy Bourbon Street at its worst apparently also can appreciate really good food.  “Oysters Rockefeller” was a dish specially prepared at Antoine’s originally for the richest man in the world, but $12-$18 will get you a dozen and that’s roughly the same as lunch at Denny’s….

But this was the site of the first opera house in the United States, apparently without any dispute (the oldest opera house in continuous operation may well be be the Bardavon 1869 Opera house in, of all places, Poughkeepsie, New York, but it doesn’t save Poughkeepsie from inclusion in the “sources of great unwashed Americans” list above. (see, e.g.,  http://hauntedneworleanstours.com/frenchoperahouse/).

The real purpose of this essay is to ask a single question: what caused the transformation of the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse from one of the centers of elite-European culture in the Americas, in 1859, to something akin to the sewer of the American soul in 2010?

My answer is that the transformation was wrought by the War of 1861-1865, known to partisans of the winning side as the “American Civil War” (although there are no analogies whatsoever to the English Civil War of the Roundheads vs. Cavaliers, aside from the explicit stylistic comparisons of the two sides), and to traditional partisans of the losing side as “the War Between the States.”  Just technically, I think the “War Between the States” is more historically descriptive of what happened, and also of the Constitutional Consequences which followed, which were of the triumph of the National Federal government over the individual states.

What was the real purpose of this War of 1861-1865?  Up to a point I think the purpose, as well as the result, as precisely the transformation of Bourbon Street. New Orleans in 1860 was poised to become one of the great cultural centers of the world, comparable to Paris or Vienna in every sense, including the existence of an hereditary aristocracy.

As the opening bars of Gone with the Wind play, the textual narrative Title Reads: “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.”

The puritans of the North could not tolerate a peaceful co-existence with the civilization they saw emerging in the deep Southern States, from at least New Orleans to Charleston, South Carolina.   They were envious, and I remain of the opinion that the war of 1861-1865 was the single most direct and enduring American outgrowths of the transformations of public consciousness engendered by the publication of Marx & Engels “Communist Manifesto” in 1848.

The principal demands of the Manifesto have all been met although some are only now in our time being perfected.  As accurately summarized in Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Manifesto) the Manifesto Demanded:

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country.
  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.

To a greater-or-lesser degree, we live in the world shaped and created by the Communist Manifesto.  The American South, in particular New Orleans, reflected a completely alternative path in which private property, inheritance, and decentralized credit would have dominated.

The final abolition of private property and inheritance in America is now taking place with governmental support in the current mortgage foreclosure crisis.  It is against that national policy of finally implementing the first demand of the communist manifesto that I have dedicated my life.

I have spent the Christmas and New Years’ Holiday in New Orleans this year at an historic hotel one half-block “Lakeside” of Bourbon Street (driving directions in New Orleans, a crescent-shaped city which curves along a major bend in the Mississippi River are traditionally not given as “north-south-east-west” but as “Riverside, Lakeside, Uptown and Downtown” with the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, Audubon Park-Tulane University, and the French Quarter and/or Faubourg Marigny beyond Esplanade as the defining “cardinal points” of the city).  I love New Orleans—I love the humid air, the sensuous (Francophile?) appreciation of life, and the beauty and unique style of the old quarter.  But I hate what Americans have done with Bourbon Street.   I hate the class-flattening approach to sex and booze and money.

I now know also that what I love most in music was born in America on Bourbon Street, which now resounds with the trashiest of the trashy repertoires of degenerate popular music.   Even real Jazz, the only completely home-grown, indigenous “American” musical genre, is rarely heard above the din on Bourbon Street, which is ironic because, in 1919 when the original French Opera House burned, Jazz was being born on Bourbon Street and its French-Quarter environs, soon to explode into the American mainstream during the “roaring 20s”.

George Washington died in 1799.   According to the sources cited, the first performance of an opera in the Americas took place in New Orleans two years before that.  Sixty years later, the French Opera House was erected in New Orleans, destined to last exactly 60 years.  1859 was the end of an amazing decade in history unlike any other when (as Jacques Barzun pointed out in his marvelous historical essay “Darwin, Marx, and Wagner” published in 1941 and in print ever since) the concepts of history, evolution, economics, and art were rapidly being transformed.  1919 was the year of the treaty of Versailles after World War I.  These 60 years in which the New Orleans Opera house stood at Bourbon and Toulouse were the years in which Marx’ ideas took the world in one direction while Wagner’s ideas took the world in the completely opposite direction, with Darwin planted squarely in the middle. I was originally due to graduate Tulane University sixty years later in 1979 (but because I took off a year to work in Honduras at the ancient Maya ruins of Copan, I ended up graduating in 1980).  Those sixty years (1919-1979) saw the final eradication of all vestiges of the Old South which had survived the war, and the transformation of Bourbon Street into the Sex and Booze pot it is today.

As astounding as it seems to me, more than 30 years (half another cycle of 60 years) have now passed since my graduation from college, and to the degree that there is any change, it is only in the further degradation of Bourbon Street by the invasion of Larry Flynt and Hustler into the “Brave New World” mentality of modern America—Pornography and trumped Eros, classless communism has all-but-completely replaced stratification based on education and cultural awareness, and private property is now all-but-a-thing of the past.