With the commemoration of Christ’s first Advent, the end of the calendar year and a widespread (and justified) sense that we are all walking on the edge of a precipice, an old question pops up again: when will the world end? Many seers, prophets, and charlatans have predicted a date when the world will end, only to find themselves both relieved and disappointed. Unlike them, I know with complete certainty when the world will end. It will end on June 28, 1914.
Had Archduke Franz Ferdinand lived, we would almost certainly inhabit a better world. There would have been no war; he was the leader of the peace party in Vienna. Without the vast civilizational catastrophe that was World War I, the West would not have lost faith in itself, its culture, and religion. Instead of cultural Marxism, we could still have Christian, conservative monarchy as the West’s leading paradigm. I doubt the House of Hapsburg, which had twice repelled the Moslem hordes from the gates of Vienna, would have opened those gates to more than a million Islamic “refugees” (really migrants). Interestingly, it is mostly states that were part of the Empire, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, that have the moral courage to say no to the EU’s refugee quotas. Had the Archduke lived, there would be no Lenin, no Stalin, no Hitler, no Holocaust. Israel might have been established as a province of the Ottoman Empire, under German and Austro-Hungarian protection; the Zionists were quite influential at the Viennese court and Kaiser Wilhelm II had a number of close Jewish friends. Russia, which by 1910 had reached the economic takeoff point, would not have lost the 60 million people killed by Soviet Communism, the figure revealed when the Soviet archives were opened in 1989. Economically, the Russian people might enjoy the same standard of living Americans have today, while still residing under a Christian monarch in an Orthodox country.
Vienna was not only a political capital, it was a cultural capital as well, the rival of Paris. While the cultural pessimism that now rules the West was already stirring, without World War I and the fall of the Empire it probably would not have become dominant. Music, art, and architecture would still strive for beauty, not alienation (thank you Adorno). Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values,” where the old sins become virtues and the old virtues sins, would have remained the delusion of a syphilitic philosopher instead of the guiding rule of Western elites. In the year 2017, a Hapsburg Vienna might well be the source of much of the world’s cultural and intellectual greatness.
Only a handful of people are left who understand how much was lost on that June day in 1914. With those pistol shots in Sarajevo, the West put a gun to its own head and blew its brains out. Our history since has been the twitching of a corpse.
In 1971, when doing graduate work in Vienna, I had the good fortune to meet the Empire face-to-face. My landlady was Frau Baron von Garabedian-Elislago. Her father was General von Krauss-Elislago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s aide-de-camp and favorite soldier. She knew the Archduke and the last Emperor, Kaiser Karl. As you entered her apartment, you saw two magnificent Renaissance chests, gifts to her father from the Archduke. She could remember the picnics on the decks of Austrian battleships in the Adriatic.
The good Frau Baron was lively, funny, and a window into all that was lost. She spoke six languages fluently. She enjoyed high culture as only a truly educated person can. One night as we were coming out of the Burgtheater she gestured dismissively to two statues and said, “Those are the monkeys who founded the republic.”
Now, we Americans live in a country where the monkeys seem to be running everything. Our downward spiral accelerates. Soon, education and cultural levels will be so low that no one will be able to understand the value of a place governed by Christian monarchy and devoted to the life of the mind. But Hapsburg Vienna was such a place. Until, on June 28, 1914, the world ended.