What traits of Habsburg Austria made it capable of sustaining a multi-ethnic empire for so long?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Miss Brain Problems, Nov 7, 2018.

  1. Miss Brain Problems Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2017
    From my admittedly limited understanding, Habsburg Austria maintained a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-religious empire for several hundred years starting from 1526 - with the death of the childless Louis of Hungary and Bohemia, and the succession of those realms to his brother-in-law, Ferdinand I of Austria - until the end of WWI in 1918 and the events that followed afterwards.

    While long-lasting multi-ethnic empires aren't exactly a rarity in human history - and while the reasons for their longevity are well-known and documented - I feel that the Habsburg Austrian Empire is a unique subject in terms of these sorts of states: It existed in the middle of an era of rising liberalism and nationalism, it didn't have any particular protections or freedoms for ethnic minorities that I know of, and it was bordered alternately by two of the most powerful empires of the time and two of the most war-torn, strife-filled areas of the same era.

    Now, obviously, there must have been some traits that the Habsburg Austrian Empire possessed that made it capable of sustaining a multi-ethnic state through this tempestuous time period, but I'm exceedingly ignorant to whatever those might be. I was hoping that some more educated folks on here could enlighten me onto what this Empire had or did that made it so successful for so long.

    And, most importantly to the discipline of alternate history, what other states contemporary to 15th century Austria had or did those same things, and could have replaced the Habsburg Empire for those several hundred years?

    Thanks for any and all responses!
     
  2. JackLumber Mildly belligerent Canuck

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2016
    Location:
    The Great White North
    Habsburg legitimacy I'm sure played some part
     
    thezerech and inawarminister like this.
  3. JErosion Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2014
    Catholicism played a part, but with the unification of Germany and Italy in the 1800s came the ideas of nationalism. That a groups of people who share language, ethnicity and History can be more
     
    Simeon and Evil Crusader like this.
  4. Tripledot Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2013
    Ottoman Empire?
     
    inawarminister likes this.
  5. Miss Brain Problems Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2017
    Sorry, I should have clarified - I meant a Central/Eastern/Southern European state establishing a multi-ethnic Empire in C/E/S Europe.
     
  6. Tripledot Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2013
    Well, you could have Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary united under Vladislaus II, though how stable that union would be I don't know.
     
    Kirook, Simeon, kholieken and 3 others like this.
  7. Droman الفينيقي

    Joined:
    May 21, 2014
    Byzantium Empire, or a mega-Hungary.
     
    inawarminister and kholieken like this.
  8. Tibi088 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2013
    1. Lack of nationalism.
    2. The Ottoman Empire which none of the states of the region could face on their own and that the states of the region not only recognized this fact but took action upon it - by electing kings from each others countries.

    After nationalism came knocking:
    3. Centuries of legitimacy
    4. A professional Army.

    Edit:
    5. Also favourable economic conditions. It was worth being in the Empire.
    6. Russia and Germany partly took over the role of the Ottomans as a too strong outside threat to the region.
    7. Lack of nationalism on part of the Habsburg ruler.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  9. Gwrtheyrn Annwn A Welshman at Heart

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Location:
    Rhydychen/Oxford
    Short Answer:
    The Habsburgs.

    Long Answer:
    The Habsburg family itself is probably the primary reason that they were able to rule over a multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire for so long, but there are several reasons for this.

    Firstly, they represented a unifying force in the empire, the Ruthenians of Galicia-Lodomeria and Croats of Dalmatia had nothing in common, except for the Habsburg monarch. Secondly, the threat of the Ottomans (most relevant for the Hungarians, Romanians, Croats and Serbs in the south of the empire) and the Russians (for the Poles and Ruthenians in the north) who had both shown an eagerness to conquer small territories that border them means it is safer under the Habsburg umbrella. Thirdly, many of the ethnic groups lacked any country of their own (Croats, Slovenes, Ruthenians, Poles after the Partitions of Poland, etc.) and indeed some had never had one. This meant many of these groups were loyal to the Habsburgs over anything else. Fourth, the Habsburgs were very good at doing what they needed to do to keep the empire together, they often did it reluctantly or only after they were forced to do so but they were very good at giving compromise without breaking up the empire.

    Things only really began to unravel when the Ottomans declined in the Balkans, thereby removing the common enemy for the various ethnic groups in the south, and it was only once national states and nationalism emerged that the Serbs and Hungarians (principally) sought to leave the empire. The other ethnic groups did not really develop their own sense of national identity until WWI and Wilson's 14 Points. As I said before, however, the Habsburgs were good at compromising whilst still keeping their empire intact and it was only the stress and defeat in WWI that broke the empire beyond repair.

    I, therefore, think that it would not have taken much to keep the empire around deeper into the 20th, who don't necessarily need to even avoid WWI, just avoid a crushing defeat and/or American entry. Without either of these the Austrian Habsburgs could have kept their empire going for at least several more decades, though it would have undergone significant change and would have required a lot of reform.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  10. Spelf Habsburgs and Hot Dogs

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2013
    Location:
    Albany, New York
    In addition to what @Gwrtheyrn Annwn said, I would offer that they made great use of the medieval boundaries they inherited. While using their German base, they successfully boxed in most of the minorities within the medieval boundaries of the Kingdom of Hungary and then used the Magyars as the foil to maintain stability. The Croats had much more to fear from Magyarizing Hungarian nationals than the (relatively) tolerant Habsburgs
     
  11. Grand Archduke of Austria Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2016
    Location:
    Cardiff, United Kigdom
    I always wondered why they never conquered the Ottomans. That does not make sense to me, don't conquer your enemy in order to survive, yet the very fact that you're not conquering them does not certify your survival. We know how not conquering them resulted and it should have obvious that nationalism would lead to separatism. The best alternatives are Franz Joesph is assassinated in 1853 and his brother Maximilian becomes emperor or the Scflllian Plan succeeds resulting in Poland becoming the "third core" of the empire. Anything else is murky water most likely resulting in the status quo.
     
  12. Gwrtheyrn Annwn A Welshman at Heart

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Location:
    Rhydychen/Oxford
    They did try at various points, Emperor Maximilian was allegedly preparing to try and retake Constantinople for Christendom before the Italian and Swiss Wars put an end to that, but as late as 1700 the Ottomans were too strong for the Austrians (the Siege of Vienna was in 1683), then between 1700 and 1815 the Habsburgs were engaged in a series of ever more desperate struggles for existence, from the loss of Spain in the War of Spanish Succession to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 by Napoleon. Last but not least, from 1815 until 1914, the Ottomans became the subject of the Eastern Question and any attempt to seize land from them, by any body, would have been met with opposition from the other great powers, especially Britain as per the Crimean War with Russia.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018
  13. Grand Archduke of Austria Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2016
    Location:
    Cardiff, United Kigdom
    To be honest, I just think The Habsburgs were incompetent and that was part due to their excessive inbreeding, other houses did it and they were not as incompetent. I understand wars preoccupied them and at times they were fighting for there very survival but some of those wars originated from there inbreeding which created a 'mess' of a sovereign state. It was not until 1806 that the lands they governed were known and operated as the "Habsburg lands". Whilst I give them credit for lasting as long as they did, by 1848 I just see a dynasty that was not able to adapt to centuries of society and by 1914 it's just utterly ridiculous.
     
    Ameck16 likes this.
  14. kholieken Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2018
    Nationalism is not problem until 1800 in Western part, in Eastern part its irrelevant even longer. So Habsburg Empire is nothing special, many other states : Russia, Ottoman, Qing, Safavid etc is multi-ethnic Empire.

    For Habsburg survival, I think Prussia unifying Germany is helping. Germans in Habsburg Empire as ruling class that didn't go nationalism route because they didn't want to join German Empire who already had its own elite class.

    and seconded @Tibi088 for other reason of Habsburg survival.
     
  15. assasin Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2014
    Religion, social class and dynastic politics were more important for much of that time period. At the end of the day the nobility cared more about maintaining their status than their nationality. Parliament and the estates had a lot more influence before absolute monarchies popped up; but a good chunk of the time when there was a dynastic dispute they'd select foreign royalty over local nobility with a better claim to the throne because it'll mean a better position for them. The Hapsburgs were still unusually successful for a long period of time. But everyone to the south and east of them were terrified of the Ottomans and the Bohemian estates got wrecked during the 30 years war. The Czech nobility pretty much lost all power in that debacle. So that kinda stabilised things until the Ottomans started falling apart.

    Similarly other social classes were more concerned about their personal rights than nationality. Citizens of a city have more rights within that city than peasants living outside the gate. They don't care about rights on a national level.
     
  16. Gwrtheyrn Annwn A Welshman at Heart

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Location:
    Rhydychen/Oxford
    A little harsh, they appear incompetent in hindsight when we can see that the Ottomans were there for the taking at certain points but from the Austrian standpoint the Ottomans were either too strong or too well protected by other great powers for them to make any real effort to conquer them, remember Austria only survived the Siege of Vienna thanks to the Polish and when they did annex Ottoman land (Bosnia-Herzegovnia) it led to World War One.
     
    Ameck16 likes this.
  17. Tibi088 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2013
    They window of opportunity to expand practically unopposed on the Balkans was between 1683 and 1740. In that time period they reconquered most of Hungary, took Belgrad and northern Serbia, a third of Wallachia (Oltenia), and parts of Northern Bosnia. Than they were busy integrating that.

    The decisive factor was the war of 1740. Loosing that had cathasthropic results later. After that the Russians were too close and the Prussians too strong - neither would have allowed any significant Austrian gains on the Balkan without asking for something for themselfs.

    I also dont think that that Austrias annexation of Bosnia was directly responsible for WWI. It played its part but I dont think that in its absence a WWI kind of war would not have broken out.
     
    The Undead Martyr and Zagan like this.
  18. Gwrtheyrn Annwn A Welshman at Heart

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2015
    Location:
    Rhydychen/Oxford
    Completely agree, they took as much as they could realistically achieve, if not slightly more given how Belgrade and parts of Wallachia that had been gained were retaken by the Ottomans in the Battle of Grocka in 1739.

    Of course it wasn't directly responsible but it did result in WWI as we know it taking place (ie. Without Bosnia Franz Ferdinand wouldn't have been assassinated, etc. Also, less importantly perhaps, it helped cause the break up of the Triple Alliance.)
     
  19. Grand Archduke of Austria Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2016
    Location:
    Cardiff, United Kigdom
    The greatest thing I like about the Austrian/Hungarian empire is that post 1815, they had their hands in so many geopolitical places they could have become a superpower easy despite so many failed chances beforehand. Which is mind blowing. You have the Italian Question, all of the other non German lands within Austrian-Hungry Empire, the German question, Maxmillian on the Mexican throne, a dying Ottoman Empire, a weak Russian Empire, Japan on the side of the planet and an impartial USA up until 1917. You also have other opportunities like Spain and Greece offering thier thrones and possibility to build the Suez, Panama and Nicaragua canals. The only real fighters are Prussia, France and the UK.

    Despite all of this, I think that all these missed opportunities feeds into thier tragedy, decline and eventual destruction to be a puppet of the German Empire. Then you only an idiot (Moltke) to muck up the Schliffen plan and her increasing dependence on Germany increases to the point where the Habsbutgs don’t really run thier own state anymore.
     
    kholieken and Gwrtheyrn Annwn like this.
  20. alexmilman Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2018
    There was a tiny problem: after Prince Eugene, for most of the XVIII they had been repeatedly beaten by the Ottomans. ;)
     
    Ciniad and Koprulu Mustafa Pasha like this.