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Deep Roots Are Not Touched by the Frost: Karl von Habsburg on the Future of Europe by Charles A. Coulombe

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Deep Roots Are Not Touched by the Frost: Karl von Habsburg on the Future of Europe

Karl von Habsburg, president of the Paneuropean movement of Austria (Paneuropa Bewegung Österreich), giving a speech on the future of Europe.

Photo: Paneuropa.

One hundred years ago, two major if generally unnoticed events happened in the grim immediate aftermath of the horrendous First World War: the death of Blessed Emperor Karl in his Madeiran exile, and the founding of the Paneuropean Movement by Richard Count von Coudenhove-Kalergi. Despite appearances, the two were not unrelated. In himself, the tragic but saintly Monarch epitomised in his life, work, and views the historic mission of his House: a peaceful, united, and Christian Europe that combined security and liberty. The second reflected an attempt to apply that vision to a Continent wrecked by war and faced with eventual partition by two peripheral powers who both owed their origin to the beleaguered Mother Continent.

While Emperor Karl shall rightly be commemorated through the coming year not only in the Beatus’ former realms but throughout the world, the work of Coudenhove-Kalergi continues to be the focus of much misunderstanding, particularly on the part of many who—did they understand it—might well be its most enthusiastic champions. For many Catholics and conservatives, it has long been the practice to dismiss the Paneuropean Union as a mere ginger group in support of an ever more despotic European Union. Consequently, its founder is often dismissed by such as a “One Worlder”—not least on account of his brief association with the Freemasonic Order (an unfortunate occurrence, however, which was also true of such leading lights of the European Right as Joseph de Maistre; one might as well dismiss St. Augustine as a Manichean). 

As is often the case, the reality is far more complex. Coudenhove-Kalergi’s vision was echoed in different and sometimes opposed ways by such as Fr. Georg Moenius, Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster, Hermann Platz, Karl Anton Rohan, Gonzague de Reynold, Denis de Rougemont, the post-World War II Neues Abendland circle, and many others. Some of these were taken in for a period by Hitler; others battled him from the outset and paid the price. But what they held in common echoed—sometimes quite consciously—the age-old Habsburg vision.

It was for this reason that Emperor Karl’s son, Otto, became a champion of both Neues Abendland and the Pan European Movement after World War II (a conflict during which he preserved Austria’s postwar Independence through his influence with FDR, and his younger brother fought with resistance in Tyrol—only to be rewarded for these efforts with expulsion from Austria by Karl Renner). To many both this affiliation and his support for the nascent European Union—to the point of becoming a longtime MEP—seemed an abandonment of his dynasty’s ongoing quest. But a careful examination of the facts shows a unity of vision for Europe starting with the murdered Franz Ferdinand, through Bl. Emperor Karl, to Otto himself. What varied were the tactics they employed according to the means at their disposal. In numerous speeches, Otto’s son, Karl, has echoed both his father’s beliefs and his commitment to the Pan European Union. 

For those opposed to the EU—an ever-increasing number as its current managers have strayed ever further from its founders’ vision—this continuing support has seemed difficult to understand. Recently, the COVID crisis has brought country after country and the EU as a whole to the point of absurdity. In the face of geopolitical challenges from Russia, China, Islam, and the United States, the president of the European Commission decided it was time to launch a campaign against Christmas—which drew the ire even of the notoriously quiescent Pope Francis. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Nehammer, having declared that “Vaccines make free” and threatening the unvaccinated with fines was himself infected with the dreaded virus, despite having been thrice jabbed. In the midst of the madness, the current heir to the Imperial Throne gave a speech in Vienna on his birthday, January 11, 2022.

This speech is well worth reading in its entirety. What strikes one is the Archduke Karl’s willingness to say things which—while entirely true—would not be said by any current politician. Moreover, it hints at a vision entirely in keeping with that of his Habsburg predecessors, yet once again altered to fit the vastly changed circumstances in which we now find ourselves. It is a vision that populists or Euro-Sceptics may be surprised to find themselves sharing. Let’s look at a few of the more outstanding points His Imperial and Royal Highness makes.

To begin with, Karl makes clear in the title “We Must Resume the Struggle for the Soul of Europe” that the Europe for which he, his ancestors, and Coudenhove-Kalergi struggled need not be identified with the EU’s structures as they stand—they are purely a means to an end. He goes on to excoriate the reaction of the EU and its members states to the virus, a disease which he himself was one of the first public figures to contract. After declaring that the European Idea as such has been “buried” by the governments of the continent, he further charges their politicians with “making policies with soulless ideological concepts, which ideally still have a time horizon up until the next election, but are normally marked by the dates of press conferences.” This blunt assessment of their failed method of decision-making is applicable to far more than those made regarding the virus. He goes on to say that “Politics is more than just the redistribution of welfare benefits to satisfy one’s own electoral clientele.” This is a stinging indictment of the standard way in which so many modern politicos attempt to maintain power purely by appealing to their constituents’ greed without any thought either to likely consequences or the Common Good—much less to any higher considerations, such as the Soul of either Europe or the nations of which it consists.

Karl goes on to contrast the original project of European unification as originally conceived with what it has become. Intended for maintaining peace after the horrors of the two world wars, it failed to do so on the European frontiers. Even its success in doing so within EU boundaries “is becoming increasingly implausible to a young generation that has never seen war within the EU. Peace is there, it is taken for granted, just like the holiday trip or the smartphone.” It must be remembered that the Archduke travelled extensively through Croatia during its war for independence, and has seen the horrors of battle in Europe in ways most public figures of our and subsequent generations have not. 

Karl proceeds to describe the vision of Coudenhove-Kalergi and Paneuropa: 

There is no doubt that the Christian worldview has shaped life and culture in Europe. Coudenhove described Europe as a community of destiny, ‘founded on monogamy and family, on private property, on the same customs and festivals, on the same religion, the same tradition, the same concepts of honour and morality, the same prejudices.’ Even with respect to the concept of private property, we can no longer be sure that this still applies today considering the exorbitant tax burden.

In this context, the anti-Christmas campaign seems even more grotesque. The Archduke then describes how the First War destroyed the European order, and sooner or later the five Empires (Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian, Ottoman, and eventually British) that had guaranteed it—the conflict only being ended through the intervention of an outside force, the United States. As a result, national hatreds emerged which wreaked economic and political havoc, and in time brought the great dictatorships to the fore. For Coudenhove-Kalergi, “The goal at the time was not the standardisation of the highest possible tax rates or a Europe-wide redistributive welfare state, but the rewriting of a European order. Not in the sense of a—probably even then—unrealistic return to the old order, but as a structure that would restore Europe as a world political unit of action instead of turning it into a plaything of non-European powers.” The Archduke then outlines Coudenhove-Kalergi’s ideas regarding free trade and movement within Europe, which to some degree have been realised. 

Karl goes on, however, to point out the elephant in the room: 

The geopolitical approach also is still valid. During the Cold War, Moscow determined the foreign policy of the eastern half of the continent in totalitarian manner; for the free western part, the partner USA was the determining power. Without any intention to offend anyone in Paris, Berlin or Madrid, even today the major world political challenges are not decided in the capitals of Europe, but as always in Washington and Moscow, as well as in totalitarian China. Europe sits on the periphery of various conflict hotspots.

In response, he asserts:

The conclusion to be drawn from this—and I know this is not the first time you have heard me make this demand—can therefore only be: Europe, the European Union needs a European foreign policy. It is precisely on this foreign and security policy issue that European sovereignty is needed.

But what would such policy look like? The Archduke states the following:

I would not define feminism as a goal of foreign policy. After all, we do not want Sergei Lavrov and Vladimir Putin to laugh themselves to death, but our goal must be to support Russia on its path of decolonisation towards a peaceful, democratic constitutional state with which we can live in a genuine partnership.

He then goes on to describe some immediate issues in detail, such as the Belarus situation. Yet these issues cannot be solved with the operators of the current governmental machineries. After characterizing the current division between Western and Central Europe as “a conflict between two etatist, paternalist ideologies, where one places etatism at the level of the nation state, the other at the level of the supranational EU,” the Archduke tackles deeper issues: 

An ideology that follows the primacy of politics claims the freedom to pretty much regulate everything, indeed the liberty to regulate truly everything. The more politics does this, however, the deeper the conflict with the law becomes. This conflict is becoming ever more acute because it is less and less the rule of law that governs—that is, the rule of law—but power relations… The effects of this false policy, which believes it can regulate and control everything, are now being felt in the Corona pandemic. Over the past 50 or more years, we have developed a welfare state that has pretended to be able to relieve people of more and more worries. This was not only the fault of politicians attempting to attract votes in this way. It was also due to citizens shying back from leaving their comfort zone. Who doesn’t dream of a carefree life in which the state takes everything off your hands? The bottom line is that we have come to live in a state in which everyone expects the state to implement their precise ideas of freedom. It is only logical that this leads to a political conflict of goals that no government (or opposition) can solve.

Obviously, what Karl describes is the case not only in Europe, but across the West. The last sentence is in fact a subtle indictment of the whole current political establishment, as well as the populations they both manipulate and reflect. What, then, is the solution?

The Archduke proposes subsidiarity. Those used to reading EU material may well roll their eyes at this point; but here Karl goes off the safe political reservation. After quoting one such publication, he declares: 

[T]his definition does not adequately reflect subsidiarity. Firstly, because it only focuses on the relationship between the EU and the member states, and secondly, because it reduces subsidiarity to a kind of delimitation of competences, according to which member states lift competences to the European level. In fact, however, subsidiarity is much more, namely a natural principle of order that includes the principle of ‘in dubiis libertas.’ There does not have to be a legal regulation for everything (no matter at which level), because there is such a thing as freedom, individual initiative and individual responsibility.

In search of a better definition, he goes on to do something no public figure to my knowledge would do today—not even a Churchman: he quotes Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno. In a word, he returns to the source of so much important political and cultural thought across Europe in the interwar years. He then declares the unthinkable: “In other words, Catholic social teaching gives us a very clear guideline for resolving the political conflict of objectives described above, which arises in the welfare state because the state interferes in too many areas of life in a regulatory way.” The Archduke adds: “We are not surprised that this approach to a solution comes from the Christian tradition. Inevitably, as soon as we begin to clear away the rubble that has buried the soul of Europe, we will come across the Christian roots of Europe, the Christian-Jewish tradition.”

In one stroke the Archduke seperates himself from our usual politics and encourages those who struggle in so many spheres to regain the Faith that made Europe: 

Let me summarise this again in the words of my father: ‘The Christian faith has made possible the growth and strengthening of Europe. The concept of human dignity and the development of human rights are inconceivable without Christianity and its Jewish roots. Although it is often claimed that human rights were only formulated by the Enlightenment, it should be pointed out that the thinkers of the Enlightenment period also found their philosophical basis in charity and the scholasticism of the monks of the Middle Ages. If faith disappears, other idols take the place of the Almighty. Man is oriented towards transcendence. God is rarely replaced by nothing, but by substitute idols or substitute ideologies that dangerously promise man paradise on earth. A glance at the world map shows: without a spirit of its own, this Europe is doomed to disappear. Viable political forces are only created by an idea, because this is the soul – also of the continents. Europe was, as long as it was Christian.’ In the text I have summarised here, he then goes on to write that the descent began at the moment this awareness began to fade. But we are not gathered here… to mourn Europe’s decline, but to shape its future. Therefore, may I ask you: help to once again uncover the soul of Europe! 

In his measured tones, the Archduke has issued a clarion call. Very many Europeans—both within the Mother Continent and in her daughter nations across the globe—are aware of this need; but they are excoriated by the political, media, and academic establishment for seeing this reality, much less saying or doing anything about it. Some have come to see retreat within the borders of their own nationality as the only way to regain this soul; others see the corroded supranational structures of the EU as a primary threat. But it is essential to remember that the various nations of Europe emerged as the meeting of their respective founding peoples with the Christian Faith on the one hand, and the idea of the Holy Empire on the other. From Ireland to Russia—and so eventually with their settlers beyond the seas—there was the concept that they belonged to one Res Publica Christiana. This was called in German the Reichsidee, of which the Archduke has said elsewhere: 

The principle of the ‘Reichidee’ cannot be translated. Today I cannot talk to a French person about the idée impériale because for him it is Napoleon. I can’t talk to an Englishman about the Imperial Idea because he immediately thinks of some Maharajas. One has to treat the concept in the German sense of the Reich idea, namely as a supranational legal order that applies to all citizens.

The revival of the soul of Europe requires the revival of the souls of each of her nations—and vice versa. Their political arrangements must be seen as means to that end. But where to start? The problem is not only that for the most part those who seek such a revival have been marginalised by the current political structures the Archduke so well analyses; they themselves differ greatly as to how to proceed, and in which direction—often, anathematizing one another over small points takes up a great deal of energy. In the meantime, under the current disease-powered regime, society is further splintered. His Imperial and Royal Highness makes some cogent remarks in concluding his speech: 

Allow me to close with a comment on the urgently needed reunification of society. You are probably wondering what I mean by this? In my opinion, this is an absolute prioritarian task of politics. After all, while I am optimistic that we will gradually get the pandemic under control medically and return to a normal life step by step, the deep rift that is running through families, communities, states and even the EU due to the extreme social polarisation on Corona issues will not be patched up so quickly. To achieve this, we must first and foremost disarm verbally and emotionally. Politicians must set a good example and place responsibility for social cohesion above electoral considerations. And in society the bitterly opposed camps will have to take first steps towards each other. Because anger and hatred always block the view of solutions—and also of the root of Europe, our values.

From the time that Franz Ferdinand began to dream of realigning Austria-Hungary with Great Britain and Russia and Federalising the dual Monarchy, to Bl. Karl’s attempts to end the First War and accomplish his uncle’s goals internally, to Otto’s many and varied efforts to unify Europe on a Christian basis, to Archduke Karl’s ongoing work, the modern Habsburgs have sought to reconcile the peoples of Europe on the basis of the principles that created them in the first place. Karl’s son, Ferdinand, having proved his physical courage repeatedly on the racetrack served in his country’s army and helped keep its people fed during the first CORONA lockdown. At any given time, too few supported them in their quest. Now, when the various governments have reduced politics to the absurd by demonising those segments of their countries’ population who doubt the current health narrative; perhaps enough of us shall resolve to give their insights practical realisation.

Charles A. Coulombe is a columnist for the Catholic Herald. His most recent book is Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy (TAN Books, 2020). It was reviewed in our Winter 2020/2021 print edition. He is also a Contributing Editor to The European Conservative.

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