Liberal Austro-Hungarian Empire

edited February 23 in Steam

Matthew Yglesias has written a neat little alternate history in which Franz Ferdinand lives and turns the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a liberal democracy.

Full version here. Some highlights:

  • Without World War I, the imperial authorities recognize the need to return to parliamentary government, even if that means dealing with socialists as a counterweight to the grab-bag of nationalists.
  • The empire becomes a federation, where a lot of power is devolved down to dozens of regions, to avoid nationality-based states.
  • The Eastern European, including Hungarian and Jewish, entrepreneurs and scientists who in the real world emigrated to America remain in Austria-Hungary, fueling an economic boom.
  • The monarchy also attracts Jewish immigrants from Russia. (There is no WW2, no Holocaust, and no Israel in this timeline.)
  • German, not English, becomes the dominant language of Europe.


  • edited February 23

    I love the idea of Austro-Hungary getting the first H Bomb thanks to Edward Teller. This is really neat. Though this is quite optimistic, European multi ethnic confederations have been tried on and off throughout the continent's history, post-Rome anyway. The main issue I see is the idea of internationalism and liberalism merging on the continent. That process did happen of course, but it was largely spurred on by the Americans, and the Soviets to a degree with their fun house mirror Socialist Internationalism. Liberalism and Nationalism were one and the same in Europe until the 1930's or so. A utopian 20th century is fun to think about, I wonder what could have changed European attitudes prior to the great conflagrations of the World Wars.

  • That's a fair point. Maybe this scenario needs nationalism to go wrong elsewhere in order to work; in order to persuade the people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire they're better off remaining together.

    Maybe Wilhelm II finds another reason to go to war against France and Russia, but Austria-Hungary stays out of it, and without that support Germany is defeated sooner? There's no Russian Revolution. France takes a slice of western Germany. German nationalism is discredited.

  • As I understand it, A-H was more or less on life support the entire war. Without German support, they would have totally imploded far sooner than 1918. If they didn't enter a second France/German war circa 1914 or so, Germany might be better off with a neutral Austria to the south of them; They wouldn't have to keep constantly diverting forces to help the Austrians on whatever battlefront they were on the verge of losing. In addition, the Allies were just as nationalistic as anyone on the Central Powers side, aside from Wilson of course. But even Wilson didn't believe in multi-ethnic Monarchies constitutional or otherwise. His internationalism was one of conferences and supra-National NGOs and the like which did of course become the dominant model in the West after the Second World War.

    Maybe one of the Austrian territories tries to go independent after 1848 and gets gobbled up by one of the other European powers, thereby convincing the remaining states under the Hapsburgs that they need to stick together. Though, I grant even that is a stretch.

    It's tough, Europe is just so fractal, like herding cats that any attempt to make a liberal multi-ethnic state seems to require some level of iron fist behind the rhetoric. Even the Americans with their attempts to build NATO and the European common market rely on the implicit threat of US military bases spread across the continent to keep everyone in line. And Russia's on going attempts to rebuild a multi-ethnic Russian Empire are very bloody indeed.

    It might be an interesting idea to have Hapsburg Austria implode circa 1918, but then have Pilsudski's Interseas Confederation come into being. Austria itself wouldn't be a member, and you'd have to weaken the Soviets somehow (possibly a larger Japanese intervention in the far east keeps the White movement alive for a longer period of time?) and also somehow deal with the religious (Catholic vs Protestant vs Orthodox) and nationalistic differences, since the Baltics and (white) Ukrainians viewed such a proposal as a threat to their own national aspirations. But assuming all that could be worked out you could more or less have a situation similar to the one sketched out in the original post.

    This is some thought provoking stuff!

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