by Gerald J. Russello
"But for many Europeans, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a real, if shaky, expression of the possibility of a united, liberal Europe. It was especially so in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, when under the seemingly endless reign of Emperor Franz Joseph, the Habsburgs seemed to be managing the various nationalist impulses surging underneath the peace of Vienna. This was not fully true, of course; prejudice and injustice existed within the Dual Monarchy as anywhere else, sometimes encouraged by the state. But the Habsburg imperium maintained its attraction. Freud, for example, famously said that he would not live anywhere else. Joseph Roth found the “Habsburg” identity worth defending, as he sets out in his novel, The Radetzky March, published in 1932, the same year as Zweig’s essay.
Zweig held onto a dream of unity, even as political realties showed him the dream was an illusion. The Roman Empire and the Latin language were the initial bonds, followed by the millennia-long dominance of the Catholic Church. Yet first the Reformation, then the French Revolution, and finally the rise of nationalism shattered Europe’s fragile bonds. Though some of his fellow intellectuals found solace in Communism, Zweig was never tempted. Philosopher John Gray, in his foreword, explains that Zweig was torn between loyalty to the “liberal Habsburg realm that he describes with such nostalgic fondness,” and recognition that such a world was disintegrating under the pressures of nationalism and bigotry. Zweig was pessimistic about the future, but he was equally convinced that the European idea remained possible."