Welcome to Austro-Britain, 1913

The picture is by Johann Baptist Reiter, who was born in Linz and who died in Vienna during the Biedermeir. I like it.

It's not a new thing to compare the United Kingdom to Austria-Hungary, one of history's rather exotic empires. I was musing today on how pressing the comparison is now, though. Here was a state that had existed in a recognisable form for some thousand years. It was exhausted by two great wars and an attempted social revolution between 1815 and 1867. It found itself forced to rely on a federal entity that spoke the same language, but which was much more vigorous. It experienced the rise of internal groups whose attitude to the state was one of contempt, and which yearned for its dissolution in wars that the kinspeople of the the dissident groups were involved in.

The State became over-regulated, over-taxed, and ossified. Its more vigorous partner became its master, and it was encouraged into ruinous wars aided only by the continuously declining legacy of an imperial memory that eventually faded into antisemitism and collective madness.

This decline provoked a reaction. Some of the leading men of the state embraced an obsession with psychology. Others reacted very badly to the idea of order, and collective rules, and became radical individualists and believers in creative destruction and the spontaneous wisdom of markets.

Many of the latter fled to America. A confused, soon-to-be-rump state then waited for the end, and traded on its culture and capital for a short time after that, before being taken over by the populist madness of its traumatised but more vigorous partner. Its Diet spoke a language that few of its subjects could understand; its heir apparent was distrusted and its monarch aged.

The State was cleaved into multiple governments in different regions, at odds, and its conservatives did not know what they wanted to defend whilst banks and foreign powers eyed it hungrily. The state produced writers who celebrated meaninglessness, and who drew comfort only from the trivial inconsequentiality of busted but still pompous rituals and hierarchies of class and ethnicity in the city.

Now, really, go on. Do you need a pseudo-Biedermeier to see the comparison?

Britain isn't Austria, of course. Historical repetition is a fallacy. But I do wonder how instructive the comparison is, as I sit in a country that is clearly broken and corrupted, but which is prematurely celebrating what I cannot believe is a recovery from a recession the depths of which must, if economic analysis makes any sense at all, still await.


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