Reforming Austria-Hungary: beyond his control or beyond his capacity? The domestic policies of Emperor Karl I November 1916 – May 1917.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
This work aims to provide an objective portrait of Emperor Karl I and an analysis of his early reign in order to help determine his responsibility in the collapse of Austria-Hungary and to fill the gap in a historiography distorted by both hagiography and underestimation. This thesis examines Karl’s character, education, ability, outlook and ambitions prior to his enthronement in November 1916, and his attempts in the following six months to revive political life, implement administrative and constitutional reform and bring about national reconciliation in Cisleithania. The Bohemian lands, and in particular the Czech-German conflict, constitute the main focus of this study, although developments among Poles, Ukrainians and South Slavs are also considered. Since Karl’s chief concern was nevertheless the conclusion of peace, foreign policy – in any case inextricably bound to domestic issues in the
Habsburg Monarchy – is also given due attention. The examination of Karl’s pre-war years reveals a not unpromising young man. His short heirship, however, involved only a perfunctory introduction to statecraft, leaving him lacking in preparation and experience. Yet, contrary to popular belief, Karl was not a blank slate; nor was he without his prejudices. Upon his accession to the throne, although he enjoyed a remarkably free hand, he threw in his
lot with the German nationalists. After four months, however, he – or rather his foreign minister – retreated under the influence of the Russian Revolution and of the American entry into the war. Karl then recalled parliament but did not have the resolve, courage, skill or support to build on this initiative. Offered no prospects, the political representatives of the Slav nationalities radicalized behind the scenes. With the reopening of the House, the irreversible extent of their disenchantment and estrangement burst to the fore. Although Karl finally sought to embark on a new course, his resolve again faltered and his half-hearted efforts bore no fruit. Largely as a result of his earlier mistakes and vacillation, the chance had, in any case, already passed.
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