Our British correspondent JP sends some contemporaneous analysis of events in 1918, when the political structures which had governed Europe since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 seemed to dissolve spontaneously.
JP says, “With reference to viral propagation, and its disappearance — the fading of the viral wave — here is a useful quote by Lewis Namier about the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was destroyed by the logic of hitherto repressed ideas.”
The Enormous Void
The October days of 1918 in Austria will for ever remain remarkable for their mass psychology and as an example of how ideas, talked about yet unthinkable on one day, acquire life on the next, while other ideas, which had seemed solid fact, pass out of reality. Austria-Hungary disappeared when it vanished from the consciousness of those concerned. The War had broken the habits and the approach of defeat disbodied the ideas which made up its political and social structure. The language changed; for the first time men drew conclusions from old familiar facts; the pace at which they did so, quickened daily; it became catastrophical. Diplomatic notes, speeches in the Vienna and Budapest Parliaments, declarations and manifestoes published at Prague, Zagreb, Cracow, or Lvov, were no longer mere moves in a political game. The masses listened to the march of events, the leaders watched the movements of the inarticulate masses. Elemental forces seemed to work through men and to control them, uncontrolled by them. The solid political foundations of inherited everyday existence vanished, and in the enormous void ideas seemed to move, free from hindrance, obeying their own laws.
Vanished Supremacies. Essays on European History, 1812 – 1918. Lewis Namier, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, 1958 (reprinted 1970), pp. 139 – 140.
The quote appears in an essay entitled “The Downfall of the Habsburg Monarchy” originally published in A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, edited by Harold Temperley, Oxford University Press/Hodder & Stoughton, 1921.
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