More than a dozen different languages were spoken within the borders of the multi-ethnic Habsburg Monarchy. Some, however, enjoyed higher prestige than others. The course of history had seen constant change in the relative values of the various tongues.
Although the concept of the nation needs no explaining to us today, it is in fact a relatively young phenomenon. It was a long and complicated path to the modern understanding of the nation in the sense of a seemingly unquestionable collective defined by a common language, traditions and descent.
The Austrian version of constitutionalism called for a strong emperor with a comparatively weak role being assigned to the people’s representatives.
On the eve of the First World War the political system in the Austrian half of the empire suffered a severe crisis, and there were several rapid changes of government at the start of the new century.
On the eve of the First World War the fight for a political voice was by no means over. In the Austrian half of the empire all male citizens had had the vote since 1907, whereas in Hungary it was still only the moneyed classes. Women in both halves of the empire had no political say whatsoever.
The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was a union of two states based constitutionally on the 1867 Compromise. It was reflected in shared institutions and a joint ruler, Franz Joseph, who as a person was much more than just a symbolic connecting link.
The Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867 transformed the Habsburg Monarchy into an alliance of two sovereign states. Austria-Hungary was a dual system in which each half of the empire had its own constitution, government and parliament. The citizens on each half were also treated as foreigners in the other half.
With the December Constitution of 1867 at the very latest, the principles of freedom of religion and conscience were firmly enshrined in law, putting an end to the last remnants of practices that had put non-Catholics at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, Catholicism was still de facto the established religion of the state.
The civil service was one of the most important linchpins of the Habsburg Monarchy and no less multifarious and complex than the state as a whole. It featured a strict hierarchy with a system of service ranks displaying intricate ramifications bordering on the incomprehensible. An addiction to titles was satisfied by a canon of forms of address that the present-day civil servant would regard as positively bizarre.
The famous words ‘In deinem Lager ist Österreich’ from the poet Franz Grillparzer’s eulogy to Field Marshal Radetzky celebrate the Imperial and Royal Army as the supreme embodiment of the Habsburg Monarchy: ‘There in your encampments, behold her: Austria!’. Nor did the uniformly white-coated soldiers of the multi-ethnic army serve the state: they served Emperor Franz Joseph, who was ‘Supreme War Lord’.