Myths and Narratives: ‘The Reluctant State’ and ‘The State that Nobody Wanted’
In 1940 the Viennese historian Reinhold Lorenz published his book Der Staat wider Willen (The Reluctant State) on the time after the end of the monarchy. In his own words he wrote it ‘after the magnificent completion of union’ following a call to depict ‘the experience of almost unbelievable aberrations, which ‘fortunately’ had come to an end, as he had witnessed them himself.
In the opinion of Reinhold Lorenz the union with Germany in 1938 brought liberation for the ‘exhausted’ people who had been ‘led astray’ and a reckoning up with the First Republic. The title of his book became a set phrase in the literature on the First Republic, although without its origin and the author’s political background – which remained largely unknown – being critically scrutinized.
In the end it was the title of the book published in 1962 by the journalist and film scriptwriter Hellmut Andics, Der Staat, den keiner wollte (The State that Nobody Wanted), that determined the negative view of the First Republic that prevailed in the following decades. Andics’s book, a reworked version of a series in the daily Die Presse, was very successful, being reprinted several times and reaching second place on the list of bestsellers in 1963.
The book’s title refers to the period when the First Republic was founded, a time when many leading politicians were sceptical about the chances of the new state surviving at all. In the narrative of the Second Republic the phrase, ‘the state that nobody wanted’ became a synonym for the entire First Republic and a key heading in a train of thought according to which this form of state led inevitably to union with the German Reich. Andics’s presentation was the first and most influential popular historical review of the period in the years after 1945 and the title of his book also entered the scholarly historical discourse. There may have been immediate criticism of Andics’s book, but it had hardly any impact. In 1970 Felix Kreissler, a Germanist and historian living in exile in France, reproached Andics for showing the same scepticism as those leading politicians had done in and after 1918. It was not until around 1990 that the way of looking of the First Republic in the work of Austrian historians changed from a primarily negative image to a more differentiated view.
Even today phrases like ‘the reluctant state’ and ‘the state that nobody wanted’ can be heard time and again in public discourse to characterize the First Republic. That November 1918 marks the end of a terrible war and the beginning of democracy in Austria, that the First Republic is for many people much more than a ‘state that nobody wanted’, that countless positive achievements are connected with it: these facts have still to find their way into the collective historical memory.
Translation: Leigh Bailey
Andics, Hellmut: Der Staat, den keiner wollte, 1962
Goldinger, Walter: Hellmut Andics: Der Staat, den keiner wollte, in: Das Historisch-Politische Buch Jg. XI/1963, Göttingen/Zürich, S. 179f.
Kreissler, Félix: Von der Revolution zur Annexion. Österreich 1918 bis 1938, Wien 1970
Lorenz, Reinhold: Der Staat wider Willen, Berlin 1940
Reisacher, Martin: Die Konstruktion des „Staats, den keiner wollte“. Der Transformationsprozess des umstrittenen Gedächtnisorts „Erste Republik“ in einen negativen rhetorischen Topos. Diplomarbeit Wien 2010, unter: http://othes.univie.ac.at/10190/1/2010-06-07_0252520.pdf (20.06.2014)
„after the magnificent completion ...": Lorenz, Reinhold: Der Staat wider Willen, Berlin 1940, 3 (Vorwort) (Translation)
the ‘exhausted’ people who had been ‘led astray’: Lorenz, Reinhold: Der Staat wider Willen, Berlin 1940, 174 (Translation)
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