Tag Archives: Europe

The King of Jerusalem, and other Ghost Kings haunting Europe and the World

I’ve written about European Royalty, specifically on  the nine kings at Buckingham Palace at the beginning of the 20th century.

Much has changed since then. Most Kings are gone. You might even think that may of their descendants have disappeared from the world. They have not, as this piece by Helen Lewis shows: Among Europe’s Ex-Royals – The Atlantic. It’s an odd but good piece about what the Hapsburgs and their ilk are up to. They’re still around, haunting Europe like ghosts. Some have even come close to regaining their thrones and property. Others have hopes of leading their nations once again as Kings.

I suspect these aristocrats will forever be hanging around, waiting for a chance to reclaim something or other. After all, the current King of Spain also claims the title of  King of Jerusalem, a role that disappeared in the days of the Crusades! I am fascinated by that role in particular. I mean, the idea of anyone from Europe being King of that city is absurd. Yet the claim remains. Just like their other claims will last well into the Third Millenium.

On Time magazine making Hitler (and Stalin) Man of the Year

In 1938, Time Magazine made Adolf Hitler their Man of the Year. Since then, they have taken much abuse because of it. I have often heard people mock Time because of their lack of judgment. Yet, I have never read the actual magazine. I assumed they simply praised Hitler at the time.

So I was intrigued when I was checking out Amazon Singles and came across the chance to learn more about it, here: Amazon.com: Adolph Hitler: TIME Person of the Year 1938 (Singles Classic). In the blurb for the magazine, it states:

Führer of the German people, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, Navy & Air Force, Chancellor of the Third Reich, Herr Hitler reaped the harvest of an audacious, defiant, ruthless foreign policy he had been pursuing for five and a half years. He had torn the Treaty of Versailles to shreds. He had rearmed Germany to the teeth— or as close to the teeth as he was able. He had stolen Austria before the eyes of a horrified and apparently impotent world.

All these events were shocking to nations which had defeated Germany on the battlefield only 20 years before, but nothing so terrified the world as the ruthless, methodical, Nazi-directed events which during late summer and early autumn threatened a world war over Czechoslovakia. When without loss of blood he reduced Czechoslovakia to a German puppet state, forced a drastic revision of Europe’s defensive alliances, and won a free hand for himself in Eastern Europe by getting a “hands-off” promise from powerful Britain (and later France), Adolf Hitler without doubt became 1938’s Man of the Year.

Nowhere in there is Time praising Hitler for his goodness or wisdom or any such nonsense. They highlight his ruthlessness and his terrifying actions. Even his stealing of Austria and his bloodless (for the time) destruction of Czechoslovakia. However horrible Hitler was and remains, he was the most significant political leader in 1938. And that significance led to him being chosen Man of the Year.

Ironically he would have been chosen Man of the Year for 1941 too, says Time, if not for another man. That man, Joseph Stalin, was chosen Man of the Year then. Another horrible person.

Both Hitler and Stalin caused monumental suffering and death with their actions, some of it well before World War II. You can argue that such men don’t deserve to be Man of the Year. But that’s not how Time goes about choosing who gets the title.  They continue to do pick people, however odious, even naming Trump Man of the Year after winning his first election. (That they put him in a chair turning seems to echo a picture Time had of Hitler at the time, which is possibly coincidental. Possibly.)

If you want to learn more about this, check out the links. Better still, if you want to read a good history book that ties Hitler and Stalin together, read Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin.

A critique of the weird counterfactual history of Matt Yglesias and his case for the Austro-Hungarian Empire


Recently, Matt Yglesias wrote one of his contrarian essays arguing the case for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There’s so much wrongness about it that it’s hard to know where to start.

Perhaps the best place to start is some basic history of the empire over the 19th century. As the Holy Roman Empire was dying off, the Austrian Empire was formed from it and lasted from 1804 to 1867. From there it transformed into the Austria-Hungary Empire.  During the 19th century the Empire, led by the Hapsburgs, had stability issues. It was battered from the outside by leaders such as Napoleon of France and Bismarck of Prussia/Germany. It was torn internally, with revolutions like those in 1848. Even under less dramatic situations, it struggled to manage large parts of it due to things like the divisive actions of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Given all that, the idea that Yglesias puts forward that:

In today’s light, the idea of the Habsburg realms evolving into a multi-lingual democratic entity doesn’t seem particularly absurd.

Well, it is pretty absurd. The Emperor took all forms of actions to prevent the forces externally and internally from defeating the Empire, but those forces only grew stronger over that time. To imagine it evolving into a singular democratic entity is based on nothing and counter to the history of the Empire during that century.

Yglesias goes on to propose:

The empire wasn’t doomed by its diversity of linguistic groups — it started and then lost a major war.

Actually, it was doomed by its diversity in war and peace. In peacetime it was doomed by too many political groups it could not reconcile. In wartime it was doomed too. (This is covered in depth in the book,  A Mad Catastrophe.) The army of the Emperor was terrible for many reasons, and a key one in particular that led to their downfall was the inability of its soldiers to communicate with each other.

Yglesias drives forward:

And this, I think, is the thin point: had the continent not plunged into war following Ferdinand’s assassination, I think the empire could have survived.

This overlooks why there was a war in the first place. The Empire was looking to flex their muscle in the Balkans since they made aims to move into that area that was once part of the Ottoman Empire. After the assassination, an ultimatum of demands was put to Serbia. The demands were difficult and still Serbia made an effort to agree with them. Despite being agreeable to all but one, Austria-Hungary would not accept this and this ultimately lead up to the Great War. The continent was plugged into that war because of the Empire.

Assuming no war – a tremendous assumption – he goes on to imagine an optimistic future for the Empire:

My optimistic view is twofold:

Absent the pretext of war, the Viennese authorities would recognize the need to return to parliamentary government, even if that meant dealing with socialists as a counterweight to the grab-bag of nationalists.

Franz Ferdinand wanted to cut Hungary down to size (literally) and the Hungarian nationalists might have realized that this was actually in their interests and would have let them be masters of their own domain.

Again no. Hungary had been fighting against the leaders in Vienna for decade. There’s nothing in their history that indicates they would have changed their minds. If you are going to be a contrarian historian, at least have some facts to support your counter history.

He also has a fantastical view of how the Empire might have operated:

I think a more workable version of federalism would have been to leverage the Empire’s small administrative divisions and create a state where a lot of power was devolved to local government with the national government handling national defense and foreign policy, plus the kinds of things that are run out of Brussels and Frankfurt in contemporary Europe.

This is also counter to the facts. Facts such as how Hungary would subvert any kind of spending that was not in their interest, including defense, to name just one.

More fantasy in the form of how schools would run:

The expectation would be that schooling would be available in one or two local languages of instruction in every locality, that every non-German student would be taught German as a foreign language, and that every German student would choose from one of the other languages of the empire. I think that absent the outbreak of war, this would have proved to be a sustainable model

Again, no. Not based on history.

Finally:

And by midcentury, the script has sort of flipped on the Habsburg domains. Far from a feudal relic, the empire starts to seem progressive and modern.

That certainly wasn’t going to happen when Franz Joseph was emperor. He truly was a feudal relic, and the only purpose of the empire was for him to be Emperor. Preferably an empire that was based on those of centuries past. He and the land he ruled was notoriously conservative and antiquated. Nothing in their history would indicate this would become anything other than that, short of dissolution.

In summary, Matt Yglesias imagines an Austria-Hungary that never existed and never could exist, but if it did, it would form a model of some ideal federation within Mittel Europa. The only place that might fill that bill is Switzerland.

If you want to read what the empire was really like at the end, read A Mad Catastrophe. As well, AJP Taylor has written several essays and books on the subject, including this. I’ve found all those worthwhile The Guardian has 10 more books on the topic, here. Finally, consider reading Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.

And now for something completely different: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

If you are looking for a chance to see Europe in the grandest of style, I’d like to recommend this: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Is Launching a Trip Through France and Italy for Champagne Lovers 

It’s been a tough pandemic: you deserve it. 😊

For more details on the train, see their website, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Vintage Train.

(Image from this: Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: London to Venice | Holidays 2022/2023 | Luxury & Tailor-Made with Wexas Travel.)

P.S. To see much more on the train, search for “Venice Simplon-Orient-Express” on your favorite search engine.

One of my favorite photos: nine kings at Buckingham Palace

This may be one of my favorite photographs of all time:


Nine Kings at Buckingham Palace – Iconic Photos

It pictures the nine European Kings gathered together for the funeral in 1910 of England’s King Edward VII.

What I love about it is the illusion of power and permanence it holds. All nine men were soon to shaken by the changes brought on by the upcoming war. All nine would fall from the height they stood on in this photo.

If you go to the link in Iconic Photos, you can get a who’s who of the Kings as well as what happened to them.

More on it here including some wonderful detail, such as the seating list for dinner. Of those gathered around the table, everyone was royalty save the heads of state of the USA and France.

On Paul Klee, later works

Paul Klee painting

The David Zwirner gallery has an exhibit on the late works of Paul Klee, here.

A good analysis of Klee and his work then can be read here.

His work is darker in this time period, as befitting of what was going on. Still beautiful and still uniquely Klee, though.

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Stunning Photographs of European Libraries

The photographs of European libraries at this link really are stunning! I’d love to take a tour of Europe that went to each one of them.

Lovers of libraries and books will want to check out Fubiz for more images. The above image is just one of many great photos.

Dreading going to work tomorrow? Maybe you should take a trip to Europe instead.

Why? Because October can be one of the best times to go to Europe. Perfect  weather, no crowds, great festivals…and cheaper. Don’t believe me? See this piece, which makes a strong case to pack your bags this very minute and head on out: The Best Time to Go to Europe | Kitchn

If you go, send me a postcard.

On the recent German election

Good news: Merkel won by moving to the center.

Bad news: AfD, a far right party, has surged and won seats.

This could either be a blip and AfD could fade after this election.

Or it could be the start of big and bad changes for Germany, Europe and the world.

For more on this, see this good piece: Angela Merkel wins 4th term as chancellor of Germany in Vox

Library porn: Prague’s Klementinum library

My Modern Met has some fantastic images of the Klementinum library for anyone (like myself) that gets excited about such things. Here’s a sample:

If you haven’t heard of it, here’s what that site has to say about this fantastic place:

Prague’s Klementinum library was opened in 1722 and has easily become one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Aside from housing over 20,000 novels for your reading pleasure, this location showcases absolutely stunning Baroque architecture. As you’re perusing various timeworn bookshelves, you can take a moment to look up and see Jan Hiebl’s heavenly, Renaissance-style ceiling paintings. Amongst his work, there are symbolic designs that represent the importance of education, along with fantastic portraits of Jesuit saints. Hiebl’s paintings actually pay homage to the fact that the library was originally a Jesuit university. Many of the school’s rare, 17th-century books are still amongst its collection today. That would explain why Emperor Joseph II’s portrait is displayed at the head of the hall, since he was the one who arranged for abolished monastic libraries to send their books to Klementinum.