18 JUNE 1898, Page 8


IT looks very much as if the Emperor of Austria—one of the most perplexing characters in Europe, for he never makes blunders, yet is not an intellectual man— were about to extricate himself from his seemingly hope- less situation in an unexpected way. He has evidently been more alarmed by the Pan-Germanic feeling mani- fested in the Hereditary States, in Bohemia, and only last week in Moravia, than by any of the Slavic demonstra- tions, and has resolved, first of all, to soothe the German population. He has therefore prorogued his Cisleithan Parliament, as be has a constitutional right to do, and can now govern under Clause 14 by means of emergent decrees having the force of law. By one of these decrees it is said he will suspend the Language Ordinance until a Special Commission, which will never report till he orders it, has terminated its labours. The effect of this seemingly moderate and exceedingly astute plan is that German once more becomes the official language of the Monarchy, and that the Germans are in their own judgment replaced in the position of moral ascendency which they claim as the more civilised of the races included within the Empire. They will consequently, his advisers calculate, give up their agitation, and thus rid him of the ugliest and most pressing difficulty of the hour, the disposition of the Austrian Germans to appeal for aid to the Hohenzollerns, with whom disinterestedness is not a historic quality, and whom the Emperor, as a Hapsburg with a long memory, in all probability secretly distrusts. It is true the step back will greatly irritate the Slays; but they are not so well organised as their opponents; they have not the same dourness and persistence ; and they have not been accustomed through centuries to a formal ascendency. They are not so proud, either, of Russia as the Pan-Germans are of Germany, and in most provinces are as much divided from the Greek Church as the German 'Catholics are from the Protestant denominations. Indeed, they may be more divided, for Herr Wolf remains the leader of the German Extremists, after threatening publicly that if no other way remained, the Germans of Austria would renounce the Catholic faith and accept the Evangelical. Moreover, German ascendency makes it easier for Austria and Hungary to agree, for Hungary is still in the hands of the Magyars, and the Magyars are still, like the Germans, a dominant minority ruling a majority, and intensely desirous to maintain their rule. If the two castes once more pull together, as they used to do, they make up a great body of power, and one possessed of the great advantage that the subordinate populations, however much irritated by their pretensions, are accus- tomed to hear them and to see them acknowledged. If the statement is true, and it is certainly probable, there will be a grand outpouring of words ; but the time for Slav insurrection as united Slays is not yet, their most civilised kingdom, Bohemia, being almost an enclave among German populations ; and the Emperor Francis Joseph will probably not see his throne shaken again by the quarrel during his lifetime. His has been a strange experience, always on the edge of a precipice, yet never falling over, and our children will read the memoirs of his reign with an interest which they do not bestow upon that reign now. It is curious that they do not, unless, indeed, they are convinced that nothing can overthrow " Austria," for the fall of the Hapsburg dynasty would be in its consequences a most tremendous event. It would pulverise the great European arrangements under which the Continent has now lived for more than three centuries. With the grand Southern dominion of which the Hapsburg family is the nexus once broken up, there would not only be anarchy through a large portion of Europe, but there would arise a situation which might involve fifty years of war, and perhaps ruin the prospects of modern civilisation. There would be nothing left with real force in it except Germany, France, and Russia, and the two latter might, if united for the purpose, as they would have a strong interest in being, squeeze the first-named almost out of existence. Germany, in fact, even if strengthened by the addition of the Hereditary States, might be reduced to a defensive policy which would leave all Southern Europe helpless and exposed to spoilers. What could Spain, or Italy, or a Balkan Federation, or Turkey, isolated, half-ruined, and discouraged, do against the tremendous forces which could be brought to bear on them ? Spain and Italy would lie at the mercy of France. Russia would eat up Turkey and the Balkan kingdoms, including Greece. Even Hungary, cloven as she is by the race-line, could hardly hope to preserve her independence. The fears, the pre- cautions, the crushing taxation for military defence, and the recurring wars, would destroy all happiness in Southern Europe, and ultimately cripple both commerce and civilisation. The existence of Austria as a Great Power is, in fact, indispensable to European safety, and no one has ever suggested how, without the binding influence of the Hapsburg sceptre, leaden sceptre though it be, the States which make up " Austria " could com- bine themselves into a Great Power. Who is to be their head, and to whom is military loyalty to be directed ? Mr. Gladstone, who had flashes of insight in foreign affairs, once suggested that Austria might—we think he even said " must "—become federal, but he was thinking not of a Federal Republic, but of that untried experiment, a Federal Monarchy under an hereditary chief. In any case, the shattering of Austria would be a misfortune for the world so great that the light-hearted way in which it is often spoken of in this country strikes us with a constantly recurring sense of surprise.

It will not happen ? We hope not and believe not ; but there are two alarming dangers in Austria. One is the one now visible. The more experience a man gains in international politics the more conscious does he become of the inveteracy and width of the cleavage caused by conscious differences of race. It is almost worse than differences of creed, for it is more nearly self-generated. It appears often to exist without reason or against reason, and to be independent of justice or length of partnership. We see it, of course, in its strongest form in the "antagonism of the colours," which seems to defy reasoning ; but it is strong, though not so strong, between the white races also. The Swiss have surmounted the difficulty, but Celt and Saxon, Slav and German, German and Italian, have a rooted distaste for one another, leading in some cases to hatred and in others to an incurable scorn. The Celt thinks the Saxon a strongly built clodhopper, and the Saxon holds the Celt to be an unreasonable child ; the Slav holds the German to be an oppressive formalist, and the German describes the Slav as an often charming, always emotional, and sometimes irresponsible being for whom God, as the Turk said, may find a use in his own good time, but who at present is a nuisance. The contest between men with such feelings for each other may go any length, may lead even to a total disregard of the bond of interest such as you often see in ill-mated couples or partners with some cause of dislike rooted in the character. The other danger consists in the character of the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine. It has remained at the top for a long while, and it has produced very suc- cessful persons like Maria Theresa, and in his later years Francis Joseph ; but a certain drawback has usually been visible in its men, which, if we were writing of merchants or lawyers, we should call stolidity. They have never been so " unlucky," that is, so precisely ill-suited to their environment, as the English Stuarts or the three clans of Bourbons, but they have seemed wanting in some faculty of comprehension which makes for success. They have rarely chosen successful Generals, never original states.. men. They have often seemed to defy circumstances, and have pressed forward on their own route so doggedly as to produce needless misfortunes, which yet they have hitherto survived. The next successor of the present Emperor may be a, cleric, or an absolutist, or a faineant, and if he is, his special and indispensable place in the Empire, which is that of passionless Referee belonging to no tribe, fearing no rival, caring for no victory save that of his house as representing all under its sceptre, will not be filled, and the great arch without its keystone may go down with a crash. We shall see ; but the arch has been shaking, and if it goes down the bridge between East and West, North and South, will lie in ruins, with a terrible effect upon the European system, which, after all, is the political thing as yet most important to mankind.