Mass Politics in Europe at the End Essay

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  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #37859780

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Mass politics in Europe at the end of the 19th Century had turned away from the liberalism of the intellectual and capitalist elites in the direction of populist movements that described themselves as socialist, social democratic or nationalist. Frequently they rejected liberal rationalism and science as well in favor of emotion, mystical symbols, charismatic leaders and demagogues. Among these were the Christian Social Party of Karl Lueger in Austria, which Adolf Hitler admired as a young man and later imitated, and the Action Francaise in France, led by Charles Maurras, Maurice Barras and Eduard Drumont. This early fascist movement thrived in after a Jewish officer in the French Army, Alfred Dreyfus, was falsely convicted of espionage and sentenced to prison on Devil's Island. For Emile Zola and the French Left, overturning this unjust conviction was the most important cause of the era, but for the nationalist and anti-Semitic Right it was yet more evidence of an alleged Jewish 'conspiracy' to enslave the Christian people of France. In reaction to the upsurge of racism and anti-Semitism he observed in Austria, Theodor Herzl abandoned liberalism and Jewish assimilation in favor of his own type of nationalist mass movement -- Zionism. Given the direction that European mass politics was taking in the 1890s, in which calls for the expulsion of destruction of the Jews were already becoming commonplace, Herzl reasoned that the only hope for Jewish survival would be found in creating a new national state in Palestine.

In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as in the rest of Western Europe, liberalism had once considered itself to be the wave of the future after the abolition of feudalism, but by the late-19th Century this confidence was undermined. In the new democratic mass politics, the peasant and working class voters in Europe were breaking with a liberal ideology that they regarded as elitist and capitalist in favor of more populist movements of the Right and Left. Nationalism among the Germans and Slavs undermined liberal cosmopolitanism, while laissez faire "called forth the Marxist revolutionaries of the future and political Catholicism and anti-Semitism become the new "ideology of the artisan and peasant, for whom liberalism meant capitalism and capitalism meant Jews" (Schorske, pg. 118). Jews began to gravitate towards Zionism in response, as the Austrian parliament became paralyzed by nationalist and economic conflicts. In shades of the Weimar Republic, the Emperor Francis Joseph had to rule by decree because parliament no longer functioned. Even Victor Adler's version of Social Democracy was strongly populist (volkisch), nationalistic and Wagnerian rather than rational. Goerg von Schoenerer, a former liberal and member of the upper bourgeoisie, became an extreme anti-Semite and Pan-German nationalist who Hitler also admired. As a "total nationalist" he wished to destroy the imperial Hapsburg state and unite the Germans with the Prussian-dominated Reich, a feat that Hitler finally accomplished in 1938 (Schorske, pg. 129). Like Hitler, he was also hostile to any manifestations of Slavic nationalism, wished to destroy liberalism, and believed that the Jews controlled capitalism. In parliament, he was infamous for his regular diatribes against "Jew peddlers, press Jews, Jew swindlers," although he was finally sentenced to prison and lost his parliamentary seat and title of nobility when he lead his gang in beating up a Jewish editor in Vienna (Schorske, pg. 130). For obvious reasons, Hitler found much in his ideology, personal character and political activities with which to identify.

Karl Lueger, the lord-mayor of Vienna when the young Hitler was living there, had also been a left-liberal and social democrat as a young man, but later moved to the far Right and embraced populist nationalism and anti-Semitism. His Christian Social movement had great appeal to peasants, artisans and students, as well as "younger Catholics of the new style," who like young Hitler held the old social order in utter contempt (Schorske, pg. 143). By the 1895 elections, Lueger's new movement was so popular that "only the richest property holders remained true to liberalism" (Schorske, pg. 144). Lueger was elected mayor that year, but the emperor refused to confirm him in office for two years, an action that even former Jewish liberals like the young Sigmund Freud approved. In 1897, the imperial parliament was dissolved and Francis Joseph ruled by decree and by this time many Jews like Freud had concluded that liberalism was too weak and decrepit to protect them from the anti-Semitic masses.

Theodor Herzl had begun his…

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