Monarchy, Not Legitimism
[Memo to Otto von Habsburg, dated New York, April 20, 1942, and never before published]
Response to His Majesty's Interrogatory
The term "legitimism" is usually used for a claim to power that is unrelated to the will of the people and not derived from it. Adherents of the older line of the House of Bourbon in France are the foremost proponents of this concept. This term, however, does not serve well as a symbol of what the Austrian monarchical movement is working for.
To start with, it is certain that hardly anywhere in the world is there a significant number of statesmen who would advocate any such legitimistic claim. According to modern doctrine, a dynasty's claim to the throne can be realized only through the assent of a majority of the people. This is the democratic concept of a hereditary monarchy. Only this concept can hope for support from the powers allied in the defense of democracy.
Among the monarchs ruling on the eve of the current war in Europe, not one based his claim to power on a ruling position that his ancestors occupied at a time long since lost in the darkness of the Middle Ages. All kings who ruled in 1938 traced their claims back to popular elections or revolutions that took place in the full light of history.
The House of Savoy had an ancient claim in Savoy that it voluntarily ceded to France; its Italian kingdom is of revolutionary origin. According to legitimism, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria is the legitimate successor to the thrones of England and Scotland.
The royal house won the crowns of Saint Wenzeslaus and Saint Stephan through elections. The head of the house ran as a candidate and was elected by the estates of the realm. In the Austrian states, the Habsburger princes ruled as feudal tenants of the German Empire; as such, they were not sovereign until the breakup of the empire. According to the doctrine of the German nationalists, the sovereignty of the former German princes is usurpacious, since they appropriated it to themselves without the sanction of the Regensburg Parliament (over which Emperor Franz II presided).
As German princes, the emperors of Austria since 1815 have belonged to the German Federation. Emperor Franz Joseph explicitly styled himself as a German prince and in 1863 called a council of the German princes in Frankfurt and served as its chairman himself.
It was not until the Treaty of Prague that Austria was pushed out of the German Federation. The German nationalists refuse to recognize this act because it was consummated without a popular referendum. There is only one argument that can be counterposed, namely, the wish of the people of Austria for national independence under the leadership of the head of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen.
Even from the viewpoint of legitimism, the Austrian Republic that existed from 1918 to 1938 cannot be invalidated. At the time, Emperor Karl, without renouncing his rights and those of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen, agreed in advance to accede to whatever form of constitution the people chose; the cabinet appointed by the emperor turned the matter over to the Republican authorities under his instructions.
Parliament then decided for the republic. This decision is not irrevocable. It could be revoked through a new act, whether direct referendum or a vote of Parliament.
Austrians living in exile are in no position to anticipate the decision of the people. They can make their feelings known that the best conceived and most desirable solution to the Austrian question is a monarchy with the legacy of the Habsburger tradition, and can work for a restoration, but they must never lose sight of the fact that only the people themselves can decide.
The resurrection of the House of Habsburg cannot be brought about by any convention. Likewise, it must not be established via an "understanding" with foreign powers, thereby acquiring in the eyes of Austrians those characteristics that brought such woe to the Kingdom of France of 1814–1830; it must come from the people. Only thus can it last and bring blessings.
It would be vain to indulge in wishful thinking about the present state of things. The historical precedents mentioned are known to everyone in Bohemia and Hungary. In Austria, thanks to the nationalist propaganda, they are common knowledge.
The Nazis repeat day after day the notion that Austria's separateness is a product of usurped power and the bloody suppression of Protestantism through the Counter-Reformation. Schönherr's "Faith and Homeland" made the second of these assertions especially popular.
Therefore, it would be a mistake for the Austrian National Committee or the Free Austrian Movement to embrace legitimism. Such a profession would destroy all sympathies in the Anglo-Saxon countries and in Latin America.
The world today recognizes the principles of self-determination and the sovereignty of the people. In conformity with this principle, the position to take is, "Let the Austrian people decide. We would recommend a return to the monarchy and democratic parliamentarianism, but the people have the last word, not we."
Only thus can the monarchy be restored in Austria, only thus can it last. The clinging to legitimism of the Duke of Chambord thwarted the restoration of the Bourbon kings. It would be no different in Austria.
For the Austrian political movement in exile, the head of the royal house can be nothing but the most prominent Austrian, in whom — as it believes — the majority of the people see their future Crown Prince. Because they want to build a better future in a new state, the monarchists advocate the monarchical form of government.
The royal house itself will be better served by this policy than by harking back to a past that had shadows as well as light, and to documents that can be interpreted in various ways by judges. Imitating the tactics of French legitimism that have failed this past 112 years, will not lead to success.
There are among the exiled Austrians, aside from the Social Democrats, many opponents to the restoration. The adoption of legitimism by any group would split the Austrian movement. It would draw the crown, which can preserve its imperial prestige only through nonpartisanship, into partisan strife.
In the new democratic Austria, there will undoubtedly be Republicans, perhaps also a strong Republican Party. The democratic monarch may not deal even with Republican-minded citizens as enemies; doing so would compromise the dignity of his position.
The monarch is emperor and king of the entire people, including those in opposition who employ law-abiding means. This principle must also apply to all political activities in exile. Here also one has to consider Republican-minded Austrians as comrades whose patriotism cannot be questioned in the struggle against Nazism.
It is the first duty of the crown to ameliorate the sharpness of rivalry between parties, and to ensure that in their differences of opinion, they never forget the wellbeing of the whole people. This function falls to the head of the royal house in exile, as well. He stands not only above the differences of doctrines among the Austrian parties, but also above the conflicts that exist among the various national groups.
Through this truly imperial posture, the head of the royal house has raised the image of Austria in the world's eyes under the most difficult circumstances, and has won many Austrians over to the idea of the restoration, who doubted the value of the monarchical form of government. There is no reason to deviate from this policy.