Sunday, December 28, 2014

Destiny's Standardbearers?

The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke
Snyder, Timothy
(2008-06-03) Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

"In the nineteenth century, national unifications were brought by monarchs and their ministers, who sought to make from mass politics a new buttress of dynastic rule. Although nationalists presented unification as the choice of the people, no national question was resolved by popular will. Italy and Germany were made by kings at war. Even after Europe’s continental empires were destroyed in the First World War, national unifications were more a consequence of diplomacy than of democracy."(pp. 259-260)

Despite all the changes which just one year has brought to Ukraine, rendering Snyder's conclusions from 2008 dated, this history book is a masterpiece. It does for the Habsburgs and Ukraine what "Bloodlands" does for the region and the world. Besides that, for a history book, "The Red Prince" reads like a novel; even without snow, reading it was a great way to spend my Latin Christmas here in Kyiv. Profound thanks to the master!

A note of caution: it is a very adult book in the sense that it does not gloss over the profound defects and moral degeneracy of Wilhelm von Habsburg. Destiny's child for Ukraine was far from a paragon of virtue and albeit with a measure of discretion Snyder does not fail to bring the Red Prince's foibles to light.

I think Snyder has something also for us to reflect upon today, when he says that nation states in Europe were not brought to birth by popular will but by fiat from "on high". In a sense, Ukraine deserved more that the black sheep of Stefan Habsburg's family; the Poles fared much better. In any case, Snyder filled in a lot for me about a crucial century here for nation building. We hope and pray for the best for Ukraine, integral and prosperous, within its 1991 borders as clearly defined by the best principles of international law.


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