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Was Austria-Hungary An Empire?

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Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales


Nationalist propagandists, along with many historians, continue to view Austria-Hungary as an empire according to a traditional model. This reinforces traditional theories that view Eastern Europe as somehow backward, semi-oriental, and fundamentally different from a democratic “West” that is defined in national terms. However, a close analysis of constitutional structures and forms of citizenship suggests that following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Austria-Hungary had little in common with other continental empires. In fact, it was hardly a single state at all, much less an empire. After 1867, Hungary essentially became a nation state, while Austria developed a pluralist political system in which no particular nationality was dominant. This paper examines the mutual shaping of the concept of the “empire” by nationalists and Habsburg loyalists, both in Austria-Hungary and, retrospectively, in the states that succeeded it, in order to counter the powerful nationalist narratives about the region.


This work is freely available courtesy of Armand Colin.

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