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June 2016

Scholarly interest in the imperial origins of the new world order of 1919 has largely focused on thinkers and political figures from the British Empire and Anglo world more broadly. Yet that new order arguably took shape on the ground most palpably in Central and Eastern Europe, where problems of financial collapse, national minorities, endemic disease, and humanitarian aid emerged as domains where the League’s institutional identity and political-legal authority were defined and tested. In this region, international organisations and actors worked in the shadow not of the British Empire, but the Austro-Hungarian one.

In December 2015, a collection of junior and senior scholars from Europe, the US, and Australia met in Vienna to explore the co-implication of regional and international orders in interwar Central Europe. Peter Becker, Professor of Austrian History at the University of Vienna, and Natasha Wheatley, an ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, joined forces to organise the event under the title “After Empire: The League of Nations and the Former Habsburg Lands.” Co-sponsored by the Austrian Institute of Historical Research at the University of Vienna and the Laureate Research Program in International History at the University of Sydney, the conference “After Empire” analysed the symbiotic relationship between the successor states and the League’s agencies as both sought to build their capacity and identity out of the rubble of collapsed empires and world war. International and transnational responses to the region’s challenges confronted the legacies of Habsburg rule across a range of planes and scales, including social and scientific networks, epistemic communities, legal concepts, fiscal structures, trans- and supranational political imaginaries, horizons of expectation and spaces of experience. In excavating these links for the first time, “After Empire” explored the possibility and plausibility of treating the domain of former Habsburg rule as a (more or less coherent) region, and asked how the view from Central Europe might recast our broader histories of the interwar international order.

GLENDA SLUGA (Sydney) gave a programmatic keynote in which she recovered imperial and post-imperial Austria’s international past as both historical phenomena and historiographical imperative. There was a “new movement amongst historians,” she explained, “to take off the ideological blinders imposed by an older national and state-centric view of the international past and to recover a neglected history of transnational experiences and ideas.” Seeking to rezone those internationalist experiences into mainstream historical narratives, she surveyed a broad tableau of thinkers and projects, including well-known figures like Karl Polanyi, Robert Musil, Baroness Bertha von Suttner, Heinrich Lammasch, Alfred H. Fried, and Egon Ranshofen Wertheimer, as well as lesser known ones like Erwin Hanslik (with his Institut für Kulturforschung) and Emmy Freundlich. Riffing on the “weltösterreichische” program of Robert Musil’s famous fictional salonnier Diotima, she showed how individuals from the Habsburg lands were “inventors as well as interpreters of the main trends of the new internationalism,” and how images of the “national” and the “international” were enormously changeable (and entangled) in this period.

The first panel, “Empires and States: Public Campaigns, New Claims, and Political Legacies” opened with MICHAEL DEAN’S (Berkeley) paper “The Imperial Internationalism of Small States: Czechoslovakia and the League of Nations, 1918-1938.” Dean reconsidered the new literature on the mutual implication of imperialism and internationalism (especially by Mark Mazower) through the prism of a “small state” (Czechoslovakia) rather than a great power. Small states proved a powerful vantage point onto these problems because of their deep reliance on international cooperation and organization. Czechoslovak political actors, Dean showed, embraced the language of imperial internationalism and staked their own claim to participation in the mandates system as a civilized state capable of supervising others further down the civilizational chain. Claims and vocabularies of this sort reveal the “changing shape of empire” in the interwar order.

The reconfiguration of polities and their languages of self-description likewise featured in the papers of ZOLTAN PETERECZ (Eger) and REINHARD BLÄNKNER (Frankfurt Oder). Peterecz traced the shifting relationship between Hungary and the League of Nations and the latter’s role in shaping the contours of the post-Trianon Hungarian State. Despite its dissension from the League’s underlying assumptions, Hungary felt compelled to engage in the new institution for want of other plausible means of revising the reviled Treaty of Trianon, illustrating the diverse motivations and the complex webs of mutual reliance that characterized international institutions and their work in the interwar years. After much internal debate and tense international diplomacy, the financial reconstruction of Hungary relied upon financial aid from the League (the “high point between Hungary and the League of Nations”). The League was also called in to mediate crucial conflicts between Hungary and Romania over landownership and reparations, with mixed success.

Blänkner, meanwhile, unearthed a little-known episode in which the the intellectual history of late- and post-imperial Austria tangled together with diagnoses for the interwar settlement in unexpected ways. The International Studies Conference, established 1928 under the auspices of the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, convened conferences in 1936 and 1937 on the notion of “peaceful change”: how could the international order bend and adjust to new configurations of power while avoiding war as the primary avatar of change? At the 1937 conference, three scholars – including two of Austria’s most famous intellectuals from the period, Eric Voegelin and Otto Brunner – addressed the question in the context of “Danubian problems,” and argued forcefully that any assessment of the means and mechanisms for change must take central account of the “political ideas” and ideological make up of the population. Austria remained an endless source of tension for the Danubian settlement because from the outset it had a “will to non-existence” (Voegelin) – a desire for union with Germany that needed to be explained out of the intellectual political history of the Monarchy, which itself lacked mechanisms for “peaceful change.” On the eve of the Anschluss, these intellectuals knitted imperial, republican, and international orders into a common conceptual fabric.

Few issues exposed the deep implication of imperial legacies and the dilemmas of the interwar settlement like the question of national minorities. Yet, as STEFAN DRYOFF (Bern) observed in the opening paper of a panel on the subject, Austria is rarely mentioned in the literature on the League and minorities, ignored in favor of German, Jewish, and to a lesser extent Hungarian contexts and connections. In uncovering the Austrian heritage of a broad array of the key political figures and scholars, Dryoff made a plea to study this history “from its beginning” and not from its “end phase” in the late 1930s, when “German” minorities were more centrally organized and directed by the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle in Berlin. Many key “German” campaigners (in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, for example) in fact stemmed from the imperial lands and were steeped in those traditions. In the enormous scholarly literature that sprang to life soon after the minorities treaties were signed, nationality politics in the Austrian half of the old empire formed “the most important reference point” and scholars from the former Habsburg lands were among its leaders, with Prague connections particularly prominent (viz. Rudolf Laun, Heinrich Rauchberg, Leo Epstein, Emil Lingg, Josef Kunz, Joseph Rouček). When the important international associations discussed minority questions, the Habsburg legacy was front and center – especially at the Congress of European Nationalities, whose headquarters lay in Vienna. On the institutional side, the role of the Czechoslovak government and petitions from Czechoslovakia shaped the League’s minorities section in more pronounced ways than Polish politicians who did not have comparable access to section head Erik Colban. What is needed, Dryoff concluded, is an “interlaced and transnational history of minorities and nationalities questions” that decentralizes Germany’s role and integrates Austrian and Czech archival research with the League archives and the literature of international history more broadly: “Contrary to the assumption of most scholars it was not the Polish-German antagonism that originated transnational discussions around the minority protection system, but the Austrian-Czech struggle on nationality rights.”

BÖRRIES KUZMANY (Vienna) took an alternate path through the same domain, tracing the fate of the Habsburg idea of national-personal autonomy in the interwar minority protection organizations. He cited the influence and precedent of national “compromises” in Cisleitania (Moravia, Budweis, Bukovina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Galicia) and the theoretical models developed by the Austro-Marxists Karl Renner and Otto Bauer. Figures like Rudolf Laun digested these Habsburg experiences in drafting proposals on the protection of national minorities for the Central Organisation for a Durable Peace. If Laun’s proposal was rejected by the peace conference in favour of a more individualized model of minority rights, various iterations of corporate rights were in circulation, and were discussed in Paris especially in connection to Jewish issues. Activists in the the Committee of Jewish Delegations like Leon Reich (from Austrian Galicia) used the Austro-Marxist vocabulary in his submissions for the Paris conference, and the debates of the Congress of European Nationalities likewise invoked features of the Austrian national-personal autonomy idea: “The transfer of this idea could follow direct lines, but very often occurred on indirect, concealed and winding paths.”

If Kuzmany explored versions of the personality principle in circulation amongst interwar Jewish political groups, JANA OSTERKAMP (Munich) zoomed in on the protean legal status of Jews at the moment at the moment of imperial collapse, exploring how group subjectivities mapped onto legal structures as one order replaced another. Zwi Perez Chajes, controversially elected Vienna’s chief Rabbi in 1918, served as Osterkamp’s foil. In the context of Emperor Charles I’s late official promise for an empire rebuilt around the principle of ethnic federalism on October 16, 1918, Chajes secured Charles’ approval for the recognition of Jews as an official nationality – a legal category from which a range of constitutional rights flowed, including collective autonomy in matters of schooling, language, and culture. This late sanction of the notion of Jewry as a nationality caused great controversy in the Austrian Jewish community: while some (particularly in Zionist circles) viewed it as a great triumph, Viennese Jewish liberals declared a Jewish “nation” to be an East European problem far removed from the lifeworld of the modern Western Jew; and the Viennese Orthodoxy, for their part, feared the prospect of nationality replacing true religiosity. This contested landscape of political-legal group identity persisted into the post-imperial order and shaped debates about the status of Jews both in postwar Austria and in internationally-oriented organizations like the Austrian Jewish League for the League of Nations. Having belatedly won a place in the empire’s regime of nationality law in the moment of its disintegration, Jews faced a similar set of tensions in defining and securing a legal-national status between religion and nationality and between the minority system in Europe and the mandate system in the Middle East.

NATHAN MARCUS (St. Petersberg) used a close case study to confront an influential counterfactual claim about the efficacy of the League’s experimental system of minority protection. Carol Fink and others have argued that the League’s efforts were in fact counterproductive, as they rewarded greater politicization which led to the escalation of conflict rather than its reduction. Might governments and minorities have dealt with their differences more effectively without the option of involving the League? Marcus presented minority conflict in South Tyrol as an example well adapted to testing Fink’s claim: here was a minority problem resulting from the Paris peace treaties that did not fall within the jurisdiction of the League’s minority system (as Italy was not required to sign a minority treaty). Did the fact that neither Germany nor Austria could formally bring the case to Geneva diffuse conflict? In some senses, the formal boundaries of the League’s jurisdiction were not decisive, in that the League “became a focal point for the struggle between defenders of South Tyrolean minority rights and the Italian government.” Yet the lack of a legal basis did prevent Austria or Germany officially involving the League over the Italianization of South Tyrol. The defense of national minorities tangled messily with security considerations and realpolitik: inter-state conflict between Vienna and Rome over South Tirol was largely avoided because of Austrian desire to have new international loans approved, which Italy threatened to derail of more was made of the Tyrolean minority: “Faced with a choice to support its struggling economy or back the national struggle of its minority in Italy, the Austrian government considered Volkswirtschaft more important than Volksgemeinschaft.” Seemingly, the fact that the League could not be brought in, and that no minority treaty regulated the situation, “made this kind of choice possible.”

A third panel on “national delegates and international work” opened with MADELEINE DUNGY’s (Cambridge, Mass.) paper on the League of Nations Draft Convention on the Treatment of Foreigners. The Draft Convention was a radical and innovative attempt to create an international code that removed the penalties and obstacles that placed foreign nationals at a commercial disadvantage – and one that proved pivotal in attempts to define the economic role of the League. Under its auspices, the League would have become the guarantor of an international regulatory order that expanded the League’s purview far into the domain of national legislation. Concerns about trade relations among the successor states played an important role in this history of international commercial regulation: the text of the convention itself had origins in a Vienna Chamber of Commerce memorandum of April 1926 authored by Richard Riedl. Dungy explored Riedl’s political motivations and regional vision: Riedl envisioned a continental economic system that would “consolidate Austro-German influence in Central Europe,” with Vienna as an “oriental marketplace” bridging East and West. The failure of the convention, Dungy argued, proved more revealing than its early success, because it exposed the tension between the dual imperatives of economic reconstruction in Europe and a more universalistic understanding of commercial liberty. Moreover, the Draft Convention likewise exemplified a broader friction that played out over the course of the twentieth century between states’ imperative “to support a globally integrated free-market system while simultaneously restricting access to national labor markets and social resources.”

In a paper on Polish, Hungarian, and Czech experts active in international bodies, KATJA NAUMANN (Leipzig) highlighted twinned processes of “nationalization and inter- or transnationalization.” She framed the immediate postwar years at the intersection of two major historical narratives: one that focused on abrupt change through the birth of a new order of self-determination and national states in 1918-1919, and another that stressed a longer arc of internationalization stretching from the mid-19thC to the 1930s. At the same time, she sought to sew together new literature on experts in East Central Europe with that on international organizations. She argued that networks and experiences from previous forms of “cross-border cooperation,” which in this context had an imperial bent, were crucial to the League’s capacity to remake an old order, establish its authority, and “open up new fields of global regulation.” She relied on three case studies: Count Albert Apponyi, the long serving parliamentarian and Hungarian’s representative in the League Assembly; Stansilac Špaček, a Bohemian civil engineer, who drove an international movement of “scientific management” focused on the technical improvement of industrial production and which led to the founding of the International Management Institute; and the bacteriologist Ludwik Rajchman, who shaped interwar international health efforts from his perch as director of the League of Nations Health Organisation. All three knew how to “work the international,” with a wealth of experience in the mechanics of international organisation, especially in moving between different “scales of action” and in internationalizing their projects. They were useful to the League because of their subject-related specializations as well as their expertise in how to do international work.

MADELEINE HERREN (Basel) presented a rich and ethnographic paper on the League’s international civil servants as engineers of world politics. The international civil service in Geneva, she argued, was a sphere of personal reinvention and self-fashioning, as well as a workshop for the production of a new sort of global person. Taking Egon Ranshofen-Wertheimer as a key case study, she reconstructed the lifeworlds of the League’s civil servants, exploring their lifestyle and its materiality (including the transport of possessions like cars and pianos), cultures of sociability and self-presentation, ties to “national” identities, dilemmas of loyalty and neutrality, and paths of career development. Wertheimer invoked Austria-Hungary as a model of supranationality, and channelled experiences of two “failed” international orders (Austria-Hungary and the League) into advice for the nascent UN in his 1945 work The International Secretariat – A Great Experiment in International Administration.

The fourth panel tracked epistemic communities and networks of experts. SARA SILVERSTEIN’s (New Haven) paper “Healthcare and Humanism” made a powerful case for Central Europe as the field in which the Polish physician Ludwik Rajchman (director of the League of Nations Health Organisation) and his colleagues pioneered new understandings of public health as “something more than a state’s concern.” Further, this transnational story was embedded within “imperial legacies of administration, legislation, and personnel in the health fields.” As the typhus epidemic of the immediate postwar years made palpably clear, good health was dependent on factors that did not stop still at state borders. Nevertheless, interwar public health projects continually ran up against traditional understandings of state sovereignty: did all people, irrespective of the funds or inclinations of their particular state, have a right to share in scientific advances that could improve their own health and the greater good? To what extent did and should the state mediate between international (medical) knowledge and the health of its citizens? Silverstein traced the gradual evolution of international health programs that not only fostered collaboration between states but increasingly transcended state frameworks altogether. This new field of international health work placed great emphasis on its responsiveness to particular local and social conditions – a reaction to the war and its structures of mobilisation as well as a critique of medical education in the Habsburg empire that was ostensibly too focused on abstract research. All in all, in driving a change in ideas about the way science should relate to society, a Central European medical elite adopted aspects of old imperial laws and structures while reimagining those links for a new and pragmatically-minded order.

DAVID PETRUCCELLI (Vienna) redirected our gaze from liberal internationalist ideas to illiberal ones. He explained how, after earlier hesitation, the League was drawn into the domain of international crime in the 1930s as a result of the activism of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC) and a group of jurists (led by Romanian jurist Vespasien V. Pella) campaigning for the international unification of penal law. The ICPC, known today as Interpol, was established in Vienna in 1923 and part of the geopolitical vision of Vienna police president and sometime Austrian chancellor Johannes Schober. These groups responded directly to the social and political dislocation wrought by the war in East Central Europe: theirs was an emphatically post-imperial internationalism, fed by fears of political unrest, revolution, and cross-border crime. They “sought variously to rollback, circumvent, and supersede key elements of liberalism that had pervaded legal thought and policing in the 19th century and that served as a founding ideal for the League of Nations.” Their star rose as Geneva’s original agenda waned in the 1930s. This illiberal turn involved a number of re-conceptualizations: until that point, issues like the traffic in women and the drug trade had been conceived as social problems rather than crimes. This revised framework would shape the UN’s subsequent approach to these offences. Both groups understood international criminal policy as a means of securing “their countries’ continued existence,” and offered a sophisticated legal critique of a liberal order that placed the interests of the individual, rather than those of (international) society and “social defence,” at the center.

MICHAEL BURRI (Philadelphia) likewise explored the internationalisation of Austrian experts in a paper on Clemens von Pirquet and the creation of the child as an object of international concern. Having lost its surrounding multinational empire, Vienna arguably became more internationalized in the 1920s, as the subject of elaborate international salvage efforts. This process was most apparent in “global resources devoted to emergency relief to children,” with some 80 international organisations establishing offices in Vienna, and a whole cohort of entrepreneurial humanitarians establishing reputations, institutions, and networks. Foremost among them was paediatrician and director of the Vienna children’s hospital, Clemens von Pirquet, who personified the internationalisation of Austrian public health in this period, masterminding the humanitarian relief effort to feed hungry children in Austria after World War One (providing 300,000 meals a day in 1920). The number-obsessed Pirquet pioneered a new set of anthropometric tests designed to measure child nutrition and development. Practises of assessing and documenting children were built into the delivery of aid: the hungry child morphed into a “large-scale experimental subject” and generated an enormous archive of health data that fed Pirquet’s intense interest in the “medicalization of statistics,” sharply distinguished from more socially-oriented methods of analysis. These biomedical projects tangled with geopolitical considerations: Rockefeller funding of the relief effort was designed to stave off health contagion (typhus, influenza, and other epidemics) as well as the political contagion of Bolshevism, in an understanding of international order that tied child nutrition in Vienna to peace and security across the continent.

Vienna appeared more marginal to international projects in JOHANNES FEICHTINGER’s (Vienna) presentation on Austria’s involvement in the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. The Committee sought to give assistance to countries in which intellectual life had been most disrupted by the war and its aftermath, and judged Austria to be chief among them. In 1922, the economic and social historian (and former rector of the University of Vienna) Alfons Dopsch was chosen as a “corresponding member” of the Committee and tasked with reporting on the state and needs of intellectual life in Austria. To that end, he conducted a vast survey of Austrian academic life and set up an Austrian sub-committee that later served as a role model for the Committee’s program of intellectual exchange between countries. Dopsch, who sought to use these platforms to reintegrate Austrian in the “Western intellectual system,” grew frustrated with the Committee’s French orientation and its failure to implement his suggestions, and eventually lost faith in the value of formal intellectual cooperation for the Austrian scientific community.

In the conference’s final panel, PATRICIA CLAVIN and MARY COX (Oxford) offered and empirically and conceptually rich paper on the internationalisation of hunger in Vienna and the “invention of ‘positive security.’” They presented Vienna as a “global node” in which the hunger crisis, born of the war and imperial collapse, “mobilized and shaped international networks that generated norms” and rules about humanitarian aid that were in some cases “institutionalized in a new global order.” The “scientific opportunity” of the crisis had methodological as well as political consequences. A preoccupation with observation pervaded relief efforts: “the search for demonstrable results in international intervention in child welfare was crucial in legitimating claims to organizational agency at the time,” a theme that still animates research on humanitarianism today. If the hunger crisis “helped to build the agency of the League of Nations in the sections of Health, Society and Finance,” Clavin and Cox revealed how “food security in Vienna and Austria connected to wider discussions about the basis of international security after the First World War.” The financial and food crises were linked: while the League’s management of Austrian hyperinflation generated norms for currency stabilization, food aid likewise “gave crucial ‘ground level’ impetus to the practical agenda of the League of Nations.” In grasping this interconnected picture, and in paying more attention to the League’s actual activities rather than the abstract agenda of Jan Smuts and his colleagues, we might arrive at a richer understanding of security that moved beyond the simple protection of frontiers.

JÜRGEN NAUTZ’s paper on economic experts focused on Richard Schüller (born 1870 in Brno, studied in Vienna), a distinguished scholar and civil servant in both imperial and post-imperial Austria. Carl Menger’s favourite pupil, Schüller came of age in the context of the Viennese school of economics and the Methodenstreit. He argued against the notion that unrestricted free trade was “advantageous from the international point of view”: contra Hayek, protection was not inherently wrong. Nautz deemed him a “new sort of ministry official” who did not act in the background, but became a prominent figure in his own right, exploiting both the media and private networks. Involved centrally in post-imperial Austria’s foreign trade and monetary policy as well as more international approaches to the economic problems of the successor states, Schüller preferred the creation of regional market areas when faced with limited success at the level of international policy. In her paper “Financing the new Czechoslovakia,” ANTONIE DOLEŽALOVÁ (Prague) reported on Czechoslovakia’s fiscal policy in the interwar years in light of the connection between balanced state budgets and international credibility, and explored ruptures and continuities with Austro-Hungarian traditions of budgeting. While some basic Austro-Hungarian fiscal laws remained in place in the new state (and Austrian taxes were transposed onto the new state), certain innovations represented a rupture with that imperial legacy, and each Minister of Finance initiated changes to those inherited structures.

All told, the conference probed the various ways we might understand the empire’s regime of supranational administration alongside the League’s version of the same, which followed quickly on its heels. The paradoxes of this period emerged clearly into view: some toiled to construct new state borders in the very same moment that others developed new techniques for transcending them. Perhaps more than any other region, interwar Central Europe compels us to view the twinned process of nationalization and internationalization in the same historical frame. “After Empire” likewise proved extremely effective at exposing the interconnectedness of different regional challenges and their remedies: fiscal, national, social, health, intellectual, and political crises twisted and melted together in unpredictable ways. If this interconnectedness proved especially visible on the ground in Central Europe, then the regional approach might allow us to write histories that are not beholden to the League’s own categorization of different domains of governance and organization of knowledge. In this way, the conference pointed forwards to a new phase of the League’s historicization, and simultaneously suggested the contours of a new, unsentimental and non-provincial history of the empire’s disappearance that was far more engaged with current developments in the fields of international and transnational history.

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