The Most Hated (& Needed) Man in the World

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He was not a lovable character—distant, irritable, impatient, prone to distrust people, and think the worst of them. But it wasn’t his personal qualities that incited hatred. It was his political beliefs, although, to be sure, his personality helped shape these beliefs.” Sanford Rose

Dolors & Sense

By Sanford Rose

 The Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

Sanford RoseKISSIMMEE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—9/30/2013—Everybody hated Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Well, almost everyone, except his wife, Sophie (a love match, rare in those times for so high a personage), and the three kids, two of whom would later spend time in Nazi concentration camps.

Franz Ferdinand, as weary readers of my postings know, was the Austro-Hungarian heir-apparent whose assassination on June 28, 1914 set off a chain reaction that culminated in World War I.

He was not a lovable character—distant, irritable, impatient, prone to distrust people, and think the worst of them.

But it wasn’t his personal qualities that incited hatred. It was his political beliefs, although, to be sure, his personality helped shape these beliefs.

He mightily disliked Hungarians, partners in the Dual Monarchy over which he would have reigned, in part because, as a schoolboy, he struggled unsuccessfully with their complex Magyar tongue. (Try learning Magyar as a second language if you have no gift for languages!)

As an adult, the archduke contemplated reducing Hungarian influence by setting up a nearly self-governing province that would incorporate Austria-Hungary’s Southern Slav population (Serbs, Croats and Slovenes).

Thus, the Dual Monarchy would become something like a Triple Monarchy.

Since that would mean liberating millions of Croats who lived under the domination of Hungary’s landowning class, the idea was scarcely popular in Budapest.

Even worse, after a visit to the United States, Franz Ferdinand toyed with the notion of transforming the whole of the Austrian Empire into a federation of American-like states, which would mean giving autonomy to each of the monarchy’s eleven nationalities. That idea was as unpopular in Vienna as in Budapest.

But it should have been wildly popular in Belgrade, which complained loudly of Austria-Hungary’s oppression of the Southern Slavs.

It wasn’t.

Belgrade dreamed of creating a Greater Serbia of Southern Slavs which, of course, actually ended up as the state of Yugoslavia after World War I. If Franz Ferdinand succeeded in satisfying the demands of Southern Slavs for self-determination within the confines of the Hapsburg monarchy, Serbia’s dream would never be realized.

Franz Ferdinand threatened to steal Belgrade’s thunder.

So while Budapest and even Vienna itself had reason to hate the archduke, Belgrade’s reasons seemed more compelling.

And it was Belgrade that killed him.

But if it had not, and the reform-minded archduke had ascended the throne upon the death of uncle Franz Joseph (who also hated his nephew) in 1916, the Balkan powder keg might never have exploded.

World War I might never have happened, which meant that World War II might never have happened, either.

One who incurred nearly universal enmity might have become worthy of nearly universal gratitude.

About Sanford Rose

Sanford Rose, of New Jersey and Florida, served as Associate Editor of Fortune Magazine from 1968 till 1972; Vice President of Chase Manhattan Bank in 1972; Senior Editor of Fortune between 1972 and 1979; and Associate Editor, Financial Editor and Senior Columnist of American Banker newspaper between 1979 and 1991. From 1991 till 2001, Rose worked as a consultant in the banking industry and a professional ghost writer in the field of finance. He has also taught as an adjunct professor of banking at Columbia University and an adjunct instructor of economics at New York University. He states that he left gainful employment in 2001 to concentrate on gain-less investing. (A lifelong photo-phobe, Rose also claims that the head shot accompanying his Weekly Hubris columns is not his own, but belongs, instead, to a skilled woodworker residing in South Carolina.)
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4 Responses to The Most Hated (& Needed) Man in the World

  1. Will Balk, Jr says:

    Alas, gratitude for avoiding calamity rarely approaches the might of the vitriol for those who spark it.
    Another informative piece from the resident history master.

  2. S. Rose says:

    Very true.
    I am struck, however, by the bitter irony that he who was a force for peace should in death become an incitement for war.

  3. Absolutely correct about the heir to the K. u K. throne. I lived for three years in Serbia’s northern province, Vojvodina, Austro-Serbian in its culture. My wife is from there, and you detect palpable nostalgia for the dual monarchy, even among the Serbs of the region. I always thought that in spite of its failings the Dual Monarchy was probably the best option for Central Europe; everything since then has been downhill. Keep em coming!

  4. S. Rose says:

    The monarchy stimulated a good deal of economic development, from which both northern Serbs, as well as Germans and Hungarians, benefited. Though Belgrade downplayed it, Bosnia and Herzegovina were also targeted for extensive infrastructural spending after the 1908 annexation.

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