Government Overreach and Ethnic Conflict

The Austrian state suffered from its strength: it had never had its range of activity cut down during a successful period of laissez-faire, and therefore the openings for a national conflict were far greater. There were no private schools or hospitals, no independent universities; and the state, in its infinite paternalism, performed a variety of services from veterinary surgery to the inspecting of buildings. The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.

–AJP Taylor quoted in Wilson’s War, by Jim Powell. Original source: Taylor’s book The Habsburg Monarchy

(I think it’s fair to say that the term “national,” as used here by Taylor, basically means what we would call “ethnic,” since all of these various nationalities were subjects of the same empire.)

3 thoughts on “Government Overreach and Ethnic Conflict”

  1. Taylor is one of the best prose stylists ever. Everything is absolutely lucid.

    He was not right all the time, but he was never unclear.

  2. “Nationalism” essentially means “ethnicism” or “tribalism” or just “ethnic nationalism”. I think we Americans are somewhat confused by the term because we grow up with the term “national” as something so harmless like the National Recovery Act or National Endowment for the Arts.

    If Communists believe in “Workers of the World Unite”, then Nationalists believe in “[Ethnic group] of the World Unite”. God help you if your country contains a minority of said ethnic group and it just so happens to border a much larger, militarily aggressive country (see Germany-Czechoslovakia or Russia-South Ossetia).

    And then there’s Yugoslavia. Oi.

  3. I think it’s important to distinguish between ethnicity and nationality, with the second being defined in terms of a geographical area under common political sovereignty.

    As an example, if German politics in the 1930s & 1940s had been driven by nationalism rather than ethnocentrism, then German Jews would have been by other Germans as “us” rather than “them”….as was indeed at least partly the case during the first world war.

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