The Decay of Politics by Philip O Ceallaigh


The condition of peace and prosperity sometimes votes for its own destruction. Those that argue loudest for abandoning sane, well-tested arrangements often do so in the belief that the whole structure is so secure that it can’t fall apart.

Forget about Brexit for a moment. Take the Austro-Hungarian Empire; in its last half-century, it was a not a bad place to be born. Its 1867 constitution ended discrimination on religious or ethnic grounds. Like the EU today, prosperity was underpinned by the free movement of people and goods, and trade and improved transport links made close neighbours of once foreign peoples. The empire then attracted refugees from poorer, less stable, less liberal states. In 1905, waves of Jewish refugees fleeing Russian pogroms swept into the Austrian Empire; the combination of the free movement of peoples within the empire and the influx of non-Christian refugees from without was incendiary for Viennese politics. The two issues became conflated. The mayor of Vienna at the time, Karl Lueger, promised the Jews of the capital city a pogrom if they ever tried fomenting revolution as they had (as he saw it) in Russia.

Read Philip’s piece at Granta online here