MOST Americans who have heard of the great dispute about the Anschluss of German Austria with the German mother-country have ranged themselves on the side of those who favor this union. They have entirely failed to understand why Germany's neighbors should be endeavoring, at any cost, to prevent what seems so entirely in the nature of things and, indeed, almost inevitable. To understand the opposition which exists to the Anschluss, this most recent manifestation of the tendency of the so-called Central Powers toward unification must be viewed as an incident in the stream of European history.

Before the war the Hapsburg monarchy represented the last remnant of the old super-national German Empire, or, as it was always styled in documents, the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation." This super-national empire was the foundation stone of Europe's unity. In those days Germany was accustomed to safeguard her position in Europe not by a large army but by federal union with her neighbors. The border lands, the so-called "marches," were especially designed to further such federation. The rulers of the German southeast march, Austria, made it their business to foster the union of the nations in southeastern Europe with the German race by means of dynastic marriages -- "Tu, felix Austria, nube!"

Long after this old German Empire had succumbed to the divisions resulting from the Reformation, from the Thirty Years' War, more recently from the Napoleonic Wars, and last of all from Bismarck's war against Austria, the latter still continued to have an external existence. But the super-national system had been gradually deprived of its moral and political basis, i.e., the super-national ideology. After the foundation of the new German Empire under the hegemony of Prussia, the nationalism of this new Germany invaded Austria also, thereby stimulating the nationalism of Slavs and Magyars. As a result, the super-national Austrian state, which no longer had a soul, became the scene of embittered struggles between the various nationalities. The World War had its roots in this condition of things. Instead of reviving the super-national idea of the state, which had been of such tremendous importance for the organization of southeastern Europe, the Austrian leaders, who were of Germanic race, hit upon the unfortunate idea of heading off the dissolution of the Danubian monarchy through Slavic nationalism by striking a determined blow against the Southern Slavs, i.e. the Serbs. In General Conrad von Hoetzendorff's memoirs is to be found full evidence of this deluded militaristic belief in that false solution.

About the middle of the World War, in July 1917, the Emperor Charles conceived the plan of bringing about a solution of the Austrian problem in the opposite direction. His intention was to transform Austro-Hungarian dualism into a federation of autonomous German, Magyar and Slav states. The Emperor thought he could in this way settle permanently the conflict which had given rise to the World War, and he hoped thus to provide a basis for the conclusion of peace in Europe. This last attempt to save the situation failed, because neither the Austrian Germans nor the Magyars were willing to surrender their hegemony. That is why the Danubian monarchy went to pieces.

The inner meaning of the Versailles, St. Germain and Trianon peace treaties and their influence on world history was this: in these treaties the principle of nationalities was now applied in all its logical consequences to southern and eastern Europe by the creation or restoration of three Slavonic states. The one-sidedness of these treaties is seen in the fact that they did nothing but dissolve what existed and failed to call a new grouping into existence. The fact that no new connection was effected between Austria and southeastern Europe led to the strong German propaganda which set in immediately after the conclusion of the peace treaties, and which aimed at bringing Germany's Austrian kinsmen into the German Empire. This propaganda recently achieved its first success in the proposal for a customs union with Austria.

Why have Germany's and Austria's neighbors protested so emphatically against this customs union? Going further back, why was Austria's Anschluss with the German Empire in any shape or form prohibited by the peace treaties? Why was Austria, when the western Powers granted her considerable credits in 1922, obliged to enter into a new formal engagement that she would never surrender her economic independence, either directly or indirectly?

The reason was simply that Germany's recent antagonists were afraid that a new German national block containing 80,000,000 persons would constitute a serious menace to the equilibrium of Europe and a dangerous bait to augment those yearnings after a policy of might which still linger among the German people. To what degree this fear is shared also by Switzerland may be seen from an article published as long ago as 1928 in the Basler Nationalzeitung. Writing of the noisy German Anschluss propaganda which occurred at the time of the Schubert festival in Vienna, that paper said: "With a Greater Germany on the horizon, we shall witness all around us a furious nationalistic reaction. A greater German Empire reaching from Hamburg to Pressburg would push all other states to the wall by its more vital power. It shows the deplorable shortsightedness of the political leaders of our continent that this central perspective does not guide them in every single thought and action."

Sober-minded Austrian observers who have remained free from the infection of German imperialistic nationalism have repeatedly insisted that there is a very definite danger that, if Germany's policy of might were revived, Austria might be carried away by it. The Austrian economist Urbas, for example, published an urgent warning in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, pointing out that people did not sufficiently bear in mind that Austria's union with Germany did not consist in the mere addition to Germany of a territory of some thirty thousand square miles, with seven million inhabitants, but rather in the fact that the German Empire would then extend right up to the Italian frontier and to the gates of the Balkans and would thus almost encircle Czechoslovakia and Switzerland. Such an extension of Germany would automatically open the door for Germany's absolute control of the commerce of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia and Italy. But this menace to the economic liberty of Germany's neighbors, a menace which would be bound to follow the building up of such a powerful body-politic, is not the greatest danger. A strong ethnical magnetism would be exerted by this Germanic block. It would attract to itself the German minorities in all the newly created Slavic states, and this would jeopardize their very existence. This is especially true of Czechoslovakia, which would see itself surrounded by German power as by a horse-shoe magnet. The self-determination of this new state would then have short shrift. The Bohemian Germans would only too readily succumb to this magnetic attraction and would relapse into a violent irredentism; and after that it would be German Switzerland's turn. Indeed, Switzerland would be subjected to the strongest economic pressure, as has already been pointed out by a farsighted Swiss statesman, J. B. Rusch, who recently broached in the Basler Nationalzeitung the question as to how long the super-national idea of the state, as embodied in the Swiss commonwealth, would be likely to resist the magnetic attraction exerted by national states. He pointed out that by insisting on the inclusion of all members of the German race within one single frontier, the Anschluss propaganda was creating a very critical situation for Switzerland. Austria's fate, he said, foreshadowed the fate of the Swiss commonwealth.

These Swiss fears are far from being without foundation. But the general interests of Europe are also involved. Switzerland and Austria were the two states actually embodying the idea of super-national federation. "The whole of Europe ought to become a larger Switzerland," said Nietzsche. He might just as well have said "a larger Austria." In this sense Count Coudenhove was justified in pointing out, in his review "Paneuropa," what an important rôle Austria as an independent state has been playing in the whole system of the European balance of power. "From the political and the strategical point of view," he wrote, "Austria may be regarded as a continuation of Switzerland, as a bridge leading from the Latin countries of western Europe to eastern Europe, and as a barrier between Germany and Italy."

He further pointed out quite correctly that, for this reason alone, the Anschluss was a problem that concerned not only the two principal parties, but the whole of Europe. He said: "Any one who does not admit Europe's right to have a word in this matter need only think of the analogous attitude of Frederick the Great regarding Bavaria's Anschluss to Austria. On that occasion, just as at present, the two principals -- in this case Austria and Bavaria -- had agreed upon Anschluss and had decided to cede Belgium to the Elector of Bavaria in return. But Frederick the Great intervened, insisting that any change of equilibrium within Germany was a matter concerning also the other princes of the Empire, including himself, and that, in the interest of Germany, he could not permit any accession of power to Austria within Germany. The great German princes made his view their own and founded the League of Princes under his leadership. Bavaria and Austria were compelled to give up their plans for Anschluss, and they were never realized. Frederick the Great and his associates at that time observed exactly the same attitude towards Austria and Bavaria which France and her allies today observe towards Germany and Austria. They, too, insist that the Anschluss must be treated as a European question, and they are against it, because it entails a one-sided accession of power to Germany within Europe."

When, in the earlier half of the last century, Belgium was planning union with France, England raised her voice against it in the interests of the equilibrium of Europe. On that occasion, King Louis Philip gave in "for the sake of peace."

If the German-Austrian Anschluss should some day become a fact, it would give new vigor to Germany's political and economic imperialism and would tempt the German nationalists -- whose expectations are running high as it is -- to make demands and engage in enterprises which would inevitably lead to another European war. That is why in 1928 Beneš said in Berlin: "Anschluss means war!" If anyone denies this, either he is not sincere or he has no conception of what is bound to follow.

Democrats who advocate the Anschluss ask how any one can be so inconsistent as to lay down the principle of the self-determination of nations as a guiding rule and at the same time deny that Germany and Austria have the right to enter into a union.

If one formulates the question in these terms, one might just as well ask: How can it be that in a state which acknowledges the human rights of free citizens a young man who has embezzled a small amount of money is placed on probation for a number of years, or that a man who has committed an assault is put in prison and deprived of his liberty? If the question is put in this form, the answer is that it is for the very purpose of safeguarding the inviolability of right and the security of self-determination; those who have seriously interfered with the self-determination of others, and who persist in their mental attitude, so that the menace remains, are temporarily restricted in the use of their personal liberty. Catharine Booth once gave a street-urchin who had thrown stones after her a smack on his ear. "Is this salvation?" he asked. "Yes," she replied, "punishment is salvation!" In this sense, the prohibition of Anschluss is justified as a salutary and necessary reaction, on the part of those who had to submit to the German invasion, against the aggressive and lawless nationalism of the ruling classes in Central Europe.

Every German who suffered from that aggression morally, in the same degree as the citizens of other nations suffered materially, cannot but hail with satisfaction that this salutary reaction did not fail to make itself felt, even though a mendacious propaganda has unfortunately found ways of obscuring in the mind of the German people the sense and justice of those paragraphs in the peace treaties. The aggression of 1914 cost the world fourteen million dead, eight million maimed, and economic losses that cannot be computed. If this were allowed to pass without the erection of any safeguards against further assaults by incorrigible war-makers -- in short, without any manifestation of the right of self-defense against what endangers the common weal -- this would really amount to the tacit admission that the rights of law-breakers are more important than those of their victims.

The prime purpose of prohibiting the Anschluss would be to give the new Slav states a chance for peaceful consolidation and to enable the German sections of their populations to go to work in quiet coöperation with the main body of their citizens. Security of this sort must also be demanded in reparation for the former destruction of the Polish state through Prussia's initiative, for the hundred years of oppression of the Polish people, and for the destruction of Bohemia's independence by the Hapsburg dynasty following the battle of the White Mountain. It will be seen that, in both cases alike, it is for the purpose of such reparation that the self-determination of the former Central Powers has to be restricted in favor of the self-determination of the newly created or restored states, and that this is by no means an injustice, but rather, in the deepest sense of the word, a just reparation.

German propaganda endeavors to suggest that the understanding between Austria and Germany is altogether in the spirit of Pan-Europe. This is entirely wrong on psychological as well as on political and economic grounds. The creation of a Central European national block would inevitably give rise to a Germanic hegemony on the European continent. By broadening the foundation of Germany's consciousness of political power, it would revive Germany's policy of might which broke down in 1918. And this would certainly not lead to the creation of Pan-Europe, but rather to an attempt to restore the frontiers of 1914 and hence to a new European cataclysm. Austria and Germany must first achieve Anschluss with the rest of Europe; when that is accomplished, their special union will no longer be a danger to the European peace. In other words, the Austro-German union must be preceded by a general European union with all the moral and political guarantees which that implies.

As long as these universal guarantees remain unachieved Austria would run grave risk of being completely conquered by the superior industry of Germany. The Austrian is not equipped to enter into active competition with the German of more northerly latitudes. He has developed his own special mentality during centuries of intercourse with the Balkan nations. But whereas he would succumb to northern energy, he has a great task to fulfil in the southeast in the rôle of mediator. It would therefore be deplorable in the extreme if Austrian individuality were to be leveled out of existence by Berlin. How great this danger is we see in the case of the peaceful and democratic Bavarian people, who have been alienated from all their own traditions by nationalistic Prussian agitators, and who have in fact become the real pivot of nationalistic reaction in Germany.

To sum up. The agitation for Austria's Anschluss with Germany is to be deplored from every possible point of view and must be regarded as endangering the peace of Europe. The excessive concentration of power which would result would hinder and prevent what has been described at the beginning of this article as the real task of Germany and especially the German border lands: the establishment of a peaceful federation between Central Europe and the Slav countries, the mediation between west and east, and the overcoming of rigid nationalism in favor of a new super-national association and coöperation.

In the preceding paragraphs the question at issue has been examined from the viewpoint of European peace and of the interests of Austria. But the Anschluss must be rejected also from Germany's own standpoint. She is urgently in need of French credits, and she would not be able by herself, for lack of capital, to finance and stabilize the markets of southeastern Europe which she hopes to dominate by the creation of Mitteleuropa. In short, Germany, for numerous reasons, cannot do without French assistance and confidence. France, on the other hand, is justified a thousand times in her fears that the creation of a new Germanic national block would endanger not only her own safety but also the peace of Europe. That is why the whole Anschluss movement must be regarded as wrong and shortsighted. Let us hope that it may still prove possible to replace it by a policy that is constructive and European in the true sense.

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  • FRIEDRICH W. FOERSTER, former Professor in the Universities of Berlin and Munich, Editor of Die Zeit, author of a number of works on ethical and educational problems
  • More By Friedrich W. Foerster