Judson turns on its head the traditional understanding of the Habsburg empire as a decrepit anachronism doomed by the long-simmering nationalist urges of disparate ethnic groups. On the contrary, he argues, from the last half of the eighteenth century (when Empress Maria Theresa instituted crucial reforms) until the empire’s demise in World War I, the Habsburg dynasty successfully enlisted a vast array of territories and subjects in its enlightened “efforts to be a unified and unifying imperial state.” The monarchy’s legal reforms, institutional innovations, and cultural flexibility created a symbiotic relationship between citizens—even the peasantry—and the regime, not least because whatever their linguistic and religious differences, subjects were allowed to “appropriate” or “reinterpret” Vienna’s will in ways that served local interests. The empire’s ability to inspire a transcendent identity and tolerate diversity should be the dominant lens through which its history is viewed, Judson argues. His bracing account could provide an overarching alternative framework to guide the growing number of narrower, more detailed revisionist histories of the Habsburgs.
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