National Liberal Heirs of the Old Austria: “Deviations” in Liberal Party Traditions, 1867-1918

JVF Conference Papers

This paper provides a historical sketch of the developments of national liberal party traditions among Czechs, Germans, and Slovenes in the Cisleithanian half of the Habsburg Monarchy.

It points out certain far-reaching transformations – structural as well as ideological – that these traditions underwent during the last quarter of the 19 th century and at the beginning of the 20 th century. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the complex interplay between ideologies, organized political movements, and political languages within the context of a rapidly changing political culture was the changing relationship between the national and liberal components within national liberalism. By 1900 the national came to visibly prevail over the liberal: nationalism was gaining in strength and intensity and was adopting new, more aggressive and integralist forms. The political parties stemming from the national liberal traditions were undergoing a process of fragmentation and their attempts to adjust to the unfolding political realities were mostly unsuccessful.

The result was ideological diffusion, continuous loss of liberal identity, as well as adoption of new labels, employed either to mask liberalism or do away with it. From the turn of the century onwards it is therefore more proper to talk about “heirs of liberalism” in terms of party politics rather than simply “liberals”.

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