Author Archive for Hunt Tooley

June 28 A Century Ago

Franz Ferdinand was a difficult person in many ways. Dark. Angry at times. He became heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary when his cousin, Rudolf (whose tutor was the father of the Austrian School of Economics, Carl Menger) died in an apparent murder-suicide with his young mistress in 1889. The death of Rudolf was only one of many tragedies in the Habsburg family in the two generations leading up to World War I. Besides the cases of consecutive heirs to the throne, Franz Josef’s glamorous wife, Elisabeth, died at the hands of an assassin in 1898. There was also the rancor over Franz Ferdinand’s marriage in 1900 to Sophie Chotek, whose prestigious pedigree was not quite prestigious enough for the House of Habsburg. The two married in 1900, but only on the condition that Sophie not appear as Franz Ferdinand’s consort on occasions when he was appearing in the capacity of heir to the throne. She would not receive the title of Empress, and any son would not be eligible to succeed to the throne.

This is to say, Franz Ferdinand was facing somewhat more than normal family pressures. Political issues also lay heavy on his mind. To his thinking the transformation that had given Hungary autonomy within the Empire in 1867 had allowed the Hungarians to impose “magyarization” on the nationalities who came under their control–in effect nationalizing the minorities in the way that the Russians were “russianizing” their minorities. In an Empire which had grown by marriage alliances and had kept strong by means of negotiation and compromise, the 1867 compromise represented permission to introduce a new tone of bitterness into politics. Franz Ferdinand advocated peace with the bothersome southern neighbor Serbia, in part because he needed to have the cooperation of all Habsburg Slavs. He hoped to revamp the Empire from a Dual Monarchy into a Monarchy presiding over a federation of regions, and the various Slavic nationalities were crucial in overwhelming the Hungarians.

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So he had enough on his mind to appear dark and angry. At times, he was capable of charm—for example in the center of his family or when he was with friends and close aides.

As Inspector-General of the Habsburg Army, Franz Ferdinand must have found the occasion of visiting Sarajevo, in recently annexed Slavic Bosnia, a special moment. Not only could he confer special attention on the picturesque capital with a parade and a visit to civic institutions, but since he was there in his capacity as Inspector-General of the Army, Sophie was allowed to sit by his side.

Would this apparently cold personage have been able to change the course of nationality conflict in the Empire?  Could he have withstood the more more general Leviathan trends of the growing state, the manipulation of currency for wealth transfer, growing collectivism, and the legal plunder that characterized his times? His “dark” public persona is probably irrelevant here. Indications are that he had strong ideas and a willingness to push for them.

Whatever Franz Ferdinand might have achieved or not achieved, Gavrilo Princip and his backers in Bosnia and Serbia made sure that none of us will ever know.

A hundred years ago today, Sophie and her husband were murdered in an open automobile in the streets of Sarajevo. Five weeks later, the major powers of Europe and many minor ones had jumped into a conflict that has created the backdrop, scenery, and stage props for our times.

Princip, the Great War, and the Modern Prisoner State

gavrilo-princip-originalSo many anniversaries of meaning this summer! We now approach the hundredth anniversary of the shots that killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo. These shots, of course, precipitated the cataclysm we call the Great War. The shooter was Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist a few days from his twentieth birthday.

Since Austro-Hungarian law did not permit the death penalty for persons under age twenty, Princip was tried, given a twenty-year sentence, and sent to the Bohemian fortress-prison of Terezin, confined to a tiny cell. The fortress sits on a wind-swept plain, a desolate and grimly cold spot in the winter. Princip was undoubtedly mistreated, losing weight, contracting tuberculosis of the bone. He died on April 28, 1918. He did not outlive the war he had started.

Princip was far from the only prisoner at Terezin. The fortress became one of the many wartime prisons which Austria-Hungary maintained for enemy aliens and other suspected civilians. Austrians cracked down on “Russophiles” and others suspected of enemy sympathies within the first few weeks of the war. These civilian prisoners were held in a wide variety of situations, and Terezin was one of these. Under harsh conditions, many of these “suspects” died.

While Princip’s individual role in history is so significant on an individual level, his imprisonment and death are connected with an institution accelerated by the war he helped begin: the internment camp—the indispensable tool of the modern state. Actually, Terezin itself represents a real pattern in the development of the prisoner state: the state owns property which becomes dated and obsolete, but which is recyclable. Increasingly bedeviled by potential enemies, the state makes use of facilities such as forts and camps, which can be recycled to intern large numbers of people. Barbed wire helps close up the gaps.

By the way, when WWI ended, the Terezin facility had not outlived its usefulness. The SS recycled it during the Second World War to intern and murder another set of state enemies in the infamous transit camp, now using its German name, Theresienstadt. The modern prisoner state of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, strangely, owes a great deal to the war touched off by Princip.

Poor Bosnia

Poor Bosnia. Unemployment has been over 44 percent for months and months. Independence (since 1992) has brought civil war; massive deaths related to war, invasion, ethnic violence (a hundred thousand is the death toll usually given); a “mixed” economy; big government, crony capitalism.

In February 2014, hundreds of thousands marched in protest at the level of hunger in a country that produces food for export.

The authorities say that the economy represents a transitional system from the old Yugoslavian communist state. But people in the streets are asking “Transition from what to what?” and “How long can a transition last?”

Gavrilo_Princip_croppedSo much for the aspirations of a group of young Bosnians (who actually called themselves Young Bosnians) in the summer of 1914. I am thinking, of course, of those kids who became involved as assassins in the scheme of some Serbian officials to use Bosnian “nationalism” to leverage the Austrians out of Bosnia.

Austria-Hungary came into possession of Bosnia after the Russo-Turkish war of the 1870s, but only as an occupier. The Austrians had good intentions: making available land to the desperate peasants, establishing a stable currency, creating orderly conditions which could make investing in the area attractive. But over the next thirty or forty years, Imperial politics, especially those having to do with Hungarian domestic politics, precluded many of the improvements. And in fact, much of the investment that occurred looked just like the colonial investment patterns of European overseas imperialism: corporate enterprises based on crony relationships with the government, railroad schemes for shaping “development” in political ways, the state’s tendency to use resources to favor cronies; pressure on local entrepreneurs with licensing laws and taxes. So the economy developed, but in ways that Occupy Wall Street protesters would have understood perfectly well.

The Young Bosnians (really just Gavrilo Princip and a few more Serbophile teenagers) saw Austria-Hungary as the engine of disrespect for average Bosnians that was apparent to most. Hence, when the Black Hand organization wanted to “train” these kids for a great strike against the Habsburg Empire, many of them trained hard, firing pistols into oak trees, crawling through bushes, etc. This kind of thing was increasingly in vogue, from Ireland to the Balkans during this time. Kids with some education, a system that was designed to institutionalize disrespect, thoughts of murder as sacrifice, some direction and financing from notables (normally bureaucrats) with agendas very different from merely local sacrifice.

The rest of the story is well known. The hundredth anniversary of Princip’s successful mission comes up later this month.

How bad was Austria-Hungary for Bosnia? Well, the bureaucratic “mixed economy” introduced by the Austro-Hungarian bureaucrats and crony capitalists probably helped conditions in some ways, but it also destroyed earlier habits of exchange within local economies by the usual means of economic intervention and disruption of the market. The Empire’s Tobacco Monopoly alone must have had a substantial impact among these hard-smoking folks.

What was Princip’s legacy? (Besides World War I, I mean.) Well, under Yugoslavia, twenty years of super-statist economic policies which sold the country’s mineral wealth for the good of the state, the unmitigated horrors of World War II, Tito and his band of “independent” communists, then, as seen above, “transition.”

Poor Bosnia.

One more note before closing: the top foreign investor in Bosnia today: Austria.

A Bit More on Pete Seeger

Lew Rockwell suggested that St. Peter may have had some problems determining which side Folk Singer Pete Seeger was on when he made it to the Pearly Gates on January 27th (’14) (or maybe the dating system is different in Heaven).

A bit more on that.  Seeger was eulogized last month in the press as a kind of banjo-toting civil libertarian. And if you take a look at his Wikipedia entry, you find that he worked for “isolationism” during World War II.

Well, Wikipedia, not quite. He worked for Moscow before, during, and after World War II.  And not to put too fine a point on it, for Stalin. It’s just that during the nearly two years of the Dream Team of Totalitarians (otherwise called the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact), Communists worldwide dutifully followed the Great Leader in extolling the Führer and in trying to keep the US out of war on the side of Britain.  And Pete was among those dutiful Communists.

The day the Pact ended (June 22nd, 1941) with the jump-off of Operation Barbarossa, Seeger ceased his “isolationism,” as Wikipedia would call it.

Within the blogosphere, many have pointed out that Seeger may have been one of the last supporters of Hitler AND Stalin AND Mao AND Ho Chi Minh. If he wrote any songs in support of Pol Pot, I don’t know about it.

His “recanting” of his Stalinism came a bit late, decades after even the Soviet Communist Party Line demanded that loyal Communists denounce Stalin (that would be from February 1956 on). Hence, in this instance, Seeger was well to the Totalitarian side of Khrushchev and, frankly, all the subsequent Soviet leaders. And then afterwards, there was Budapest, Prague, etc.  Well, and the fall of the Soviet Union and the flood of evidence of the killings, torture, and what not.

Pete-Seeger3_2804068bBut in 2007 he got around to a vague kind of “recantation,” when he said to an interviewer:  ”I think you’re right – I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in the USSR.”  This is a recantation?

I don’t know about calling him a “civil libertarian.”  But I do suggest to some future biographer a working subtitle:   “Stalinist with a Banjo.”

Pandemic Programs–Government Health 1918-Style

Fort Riley soldiers in the Camp Funston flu hospital, 1918

Fort Riley soldiers in the Camp Funston flu hospital, 1918

This point came up in the Mises Academy “Interwar Years” course yesterday evening. One of the most significant background events of the First World War and the wake of the war was of course the Spanish Flu. We used to say that twenty million died worldwide, but recent studies are showing that at least fifty million died, and the death toll may have been double that.

The origins of the disease are still obscure, but most experts (historical and medical) think that one of the great “concentrations” of human beings in less than hygienic settings first allowed for the virus to, well, go viral. The chief candidates are the huge American training camp at Fort Riley, Kansas, or the enormous British training/hospital depot at Etaples, France. Both of these masses of people was associated with birds and pigs, and triad that favors rapid transport and adaptation of viruses.

So we are looking at a pandemic that was state-produced in any case.

But a recent article by Dr. Karen Starko takes this even further. Her research has shown that the US Surgeon General, the US Navy, and eventually the Journal of the AMA announced in the midst of the crisis that extremely high does of aspirin were vital in treating the disease. Super-high doses.  But as Dr. Starko points out, since the Spanish Flu virus did its primary killing by compromising the the mucus membranes, and since overdoses of aspirin also compromise the mucus membranes, some portion of the enormous death toll was the result of the hyper-aspirin treatment.

Read her full article –very articulate, very clear even for this “non-science major.”

I mean, essentially, the Flu Pandemic was the result of a government program (WWI), and a “helpful” state-sponsored solution to the problem beyond much doubt raised the death toll spectacularly.

More than one lesson in all that!