Holger Afflerbach. Der Dreibund: Europäische Großmacht- und Allianzpolitik vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg. Wien: Böhlau Verlag/Wien, 2002. 984 S. EUR 95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-205-99399-5.
William D. Jr.. Godsey. Aristocratic Redoubt: The Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office on the Eve of the First World War. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1999. xii + 304 pp. $18.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55753-140-7.
Reviewed by Steven Sowards (Michigan State University)
Published on HABSBURG (July, 2003)
Off the Beaten Path to 1914
Off the Beaten Path to 1914
Although A. J. P. Taylor in 1966 already could refer to historical scholarship about the diplomatic origins of World War I as a "now well-worn path," new publications have continued to appear in large numbers. Why should readers pick up either of the two books under review, out of so many choices? Each monograph sheds light on areas off the usual 'beaten path.' Afflerbach's lengthy study of the Triple Alliance (Dreibund, or Triplice Alleanza) employs less frequently cited Italian sources to analyze a key pre-war alliance. Godsey analyzes the personnel and culture of the Habsburg foreign ministry in the final decade of the Dual Monarchy, although his approach may tantalize students of 1914 even as it informs them.
Afflerbach's study of the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy covers the evolution of the treaty through its numerous revisions and renewals. Like the companion Dual Alliance (Zweibund) with Austria-Hungary, the Dreibund was created to meet German needs, but its changing status in subsequent decades usually reflected conditions in Rome. The alliance's foundations were laid when Italian and German interests coincided in the 1870s; it ended in 1914 when the Italian government declined to follow Germany into World War I (entering instead a year later as a foe of the Central Powers). In between, the alliance's vitality waxed or waned as the value of a German connection rose or fell in Rome, in comparison to other factors such as competition with Austria-Hungary in the Balkans.
Afflerbach devotes 850 pages to a detailed narrative. His source list of archival files consulted runs to nearly forty pages; his bibliography of published sources is almost as long. An appendix provides French texts of the original treaty of 20 May 1882, the complicated renewal texts of 20 February 1887, the treaty as renewed on 6 May 1891, and other documents. The index of persons identifies each with brief, useful notes. Afflerbach enlivens the text with contemporary political cartoons and photographic portraits, and displays the stateliness of diplomatic correspondence in facsimiles of three reports from 1881 and 1882.
Logical periodization for a history of the Triple Alliance revolves around the renewals of the 1882 treaty in 1887, 1891 (prematurely), 1896, 1902, 1907 and 1912. Germany and Austria-Hungary entered each negotiation from a secure position based on their Zweibund relationship, while Italy's interaction with one or both varied with circumstances. Afflerbach emphasizes the renewals of 1887, 1891 and 1902, noting the impact of Italian aspirations, opportunities and frustrations. In 1887, Italy gained German support for imperial ambitions in North Africa. The renewal of 1891 reflected German hopes to forestall improved Franco-Italian relations. The 1902 renewal suffered from the increase in Austro-Italian rivalry in the western Balkans after the defeat of Italian ambitions in Africa.
The catastrophe of World War I inevitably looms large in pre-1914 diplomatic history, but because Italy did not enter the war until 1915, Italian decisions and Italian sources are apt to be discounted. By extension, this tendency can inhibit study of the Triple Alliance, as a pre-war pact that did not trigger intervention and belligerency. Afflerbach's work with Italian archives is a valuable contribution: because his history of the Triple Alliance covers the entire period from the late 1870s to 1915, and reflects the central place of Italy in the pact's evolution, it can serve as an interpretation of diplomatic trends as viewed from Rome, an unfamiliar perspective for many readers.
This is not to suggest that Afflerbach depends primarily on Italian sources. His bibliography encompasses published documents, memoirs and secondary studies in German, English and French as well as Italian. Afflerbach has examined the foreign ministry and military archives of all three partner states. Numerous citations from documents in the German Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts, the Austrian Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, and the Italian Archivio Storico del Ministero degli Affari Esteri supplement published correspondence out of Die Große Politik, Österreich-Ungarns Außenpolitik and I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani. Afflerbach's use of the Italian sources is most apparent in his analyses of the treaty renewal of 1887, the tensions surrounding the renewal of 1902, Italian reaction to the annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by Austria-Hungary in 1908, and Italy's renunciation of treaty obligations during the crisis of July 1914.
Afflerbach acknowledges his intellectual debt to Fritz Fellner, who has provided a Foreword. Like Fellner, whose 1960 essay initiated recent study of the Triple Alliance, Afflerbach characterizes the Dreibund as a fundamentally defensive institution. Despite the coming of the war, "a look at the complete history of the alliance presents a different picture. It shows that the principal desire of the alliance was to preserve European peace." (p. 873) What factors, then, led two of its members into war?
Michael Behnen addressed similar issues in Rüstung--Bündnis--Sicherheit. Like Afflerbach, Behnen considered the erosive effect of Austro-Italian rivalries on the Triple Alliance, and made substantial use of Italian sources. Behnen emphasized the period of most acute friction, from 1900 to 1908. By dealing with a much longer span of years, Afflerbach attains a perspective that accommodates times of improving as well as worsening relations. For Behnen, the growth of "informal" competition in the realms of public opinion, finance, investment and armaments did more than temporarily complicate the work of traditional diplomats. In his view, those developments made diplomats increasingly irrelevant as isolated European chancelleries lost control of "extra-governmental" elements, and thus the ability to sustain the preconditions for peace.
Afflerbach has greater faith in traditional diplomacy. He incorporates recent scholarship about non-diplomatic forces, without conceding that ultimate authority left the hands of ministers, diplomats and other leaders. While noting the "interdependence" of international, domestic, ideological, economic and military pressures, Afflerbach concludes that "the focal point lies with the class of political and diplomatic decision-makers" who function as "lens and indicator for the evolution and trends of an entire society." (pp. 29-30) Prominent figures such as Buelow, Crispi, and Aehrenthal still convey "insights into the oligarchical structure of the foreign policy of their time" (p. 31).
If Habsburg diplomatic decision-makers remained important on the eve of World War One, then Aristocratic Redoubt by William D. Godsey, Jr., offers much potential for insight. Readers seeking explanations for the chain of events in 1914 will be tantalized as well as educated, however. While noting that "the Habsburg foreign office, and the aristocrats who manned it, achieved their maximum impact on modern Europe precisely in 1914," Godsey focuses on the position held by a class, and not specific actions taken by its members (p. 6). This "aristocratic redoubt"--the final point of refuge in a beleaguered fortification--held at bay domestic middle-class influences, rather than foreign enemies.
Godsey notes that his book "concerns diplomats and not diplomacy" (p. 6). He is investigating an aspect of Austria-Hungary's aristocratic elite, not comparing one imperial institution with another. An article by Godsey on "Quarterings and Kinship: The Social Composition of the Habsburg Aristocracy in the Dualist Era" that appeared during the same year can usefully be read alongside Aristocratic Redoubt to establish the wider context for Godsey's approach to enduring pre-industrial elites.
Godsey looks toward Arno J. Mayer's work on the European 'old order' in the modern period  rather than studies of other pre-1914 diplomatic establishments. Godsey's presentation resembles Lamar Cecil's study of the German diplomatic service and Raymond A. Jones' description of British diplomats abroad, by emphasizing social or organizational milieus. Zara S. Steiner's work on the British Foreign Office, M. B. Hayne's work on the Quai d'Orsay, and a chapter on Russian diplomats by D. C. B. Lieven, on the other hand, employ chronological narratives as well that place their subjects in motion to explain the train of events in 1914. While Godsey refers to Istvan Deak's study of the K. u. K officer corps as a mainstay of the Dual Monarchy, his approach to Austro-Hungarian institutions remains focused on the aristocratic elite itself, not its national role.
He charts the social origins, religious affiliation, education, family connections, property, and career paths for all 251 officials who served either in the Vienna Ballhausplatz headquarters or the monarchy's foreign missions between October 1906 and July 1914, clerical staff and consular officials excluded. The sources for this analysis are published memoirs, personnel records in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, and even interviews with surviving relatives.
The book's title anticipates its ultimate findings: members of the diplomatic staff overwhelmingly were members of the nobility, and half of them belonged to the even more exclusive "court nobility." Rather than talent or education, noble birth and upbringing (with its associated wealth) remained the primary qualification for the service even in the early years of the twentieth century. Given the aristocracy's supranational character and familiarity with multiple languages, ethnicity played a muted role with one prominent exception: Godsey turns up substantial awareness of Hungarian citizenship and a disproportionate number of Magyars in certain assignments. (pp. 150 and 160-63) Religious affiliation reflected the preponderance of Roman Catholics in the monarchy; when diplomats married, wealth and polish were of primary importance.
Godsey combines this quantitative approach--susceptible to counting and percentages--with qualitative judgements based on anecdotes drawn from memoirs, diaries and interviews with living relatives. Together with his specific enumeration of titles and offices, this use of 'informants' lends the book some characteristics of an ethnographic study. Like an anthropologist, he uncovers the internal nomenclature of his subjects' world and employs it to record significant relationships, customs and rituals. Also like an anthropologist, he runs certain risks by adopting a self-contained system of reference that cannot always be judged from the outside. For example, while the "supranational patriotism of the diplomats became proverbial long ago," Godsey is able to test that 'proverbial' assertion by looking at the specific roles taken by Magyars (p. 124). It is harder to assess whether anecdotal references to incompetence, snobbery and "the lightheartedness that so characterized the general approach to the service" (p. 200) reflect objective reality or the cultivation of a leisured appearance.
Godsey concludes that a "stalled" trend toward professionalism in the Austro-Hungarian diplomatic corps and its "exceedingly narrow social perspective" (p. 201) did the monarchy no good on the eve of World War I. It is not Godsey's design, however, to dissect specific miscues of Habsburg policy, or trace their potential points of origin back to inflexible and elitist attitudes.
Whether regarded as critical decision-makers or as elements in a collective social portrait, prominent diplomats are the focus for both Afflerbach and Godsey even though neither author is writing biographically. However different these two books may be in their purposes, methodology and conclusions, readers will find novel and intriguing perspectives in each one about diplomacy in the final decades of pre-war Central Europe.
. A. J. P. Taylor, review of Helge Granfelt, Der Dreibund nach dem Sturze Bismarcks, Volume II, Der Kampf um die Weltherrschaft 1895-1902, English Historical Review 81 (1966), p. 872.
. Facsimiles of the first page of reports by German, Austro-Hungarian and Italian ambassadors appear on page 85. The list of illustrations on page 967 would be improved by indicating page numbers.
. Die Große Politik der Europäischen Kabinette 1871-1914 (Berlin: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft für Politik und Geschichte,1922-1927). Österreich-Ungarns Außenpolitik von der Bosnischen Krise 1908 bis zum Kriegsausbruch 1914 (Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag für Unterricht, Wissenschaft und Kunst, 1930). I Documenti Diplomatici Italiani_ (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1953-).
. Fritz Fellner, Der Dreibund: Europäische Diplomatie vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg (Österreich-Archiv, Munich: Oldenbourg, 1960); republished in the collection of essays Vom Dreibund zum Völkerbund: Studien zur Geschichte der internationalen Beziehungen, 1882-1919 (Vienna: Verlag für Geschichte und Politik, 1994).
. Michael Behnen, Rüstung--Bündnis--Sicherheit: Dreibund und informeller Imperialismus, 1900-1908 (Bibliothek des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Rom 60, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1985).
. William D. Godsey, Jr., "Quarterings and Kinship: The Social Composition of the Habsburg Aristocracy in the Dualist Era," Journal of Modern History 71 (1999), pp. 56-104. An appendix to the article identifies 474 titled families: because Aristocratic Redoubt sketches an entire class instead of its individual members, Godsey opts not to name all the men in his sample. The most significant ambassadors merit summary descriptions in the book's text (pp. 187-196); an appendix lists section chiefs and heads of missions abroad between 1906 and 1914.
. Arno J. Mayer, The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (New York: Pantheon, 1981). See also Dominic Lieven, The Aristocracy in Europe, 1815-1914 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993): as noted below, Lieven combines an interest in elites with an interest in diplomats.
. Lamar Cecil, The German Diplomatic Service, 1871-1914 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976). Raymond A. Jones, The British Diplomatic Service, 1815-1914 (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1983). Erwin Matsch, Der Auswärtige Dienst von Österreich(-Ungarn) 1720-1920 (Vienna: Böhlau, 1986), has a different focus.
. Zara S. Steiner, The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969). M. B. Hayne, The French Foreign Office and the Origins of the First World War (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993). D. C. B. Lieven, Russia and the Origins of the First World War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983): Chapter 4, "Actors and Opinions," especially pp. 83-101.
. Istvan Deak, Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1848-1918 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990) has more to say about class than does Gunther E. Rothenberg, The Army of Francis Joseph (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1976) which emphasizes military organization and planning.
. In extensive and useful bibliographic notes, Godsey points to Soloman Wank, "Aristocrats and Politics in Austria, 1867-1914: A Case of Historiographical Neglect," East European Quarterly 26 (June 1992); and Lothar Höbelt, "The Discreet Charm of the Old Regime," Austrian History Yearbook 27 (1996), pp. 289-302.
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Steven Sowards. Review of Afflerbach, Holger, Der Dreibund: Europäische Großmacht- und Allianzpolitik vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg and
Godsey, William D. Jr.., Aristocratic Redoubt: The Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office on the Eve of the First World War.
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Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.