Bernhard Schmitt. Armee und staatliche Integration: PreuÃ?en und die Habsburgermonarchie 1815-1866. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2007. x + 332 pp. EUR 44.90 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-506-75626-8.
Reviewed by Jasper Heinzen (Darwin College and Faculty of History, University of Cambridge)
Published on H-German (April, 2008)
The correlation between the military complex and state-building in European society never ceases to fascinate historians. Although considerable portions of the world's rainforests have been sacrificed to enhance our understanding of this subject in the last sixty years, still many facets need to be explored. Bernhard Schmitt fills in some of the gaps with his comparative case study of conscription in post-Napoleonic Prussia and Austria. The central focus of the work rests on civil-military relations, and on that premise, Schmitt sets out to examine Berlin's and Vienna's strategies of military integration as applied to the newly acquired provinces of the Rhineland and Venetia, respectively. Schmitt uses the term "integration" in a "technical-structural," predominantly legal sense (p. 38), thus giving pride of place to official sources such as administrative regulations, recruitment registers, surviving correspondence between policy makers, and, to a lesser extent, court cases. The strong point of the book is its extensive reliance on and interpretation of statistics, which is a welcome demonstration of how the "new military history" pioneered by Ute Frevert, Heinz Stübig, Manfred Messerschmidt, and others can be put on a firmer quantitative footing.
In terms of structure the work is divided into three main parts. The first introduces the reader to the political, socioeconomic, and religious background conditions in the Rhineland and Lombardo-Venetia at the time of incorporation, as well as the populace's ambivalent attitude towards their new masters. The second part is substantive and covers the evolution of Prussia and Austria's differing stance on compulsory military service. After 1815, both countries were obliged to make the permanent transition from mercenary to conscript armies, but while Prussian military reformers appealed to the national prestige of the Hohenzollern dynasty, the ethnic and linguistic heterogeneity of the Habsburg crown lands precluded such a course of action. In consequence, as Schmitt shows, the two armies' implementation of conscription varied markedly. Decision-makers in Berlin sought to apply the principle of compulsory military service evenly with as few legal concessions to social and regional exceptionalism as possible across the monarchy. In contrast, their counterparts on the Danube opted for a more decentralized model; the Lombardo-Venetian administrators followed precedents set by the Regno d'Italia and extended the draft to aristocrats in a bid to assimilate the Italian elite. As a result, despite efforts to achieve standardization in the mid-nineteenth century, a patchwork of different regulations continued to prevail that did little to foster a collective Austrian identity, let alone notions of political emancipation. Instead, commander-in-chief Archduke Charles and his successors concentrated their energies on the invention of a conservative dynastic supra-national identity with the Habsburg emperor as its common denominator.
The last, longest chapter of the book is sensibly dedicated to the practical execution of recruitment. Challenges to it included geographical distribution of conscription targets and, in the Austrian case, structurally conditioned fluctuations in the size of the contingents raised annually. Schmitt demonstrates convincingly that in spite of the Habsburgs' rhetoric of supra-nationalism and the Prussian military reformers' ambition to convert the army into the "school of the nation," in the end both powers were forced to settle for a regional model of recruitment as a matter of administrative, logistical, and political expediency. The generals calculated, not unreasonably, that the regimental ésprit de corps developed more traction when recruits served together with fellow Rhinelanders and Lombardo-Venetians, respectively. Schmitt's statistical analysis is therefore even the more worthy of note because his findings prove that military integration was actually a success. The rate of absences without leave among draftees was no higher than in the older Prussian or Austrian provinces, and where the phenomenon did occur, economic factors informed recruits' decision to evade conscription more often than not. This counterintuitive triumph of the "monarchical martinets" (p. 291) seems very surprising in light of the revolutionary turmoil that Europe--not least the Rhineland and northern Italy--experienced in the decades after Napoleon's downfall. The explanation Schmitt furnishes is that the lower classes' degree of political mobilization should not be overestimated while, conversely, the institution of compulsory military service was more popular than historiography gives it credit for having been. In Germany especially, he concludes, the spirit of militarism became entrenched early in the nineteenth century as an emblematic expression of bourgeois virility.
Intriguing as Schmitt's detailed statistical deductions are, the lay reader will at times struggle to keep up with the legal jargon and, furthermore, the structure of his argument is in places not as lucid as it could be. For instance, considering that Italian communities abused the conscription system to dispose of their misfits before the enactment of the 1858 Recruitment Law, why did "respectable" segments of society then not display greater levels of resistance to military service? Schmitt suggests that demands made on the people by the Austrian and Prussian authorities seemed minor in comparison with the French armed forces' insatiable manpower requirements, and that the populace was therefore already conditioned to accept state intervention in their lives as unavoidable. This crucial detail about the normative functions of the state is discussed in passing, but more historical contextualization would have been helpful since, after all, Europe's eighteenth-century fiscal-military states also managed to interfere extensively in communal affairs even though the dialectic between nation and citizen army was still only of minor consequence. Similarly, a more comprehensive elucidation of the not-immediately-apparent reasons for Austria and Prussia's decisions to retain the conscript system in the era of Restoration would have been helpful.
One cannot help but feel, moreover, that the dichotomy between acceptance and evasion of conscription proposed by the book obscures another important issue connected with the process of military integration in the Rhineland and Lombardo-Venetia. The fact that the responsible metropolitan authorities encouraged the development of regionally based regimental identities seems to hint at other, less visible areas of negotiation and contestation. The reader learns relatively little about what exactly recruits expected to get out their stint in the army and how consensus-building proceeded at the regimental grass roots. Following from this point, the question remains of what lessons pundits in Vienna and Berlin drew from the military integration of the Rhenish and Lombardo-Venetian provinces. To be sure, an extended discussion would have threatened to explode the scope of Schmitt's argument, but a cursory comparison of the parallels and discontinuities between the assimilation of the Rhineland and the territories annexed by Prussia in 1866 might have raised awareness of that not insignificant historical context.
This book aims to show that despite "few ideational points of contact" (p. 288) between the political center and periphery, the militarization of the expanding Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies proceeded more smoothly in the nineteenth century than has hitherto been assumed. Schmitt's refreshing challenge to received opinion succeeds to a large extent, but even more qualitative research will undoubtedly be needed to flesh out and test his thought-provoking impulse.
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Jasper Heinzen. Review of Schmitt, Bernhard, Armee und staatliche Integration: PreuÃ?en und die Habsburgermonarchie 1815-1866.
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