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Leykam, Andreas - Liebherr GmbH (8/25)
Liberales Forum, LIF Libro AG


Liberalism: Liberal and progressive conception of the state, economics, and society rooted in the age of Enlightenment, opposed to Absolutism and the abdication of individual and intellectual responsibility to higher authorities. The liberals represented primarily the educated and more wealthy industrialist bourgeoisie and certain intellectual circles (independent professions as well as some parts of the civil service), fought against social, economic, and religious barriers, and had considerable power of the press at their disposal. In the "Vormärz" period preceding the 1848 revolution, liberal ideas could only be articulated in private circles; however from the Revolution of 1848 onward, there was no silencing liberal and democratic tendencies in Austria's political landscape. After the liberal State Minister A. Schmerling (of the Deutschliberale Partei - the German-Liberal Party) and his ministry (1860-65) had created a centralist constitution in1861 by means of the February Patent, which was conducive to the promotion of the liberal ideology, the actual liberal era in Austria began. From the beginning, however, various political schools of thought arose within the liberal movement, represented in groups such as the "Bürgerklub", the "Deutschdemokratischer Verein", the "Großösterreicher" (E. A. Mühlfeld), the "Unionisten" (E. Herbst), or the Styrian "Autonomisten" (M. Kaiserfeld). They were nevertheless united in their battle against the supremacy of the aristocracy and the clergy, against the federalist endeavours of the Slavic nationalities, in their economic concept ("free" economy), and in their attempt to expand and secure the liberal and constitutional basis of the state (rule of law, constitution, separation of powers, independent judiciary, sanctioned basic rights and freedoms). After the Compromise of 1867 with Hungary and the passing of the December Constitution, for the formulation of which Hungary was responsible to a great extent, the liberals (bourgeois liberal German "Party of the Constitution") became the ruling party in the Austrian half of the Empire and supplied the Bürgerministerium ("Bourgeois Ministry", 1868-1870) with the liberal ministers K. Giskra, E. Herbst, J. N. Berger, R. Brestel, L. Hasner von Artha, and I. Plener, and the ministry of Prince A. Auersperg (1871-1878/79) with the ministers J. von Lasser, J. Glaser, K. von Stremayer, A. Freiherr von Banhans, J. Unger, and others. These years represented the heyday of liberalism, and were characterised in particular by a building boom (Gründerzeit). Factories, industrial plants, railway lines, and numerous other undertakings were established, as well as banks, building societies, insurance companies, etc. As a result, considerable social restructuring and local population shifts began, particularly in the large cities. The liberals were opposed to any claims to control of education on the part of the church and forced the Catholic Church into a defensive position. Their major victories included the laws regulating matters of mutual interest to the church and the state which were passed in 1868 and 1874 (marriage law, schools law, interdenomination law: the Maigesetze), the Reichsvolksschulgesetz (1869), the abolition (in 1870) of the Concordat of 1855 and the election reform of 1873. However, the Nationality Question remained unsolved; the liberals also failed to find satisfactory solutions to the social problems of the times. The conflicting schools of thought within the liberal movement soon came to the fore again. The Styrian Autonomists spoke up in favour of the separation of Galicia (Poland), Bukovina (Beech Wood Land), and Dalmatia from Austria, in order to secure the domination of the German-speaking (German Nationalist) members of parliament in the Austrian half of the Empire. The election held after the election reform of 1873, the first in which the Reichsrat was elected directly, brought heavy losses for the German-Liberal Party. This was primarily the result of setbacks to their economic policy, the climax of which was the stock market crash of 1873. In the 1879 election, the Liberals lost the majority in the house of representatives; they went into opposition against the Taaffe ministry. After the resignation of E. Taaffe, the Vereinigte Deutsche Linke (United German Left) formed a temporary coalition with the conservative "Hohenwart-Klub" and the Poles and supported the Windisch-Graetz ministry (1893-1895). The election of 1897 was a serious failure for the German Liberals. In the long run they were unable to prevail against the Christian socialist movement and the social democratic labour movement. Moreover, the liberal political party mutated more and more (although in varying degrees from faction to faction) in the direction of the Deutschnationale Bewegung (German nationalist movement); in the end even the progressive party, the last successor of the liberal groups, was eventually absorbed into this movement. The "Deutsche Nationalverband", founded in 1910, united all "German Liberals" and liberal parliamentary groups of the parliament elected in 1907 on the basis of full and equal suffrage for men. In the provincial assemblies and in the municipal councils (elected on the basis of the limited suffrage of "Kurien" or electoral classes), the liberal political groups held their own much longer, some even until 1918. Moreover, some of their ideas had found their way into the programmes of other political parties, so that all 3 of the political camps formed at the end of the 19th century could claim, not without good reason, to have taken up the legacy of liberalism - each in its own specific way. In attempting to generally assess the phenomenon of liberalism in the period before the First World War, it is important to mention, in addition to its organisational decline on a political party basis, the implementation of a large number of the legal and institutional concepts of liberalism, which, although pushed into the background in the period between the World Wars by a general anti-liberal trend, have become the generally recognised basis of civil society in the Second Republic. With regard to cultural liberalism, the slackening of intellectual restraints resulted in a considerable upswing in science and art, which, in fin de siècle Vienna (as well as in other places), led to a flowering of Central European thinking and artistic creativeness which lasted into the 1930s, when it was abruptly broken off.

In the First and Second Republics, traditions of liberalism continued to affect the economic thinking of the Christian Socialists and later the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) as well as the political thinking of the Social Democrats and the Green Party. With regard to political parties, in the First Republic the Großdeutsche Volkspartei and the Landbund assumed the heritage of the Liberals. After 1945 the Verband der Unabhängigen (VdU, "Association of Independents"), laid claim to liberal tendencies, followed for a long time by its successor organisation, the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), although in this case these tendencies remained at variance with German National ideas. The FPÖ's turn towards right-wing populism ultimately led in 1993 to the splitting off of the Liberal Forum, a group dedicated to the entire spectrum of liberal values.

Literature: K. Eder, Der L. in Alt-Österreich, 1955; G. Franz, L. Die deutsch-liberale Bewegung in der habsb. Monarchie, 1955; J. Vesely, Der Niedergang des deutschen Liberalismus in Österreich und seine Ursachen, doctoral thesis, Vienna 1959; D. Harrington-Müller, Der Fortschrittsklub im Abgeordnetenhaus des österreichischen Reichsrats 1873-1910, 1972; K. Vocelka, Verfassung oder Konkordat, 1978; W. Wadl, Liberalismus und soziale Frage in Österreich, 1987; L. Kammerhofer, Studien zum Deutschliberalismus in Zisleithanien 1873-1879, 1992; L. Höbelt, Kornblume und Kaiseradler, 1993.

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