This is an article I wrote back in 2006, while researching the history of the Holy Roman Empire, and preparing Authority Not Majority. I discovered a fascinating chapter in European history, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which actually showed strong parallels with the contemporary situation. What was interesting was that erstwhile enemies England and Holland, on the one hand, and Austria on the other, were teaming up to defeat the great pretender to the throne of universal empire, Louis XIV, the Most Christian King. The outcome of this struggle was mixed. Louis was defeated, but not enough to keep from putting a definitive stamp on the further course of history. The war’s outcome ended up strengthening the hand of absolutism at the expense of constitutionalism on the continent. A similar outcome could be in the offing today, only this time the stage is not Europe, but the entire world.
What We Are Up Against
The Current Situation in the Light of an Historical Example
© 2006 Ruben Alvarado
This edition published 2013 at commonlawreview.com
What a spectacle was presented to us from the crown of the hill! The great space was covered by the most magnificent tents. The frightful thunder from out of the mouths of the enemies’ guns and the answering fire from the walls of the town filled the air. Smoke and flames enveloped the city so much that only the tops of the towers were visible. All around the city, 200,000 Ottomans were spread in battle formation from the Danube to the hills, and further to the left of the Turks immense hordes of Tartars approached the heights and forests. (1)
Such was the prospect from the Kahlenberg overlooking Vienna on the morning of September 12th 1683. The city was now into its 62nd day of siege and cannonade by the Turks. The defense was in imminent danger of collapsing. But relief was on the way, in the form of an army of Poles, Bavarians, Swabians, Franconians, Saxons, along with troops from other parts of the Empire, albeit fewer than 70,000 in all. What was such a number against 200,000?
The Christians had one thing working in their favor: the hubris of Kara Mustapha, the Grand Vizier in charge of the siege. Mustapha refused to lend credence to reports of an approaching relieving army, thus neglecting to occupy the surrounding hills and so halt the relief effort in its tracks. When the Christians stormed down the hill on that fateful morning, the Turks, suddenly fighting on two fronts, proved unable to withstand the assault. The Polish calvary overwhelmed the center of the Turkish resistance, where stood the symbolic red tent and the flag of the Prophet “brought every year with great piety from Mecca,” (2) where the command to the Turkish soldiers was to stand and either triumph or die. They met with the latter fate, the tent and flag falling to the Polish onslaught, while elsewhere the soldiers of the Cross drove all before them, partly from “the cowardice of our enemies, whom we drove like herds before us from post to post, and from morning well into the night.” (3)
There were also members of the French chivalry among the combatants, princely knights, volunteers in the Imperial army, come to defend Christendom from the Saracen scourge – one of whom will loom large further on in this story. For the siege of Vienna had captured the imagination, and the sympathy, of all of Europe. All, that is, except the King of France, the Rex Christianissimus, “Most Christian” Louis XIV. Louis had discovered the uses of such a Turkish invasion against his arch-enemy, the head of the Holy Roman Empire, Leopold I, whose throne was located in Vienna (although relocated to Passau during the siege). For while Leopold’s attentions were occupied in the east, he could do nothing to avert the ongoing aggrandizement of territory being conducted by Louis on the Empire’s western border, the Rhine.
Ever since he assumed the reins of power in France, that is, after the death of the great Cardinal Mazarin, who hitherto had guided the affairs of state, Louis had pursued a plan of land-grabbing beginning with the Belgian province of Brabant, then Lorraine, and then, in 1672, the all-out invasion of the Netherlands, precipitating the accession of a young William III of Orange to the stadhoudership (captain-generalcy) of that country. The obstinate and valiant defence led by William put a temporary halt to Louis’ gains; but despite the conclusion of the Peace of Rijswijk (1678), Louis continued his rapacious ways, this time going straight for members of the Holy Roman Empire such as the Palatinate, which he subjected to the most outrageous and destructive treatment, and Strasbourg, about which Charles V had once said that if both Vienna and Strasbourg were threatened, he would rush to the aid of the latter. Leopold’s preoccupation with the Turkish threat in the east forced his hand into acceding to this treatment.
Louis’ game was simple: he hoped that Austria would fall; for then his would be the only power standing in the way of an Ottoman primacy over the Western Christian Empire, the only power able to stave off a fate similar to that of the Eastern Christian Empire, Byzantium, where the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in the 15th century. Then Louis’ dreams would be realized, in which he himself would rescue the West and become Holy Roman Emperor, the universal monarch in the likeness of Charlemagne. Who could stand up to him then? And his duplicitous game would have paid off, for he himself had encouraged the Turks into pursuing their plan of invasion in the first place.
Indeed, Louis’ France posed as great a threat to Christendom, if not greater, than the Ottomans. The threat was most obvious militarily, in the attempt to subjugate neighbouring states. But there was more, much more. The great polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz summed them up in a polemic written in the context of a later Louis-inspired crisis, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713). The conflict here was between two aspirants to the vacant throne of Spain: Philip, grandson of Louis XIV, and Charles, son of Leopold I.
Leibniz argued that the prospect of France uniting with Spain in the form of Philip’s accession to the throne would spell doom not only for Spain but for Christendom as well. Firstly, French manners would corrupt the Spaniards. “The manners of the French are absolutely alien to the manners or customs of Spain. There is in France a great freedom, particularly in respect to sex, and it is to be feared that they will bring this with them to the prejudice of good morals.” Spanish mores were quite the opposite: “everyone is grave, serious and steady; everyone is for the exact observation of laws and customs; everyone is content to conform himself to them, and wants others to conform themselves; for those matters which the law has not regulated, the wisdom of the nation has provided, and has introduced customs which take the place of laws. In conversation and in social intercourse, just as no one wants to inconvenience others, no one wants to be inconvenienced by them, and even the youth partake of the gravity of the nation.” What effect would French mores have on this austerity? ” On the French side, it is quite the contrary. Everyone allows himself no repose, and leaves none to others; the grave and the serious pass for ridiculous, and measure or reason for pedantic; caprice, for something gallant, and inconstancy in one’s interactions with other people, for cleverness: everyone meddles [with others’ affairs] in [private] houses, and pursues people to their very homes, and picks shameful fights. Youth above all glories in its folly and in its disorders, which go quite far today, as if this were a sign of wit; it respects neither sex, nor age, nor merit.” (4)
The effect of such manners is to corrupt domestic relations, which is even worse than corruption in public office; for “it is incomparably harder to be troubled, laughed at, affronted and mistreated in one’s domestic life, in one’s person, in what is one’s own, and to drag through a life full of sorrow caused by the contempt and the insolence of those with whom one must live, and whom one is obliged to put up with despite himself and despite even fear, than to be put under the yoke of a conqueror, or to be oppressed by a tyrant who affects one only in general or in the purse.” (5) Such is the effect of the total revolution French manners would bring about in the Spanish, and by extension European, social fabric.
The effect of the French way on religion would be as deleterious. The upstanding members of the Catholic church there are mistreated and abused. The Pope is only obeyed to be flattered, the better to gain his subjection. The French were responsible for “a thousand affronts” to Pope Innocent XI, “a saintly pontiff, because he was devoted to justice and did not approve the ambitious schemes of France.” French policy was to undermine the authority of the Holy See in order to bolster the primacy of the throne in ecclesiastical affairs; the defenders of the church are “persecuted as heretics.” The liberties of the church were being subjugated by dubious regal rights; “exemplary bishops, who were not the slaves of the court, to the prejudice of their conscience, were treated with the last degree of inhumanity.” (6)
France’s perfidy was especially visible in their support of the Ottoman offensive against Austria and thus Christendom. “The ambition of France has also kept the Mohammedans in Europe, of whom the Emperor was on the verge of chasing out.” The French argued that this was to restrict the growth of the Emperor, but in fact if France would participate in the war against the Ottomans it would also gain territories for itself: “Greece together with Thrace (to say nothing of Asia) awaited her and were assured to her.” But Louis XIV instead saved his forces for the invasion of Spain. “It is this crown which, by its greediness, has caused a horrible letting of Christian blood for nearly thirty years, by constantly attacking others; and almost all the evils that Europe has suffered during that time ought to be imputed to her.” (7)
These things were bad – “But the worst thing of all is that atheism walks today in France with its head up, that pretended great wits are in fashion there, and that piety is turned to ridicule.” France’s ultimate gift to Christendom was an acidic scepticism that undermined the very foundations of Western civilization. “To submit to French domination is to open the door to dissoluteness and to libertinage; one can be sure as well that piety cannot reign where justice is trampled underfoot, as France has done to it so many times, and with so much haughtiness; and if the insolent spirit of the French, as soon as they are the masters, must oblige honourable people not to allow them to get the upper hand in their country, their feelings and their impious actions must frighten men of good will and good prelates, as much as all those [members] of the clergy who are zealous for the house of God.” Even if the king were pious and just, these manners are enough to ruin a people and make them unfit for liberty: “bad habit, once minds have got the taste of it, is stronger than ordinances, and we see it now in France itself.” (8)
The upshot is a system of government which everyone knew to be despotism, and which France in pre-eminent degree exhibited to the world. “Everyone knows that this form of government is established in France, that it is exalted there by flatterers, and that a grandson of a king of France cannot fail to be imbued with these maxims. There the liberties of the great and of the people have been reduced; the good pleasure of the king takes the place of everything else; even the princes of royal blood are without the slightest authority; the great are only title-holders and are ruining themselves more and more, while persons of little importance are elevated to serve as instruments for oppressing the others.” The estates have been suppressed, the nobility made subservient and fawning. “In the pays d’États the Estates are assembled only for form’s sake, and these assemblies serve only to execute the orders of the Court, without any regard for their grievances. The nobility is impoverished to the last degree, vexed by quarrelling and investigations, obliged to use itself up in service to the king and to sacrifice its welfare and its blood to the ambition of a conqueror, while it nourishes only hopes for chimerical riches and for advancements which are given only in very small numbers.” The administration itself is based on self-aggrandizement and mutual extortion. “Those who occupy civil positions, particularly lucrative ones, having once enriched themselves at the expense of the community because they were given free rein, are now squeezed like sponges by re-examinations of their accounts and their affairs, by the venality of offices, by the creation of new burdens, and by great sums which are demanded of them without any reason, and which they are obliged to pay to save themselves from harassment.” And the burden of taxation and regulation has taken on oppressive proportions. “The people are trampled upon without mercy and reduced to bread and water by tithes, taxes, imposts, head-taxes, [by being required to supply] winter-quarters and passage for war-makers, by monopolies, by changes in [the value of] money which take suddenly from everyone a good part of his goods, and by a thousand other inventions; and all of that is only to serve the insatiability of a court which cares not at all about the subjects which it already has, and which seeks only to augment the number of miserable people by extending its estates.” (9)
Leibniz’s view of France was not an isolated one. It was shared by many who had come to see in France not merely a military threat but a total cultural one. And not only Louis’ agenda generated opposition; his methods as well created enemies he would have been better off not having, who shared Leibniz’s opinions not by observation but from cruel experience.
There was a volunteer in the Imperial army on that fateful day at the Kahlenberg, a scion of the ruling house of Savoy; his father had been a general in Louis’ army, distinguished for bravery, rewarded with command of the crack Swiss Guard. His mother was a niece of Cardinal Mazarin, and Louis’ favourite playmate in his youth. Olympia Mancini was one of the most influential ladies at court, and an intriguer of the first order. Even though she conducted numerous affairs, her faithful husband stood by her, that is, until he was killed in battle.
Eugene, the youngest of five sons (he also had two sisters), was also the runt of the family. Because of his physical shortcomings, he was intended for an ecclesiastical career. From the age of five his hair was cut in a tonsure and he was forced to wear the habit of a monk. Louis himself, it is said, was the one who dubbed him “the little Abbé,” the little abbot. But Eugene had other ideas. Fascinated and enthralled by the military – France’s army was by far the best-equipped and best-trained, and Eugene daily witnessed the pageantry thereof – Eugene set himself, in spite of opposition at home, to lead men in battle. His choice of occupation was hindered by his father’s early death; it was not made any easier by his mother’s being exiled to Brussels by Louis after having been accused of a plot to poison the King himself. It was rubbish, of course, and was only the upshot of court intrigues which this time got the better of Olympia. When the time came for Eugene to request a commission in the King’s army, Louis simply refused him. The road here was closed. And because Eugene likewise refused his family’s career choice for him, he was left virtually penniless.
But then came news from the east: Eugene’s brother, Louis, had been killed in a rearguard action against the Turks, fighting for the Emperor and Christendom. Eugene immediately knew what he was to do: he himself would go and offer his services to the Emperor and pick up where his brother had left off. Having no means to do so, he convinced his cousin, Prince Conti, who had married into the King’s immediate family, of the need to ride to the defense of Christendom. The two literally rode off in the night. When Louis heard of it, he immediately sent after Conti to retrieve him; he would have no prince of the blood fighting in the cause of his avowed enemy. Louis’ messenger caught up with the two across the border, in Frankfurt. Conti must return; Eugene was left to make his own decision. With a small gift of a ring and money from his cousin, Eugene could now make his way unhindered.
It is said that when he heard of young Eugene’s departure, Louis remarked sarcastically, “Do you think that I shall suffer a great loss if the Little Abbé does not return?” As if he had overheard them, Eugene meant to make him regret those words. Louis’ treatment of his mother, his treatment of himself, the debauched lifestyle at court to which they all had been subjected and from which Eugene only with great difficulty managed to extricate himself, the subjection of the common good to the good of Louis and to France, all of these drove the Little Abbé into the arms of the major power standing in the way of the Sun King’s universal dominion. As Frischauer observed, “Eugene’s life, up to a certain stage at least, is one great reaction to the life and deeds of Louis XIV. It can be observed already in his earliest youth…. The habit, which was forced upon him in his parent’s house of noting Louis’s every movement, and of listening – at least indirectly – to his every word and taking account of it to himself, predestined him to become either a devoted adherent or an enemy.” (10)
When Eugene charged down the Kahlenberg he knew that here was where he was meant to be, fighting for the existence of Christendom and not for the greater glory of Louis XIV. In this and subsequent actions against the Turks, driving them out of Hungary, where they had ruled for upwards of two centuries, Eugene rose meteorically through the ranks, by the age of 29 attaining the rank of imperial field marshal. Partly through his efforts, Austria was able to secure its eastern front against the Ottoman threat – thus freeing up the Emperor to meet the threat in the West. Louis’ dismissal of Eugene would bear him bitter fruit.
While Belgrade was falling to the Imperial army in 1688, Louis was sending his troops across the border into the Palatinate, precipitating the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697). This latest outrage led to the cementing of the so-called Grand Alliance led by William III, who, by invading England – on invitation – and acceding to the throne in the “Glorious Revolution,” brought that country into the alliance as well. The Emperor, still smarting from Louis’ previous annexations, was bound and determined to put a halt to encroachments on German land, and this time he had most of the German princes on his side, chiefly Max Emmanuel, Duke of Bavaria.
Eugene was sent to Savoy to battle at the side of his cousin Victor Amadeus, ruler of that country. After his first incursion on French soil, he is said to have remarked: “Didn’t I say I would only return to France sword in hand? Louis exiled my mother… and I have just exiled thousands of his subjects by making them flee from their houses and country.” (11) But the war here proved inconclusive; Victor Amadeus switched sides, leaving cousin Eugene in the lurch, while elsewhere the war ground down into a stalemate. With the Peace of Rijswijk (1697), Louis yielded the Palatinate but retained Strasbourg and his gains in Alsace.
Two years of peace were followed by the aforementioned War of the Spanish Succession. Leopold, noted for his indecisiveness, this time proved unmovable: he would not allow the House of Bourbon to accede to the throne which by right, he felt, belonged to the House of Habsburg. When the Bourbon prince Philip did ascend the throne by virtue of Charles II’s will, Leopold decided upon war, even if he had to go it alone.
Eugene was given command of the Austrian forces, and the seemingly insurmountable task of facing France’s superior forces in the field. The first stage of the war concentrated in Italy. Here the French forces had sealed the border and all the mountain passes into the country. Undaunted, Eugene had the army cross over the easternmost part of the border, hitherto considered impassable – a “remarkable feat,” compared by contemporaries “with that of Hannibal; engravings of it were published almost at once.” (12) Having caught the French by surprise, Eugene by virtue of superior generalship was able to inflict telling blows. But the general inferiority of his forces precluded his gaining a decisive victory; the most he could hope for was to pin the French down.
One of the major shortcomings of the Austrian forces was poor logistical and financial backing. This alone would keep them from giving the French more than a scare. But it was made up for by the entry of the English and the Dutch into the war. As one of his last acts, William III entered into the Grand Alliance with Leopold. The Maritime Powers brought not only ground forces and naval superiority but also indispensable funding, which enabled the German forces to continue.
The entry of the Maritime Powers came not a moment too soon. Max Emmanuel, who had also fought at the Kahlenberg, by this time had been brought around to Louis’ view of things, and threw Bavaria’s lot in with France. This opened the door down the Danube directly into Austria and the gates of Vienna. Rebellion in Hungary, inevitable in the wake of the devastations of the Turkish wars and subsequent Austrian misrule, tied down Austrian forces. Eugene by now had been made President of the War Council and thus put in charge of the creaking Austrian war machine, furthermore hamstrung by the quietism of the overly pious Leopold, whose habit was to leave pressing matters “to God;” Eugene for his part “reminded Joseph [Leopold’s son and heir] that ‘The proverb says that God helps him who helps himself.'” (13) In January 1704 the Bavarians took Passau – where the Habsburg court had taken refuge during the siege of Vienna. Vienna was being pressed by the Bavarians from the one side and the Hungarian rebels on the other, and was close to panic.
In the summer of 1704 a combined Franco-Bavarian force occupied the Danube valley and it was only a matter of time before it would move on Vienna. Another substantial force stood on the Rhine at Strasbourg, waiting to join forces. Opposing it, Eugene had at his command a force smaller than either of those armies. But help was on the way, in the form of the Duke of Marlborough’s allied force of English, Dutch, Danish, and German troops. In a remarkable feat of deception, not only with regard to the French but also the Dutch, who by no means would have agreed to the manoeuvre, Marlborough marched down the Rhine and through the Black Forest to join forces with Eugene. The French and Bavarian armies also combined, leading to the battle of Blenheim in August, a crushing Allied victory, the first Louis had ever suffered. From this point on the tables were turned; it was France and Louis who were fighting for their lives.
A series of splendid victories followed: Ramillies, Turin, Oudenaarde, even Malplaquet (although this latter was tarnished by the horrendous losses suffered especially by the Allied forces). France was brought to its knees, and a peace securing Christendom against domination by that country was in the offing.
But defeat, or at least an unsatisfactory conclusion, was snatched from the jaws of victory. What France failed to secure on the battlefield, it could gain through intrigue, by taking advantage of English party politics.
The English contribution to the war effort had been decisive, and it was made possible by what historians have termed “the Financial Revolution,” involving the establishment of a central bank, the Bank of England, which issued bonds against the credit of the government. What made this so effective was that the government’s credit was no longer based simply on royal promises, as was the case hitherto in most European polities, including France and Austria. It was rather based on the Parliament’s power of the purse, thus the ability of popular representatives to allocate funds and earmark tax revenues. Such a system of taxation proved more effective: by involving the taxed more closely in decisions regarding taxation, it inspired greater cooperation and tended toward a more equitable tax base, hence less evasion.
With Parliament voting the tax revenues to cover the government’s loans, the Bank of England found it much easier to find lenders. This led to the growth of a money market, the foundation of the modern investment regime; but that is another story. The important point here is that England by this method was able to raise revenues that the Emperor Leopold, for instance, could only dream of. England became the chief financier of the Allied war effort.
There was a fly in the ointment, however, and that was faction, which had already played such a mighty role in English politics. The financiers and the whole method of a “perpetual” national debt, which is how the new system came to be typified, had been institutionalized during the reign of William, whose support lay mainly with the Whig party. Whig politicians benefited from the new system, as did Whig financiers. This did not go down well with the Tories, the economic center of gravity of whom lay in landed rather than fiduciary property. The country squires viewed the newfangled system with complete distrust, while also harboring political jealousy because that system perpetuated a Whig pre-eminence in politics.
When William died in 1702, he was succeeded to the throne by Anne, the sister of William’s wife Mary and the daughter of James II, the abdicator. Anne, while intent on preserving the Protestant succession, abhorred the Whigs and did everything she could to free herself from their influence in government. But William had already gotten England into the war, and John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, continued with his policies. Anne put her full confidence in Marlborough, and his wife, Sarah, was also her best friend. Marlborough, together with Lord Treasurer Godolphin, conducted an administration which is considered to have been one of the most efficient and effective in English history.
Not only was Marlborough an able administrator; he was also perhaps England’s greatest general ever. The victories he achieved were monuments to tactical genius and personal bravery. In this, however, Marlborough found his equal in Eugene, Prince of Savoy. The two together – they cooperated astoundingly well considering the potential for rivalry – became the scourge of Louis, and in their campaigns in France against the previously impregnable line of barrier fortresses brought France and Louis to their knees.
But the country squires of England cared little for victory over France and certainly not for the means by which it was achieved: standing armies and perpetual debts, with the threat of subjugation to a devouring war machine. Certainly all of England glowed with patriotic fervor upon hearing of the monumental victories; but that feeling quickly evaporated when the party aficionados and pamphleteers once again began working the base. Marlborough and Eugene were warmongers, it was said; they prolonged the war needlessly, just to fill their own pockets; they cared nothing about the poor soldiers being mowed down in droves. And the Allies were a worthless bunch, living off the English dime, neglecting their own responsibilities, never making good on their own promises, letting the redcoats bear the brunt of every battle. And Godolphin was running the most corrupt administration ever, running the country into ground, incurring a massive debt that could never be repaid. And the Whigs, why, they were turning the country into a moral cesspool, with their occasional conformity making a mockery of the Established Church, tolerating all manner of perfidious sects.
This sentiment simmered under the surface, and a Marlborough, who was more Tory than Whig himself, at least in terms of background, would have to have known of it. What he did not realize – until it was too late – was that a conspiracy was brewing right in the very heart of government, a conspiracy which not only would bring the Tories back to power, but would bring down the Marlborough-Godolphin administration – an administration which did its best to rise above the party fray but was incrementally forced to give in to Whig demands; which would wreck the war effort just when it was bringing final success, and would destroy the bonds joining the Allies in terms of a common Christian order, finally replacing it with the new order of autonomous nation states pursuing naked national interests.
This conspiracy was the brainchild of Robert Harley, the future Earl of Oxford, a master politician who recognized that Tory sentiment could be ridden to establish political supremacy. Since the Whigs commanded a majority in both houses of Parliament, they demanded an increasing share of the government’s offices, this despite Anne, who absolutely loathed them. Both Marlborough and Godolphin counseled Anne to give in to their demands so as to maintain Parliamentary support for the war effort. Harley saw the pain this gave Anne, and began to work on her through the offices of a cousin of Sarah Churchill’s, the infamous Abigail Masham née Hill. It was Sarah’s good offices that had brought Abigail into the Queen’s service, and as lady-in-waiting Abigail was well-positioned to whisper into Anne’s ear whatever Harley wanted Anne to hear. By this means Abigail was able to supplant Sarah in the Queen’s affections – Sarah, herself a Whig sympathizer, only made things worse by railing against the inevitable. By subtle process Harley, working through the Queen, was able one by one to manoeuvre the Whigs out of office. And by working on the country’s war weariness, Harley and his co-workers were able to return a Tory Parliament in 1710.
Back in France, Louis observed these events with scarcely believing eyes. Indeed, the dissolution of the Whig Parliament by Anne inspired scenes in Versailles as might have given her second thoughts, had she known of them. “It is impossible for me to describe the transport of joy the King was in upon reading that part, [viz.] the dissolving of Parliament; ‘Well,’ says the King, ‘if Monsieur Harley does that, I shall say he is un habile homme, and that he knows how to go through what he has undertaken; Mesnager,’ adds the King, turning to me, ‘it is time you were in England;’ I could not interpose for some time, the King was so full of this news, and talked so fast; sometimes to himself and sometimes to me….” (14)
English politics thus opened a door that Louis would surely not allow again to be shut. “Since the changes in London had first been perceived by the French Court… the whole policy of Louis XIV had been to gain time for the downfall of Marlborough and an English defection to break up the confederacy. Thus, and thus alone, could France be saved.” (15)
And Louis found willing accomplices in Harley and his protégé cum Secretary of State, Henry St. John. St. John had been favored in his career by Marlborough, who even had gone to such lengths as personally to ensure that he received raises in his salary, as well as personally to repay his debts. For his genuine concern, and for his unparalleled service both to his country and the common cause of Christendom, Marlborough was repaid with the most horrendous form of vindictiveness and sustained lying, the likes of which it is difficult to find the equal of in all the annals of party politics. Both through his own acknowledged gift with the pen and that of his “partner in crime” Jonathan Swift (himself until recently a Whig – “Swift… was assailing all his old friends with merciless satire and invective, and proving that there was no malice like the rancour of the renegade” (16)), St. John blasted the Allies as horribly derelict, Marlborough as an ineffective pocket-liner, and the war effort itself as misguided and dangerous.
Behind the backs of the other Allies, Harley began negotiating with France about peace. But no sooner did Louis catch on to what was taking place than he immediately ratcheted up his peace demands. “Instead of dictating to a baffled and beaten despot, they were more like supplicants to this enemy, who had but a few months ago been ready to agree almost to any terms.” (17) Marlborough had predicted that the peace party, far from ushering in peace, would find their goal increasingly difficult of attaining the more they pursued it: “Our extravagant behaviour has so encouraged the French, that they take measures as if the war was just beginning, so that our new ministers will be extremely deceived, for the greater desire they shall express for peace, the less they will have it in their power to obtain it.” (18)
The accession of the Tories to power put one nail in the coffin of the final defeat of France; another came through the death of the young Emperor, Joseph, of smallpox in April 1711. Eugene had to rush from the Hague back to Germany to oversee the election of Joseph’s brother, the Archduke Charles, as Holy Roman Emperor. “The death of the Emperor, so far from bringing peace nearer, drove it farther away. It completely ruptured… all plans for a decisive campaign in Flanders. It stimulated Louis XIV, and furnished him with a verbal argument against the logic of the Allies. It convinced him that he would be able to defend his northern fortress-line through the whole of 1711, and therefore that his remaining strength would outlast Marlborough’s dying favour.” (19)
This left Marlborough alone at the head of the Allied forces in Flanders, with his enemies in charge back in London. Though they, realizing their need of his good offices in order to keep the pressure on Louis, switched their rhetoric to that of sweetness and light, Marlborough knew the clock was ticking and that he did not have much time left for action. In the face of a revitalized French army and the incessant undermining of his command and his authority by his enemies in government, Marlborough nevertheless succeeded in pulling off what many consider to be his greatest military achievement, the penetration of the French “ne plus ultra” line and the capture of Bouchain.
It was a last hurrah. When he returned to England upon the conclusion of the campaign, he was forced to listen to a Queen’s Speech opening Parliament including as its first sentence: “I am glad that I can now tell you that notwithstanding the arts of those who delight in war, both place and time are appointed for opening the Treaty of a general Peace.” (20) The statement was directed, of course, at Marlborough, in lieu of the gratitude he truly deserved.
On December 30 Marlborough appeared at court for what proved to be the last time. “He was still Captain-General and a member of the Cabinet. No Whigs attended, and he stood alone among his enemies. He was shunned by all. ‘Nobody hardly took notice of him,’ wrote Swift, who received an exulting account from his Ministerial friends. Such a spectacle, though entirely in accordance with the character of such tribes, is none the less unpleasant. There he stood, stared at and scorned, with no protection but his composure and his fame.” (21) The next day the Queen dismissed him from all his duties and offices, using as an excuse trumped-up charges of corruption brought against him in the House of Commons. In fact, she had been prevailed upon by Harley and St. John to the effect that Marlborough wanted nothing less than to dispense with her in the manner of the Roundheads and Charles I, in order to assume the role of Lord Protector! So did his enemies have cause for rejoicing, for taunting, for laughter. “But the most pregnant comment was made by Louis XIV: ‘The affair of displacing the Duke of Marlborough will do all for us we desire.'” (22)
It was now Eugene’s turn to press the government on its newfound course of action. He arrived too late in London to have any influence on Anne’s decision to relieve Marlborough, but still was determined to let the government know of Vienna’s viewpoint regarding peace. He was sanguine about his prospects. “Already in writing his first memorandum he had in his report to the Emperor stated his conviction that ‘no effect was to be hoped for,’ that it was much rather certain ‘that these fellows have already settled with France and perhaps may have gone farther than one might well believe.'” (23) And he would not leave his great friend and comrade-in-arms Marlborough in the lurch. As he put it to an emissary from the English court, “since it was known all over the world what a firm and intimate friendship I had fostered with the Duke of Marlborough, now finding him in misfortune, I could not do otherwise than uphold my friendship with him, lest the world should say, and I leave it as an evil echo after me, that I deserted and abandoned a friend in his hour of sorrow and stress when fortune had forsaken him.” (24) This was the best he could do, for his official mission proved a failure. He returned to Holland after two months, with only a magnificent diamond-encrusted sword – a present from the Queen – to show for it.
For their part, government ministers in conversation with their French counterparts by now had taken to referring to the Allies as “the common enemies.” St. John took the lead in this. “St. John accepted this expression of ‘the common enemies’ as applied to all the allies of England who were unwilling to follow his lead. ‘It is the desire of the ill-mentioned,’ he wrote to Torcy [the French foreign minister – RCA], ‘to arouse this mistrust both among us and everywhere else, but I am not worrying on that account, because it merely depends upon the All-Christian King to render all their efforts vain.'” How the tables had turned. “In fact, Oxford and St. John, dominated by their party struggle, now looked upon the French as friends, and upon their allies, by whose side they were standing in the field, as foes.” (25)
Indeed, Eugene, who now assumed the Captain-Generalcy of the Dutch and the Imperial forces left vacant by Marlborough, would soon come to experience the reality of these declamations.
But the peace negotiations, which began in Utrecht while Eugene was in England, did not proceed as favorably as the conspirators had hoped. What did they expect, the Dutch Republic and the Empire simply to sign off on a peace tailor-made in the interests of England and France alone? “The anger of the Allies knew no bounds, and in England outside the Court circle widespread wrath was mingled with wider shame.” (26) Beyond that, negotiations between England and France became hindered with the deaths in rapid succession of the heirs to the throne standing between Louis XIV and Philip V, thus paving the way to the union of crowns of Spain and France upon Louis’ death. This was too much even for the peace party in England, and so the 1712 campaign proceeded.
The English contingent was still represented in the Allied armies even though Marlborough no longer led it; command over the English and the Allied forces in English pay was transferred to the Duke of Ormonde. Eugene thus led a force of divided allegiance into the field, for the English were waiting for a peace they felt was in the offing. In the meantime, the Allied forces moved deep into Belgium, placing themselves between the French army under Marshal Villars and the road to Paris. With his superior forces, Eugene hoped either to provoke a pitched battle or to undertake a siege of one of the few barrier fortresses left between his armies and Paris.
But it was at this point that the perfidy of the Tory government manifested itself most clearly. For Ormonde had received orders from St. John, in the name of the Queen, to avoid all conflict with the French; and not only that, but to keep this order concealed from the Allied command. Even more: in a postscript that he “almost forgot” to mention, St. John informed Ormonde that the French were informed of this decision; and that it could not be changed without their knowing of it. This is the substance of the infamous “Restraining Orders” which one day would form a major article in St. John’s impeachment.
Eugene, backed by the Dutch, proposed offensive actions; Ormonde refused to go along. Eugene then “in strong terms” reproached Ormonde, telling him “that this was no manner to allow us to march in enemy country in the midst of his fortresses, in order then to remain inert, which would encourage the enemy to action.” If England had concluded a separate peace, it must make that knowledge public, “since, should it not be certain, it by such conduct puts both itself and all of Europe in danger of being lost.” (27) But if Eugene knew to what lengths St. John had gone with the French, he would have put the matter in even stronger terms. When asked by the French go-between what Villars should do if Eugene went ahead with an attack, St. John responded that “there would be nothing to be done but to fall upon him and cut him to pieces, him and his army.” (28)
The significance of this cannot be expressed better than Churchill has already done:
It would have been a grievous, though a permissible, measure to tell Eugene, the States-General, and other members of the Alliance that the British forces would not fight until the peace treaty was settled one way or the other. But for an English Minister, acting in the name of the Queen, to conceal from the Allies his intention, while disclosing it secretly to the enemy, was in fact to encompass the defeat of Eugene and the slaughter of the allies and comrades with whom the British troops had so long stood shoulder to shoulder. Nothing in the history of civilized peoples has surpassed this black treachery. The punishment meted out in after-years by their countrymen to the criminals concerned may lighten, but cannot efface, its indelible stain. (29)
So arose the image of “perfidious Albion” which has echoed through the ages. This event even served to gin up war fever against the English in the 20th century, as witness the book Prince Eugene, His Life, His Work, and England’s Betrayal, published in Germany in 1942. (30)
But Eugene had received inside information from the English camp and had been apprised of these goings-on. The question now was, what to do with the English troops, which for all anyone knew might switch sides at any moment. The idea was even floated of disarming and arresting them: “the famous redcoats whose martial honour stood so high in those professional camps were to be seized as hostages against the faithlessness of their Government.” St. John was indignant: “Some are even saucy enough to insinuate so far as to attempt seizing the British troops in Flanders.” To which Churchill retorts, “to such a point had the Queen and her new friends brought the Common Cause.” (31)
In the event, Eugene went ahead and captured Le Quesnoy, but soon thereafter Ormonde withdrew his troops from the Allied camp. The English ministry expected him to take the troops in English pay with him, but the Prussians, the Hanoverians, the Saxons, and the Danes all stood by Eugene, even though it would probably mean a cut in, if not a loss of, pay. “[Eugene’s] long-time comrade-in-arms Leopold von Anhalt-Dessau, the commander of the Prussian corps in the pay of the Maritime Powers, came to him at Haspres and informed him that the English general had ordered him as well as Duke Karl Rudolph von Württemberg, the commander of the Danish contingent, the Hanoverian von Bülow und the Saxon General Wilckens to accompany him in the upcoming march in the direction of Dunkirk. As he had already informed the Imperial Field Marshal, the Prince of Anhalt declared that he would operate in terms of the instructions given him by his king and allow himself to be used for the best interest of the common cause;” the other generals answered in like manner. (32)
But it was here that the absence of Marlborough made itself felt. The Dutch had been unwilling to pay the added expense for forward supply centers; this led to extended lines of communications. Marlborough was too meticulous ever to have allowed his lines thus to be exposed; Eugene took the risk. “The explanation is no doubt the passion to achieve success, in spite of the manner in which he had been treated, which laid hold of Eugene and led him into risks which ought not to have been run. His was the strategy of exasperation.” (33) A surprise attack by the French at the strategic location of Denain cut off the besiegers. The French victory was abetted by the removal by Ormonde of the pontoon bridges which would have enabled the Allied garrison to escape – yet another token, it was averred, of the English betrayal. It was the Dutch troops who suffered this defeat, which fed into the doom-and-gloom mentality of that country, which had come to bear the chief financial burden for the war after the departure of the English. Napoleon would blame Denain, but Eugene blamed this defeatist mentality for the series of losses which followed, undoing three years’ previous campaigning and freeing France from any threat of defeat.
What followed was the Peace of Utrecht, which when all is said and done is considered to have provided a net gain for both the Maritime Powers: the Netherlands, which gained its coveted line of barrier fortresses in Belgium; and England, which gained the asiento, or the right to conduct the slave trade in the Spanish Empire for 30 years, along with Gibraltar and Minorca, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Hudson Bay territory, and France’s commitment to destroy the fortifications at Dunkirk. In the subsequent Peace of Rastatt-Baden, Austria retained its gains in Italy while also gaining the Spanish Netherlands.
Historians have looked at these results and concluded that the War of the Spanish Succession established solid foundations for a European balance of power. France had been trimmed back, albeit by no means humbled. The Habsburgs were able to establish the Austro-Hungarian empire as a great power in its own right. England became the leading power in Europe, with its unrivaled navy, its colonial empire, and mastery over the Mediterranean. The Dutch Republic, having gained its barrier against France, ceased punching above its weight and succumbed to apathy.
But that is to view matters in accordance with the outmoded viewpoint of autonomous, absolute sovereignty, in which states are the more perfect the more they absorb power, both inward and outward, the more, in effect, they become laws unto themselves. This viewpoint triumphed in the 19th century and history has been written on its terms. Thus, the War of the Spanish Succession laid the foundations for a balanced order in which the “Big Five” of France, England, Russia, Prussia, and Austria called the tune. It is only in our day that German and hence European history is being rewritten, not in terms of these autonomous power entities, but in terms of the federal, post-feudal structure of integrated authority, of sovereignty under law, exemplified first and foremost in the Holy Roman Empire. (34)
In terms of this viewpoint, the Allied army composed of the various contemporary elements of the Holy Roman Empire, one-time members such as the Dutch Republic and Denmark, plus England and Portugal, Catalonia and Aragon, were fighting not merely to maintain a balance of power between autonomous power entities but to maintain the reality of a supranational order of nations united in terms of a common religion and law, to wit, Christendom. Marlborough and Eugene, like Leibniz, saw in France not merely a country out to establish primacy for itself in Europe, but to establish a different order altogether, the order of “reason of state” (raison d’état) in which narrowly construed interests triumph over considerations of the good of the whole, the “Common Cause” – a phrase which they used repeatedly and habitually. Marlborough in particular could never have held together the coalition of disparate forces over so long a period if he had not believed in more than just English national interests; it was this penchant for subordinating the interest of England to the interest of Christendom which proved his undoing back home. The Tories, ostensibly so zealous for the interests of Christianity – in the form of the established Church of England – by their policy so assiduously undermined the interests of universal Christendom.
The big loser of this war was the Holy Roman Empire itself, which if it had remained intact – and its collapse was by no means a foregone conclusion, despite the prejudices of subsequent historiography – and had been able to build on those institutions, such as the Imperial Circles, (35) which had contributed so greatly, in proportion, to the war effort, would have served as the central locus of Western Christendom, would have dampened the centrifugal energy of Prussia and Austria, and would have helped to avert the “German Catastrophe” (36) of the 20th century. As I have argued in my book A Common Law, Germany was the key to Western Christendom; the fate of the former determined the fate of the latter. Leibniz shared this viewpoint, which is perhaps why he was held at arms’ length by the interest-oriented princes of his day. (37) The War of the Spanish Succession settled the billiard-ball approach to international relations which culminated in the “Century of Warfare.”
And today we have dinned into our ears the solution to this situation: we need to supersede the “nation-state.” In fact, as I have seen it stated in a weblist exchange, it is sovereignty itself which is the problem, and sovereignty which must be eliminated. An entirely predictable, and entirely disingenuous, response. The problem is not sovereignty per se, the problem is which sovereignty.
As Meyer makes clear in his seminal book Leibnitz and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution, (38) the struggle which took place in the late 17th century was a struggle over first principles with regard to religion, law, politics, and culture. The autonomous individual who was being established at the heart of philosophy and law had his correlate in the autonomous power-state, as exemplified first and foremost by France. The concept of absolute sovereignty, in which the sovereign makes the law, was superseding the concept of relative sovereignty, in which the sovereign is under law. The medieval corpus Christianum exemplified relative sovereignty; the most able exposition thereof was Johannes Althusius’ Politica Methodice Digesta, “Politics Methodically Arranged.” (39) The most able expression of the new order was perhaps Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Ever since World War II it has been the studied conviction of “the international community” – the academic and diplomatic denizens inhabiting that shadowy world of international organizations and networks the center of which is the United Nations – that national sovereignty, and its seat the nation-state, must be superseded. Their goal is the establishment of a regime of universal jurisdiction, in which sovereignty has been swallowed up in a global government operating in terms of a universal administrative law. This would eliminate war, but also poverty, because wealth redistribution could then be carried out on a universal basis. But first things first – universal jurisdiction aims to eliminate warfare and in its place establish a universal penal law in which no criminals may hide behind walls of sovereign states.
Is this the kind of regime that Eugene and Marlborough were fighting for? Far from it. The question at stake was not sovereignty or no sovereignty, it was, and is, which kind of sovereignty. Western Christendom presupposed relative sovereignty, in which states recognized and upheld laws answerable to divine principles as summarized in the Decalogue. Absolute sovereignty came along which recognized no higher principle and would only submit to that to which it agreed; the law of nations or common law of Christendom, which at one time served as the guiding light of legislation in all Western states, became transmuted into international law, a law composed of treaty obligations and nothing more. In the modern age, nation-states for the most part have adhered to the principle of reason of state in their dealings, especially with the triumph of Bismarck’s Realpolitik. (40)
An exception to this rule, it must be said, has been – warts and all – the United States. Its Civil War was fought, at least in part, on the basis of idealism, of the desire to rid the country of slavery. Its entry into the two world wars of the 20th century stemmed – again, not entirely, but in part, if not mostly – from the desire to ensure that the world order remained one oriented to freedom rather than despotism. The Cold War was fought to maintain freedom over against Communist despotism. And the latest war, the so-called “War on Terror” – in fact, the war against resurgent militant Islam – is in no less degree a war for freedom, freedom from the rule of Sharia law. That such freedom is in the national interest, and thus serves the interests of the United States, is of course true; but it is no less true that Americans view this ideal as something good for all nations and which should be established for the good of all peoples, not just Americans. The hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans who have shed their blood on foreign battlefields testifies to that.
America, therefore, has a rather healthy image of itself in its role of exercising sovereignty. It feels it has exercised sovereignty for the good not only of its own citizens but for the good of the world order. It therefore does not feel the qualms of guilt, the pangs of conscience, that a country like Germany feels upon looking back upon its own history as a nation-state.
But the “international community” is composed precisely of countless idealists of another sort, who view the wars the world has undergone, as well as the global problems, real or imagined, of poverty, environmental destruction, energy shortage, human rights violations, as problems which can and must be solved by eliminating national sovereignty, in its place establishing the regime of universal jurisdiction.
Most of the countries of the world for one reason or another – either out of guilt or out of greed (for the wealth of other countries), or both – have lined up on the side of universal jurisdiction. But there is, of course, the 800-pound gorilla who has not yet wised up. And that is the United States.
This explains the opposition to the US which is so vociferously voiced at the international level. The US simply stands as a giant roadblock in the way of universal jurisdiction. The American citizenry certainly is in no mood to give in to such pressure from the international community, and the international community, supported by left-leaning academics and politicians, is in no mood to give up its quest.
Enter the “War on Terror.” On the face of it, nothing could be more inimical to the ideals of the international community as currently construed than militant Islam, which despises the very rights and progressive social order the human rights advocates are pushing. Surely the Western intelligentsia would support the effort to rid the world of this virulent strain of repressive regime.
Certainly, opposition to the aims of the Islamists was not lacking; but the method to combat it must needs be agreeable, must needs further the aim of universal jurisdiction. Hence, all authority and all hope was vested in the United Nations, especially with regard to the rogue regime of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. When the UN’s efforts to bring Iraq to heel proved vain, America and its allies took matters into their own hands – to the chagrin, in fact the enragement, of the international community. For this approach, the approach of war, of “taking the law into one’s own hands,” was precisely what the international community had, and has, been trying to supersede.
Thus was resurrected the image of America as the global oppressor. Just as this image had been used by international leftism during the Cold War to defend Communism, it was brushed off and used again by the promoters of the New World Order of universal jurisdiction. Islamicism was not worse – Islamicism was simply a response to American “freedom,” of globalism, multinational corporations, worker exploitation, energy gluttony, and the like. Islamists simply wished to preserve traditional ways of life over against the dreaded almighty dollar. Not to mention the “just cause” of the Palestinians over against those global Shylocks, the Jews in Israel. In fact, the violence of the Jihadists could in fact be harnessed to a greater good, the humbling and supersession of national sovereignty, as represented first and foremost by America.
And so the circle has been completed. The proponents of universal jurisdiction today have stepped into the role of Louis XIV 300 years ago. Just as he did, they now seek a new order, an order superseding one of obsolete restraint, an order answering to new demands and conditions, an order in which the sovereign individual attains a new level of self-realization; most importantly, an order in which they call the tune. The international community of today sees in militant Islam the same hammer to smash its enemy, the US, as Louis did in the Ottomans, a hammer to smash his arch-enemy the House of Habsburg.
But there is another parallel to be drawn: that of conservative opposition to the war effort. Just as the Tories opposed the continental land war because of the opportunities it afforded for the growth of the fiscal/taxation regime and the threat to liberty of a standing army, just so today do conservatives oppose the current War on Terror precisely because of the opportunities of growth it affords the so-called military-industrial complex; the result, win or lose, they say, is Big Government ever more firmly ensconced in power. And the political benefits it provides the House of Bush are just as begrudged as they then were by Protestants with regard to the Catholic, Counter-Reformation-advancing House of Habsburg.
This, then, is what we are up against: as the Dutch say, a monsterverbond, an “unnatural alliance” of internationalists, mainly left-wing, and Islamists, mainly prehistoric. Both seek a New World Order, one under a regime of human-rights-inspired enlightenment, one under a Sharia-inspired Caliphate. They both have a common enemy: the order of sovereign nations, each responsible inwardly for its own law, jointly responsible for maintaining a shared order amongst themselves. And we have a conservative opposition standing in the way of direct dealing with these threats. In the 18th century, the Turks were put away once and for all by Eugene, but Louis was able to stamp his image on Europe, an image which lives to this day. In our day we face a different challenge. First, to see off the threat of Islamofascism; second, to see off the threat of universal jurisdiction. And then, perhaps, in the Providence of God we may begin to restore Humpty-Dumpty Christendom, which sat on a wall, and had a great fall.
10. Frischauer, pp. 49-50. My main sources for the life of Eugene are this work (which, although accurate in terms of historically verifiable material, also includes much unsubstantiated gossip), along with Derek McKay, Prince Eugene of Savoy (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1977), and Max Braubach, Prinz Eugen von Savoyen: Eine Biographie, 5 volumes (Munich: R. Oldenbourgh Verlag, 1962-1965).
34. The German historian Georg Schmidt has lately coined the phrase “complementary imperial system” to describe the multifaceted reality of the Holy Roman Empire – see his Geschichte des Alten Reiches: Staat und Nation in der Frühen Neuzeit 1495-1806 (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1999). Indeed, the various levels of collective responsibility from local to regional to national, along with the range of power centers from infinitesimally small to overweening large (Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, etc.) made of the Empire a system of complementary (and, of course, contradictory) loci of public power.
39. Johannes Althusius, Politica: An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples, ed. and trans. Frederick S. Carney, Foreword by Daniel J. Elazar (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995).
40. For details on this see my upcoming biography of the Prussian Christian statesman Friedrich Julius Stahl.