Law, Time, and Sovereignty in Central Europe: Imperial Constitutions, Historical Rights, and the Afterlives of Empire

Natasha Grace Wheatley
This dissertation is a study of the codification of empire and its unexpected consequences. It returns to the constitutional history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire — a subject whose heyday had passed by the late 1920s — to offer a new history of sovereignty in Central Europe. It argues that the imperatives of imperial constitutionalism spurred the creation a rich jurisprudence on the death, birth, and survival of states; and that this jurisprudence, in turn, outlived the imperial context of its
more » ... rial context of its formation and shaped the "new international order" in interwar Central Europe. "Law, Time, and Sovereignty" documents how contemporaries "thought themselves through" the transition from a dynastic Europe of two-bodied emperor-kings to the world of the League of Nations. The project of writing an imperial constitution, triggered by the revolutions of 1848, forced jurists, politicians and others to articulate the genesis, logic, and evolution of imperial rule, generating in the process a bank or archive of imperial self-knowledge. Searching for the right language to describe imperial sovereignty entailed the creative translation of the structures and relationships of medieval composite monarchy into the conceptual molds of nineteenth-century legal thought. While the empire's constituent principalities (especially Hungary and Bohemia) theoretically possessed autonomy, centuries of slow centralization from Vienna had rendered that legal independence immaterial. Seeking conceptual means to manage the paradox of states that existed in law but not in fact, legal scholars and regional claim-makers alike cultivated a language of "historical rights" to serve as a placeholder for the suspended sovereignty of these sleeping states, swallowed up but not dissolved in the python of empire. Remarkably, "historical rights" became a kind of Trojan horse that smuggled the specter of international law into the internal workings of imperial constitutional law: the line between the two orders grew porous long before the formal sovereign r [...]
doi:10.7916/d8mc8zwp fatcat:wi6lt4hrqzdgjnkjdvkgfadkda