Monday, 8 October 2012
New books: Royal anti-Nazis
According to the author’s foreword, it “is actually two books in one, each dependent on the other”. The first half deals with the rise of Nazism in Germany; the second is mostly four case studies of royal anti-Nazis. It seems quite obvious that the result would have been much more interesting and readable if the two parts had been worked into an entity where the two things were seen in relation to each other.
The author admits that he “came to the subject of the lead up to the Second World War with little prior knowledge”. While this may seems very surprising for a historian, it makes one realise why the first half of the book is taken up with what seems to be the author’s attempt to explain to himself what Nazism, eugenics, Social Darwinism et al was and how Nazi Germany and World War II came about.
The second part looks at the wartime stories of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, ex-Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, Prince Hubertus of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg and ex-Crown Prince Otto of Austria-Hungary and his Hohenberg cousins, before adding a chapter summarising what other royals did during the war.
As much as a book about royal resistance to Nazism this is a book about various ideas about monarchical restoration in Germany and Austria-Hungary, and indeed it seems to be the author’s idea that Nazism and World War II would not have happened if the monarchies had been restored in these countries.
The author seems to believe that those belonging to royal families are somehow bound to be good men (there is also an uncomfortable religious overtone which even leads Millard to pronounce god’s blessing over one of his subjects). “Princes are the products of, and are and [sic] susceptible to, the influences of their age like anyone else, but in some ways their position and upbringing equips them [with the ability] to see over the fence and consider what they are witnessing with a little more clarity, perspective and dispassion than most other people”. If this is true, one wonders how so many monarchies have nevertheless destroyed themselves? “Such men are born leaders”, Millard assures us, “brought up to serve their countries and, if denied their destiny, it naturally becomes their perceived duty to serve all humanity”. This is a gross generalisation and it would be easy to point out counter-examples.
Millard stares himself blind on monarchies, even claiming that “[t]he German resistance movement did not and could not exist in any cohesive form without the unifying element of monarchy represented by the modern, Left-leaning Prince Louis Ferdinand, who was preferred future head of state following the fall of Hitler and his regime”. He assures the readers that “[m]onarchy was a potential defence against Hitler before the war [and(?)] became a focus of national unity and identity for exiles and anti-Nazis in Europe during the conflict”. These are widely exaggerated ideas; to the best of my knowledge the restoration of the Hohenzollerns was never a central aim for the German anti-Nazi movement, nor was this movement dependent on the deposed dynasties for to be able to exist.
“Their quiet defiance must have played its part in undermining the pretended authority of the dictator”, the author likes to think. He goes on to list several reasons why Hitler would never have come to power if Germany had been a monarchy, including that Prince Louis Ferdinand would not have been personally inclined to appoint him chancellor and that Hitler could not have opposed or reversed the will of the people. But Millard fails to take into account that Nazism had massive popular support in Germany and that Hitler was democratically elected.
Concerning Austria, we learn that “[r]estoration of the monarchy, there also, promised national integrity and moderate government safe from the Nazi menace”. However, the author fails to make any convincing argument for why an Austrian monarchy would have prevented the Anschluss that the Austrian republic did not manage to prevent. “There could have been no takeover of Austria without a fight and a real risk of international condemnation and foreign involvement”, we learn, without the author explaining why the Austrians themselves, who generally welcomed the German takeover, and the world, who did nothing in response to it, would have reacted differently if Austria had been a monarchy rather than a republic. Indeed this seems to be little but fanciful fantasies and wishful thinking by the author.
“Democracy is not automatically representative and what is representative is not always democratic”, the author explains, “but sensibly there was general agreement among the princes featured in this book – and there is agreement among their heirs [!] – that democracy should be the principal element of government[,] guided, assisted and defended by other constitutional elements, such as the hereditary principle and the rule of law as enshrined constitutionally”.
But how does he imagine that individuals such an Emperor Otto or Emperor Louis Ferdinand would have managed to stop a mass movement like Nazism? And how is this fundamental democratic spirit reconcilable with the idea that Louis Ferdinand would have refused to appoint the winner of democratic elections chancellor? And what about Italy, one may ask? The existence of a monarchy did not exactly prevent the rise of Mussolini.
To make things worse, the book is not well written. Sometimes the author jumps back and forth in time in a way that makes it almost impossible to follow events, for instance making it seem as though King Carol II of Romania was deposed twice and leaving one wondering where Prince Napoléon had been before “his return to Switzerland”.
There are many and long quotes in this book, indeed it seems sometimes to consist of little but quotes, which gives the impression that the author does not feel confident enough to stand on his own feet. Not all of the quotes are very relevant or well-chosen. For instance, most of what he has to say about the British royal family during World War II deals with the relationship between King George VI and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt until 1941. Having said that King George wanted to be present during D Day, the author suddenly quotes a long and seemingly random passage from an article in a 2011 issue of Time magazine about the royal visit to the USA in 1939, all of it information which could have found many other places. The passage about Britain’s royal family suddenly ends with an unexpected list of some random royals from various countries and various ages who were awarded the Garter, which the author imagines “was a sign of diplomatic if not military alliance from its inception when applied to foreign heads of state”.
“There will, no doubt, be errors (all mine), but hopefully none of substance”, the author writes in the foreword, before going on to tell us that Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was married to her son-in-law Prince Bernhard, that King Haakon VII of Norway was the brother of his adversary King Gustaf V of Sweden, that Sovereign Prince Louis II of Monaco was the father of his grandson “Rainer” (indeed names tend to be misspelt throughout) and so on. When Marshal Antonescu shows disrespect towards “his sovereign”, King Mihai of Romania, he has suddenly become the “dictator of Hungary”.
One also wonders about the author’s choice of sources. There are two German books, one Czech book and a German book about the Hohenbergs listed in the bibliography; everything else is in English. The author says in the foreword that he has “used a lot of English and American sources because this book is aimed primarily at an English-speaking audience”. But surely that is no reason to leave out the relevant literature from other countries and I can hardly imagine that English-speaking readers would find any reason to object to the use of relevant sources even if originally written in a foreign language. Was there for instance nothing of interest or relevance about ex-Crown Prince Rupprecht to find in Dieter J. Weiß’s monumental political biography from 2007, so that the author had to try to piece together his story from what little has been written about him in English?
The overall impression is of a book written by an author whose insufficient knowledge of Nazi Germany and World War II coupled with his blind faith in monarchy make him fail to see the things he write about in their proper context and grossly exaggerate the importance of his subjects. As it is this book might as well not have been published.