Son of Austria's Karl I, on Limits to Power

Interview With Archduke Otto von Habsburg

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BONN, Germany, APRIL 26, 2004 ( In late 2003 the Congregation for Sainthood Causes recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Karl I, emperor of Austria, the essential step in his process of beatification.

Proclaimed emperor in 1916, Karl I abdicated in November 1918, following the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He went into exile to the Portuguese island of Madeira, where he died in 1922 at age 34.

ZENIT interviewed one of his sons, the Archduke Otto von Habsburg, president of the International Pan-European Union, who described the Christian convictions that ruled the emperor’s political action.

Q: In your judgment, what was the emperor’s most outstanding religious feature?

Von Habsburg: The most remarkable religious gesture of my father was that he was almost the only head of state of the First World War who really struggled for peace because of his Christian conscience, and who worked from afar but very close to the Pope, to obtain peace in the context of the Christian spirit.

Q: From his outlook of faith, how did your father live the political circumstances that he had to face during his mandate?

Von Habsburg: My father had his interpretation, which was different from other false ones that invoke the divine right.

The divine right in politics was expressed in Christ’s response to Pontius Pilate, when he said to him that he had no more power than that granted to him from above.

For my father, this meant that the task of the sovereign is not to think that power lies in his person, but that power is a supreme responsibility to do all that is possible in cooperation with the divine will and the spirit of our religion. There has been much debate on this topic, but it is not justified.

The divine right is the strongest limitation, in order that power not become tyranny or transgress its limits. For this reason, it is indispensable that the European Constitution now being elaborated recognize the divine law.

It is imperative that Europe recognize God in public life. This is one of the great tragedies of our Europe, in which the defense of God in the past has been championed especially by the Muslim nations.

They are the ones who demanded in the conference of San Francisco that God be mentioned in their sessions. At that time, the motion of six Muslim states was rejected by all the votes with the exception of 11 — six Muslims and five Ibero-Americans, who defended it.

The European states of that period [1945] were not present at San Francisco, because only those that had been Allies during the [Second World] war had been convoked.

Q: What do you consider your father’s most important political lesson?

Von Habsburg: Surely, the most important lesson is the one I just mentioned: that it is necessary to recognize a limitation to power.

Neither a monarch, nor a dictator, nor an absolute majority give the right to violate the inalienable rights that man possesses because of his creation in the image of the Creator.

In this connection, what has been said can be a lesson for those political men who move away from this idea and think they are justified by a majority to permit them to abuse men’s rights.

Q: What would you highlight about your father in the family setting?

Von Habsburg: In the family, my father was an example to all.

Q: You saw your father die on the Island of Madeira. What memories do you have of that moment?

Von Habsburg: I, who had the possibility to be present at his death, know how a Christian should die. This is the lesson he wished to give me, and it is a lesson I will never forget.

Q: What vision did your father have of the European union?

Von Habsburg: Of course, at the time my father lived, the question of a united Europe was not yet conceived. It was, above all, in the region of the Danube where my father did everything possible to propose a federal solution. Given the circumstances and in the world context at that time, it was an indispensable issue.

Just after the Austro-Hungarian question, the young Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi began to talk of a pan-Europe. I am absolutely certain that if my father had lived at the time prior to the Second World War, he would have been one of the most outspoken protagonists of the idea of a united Europe.

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