Monday, December 05, 2005

Habsburg legacy of leadership and service

If you read the previous posts about Vienna, you know that I'm a huge fan and believe Vienna is one of the greatest cities in Europe. However, experiences like this tend to linger in my mind for a while until other implications surface. Over the last 24 hours I've begun to reflect on the legacy of leadership and service left by 600 years of monarchy, one of the longest periods of dynasty in 2000 post-A.D. years. Before you read further, I want to note that I do not stand in judgment. We are all products of our own time and context. The thing that strikes me and calls me to offer a "note to self" at the beginning of this entry is the realization that we have a legacy, whether intended or not. And the note to self is to be sure that what I stand for is unequivocal and consistent so that, should anyone care, there is little room to question my intent.

The Habsburg family left an incredible city and other cities and palaces throughout Europe. In fact, one of the sets of porcelain on exhibit at the Hofburg was a special set with pictures of all the palaces and castles in the family name at the time the dishes were made. The art, architecture, music, and culture supported by the Habsberg family was monumental. Much of the art so highly valued today would never have been completed had it not been for the sponsorship of the family. Christianity has a great deal it owes to the Habsburgs. During the reign of the family, the Turkish empire extended into Eastern Europe and twice encroached upon Austria, only to be repelled in subsequent battles. The adventure of the protection of Christianity in fact was dramatized by ladies at court who road in their fine carriages in the Spanish riding school, pretending to fight battles with the "Turks" in the arena. Incidentally, the pattern of their drama and the carriages in which they road became known as the carousel, from which the notion of the modern carousels in amusement parks is derived. The Habsbergs were a benevolent monarchy for the most part. They even melted down their house gold and silver when the financial burden of wars required liquidation of ready assets to fund the cost. However, at what cost, to whom, and for what purpose? This is where my reflections turn...

The Habsburgs did incredible things to create a cultured and advancing Europe. But their privilege was always the first and foremost being protected. War - whose war? Was it war for the people or war to protect the ruling prerogative of the Habsburg family? So what that they melted down the family jewels and serving pieces; they still were able to replace them with expensive porcelain to maintain a style of life they believed they were justified in living. In another example, the Habsburg family selected 12 (reflecting the apostles) random subjects for a foot washing ceremony each year. Subjects could apply from any walk of life and any place in the empire. Once selected, the subjects were brought to the palace, scrubbed and cleaned and outfitted with new clothing to come to court where the Emperor and Empress washed their feet in fine porcelain basins with water poured from huge golden urns. A very noble and symbolic act but, rest assured, the feet were clean before the Habsburg family would have anything to do with touch.

These are interesting symbols or a legacy. The tour guides and the information at the palace were very forthright in portraying these things. It's just the script between the lines that causes me to pause and reflect on questions of leadership and service. I am sure that the piety of the Habsburg family was great and that they believed they were serving others by waging war and washing feet. But...

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