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trust her. Herself the finest product of the age, she shared with most of the best far-seeing men the compromising spirit which would have moved slowly towards the dangerous shift of the social framework, cautiously working towards free institutions, while still holding to the gospel of benevolent autocracy.
On the other hand, the third co-regent, Joseph, young, very hard-working, ambitious, and conscious of his ability to play a great part, was prepared for an immediate series of changes in the foundations both of Church and State in the direction of the currents of thought which were moving all Europe. He was not willing to wait. Conscious of the honesty of his intentions, he was prepared, as autocrats so often are, to sweep away all that opposed his path rather than negotiate or compromise with what might appear to him to be a discontented minority, placed by God in his obedience.
Foreign affairs soon suffered from the uncertainty of the co-regency. When the weakness of Poland gave Russia and Prussia the opportunity of enriching themselves at her expense, they refusing to allow her to reform herself, and she looking to help from France and Austria, Kaunitz formed plans for an alliance between Prussia, Austria and Turkey at the expense of Poland, to exclude Russia. Joseph was willing to join Prussia and Russia in the shameful theft, while Maria Theresa, to her honour quite unequal to the situation, would leave Poniatowsky and his Diet to Russia and Prussia. Austria was suffering from bad harvests, pestilence and want of money, and most unwilling for war. The Partition of 1772 takes place. Maria Theresa writes to Joseph, “We have wished to act à la Prussienne and at the same time to keep up an appearance of honesty.” But the foreign relations of the Austrian Empire, important as they are, are a very small item in the difficulties which attended the reign of Joseph II.
Austria had, after the Thirty Years' War, remained a mediæval autocracy. The Emperor had driven the Turks out of Hungary, and had taken away the privileges of the Tyrolese. In 1714 the Belgian and Italian provinces of the Spanish empire had fallen to the Austrian emperor. But the Empire was subject to the weak point of all absolute authority, the necessity, where the money for such use of force was raised by taxation of the peasantry, to grant privileges to the exempt class by whose aid it was obtained. The Emperor was dependent on the great nobles who were exempt from taxes and had jurisdiction in the provincial estates of semi-independence, and feudal rights over the peasants and the serfs. In all these things the Church, controlling education and confining thought, stood with the nobles. All non-Catholic views were crushed. The issue now came to be settled how far it was possible to combine with this aristocratic privilege any measures of reform.
Whether in respect of abuses in the Church or State, Maria Theresa had shown the moderation of view and will to compromise which was the only weapon in the hand of the absolute ruler against the tide of opposition to authority. She had sympathy with many of the hopes of the reformers, but she had the knowledge of the past, and, if I may say so, the commonsense which made her move cautiously in the path of change. Joseph had none of this. He set out without delay and without reserve to reform the existing conditions in Church and in State by his own power without consideration for the past, without thought for the consequences to himself. So far he was only in agreement with other young rulers of his day. Taine, giving pages of examples set by Louis XVI. and some of his nobles of generous action in the reforming spirit, says of him, “ The king remembers that he has restored civil rights to the Protestants, abolished preliminary torture, suppressed the corvée in kind, established the free circulation of grains, instituted provincial assemblies, built up the marine, assisted the Americans, emancipated his own serfs, diminished the expenses of his household, employed Malesherbes, Turgot and Necker, given full play to the press, and listened to public opinion.” We all know the result.
We all know the result. Gifts such as these count for nothing; only the liberty which springs from obedience to law made by the people themselves can stand when an attempt is made by the well-meaning ruler to overturn established conditions by theories not resting on custom but on individual opinion of right.
Contrast for a moment the surroundings of the two men, Louis and Joseph, on their accession. The territory which Louis was called on to rule was a closely compacted territory in Europe, occupied by a homogeneous nation, with a long past of united glories, a territory confined by natural geographical limits and threatened by no neighbour, as well as great colonial possessions, all defended by land and sea forces, well drilled and efficient, and eager in 1778 to take revenge for the disasters of the Seven Years' War. Joseph had apparently the much harder task of remodelling a scattered empire of various races, speaking some ten languages, having different religions and bodies of custom, widely separated with boundaries not strategic but dynastic, and bound by no tie of past history to loyalty to the whole. Both had, at the outset, very able ministers, Turgot and Kaunitz, by whose good advice they might profit. Both men were moved by the same desire, to benefit those over whom they ruled, and to redress the grievances which lay upon their peoples; both were subject to the same trend of European thought, the general movement towards the simplicity of government by concentration of power at the centre, at the expense of local privileges which told for inequality, and by uniformity for the same purpose of law and social status. They both failed, but it is not fair to lay on them the blame for what was almost impossible. Except for an occasional genius who had a political second sight, no one seemed to have gauged the insensate violence of the social movement, that, while they attempted to bow men to their authority, all authority had, for the moment, disappeared. Joseph is often blamed because he rushed too fast. It was not that he moved too fast for events, but that they moved too fast for thein decisive, disjointed waverings of autocratic authority.
There were some striking differences between the evil and good to which the two men succeeded. Louis came to an inheritance which had been bankrupt in reality since the days of Louis XIV. He, under whom the Crown had attained absolute sovereignty, at least had recognized that rights implied duties and in many respects gave good value for his power. He would not have achieved it if his rule had not been, in the first instance, far better than that of the local noble. But Louis XV. not only gave no return to the people for the liberty wrested from them but he added moral to the material bankruptcy of the state. He not only, by worthless extrava
gance, added millions to the indebtedness of the Crown, but he frittered away authority by irritating attacks on existing institutions, and by his own personal life destroyed the moral prestige of the kingship and ruined the morals of the nation.
Joseph, on the other hand, succeeded a sovereign of the very highest standard of morals, who had carefully nursed throughout her reign the resources of the nation, had increased the revenues and introduced economy and better methods of collection into the financial system, abolishing unnecessary exemptions, and providing for the prompt payment of the army. Kaunitz, her minister, had in his schemes for taxation considered, as far as possible, equality of the burden, economy of collection, and the relation of taxes to the needs of the State, matters very necessary to be considered in an autocratic monarchy where the means had to be found from fixed exactions and not by popular contribution. Maria Theresa had also made sensible and cautious advances towards the reforms which were now becoming needful, though still holding strongly to the autocratic rule of the sovereign who was to work for the State,
At the time of Joseph's accession the religious difficulty was in the foreground. Maria Theresa, working leisurely, had carried out considerable reforms in the Church, especially in respect of the monasteries. She had suppressed the Inquisition at Milan, had abolished torture to obtain confessions, had suppressed the society of Jesuits, who stood for papal autocracy, had regulated death-bed legacies to the Church, and had lessened the number of monasteries and convents and controlled the admission of their members. But she made haste slowly, and did not identify herself with the Jansenists, who represented the philosophy of reason and resistance to the authority of the Church which was over-running Europe. A thorough reform of education took place on the suppression of the Jesuits.
Joseph inherited from his mother strong views on religious liberty. After her death in 1779 he made many reforms in the Church which weakened the authority of the Popes, carrying some of the bishops with him in his claims of supremacy against Rome, allowing by an Edict of Toleration in 1781 free exercise of worship, citizenship and education to the nonCatholics, dissolving a great number of the monasteries, and giving liberty to the Jews. He reorganized bishoprics and parishes, forbade pilgrimages, and simplified the Church offices and ritual. Marriage was made a civil contract. In very many ways, obsessed by the doctrines of the physiocrats, he anticipated the extremists of the French Revolution. Whether any ruler can safely remake the outward and visible signs of man's spiritual being must always, apart from the circumstances of the time, depend upon the character of the despot, his power to carry his people with him and to conciliate the immense interests opposed to change. It is one of the chief difficulties of democratic movements that those possessed of privilege, luxury, comfort or even a surplus of possessions beyond daily want are absolutely opposed to change except by revolution. Joseph would not appear to have possessed those exceptional qualities necessary for wholesale reform by order of authority.
Maria Theresa, full of sympathy with her oppressed people, had gradually and slowly done all possible to alleviate their condition and abridge the privileges of the nobles. But her position in face of the power and unscrupulousness of her neighbour Frederick was too insecure to admit of any radical change that would offend the great nobles, on whom the collection of the revenue rested. The movement towards central authority had begun in 1758 by the establishment of a great council on much the same lines as that set up later by Florida Blanca in Spain. But, like the earlier French kings, the Austrian Emperor had hitherto governed through the great nobles and the Church in the provinces. Each province had its own semi-independent assembly of nobles and clergy, who, with the Emperor, imposed taxes and administered laws to the rest of the population. These, except in Austria itself, the Tyrol and the Netherlands, were serfs. The Netherlands, Lombardy and Swabia, were entirely separate from and without communication with the main body of the Empire.
The attempt to assert the imperial authority against the nobles in Bohemia and Moravia brought about a rising of the peasants against their lords, which made the position of the imperial reformers much more difficult. It was not easy to construct an impartial tribunal to protect the peasants, as the Empress and her son were faced by the determined opposition of all the nobility. A settlement was made, by which the