This paper attempts to explore the identity politics component of two völkisch novels from the 1920s that grapple with the question of the identity of Germans from the old Austrian empire. The two authors, Bruno Brehm and Emil Lucka, were popular prose writers of the interwar period who partook of the general questioning, criticism and rethinking of the 19th century ideologies that occurred after the Great War. Their work — from the vantage point of the history of ideologies — may be interpreted as embedded in the language game of the German conservative revolution, especially in the currents that emphasized the permanent and essential characteristics associated with belonging to an ethnic group and the ethical consequences for individuals of this belonging. For this reason, this paper first briefly introduces post-1918 German völkisch ideology and proceeds to interpret the identity politics of the novels by making use of the key concepts of this strand of “young conservative” [jungkonservativ] thought. The key concept for interpreting the ambiguous experience of “being Austrian”, i.e., belonging to the greater community of Germans, yet having had to suffer through centuries of living in a separate state became that of the borderland [Grenzland], a complex notion that dialectically united the experiences of heroically struggling to “remain German,” while being threatened with loss of ethnic character through exposure to cosmopolitanism or assimilation. By showing how the discourse of Grenzland structures the narratives, the paper seeks to provide a reminder that the discourses of identity in early 20th century Austria were more complex than is often remembered: alongside late modernity, as represented and reflected by authors like Robert Musil and Elias Canetti, a different, more popular and more political trend also existed, which narrated the break-up of the Dual Monarchy and its aftermath in the context of the threatened existence of the Germans of the borderland.
In the 1930s in Hungary, the periodical
Magyar Szemle (Hungarian Review)
ranked as the foremost intellectual review of conservative thinking. Edited by the pro-establishment historian Gyula Szekfű, the journal provided important intellectual ammunition to the traditionalists of the right, in other words those who for various reasons sought to hold on to István Bethlen’s version of moderate conservatism in ideology and a parliamentary system of limited pluralism and authoritarian checks in practice. The 1930s, however, bore witness to several challenges to the Horthy regime. The rise of the extreme right and the emancipatory (though often also fervently nationalist) program of the so-called
) writers presented coherent political alternatives to the prevailing order for the first time since the marginalization and emaciation of the left in the wake of the 1918–19 revolutions. Simultaneously, the country had to grapple with the emergence of Nazi Germany as an expansionist great power in the region. In this complicated situation, authors of
confronted what they perceived as a dual threat: the increasing appeal of German imperialism and German political and historical thinking. Many intellectuals of the time, feeling that the German political challenge should be resisted through the adoption and adaptation of innovative German thinking on politics and history, espoused the new ideologies emanating from the unquestioned cultural center of Central Europe in some form.
, however, emerged as a hub for public intellectuals who sought to hold on to a conservatism both more traditional and more open to some of the ideas of liberalism and who refused to abandon the established view of Hungarian history for a more ethnically conscious vision of the past. In the context of the dual German challenge of the 1930s,
represented a site of intellectual resistance not so much against direct German political ambitions but against the new wave of German political thought and interpretations of history.