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Little Known Capsule of History Demonstrates Need for Healthy Opposition in a Democracy

M E R I D I A N M A G A Z I N E

By G.G. VandagriffVienna, 1933
One of the reasons I wanted to write The Last Waltz after I studied in Austria was to tell the little known story of the demise of democracy in that country that ultimately led to an almost schizophrenic rush into the arms of Fascism. It is a cautionary tale for these days when opposition is so bitter in the United States, and when one party has almost all the power.
The Divine Right of Kings

Before one can understand why democracy failed in the former seat of the Hapsburg Empire, one must understand that for Europeans, the divine right of kings was a very real thing. This one belief—that the King was appointed by God—carried down into the very dregs of society. It reinforced the class system. Not only was the King appointed by God, but all classes in society were thought to be predetermined by God.

Never having experienced the feudal system, this is a very hard concept for Americans to understand. Our democracy was founded out of whole cloth, not out of Imperial remnants. It was the custom in Europe to look to one strong central leader for protection, prosperity, and order.
Democracy Comes To Austria

Many people do not even realize Austria was a democracy in the inter-war period until the fateful year, 1933, the same year Hitler was voted Chancellor of Germany. Austria had three political parties. One, the Social Democrats, was committed to revolution such as had occurred in the Soviet Union. They had their own army, the Schutzbund. The second party was the Christian Democrats—committed to democracy, and trying to hang on to a narrow majority in the Reichsrat. They also had an army—the Heimwehr. The third party was the National Socialists, otherwise known as the Nazis. They had their army, as well—what later became known as the SS.

At that point, in 1933 there was a threat of a strike by the workers. The Christian Democratic Party was teetering. It was a toss up who would be the leading party in the country. Because of their history, the politicians didn't understand that at that point, the Nazis and the Socialists could have neutralized each other. But, a strong central government to dictate policy and drive the Nazis and Socialists out of the running was the only course entertained by the Christian Democrats. It was bred into their bones from generations of monarchies. So, Dolfuss, the Chancellor made his fatal mistake and dismissed the Reichsrat, putting an end to representative government and all hope for democracy. This alienated him from the Western Powers who might have championed a democratic Austria. During the next five years, the Socialists and Nazis were driven underground and violence and the occasional Civil War ruled the country as one illegal army after another fought the government army, the Heimwehr. Finally, seeing the unpopularity of the Austrian Dictator and the disarray of the country, its citizens began to long increasingly for the order and purpose brought about in Germany by Hitler, a far more powerful and visionary leader than their own. When Hitler walked into Austria, he executed his opposition and was welcomed by the majority.
What is the lesson America can learn?

First, that the two-party system we have must remain vital. We must always have an opposition to check the excesses of what could become a dangerously out- of- balance government. If one party controls the executive, legislative, and judicial branch, we are dangerously close to a dictatorship.

Second, the danger of the "cult of personality," is very great when one party has most of the control. Minorities are persecuted. We have seen this happen to some of our own faith. Currently, we live in a dictatorship of "political correctness." Some call it Liberal Fascism.

Denying the rights of minorities is the first step towards persecution. Have we come through 150 years of attempting to integrate our country's minorities, only to bend over backwards to enforce only one idea of tolerance?

It is vital that we unite under our banner of liberty and ensure that this country does not become so involved in "entitlements" that it tries to enforce the will of those in power by undemocratic means. We must not lose faith in the importance of the "loyal opposition."

Remember the words "great God our King," that we sing, though less and less frequently. Through the democratic process, we must try in every way to ensure the rights of everyone, including the scorned religious Americans who are coming under increasing fire. If we surrender to hate, fear, or indifference, we are lost. We need our God now, more than ever.
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