The Emperor Joseph II

Sir Nicholas Henderson on a misunderstood Enlightenment ruler.

In a recent article (The Spectator, December 17th, 1954) Mr. Isaiah Berlin ranged the Emperor Joseph II alongside Robespierre and Lenin. He described him as one of the 'obsessed' of modern history, as a supreme example of a reformer states- man who had failed to translate his ideas into reality, and succeeded only in upsetting everything. Professor Temperley expressed a similar view, describing Joseph II as 'one of the most tragic failures of history.' Joseph was certainly obsessed and tragic. But was he really such a failure if we judge him, not by the disrupted state of the Habsburg monarchy at his death in 1790, nor by the difference between what he attempted and what he achieved, but by the long-term influence of his personality and reforms on the Austrian lands, even down to the present day?

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