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From a Multiethnic Empire to a World of Nation States

Our journal, Review of Democracy, the Research Center for the History of Transformations (RECET), the Institute of Culture Studies and Theatre History at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW/IKT) and the Department of European, International and Comparative Law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Vienna organized a book discussion in Vienna on Central Europe's function as a laboratory of our current world order.

Natasha Wheatley's bold and fascinating new book The Life and Death of States: Central Europe and the Transformation of Modern Sovereignty (Princeton University Press, 2023) rediscovers the multinational Habsburg polity as a hothouse for ideas that still shape our understanding of the sovereign state. Mapping the history of nesting nationalities in an intricate dynastic empire, the book explains how a regime of self-contained nation-states theoretically equal under international law emerged from the ashes of the Habsburg polity. Wheatley sheds rich light on how the Habsburg Monarchy was turned inside out, how its constitutional and legal arrangements were mapped onto the globe after its demise. Apart from tracing the Empire's afterlife up to the decolonization movements of the twentieth century, Wheatley offers riveting insights on the chronopolitics of sovereignty: In the context of the Habsburg polity, Central European jurists pioneered the crucial legal fiction of the supposed immortality of states, their capacity to hibernate and to re-emerge for a fresh lease of life.

The discussion featured Natasha Wheatley, Assistant Professor at Princeton University; Peter Becker, Professor at the University of Vienna; Franz L. Fillafer, Historian at the Austrian Academy of Sciences; Eva-Maria Muschik, Assistant Professor at the University of Vienna; Renata Uitz, our Co-director and Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at the CEU Department of Legal Studies, and was moderated by Jannis Panagiotidis, Scientific Director of RECET.

Watch the recording:

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