If Franz Ferdinand had lived

How to rationalize this Tower of Babel was Franz Ferdinand’s great preoccupation. The Hapsburgs had many cards to play and there was no sense in 1914 that their empire was reaching its end. Indeed, it was not until 1918 that the Allies decided the empire would be broken up. It was only the war’s years of grinding attrition that so radicalized all the combatants that any weapon — even the unleashing of chaotic minor nationalisms — seemed worth using.

There were many possibilities before 1914. One ingenious proposal was for a United States of Austria, which would have carved the empire into a series of federal language-based states, including small urban enclaves to protect (but also isolate) German speakers. This could have been achieved only by the destruction of Magyar imperialism, but Franz Ferdinand at different points seems to have seen this as worth risking. The archduke also toyed with universal suffrage, knowing that the threat alone might keep the Magyar and German minorities in line.

We will never know if such schemes might have worked. But these are ghosts that have haunted Europe ever since — possibilities whose disappearance unleashed evils inconceivable in the stuffy, hypocritical, but relatively decent and orderly world of the Hapsburg empire.