Prime Minister versus Parliament

We currently have a Prime Minister openly at war with most of his Parliament, a situation without precedent in modern British politics.

For parallels we need to look abroad, and I’ve recently been reading about Austria in 1916, when the Prime Minister, Count von Stürgkh declared a state of emergency in order to divest the parliament of its power.

Physicist and logician (and Social Democrat politician and friend of Albert Einstein) Friedrich Adler (1879-1960) was convinced that this was the beginning of an absolutist rule that could not be combated by legal means, and therefore decided on drastic action.

Friedrich Adler

Count von Stürgkh ate lunch every day at the celebrated restaurant Meissl und Shadn, so on October 21, 1916, Adler went there, chose a nearby table, ordered a three-course meal and waited. He ate and paid his bill. Unfortunately, there was a lady at a nearby table, and in deference to her feelings he waited for her departure before taking action. He rose, drew his gun, walked to the Prime Minister’s table, and shot him several times in the head.

How the Viennese press reported the assassination

Adler then handed over his gun and waited for the police. When the police officer asked him why he had shot the count, he replied that it was none of the officer’s business.

He insisted to the prosecutor that he was not of unsound mind. To prove that he was in full possession of his mental faculties, Adler used his time in prison awaiting trial to write a learned book on the physicist/philosopher Ernst Mach. Meanwhile his father struggled to save him from the death penalty by attempting to prove that he was non compos mentis.

Adler’s argument at his trial was that he had had to commit the assassination, because it was the only way to get publicity for his political views. Censorship in Vienna was strict, but a sensational trial would be reported. He carefully expounded his reasons for opposition to Count von Stürgkh.

Throughout the trial, Adler had assumed that the death sentence was inevitable.

The sentence of death by hanging was pronounced, but the new Emperor commuted it to eighteen years in prison.

In late 1918 Emperor Karl ordered the release of Adler, as a gesture to the Social Democrats. During the inter-war years he became a prominent politician, but left Austria around the time of the Anschluss.

The above is a summary of the story as told in a very readable and enjoyable book: Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science by Karl Sigmund. This tells the story of the development of logical positivism among the scientists and logicians of Vienna in the age of Einstein. The book is full of good anecdotes, and taught me a lot about the philosophical background from which Wittgenstein emerged. Strongly recommended.

By the way, in this volatile age of internet provocations, I should make it completely clear that I do not offer the story of Adler’s response to Count von Stürgkh as something to be emulated, particularly as I rather like our current Prime Minister. He is an engaging character, boundingly energetic and interesting,whose journalism I can generally read with enjoyment. The only trouble is that he seems to be a complete chancer, and entirely without principles.

4 Comments

  1. Bob
    Posted October 7, 2019 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    While I’m puzzled, George, by your fondness for Johnson, whom you describe in unflattering terms that match my impression of him, I’m fully persuaded by your recommendation to buy and enjoy this book, whose Amazon sample is irresistibly enticing. Thanks for posting about it.
    Bob

  2. meshtheatreco
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    So prescient – thanks

    Sally Woodcock MESH Theatre Co. Tel: +44 (0) 7817707517 Email: info@meshtheatre.com http://www.meshtheatre.com

    >

    • Roger Allen
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      ” He is an engaging character, boundingly energetic and interesting,whose journalism I can generally read with enjoyment. The only trouble is that he seems to be a complete chancer, and entirely without principles.”
      The last PM that that all of that could be said of was David Lloyd George and for all his intelligence and ability his career ended in disaster.

      The frightening thing about Johnson is that he likes destruction for its own sake. Beginning with his schooldays; “Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies . . . Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility… I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”, through the restaurant-wrecking Bullingdon Club, to Brussels: “sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England as everything I wrote from Brussels was having this amazing, explosive ­effect on the Tory party – and it really gave me this, I suppose, rather weird sense of power” to his career as Mayor of London – an opportunity to help his friends and steal the credit for other peope’s ideas.
      And now he has the opportunity to do damage on a grand scale…

  3. Steve Paradis
    Posted October 21, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    “He is an engaging character, boundingly energetic and interesting,whose journalism I can generally read with enjoyment. The only trouble is that he seems to be a complete chancer, and entirely without principles.”

    You misspelled “Horatio Bottomley”.


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