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Emperor Joseph II on the Structure and Political Condition of the Austrian Monarchy and the Holy Roman Empire (1767/68)

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These are the obstacles that the misguided and poor politics of our German princes, with their fanaticism, put in the way of their own good fortune, their glory, and their liberty. Here, a head [i.e. emperor], even with the very best intentions, could not offer help, nor could he hope to do so in the future, unless their unreasonable way of thinking is gradually changed in advance, and unless the princes and their ministers are less mistrustful and suspicious that he [i.e. the emperor] is trying to expand his power. This would require much time, effort, and patience, and above all suitable and intelligent emissaries who are well-versed in the composition of the empire and the natural interests of each and every court. Such people are quite rare among us, and one must begin this great project by training some of them.

For this reason, it appears to me that the only thing an eager emperor can do for the good of his fatherland at the current moment, and until the outlook in the Empire and in Europe becomes generally more favorable again, is win trust and general respect by acting honestly and justly. The emperor must treat the various confessions equitably and show no bias, abstain from every chicanery in trivialities and seek no triumph in intervening, which one can do, but which brings no real advantage, because it always inspires fear of an expansion of [imperial] power. Finally, to the extent possible, one must save the sad remains of the erstwhile imperial authority and prevent the total destruction thereof, which seems to be the intention not only of the foreign powers, but also the imperial estates themselves; they are the ones most interested in preserving this kind of anarchy. What remains of this [erstwhile imperial authority] is essentially limited to the administration of justice by the imperial courts and feudal rights, the latter of which the estates, even the most powerful of them, openly acknowledged in the past – and indeed in a most celebratory form – through the investiture that they were bound to accept from the emperor. I found these two pillars of the erstwhile majesty of the Empire to be very wobbly, and this large building, which was supported by such weak pillars, near the point of collapse. In order to forestall such a calamitous and imminent fall, one started with that which was most urgent.

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