Europe Longs to Rebuild Its Empires
Without outside intervention, Europe today would likely be ruled by some form of dictatorship. But that doesn’t stop European leaders from drawing inspiration from their history. What inspired European leaders in the past is inspiring them again. Politicians in the European Union to local administrators are reviving the legacy of the Holy Roman Empire.
“The idea of empire as an organizing form of politics is enjoying a rehabilitation in Brussels, pushed by the court philosophers at the Justus Lipsius HQ, and picked up avidly by exponents of a muscular ‘sovereign Europe’ to match China and America,” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote for the Telegraph on June 15.
Think tanks and academics are pointing to the Habsburg-led Holy Roman Empire as a model the EU should follow. Dutch writer Caroline de Gruyter makes this case in her much-referenced 2022 book Beter wordt het niet: Een reis door het Habsburgse Rijk en de Europese Unie (It Doesn’t Get Any Better: A Journey Through the Habsburg Empire and the European Union). It was also translated into French with the title, Monde d’hier, monde de demain (Yesterday’s World, Tomorrow’s World), and into German: Das Habsburgerreich—Inspiration für Europa? (The Habsburg Empire—Inspiration for Europe?)
Of course, looking at the Habsburg Empire as a model of stability isn’t the same as calling for the resurrection of the Inquisition that killed heretics, Muslims, Jews and others. Praising the empire’s form of government is also not the same as praising its violent episodes of warfare. But one ought to ask: Can you have one without the other?
Part of the relative stability the empire brought was through the use of violence. Some even now believe that this aspect of empire needs to be revived. That’s why de Gruyter’s colleague, Luuk van Middelaar, argued that the EU should embrace the “heroic civilizing mission.” He said, “Anyone who thinks that good may impose itself on the world without struggle or the use of power is mistaken. That may require an army—a Napoleon.”
A Cultural Revival
This nostalgia for Europe’s past is not a coincidence. In 2018, the EU started a new project to remember the Continent’s “cultural heritage.” That year, over 6.2 million people took part in more than 11,700 organized events across 37 countries, each celebrating the “European Year of Cultural Heritage.” Thousands of similar events have been hosted since.
In 2017, former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg responded to the refugee crisis by calling for the revival of Europeans’ love for history and culture. “When we are not ready to love our culture, then others will start to define our culture,” he said. “And it can’t be our goal to leave that what grew over centuries and is seen in the church towers, which is seen in the club culture, which is grown in a Christian-Jewish Western society, to others that come in to us.”
Of course, upholding the traditions of a “Christian-Jewish Western society” sounds good. But is that really Europe’s history? European leaders and the Catholic Church have repeatedly clashed with Jews. Pogroms, inquisitions, crusades and the Holocaust targeted Jewish life and even sought to extinguish the Jewish people. This happened in the name of Christianity, in the name of the churches, in the name of the club culture. This is as much part of Europe’s history as temporary phases of peaceful coexistence. Many want to overlook the grotesque part of this history when calling for its revival. The question is: Is it possible to promote the one without the other?
Last month, party leader of the Alternative für Deutschland Tino Chrupalla told the right-wing blog Sezession: “I find it fundamentally problematic to always link commemoration with the question of guilt.” Germany’s view of its history has to change, he explained. “Historical guilt should no longer determine the way we act.”
But history itself warns against venerating the heritage of the Holy Roman Empire. Adolf Hitler, for example, praised the late-eighth century ruler Charlemagne. According to professor and renowned German medieval researcher Johannes Fried, Hitler’s statements were “preparing for his own acts of violence; to praise Charles was a strategy of legitimacy.”
Of course, it’s absurd today to call Hitler a great example for Europe. But the truth is, Europe’s history is filled with mass murderers who inspired Hitler. Those same individuals were inspired by others before them.
If Charlemagne, Otto the Great or Napoleon Bonaparte were alive today, they would be called intolerant, bloody dictators equal to or worse than Russian President Vladimir Putin. With modern weaponry, they would likely be even more dangerous than Adolf Hitler. Charlemagne ordered the execution of 4,500 Saxons in a single day (quite a feat before the invention of gun powder and poison gas). Yet Europe is celebrating him and other leaders.
On May 5, 2021, France commemorated the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte. In response to criticism, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Napoleon is a part of us. That sums up how many in Europe view their past rulers.
In 2018, Aachen Cathedral held a weeklong festival that heavily featured the cathedral’s founder: Charlemagne. The event was attended by 73,000 people. Charlemagne united Europeans through war and conversion by the sword. Yet he became the role model for later emperors and the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire was made in his honor. When then Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz held the rotating EU presidency, he made this crown the key feature of its associated cultural program.
Ever since, Austria and Europe have emphasized this history more and more. In 2019, Austria celebrated the “Maximilian Year,” honoring the 500th anniversary of the death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian i. The Catholic Church and Austrian authorities organized over 100 celebratory masses and other events. The Catholic news service Crux wrote at the time: “The country’s decision to publicly honor a former Catholic ruler, who died Jan. 12, 1519, marks a noteworthy change in mainstream Austrian culture, which has sought to distance the country from its Christian past and national history in recent decades.”
Austria even hosted a special exhibition: “The Emperor’s New Saint—Maximilian i and Margrave Leopold iii in Times of Changing Media.” The exhibition showed how Maximilian i venerated Leopold iii (1073–1136), ruler of Austria. But why did he do it? The World of the Habsburgs website explains: “The ruling monarch saw himself as a successor of the saints, whose reliquaries served as attributes at the ruler’s accession as a sign of legitimate, divinely ordained sovereignty.”
This is some profound insight from history about why European leaders honor past emperors: They see themselves as “successor of the saints.” There are parallels between the Habsburgs’ veneration of Leopold iii and the Holy Roman Empire’s level of power. The more they venerated Leopold, the more powerful and violent the empire became. Cherishing the heritage unified the citizens of the empire in confrontations with Turks, Protestant reformers and Jews.
In 2018, Guttenberg was invited to speak at a festival for the traditional regional Austrian holiday “St. Leopold’s Day.” He said, “In Germany, it would not be possible to print St. Leopold on the front page of the invitation. We would have a month-long debate on whose toes we could possibly step on by doing so.”
But Guttenberg may be biased. In 1663, Saint Leopold was promoted as the patron saint in all the lands of Austria by his namesake, Leopold i, who also elevated the Guttenberg dynasty to the status of Reichsfreiherr, which translates to “Baron of the Empire.” Guttenberg himself is a descendant of another Leopold—Holy Roman Emperor Leopold ii (1747–1792).
Many Germans still view their history critically, but in 2023, they are celebrating Otto the Great. The Roman emperor and king of the East Frankish Empire died 1,050 years ago on May 7, 973. To commemorate his legacy, the Memleben Monastery and Imperial Palace Museum hosted special tours sharing findings of recent archaeological projects and research.
“Otto i from the dynasty of the Liudolfing was not just any regent,” Spiegel Online noted in honor of his anniversary, “he is historically as important as Charlemagne. The ruler united the individual tribes above all in the fight against the Magyars, who had been plundering and murdering through Europe for decades. In the battle on the Lechfeld near Augsburg, Otto is said to have wielded the ‘Holy Lance’ against the wild hordes in 955—a weapon that is now exhibited in Vienna’s treasury and is said to contain a nail from Christ’s cross.”
Otto the Great is yet another ruler who used his Catholic faith to legitimize bloodshed. He laid the foundation of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. “His subjects praised him as the ‘head of the whole world,’” Die Welt wrote. This indeed has been the goal of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church.
Can you praise the one and overlook the other? The history of these rulers is explained in detail in our book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy. I encourage you to request a free copy of this book that sheds light on the history of these rulers in a way that you have likely never considered before.
Europe today wants to resurrect the heritage of the Holy Roman Empire. But it’s this very heritage that has inspired unmatched bloodshed. What’s more, the Bible reveals that it will happen yet again. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry explained this Revelation 17 prophecy in “The Holy Roman Empire Goes Public—Big Time!”:
“And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space” (verse 10). This verse is key to understanding the timing of the next resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. God says that after five are fallen, He would send someone to explain this prophecy. This was Herbert W. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong came on the scene as Adolf Hitler was leading the sixth resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire, which is the “one is” in verse 10. When the meaning of Revelation 17 was revealed, during the time of the sixth resurrection, the seventh resurrection had “not yet come.”
Today, however, the revival of that empire is happening!
And remarkably, as they are reviving it, Europeans are doing something they have never done since the vile and murderous sixth head: They are publicizing the Holy Roman Empire! They don’t publicize what Adolf Hitler did; too many people remember that bloody history. Instead they cloak it in the tradition of Charlemagne. And yet it is the same story! Not as many people died in the First Reich because they didn’t have the same military technology then. But it is the same ambition!
We all need traditions and heritage. We all need a good understanding of history. But this understanding should include the understanding that venerating the culture of the Holy Roman Empire is leading to the repetition of its crimes.