Europe Longs to Rebuild Its Empires

The love for the legacy of the Holy Roman Empire is the inspiration of dictatorships, past and future.

“Empires have gotten something of a bad rap lately,” Eduard Habsburg notes, blaming movies like Star Wars. Others blame British colonialism. Many radicals in America go further and hate anything that is old or traditional. In the meantime, the empire that the British Empire and the Americans fought to oppose is arousing feelings of nostalgia. Nostalgia is growing in Europe. It’s a growing desire for a lost empire buried in the depths of history. Think tanks, politicians and academics are growing more and more eager to unearth, repair and rebuild it. Bit by bit, the Holy Roman Empire is emerging again from the underground.

In his 2023 book The Habsburg Way: 7 Rules for Turbulent Times, Habsburg advocates the revival of the Habsburg dynasty’s values. He says that the Holy Roman Empire is dormant but still very much alive today. What it needs is “real overarching leadership that embodies traditional European values,” someone like an emperor who “reminded people of the things that united them.” What united people in the past? “While there were different nations in the empire, Christianity, the timeless idea of empire, and the person of the emperor himself were the unifying principles” (ibid). By Christianity, he, of course, means Catholicism.

Habsburg also recommends The Habsburgs: Rise and Fall of a World Power (also published as The Habsburgs: To Rule the World). This book emphasizes the religious aspect of the dynasty’s mission. The Amazon book description states that the Habsburgs’ “enduring power” was “driven by the belief that they were destined to rule the world as defenders of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Dutch writer Caroline de Gruyter also makes the case for a Habsburg-style new Holy Roman Empire in her 2022 book It Won’t Get Any Better: A Journey Through the Habsburg Empire and the European Union. Gruyter points to the long duration of this dynasty that ruled from the 13th century to 1918.

“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.

Of course, looking at the Habsburg empire as a model of stability isn’t the same as calling for the resurrection of the Inquisition—which was almost equally enduring—in which the empire, in service of Catholic leaders, executed heretics, Muslims, Jews and others. The Spanish Inquisition alone existed from 1478 to 1834, spanning over three centuries. Praising the empire’s form of government is not the same as praising its violent executions and wars. But can you have one without the other?

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

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.

“When we are not ready to love our culture, then others will start to define our culture,” former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said in 2017 in response to the refugee crisis. “And it can’t be our goal to leave that which grew over centuries and which 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.”

Upholding the traditions of a “Christian-Jewish Western society” sounds appealing. 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 annihilate the Jewish people. This happened in the name of Christianity, in the name of the churches, and even in the name of the club culture that maliciously excluded Jews. This is as much a part of Europe’s history as the temporary phases of peaceful coexistence. Many want to overlook the grotesque when promoting the good. But can you have one without the other?

History warns against venerating the heritage of the Holy Roman Empire. Adolf Hitler, for example, praised the late-eighth century ruler Charlemagne. Charlemagne became a powerful European ruler, as did Hitler—and he killed masses of people for his ideology, as did Hitler. According to 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.”

Few today would call Hitler a great example for Europe. Yet they would praise Charlemagne. The truth is, Europe’s history is filled with mass murderers killing in the name of ideology—and of a certain religion.

An Admonishment to Be Catholic

Many books have been written about the immorality of some Habsburg rulers, or the cruelty of the Inquisition and the Thirty Years’ War. But the book The Habsburg Way is different, and the times we are living in are different. American conservative political commentator Michael Knowles called it “the single most important history book to appear in our troubled times.” In his foreword, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán sounds a rallying cry to fight together to “preserve” Christianity in Europe.

The book promises nothing less than “a roadmap for healing the world in which we live.”

As the author states: “[I]n a time where every Christian value is being increasingly driven out of public life and politics, the Habsburgs stand for timeless things like family, faith, the peaceful cohabitation of nations and languages, and the peaceful coexistence of divers races and cultures.” Indeed, the Habsburg dynasty united a diverse group of people under one faith—Catholicism. Thus one of the seven admonishments of Eduard Habsburg is “Be Catholic.”

That may offend some, as “being a Catholic ruler often meant doing things that seem manifestly unchristian, including treating other Christian denominations harshly,” the author notes. Indeed, the torture and slaughter of other Christians is a sensitive topic. “But in those centuries gone by, people truly believed that only by living the Catholic faith could you get to heaven, so encouraging, indeed requiring, your subjects to be Catholic was not only part of your duty as an emperor, it was an act of charity because it helped others reach eternal salvation.” The author makes the appeal to include religion in private life and politics and asks “for forgiveness if I am occasionally not as diplomatic or ecumenical as usual.”

In other words: The time for sweet-talking other religions is over; now is the time for Catholics to stand up for what they believe is right.

Celebrating Emperors

If Charlemagne, Otto the Great or Napoleon Bonaparte were alive today, they would be recognized as intolerant, bloody dictators. With modern weapons, they would likely be even more dangerous than Adolf Hitler. Charlemagne infamously ordered 4,500 Saxons executed in a single day (quite a feat before the invention of gun powder and poison gas). Yet Europeans celebrate such leaders.

Charlemagne | In 2018, Aachen Cathedral held a weeklong festival featuring its founder: Charlemagne, who united Europeans through war, extermination and conversion on pain of death and laid the foundation of the Habsburgs’ enduring dynasty. One of the most prestigious European Union awards today is the Charlemagne Prize, awarded to the highest elites who make a special contribution to European unity. Charlemagne is seen as the role model for later emperors. The Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire was made in his honor.

When Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz held the rotating EU presidency, he made this crown the key feature of Austria’s cultural program. The crown is currently undergoing a three-year investigation to reveal more facts about it. A six-year-long restoration of the castle that housed this crown during the days of the Holy Roman Empire and the days of Adolf Hitler was recently completed. It is a fitting symbol of what many would like to see for the entire empire.

Otto the Great | 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.

“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 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 concluded. To be “the head of the whole world” is the exact stated goal of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church.

Maximilian and Leopold | 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 more than 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,” which showed how Maximilian i venerated Leopold iii (1073–1136), ruler of Austria. 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.

There are also 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 in its confrontations with its opponents and enemies, which included Muslim 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 monthlong debate on whose toes we could possibly step on by doing so.” He and others would like to revert German and European culture to celebrate such heritage much more openly.

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 (Baron of the Empire). Eduard Habsburg calls Leopold i the “pinnacle of the Catholic Faith in Habsburg lands.” Meanwhile, Guttenberg himself is a descendant of another Leopold—Holy Roman Emperor Leopold ii (1747–1792).

Napoleon | 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 Europeans are embracing their past rulers: Focus on the good; ignore the evil.

But can you praise the one and overlook the other?

Dangerous Precedent

At the Trumpet we often quote Otto von Habsburg. Herbert W. Armstrong—editor in chief of our predecessor magazine, the Plain Truth— met with him and discussed some of these ideas. It was Habsburg’s dream to revive the old empire in the form of the European Union. But while the union seeks to unite its member states under one government, something is missing today: the role of the Catholic Church. This caused Mr. Armstrong to write: “In only one way can this resurrected Holy Roman Empire be brought to fruition—by the ‘good offices’ of the Vatican, uniting church and state once again, with the Vatican astride and ruling (Revelation 17:1-5).”

The Bible reveals that this unification of European nations under the roof of one leader and through the Catholic Church is about to happen. It will be a resurrection of the “old empire.”

“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” (Revelation 17:10). This verse is key to understanding the timing of the next resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. In his article “The Holy Roman Empire Goes Public—Big Time!” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote, “God says that after five are fallen, He would send someone to explain this prophecy. This was Herbert W. Armstrong” (Trumpet, October 2018).

Mr. Armstrong first explained this prophecy during the days of Adolf Hitler. He was the “one is” in verse 10. The last king over the last resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire has “not yet come.”

Now we are seeing this empire being revived a final time. “And remarkably,” Mr. Flurry continued, “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!”