Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Karl Lueger

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103398Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) — Karl LuegerMichael Joseph Ahern

A burgomaster of Vienna, Austrian political leader and municipal reformer, born at Vienna, 24 October, 1844; died there, 10 March, 1910. His father, a custodian in the Institute of Technology in Vienna, was of a peasant family of Neustadtl in Lower Austria, his mother, the daughter of a Viennese cabinet maker. After completing the elementary schools, in 1854 he entered the Theresianum,Vienna, from which he passed in 1862 to the University of Vienna, enrolling in the faculty of law, taking his degree four years later. After serving his legal apprenticeship from 1866 to 1874, he opened an office of his own and soon attained high rank in his profession by his sure and quick judgment, his exceptionally thorough legal knowledge, and his cleverness and eloquence in handling cases before the court. His generosity in giving his services gratuitously to poor clients, who flocked to him in great numbers, was remarkable, and may account largely for the fact that, although he practised law until 1896, he never became a wealthy man.

In 1872, having decided upon a political career, he joined an independent Liberal political organization, the Citizens' Club of the Landstrasse, one of the districts, or wards, of Vienna. Liberalism, which had guided Austria from aristocracy to democracy in government, was at this period the one political creed the profession of which offered any prospect of success in practical politics. But Liberalism had come to mean economic advancement for the capitalist at the cost of the small tradesman, the capitalist being usually a Jew. The result was an appalling material moral degradation and a regime of political corruption focussed at Vienna, which city in the seventies of the last century was the most backward capital in Europe, enormously overtaxed, and with a population sunk in a lazy indifference, political, economic, and religious. The Jewish Liberalism ruled supreme in city and country public opinion was moulded by a press almost entirely Jewish and anti-clerical; Catholic dogmas and practices were ridiculed; priests and religious insulted in the streets. In 1875 Lueger was elected to the Vienna city council for one year. Reelected in 1876 for a full term of three years, he resigned his seat in consequence of the exposure of corruption in the city administration. Having now become the leader of the anti-corruptionist movement, he was again elected councillor in 1878 as an independent candidate, and threw himself heart and soul into the battle for purity in the municipal government.

In 1882 Lueger's party, called the Democratic was joined by the Reform and by the German National organizations, the three uniting under the name Anti-Semitic party. In 1885 Lueger associated himself with Baron Vogelsang, the eminent social-political worker, whose influence and principles had great weight in the formation of the future Christian Socialists. The year 1885 witnessed, too, Lueger's election to the Reichsrat, where, although the only member of his party in the house, he quickly assumed a leading position. He made a memorable attack on the dual settlement between Austria and Hungary, and against what he bitterly called "Judeo-Magyarism" on the occasion of the Ausgleich between Austria and Hungary in 1886. A renewal of this attack in 1891 almost caused him to be hounded from the house. At his death there were few members of the Austrian Reichsrat who did not share his views. In 1890 Lueger had been elected to the Lower Austrian Landtag; here again he became the guiding spirit in the struggle against Liberalism and corruption. In municipal, state, and national politics he was now the leader of the Anti-Semitic and Anti-Liberal party, the back-bone of which was the union of Christians called variously the Christian Socialist Union and, in Vienna especially, the United Christians, This union developed later into the present (1910) dominant party in Austria, the Christian Socialists. In 1895 the United Christians were strong enough to elect Lueger burgomaster of Vienna, but his majority in the council was too small to be effective and he would not accept. His party returning after the September elections with an increased majority, Lueger was once more elected burgomaster, but Liberal influence prevented his confirmation by the emperor. The council stubbornly reelected him and was dissolved. In 1896 he was again chosen. Not, however, until the brilliant victory of his party, now definitely called the Christian Socialist party, in the Reichsrat elections in 1897, when he was for the fifth time chosen burgomaster, did the emperor confirm the choice.

Lueger's subsequent activity was devoted to moulding and guiding the policy of the Christian Socialist party and to the re-creation of Vienna, of which he remained burgomaster until his death, his re-election occurring in 1903 and 1909. The political ideal of the Christian Socialists is a German-Slav-Magyar state under the Habsburg dynasty, federal in plan, Catholic in religion but justly tolerant of other beliefs, with the industrial and economic advancement of all the people as an enduring political basis. The triumph of the party has conditioned an ever-increasing revival of Catholic religious life and organization of every kind. Under Lueger's administration Vienna was transformed. Nearly trebled in size, it became, in perfection of municipal organization and in success of municipal ownership, a model to the world, in beauty it is now unsurpassed by any European capital. A born leader of the people, Lueger joined to a captivating exterior a fiery eloquence tempered by a real Viennese wit, great organizing power, unsullied loyalty to the Habsburg dynasty, and unimpeachable integrity. Among all classes his influence and popularity were unbounded. A beautiful characteristic was his tender love of his mother; he was himself in turn idolized by children, He was anti-Semitic only because Semitism in Austria was politically synonymous with political corruption and oppressive capitalism. Lueger never married. A fearless outspoken Catholic, the defence of Catholic rights was ever in the forefront of his programme. His cheerfulness, resignation, and piety throughout his last illness edified the nation. His funeral was the most imposing ever accorded in Vienna to anyone not a royal personage.

STAURACZ, Dr. Karl Lueger, Zehn Jahre Bürgermeister (Vienna, 1907); IDEM, Dr. Lueger's Leben und Wirken (Klagenfurt); Dublin Review, CXLII, 321; DRUM in the Messenger, 1908; AHERN in America, III, 5, 33.