Liechtenstein: History And Institutions Of The Principality, by Pierre Raton
The tiny principality of Liechtenstein has few books written about it, but as a small principality that has survived despite the troubles of the last couple of centuries, it represents a worthwhile little nation to get to know. Now extremely wealthy, the area was once poor, and it was not until the 1840’s when one of its rulers finally managed to show up in person to the land, which had been bought by a wealthy family of pro-Austrian princes in order to gain a seat in the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire since all of the family’s other extensive holdings did not qualify but the tiny Grand Duchy of Vaduz did. Mixing dependence on Austria and then (after World War I) with Switzerland alongside a general policy of neutrality, the little nation has managed to preserve its identity in the face of war, having been too insignificant to tempt the likes of Napoleon or Hitler throughout its history and barely managing to survive being incorporated into Austria after World War I. Still it survives, though, a tenacious European microstate whose mountains encourage tourists but whose remoteness has made it obscure still.
This particular book is a short one of about 150 pages in length, divided into two parts and several chapters. The first part of the book discusses the history of Liechtenstein (I), with a look at the counties of Vaduz and Schellenberg and the birth of the principality (1), its move from an imperial principality to independence after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire (2), its time as a pro-Austrian member of the German confederation (3), and its period under Austrian patronage until the fall of Austria-Hungary (4). In this section the author demonstrates the skill that was necessary among the principality’s diplomats in securing independence and the threat that wars provided to the area’s well-being. After that the author looks at the contemporary history of the principality (II), with chapters on the alignment to Switzerland that was conducted in the aftermath of the threat to Liechtenstein’s independence after World War I (1), the new internal policy that increased the rights of citizens in the principality (2), the economic boom that followed private and public efforts at development (3), and the stability and neutrality the nation has known in recent decades (4), all of which points to the success which the principality has seen even up to the present day.
Reading this book gives the reader a sense of the history and political institutions of Liechtenstein at least as they were current at the time this book was written in the early 1970’s. Admittedly, these are pretty obscure aspects of history and few people are likely to be aware of them. I’m not really sure who this book is intended for, as I do not know how many people who are like me and are fascinated by microstates and their independence and the way that they have managed to preserve their identity over the course of the past few centuries despite the pressure being placed on small nations to coalesce into larger ones. Liechtenstein is an example of a feudal remnant that has been able to escape incorporation and to use its small size as a benefit in a world of free trade and globalization, turning a poor alpine valley into an immensely wealthy contemporary nation. The book spends enough time discussing the history as well as the efforts to ease flooding concerns and build up a transportation infrastructure that one can gather the slow process that led the principality to rise to a place where its obscurity does not make it unworthy of interest.