Book Review: The State in the Third Millenium, by Hans-Adam II

In a new book, Liechtenstein’s Prince Hans-Adam II calls nation states to decentralize, rebuilding ‘the social feeling that’s being lost’

TVR Books | Sarah Rabl | May 2010

A Return to Community

Eager pairs of eyes scanned the vast white hall at the Aula der Wissenschaften, to be the first to take a glimpse at Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein. Not hard to spot at 1.90 meters, the Prince was soon mingling with the audience, shaking hands with guests and students,  old friends and former diplomats, he seemed utterly at ease in his role. The Prince was in Vienna to inaugurate the "Princeton-Vienna Lectures" (see box below), and to introduce his recent book, The State in the Third Millennium, a rethinking of the role of government in successful societies in the third millennium.

Even comfortably filled, the Aula der Wissenschaften is not the most prepossessing of venues; its cavernous spaces are white and cold, its vast walls barren – no paintings or tapestries, not a single cornice or cupid in sight. It was hard not to feel lost.

The Aula is a kind of an intellectual public home of scholarly pursuits, a meeting space of the venerable Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) founded in 1847 on the principle of academic freedom. The Academy claims some of Austria’s most renowned academics and scholars among its members, names such as Christian Doppler, Ludwig Boltzmann and Erwin Schrödinger. In this sense, the hall provided a suitably august setting for an evening hosted by the Liechtenstein Institute in Vienna, Austria (LIVA), the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD) at Princeton University and the ÖAW itself.

The proceedings were supposed to begin with opening remarks by Dr. Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, director of the LISD and friend of the Prince’s from their university days. Thanks to the Icelandic volcano, Danspeckgruber was still in Princeton and made his entrance smiling brightly from a giant video screen next to the stage, flanked by the voluptuous colors of the Liechtenstein flag. He had met Prince Hans-Adam in the early 1990s on the his first visit to Princeton.

Back then, a massive thunderstorm accompanied the arrival of the Prince and drenched the two of them while dashing for cover. As then, this first meeting was again taking place during "a major weather disaster," Danspeckgruber noted grinning, the Prince once again, with the Volcano, bringing "the forces of God and gravity" to bear witness to the launch of a new program.

Danspeckgruber confided to the audience that his old friend had dreamed of attending Princeton University before duty intervened, a memory that brought a broad smile to the Prince’s face. Beginning his reign 22 years ago on the death of his father, the Prince has devoted himself to promoting an independent foreign policy for the principality, Danspeckgruber said, taking it "out of the rucksack of Switzerland." At which point he disappeared from the screen.

Majestically unfolding his tall, thin silhouette, the Prince then slowly raised himself from his chair as if time were standing still. With the suspended gate of a dancer, he glided to the luminous podium, a curved Lucite surface lit from below. He is a tall man, just the slightest bit stooped as if accustomed to leaning over to hear what some has to say. Taking his time, he gazed out across the waiting audience, acknowledging their presence, allowing them a moment to settle. When he spoke, his voice was unhurried.

Born in 1945, Prince Hans-Adam came to the throne in 1989, and thus has watched the developments in the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe with keen interest, seeing the resurgence of ethnic identities and a powerful desire for self-government within many national minorities free from Soviet domination.

The 20th century and its history of wars, persecution, destruction and genocide and the incredible death toll accompanying, left behind a legacy of devastation and "advances in technology that will make future wars even more destructive," the Prince said.  Wars are declared in defence of nations. If we are going to avoid wars, he said, we have to "put the traditional state into question."

Because of his own, very personal experience, this need for change takes different dimensions. In an interview with The Vienna Review, the Prince, whose grandmother was the sister of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, recounted how his relatives had often revisited the events of WWI and the years that followed, reviewing the question of what could have been done differently to keep the Habsburg Empire together. It had been an Empire conceived as a loose association of national identities; and while perhaps an oversimplification, based on the belief that empires break apart when an imperial government overstretches its reach.

The Prince offered a solution that would become the seed of his book:

"We either have to redo the whole organization," he said, "or move the administration to a regional level."

All this has been complicated by globalization. "The younger generation does not possess this national feeling anymore, it is fading away," the Prince said later in the interview; "Nationalism is losing its importance." However, today, nationalism still plays a certain role. With a sincere smile on his face, he recalled an anecdote from his past. Prior to WWII, his grandfather used to romanticize the idea that one could travel throughout Europe without a passport. "This freedom was lost with WWII. This freedom of Europe, is now coming back with the European Union," although the membership in an intentional organizations determines the partial loss of sovereignty for a state. "They erode the nation state. The old model of the nation state is dead," the Prince admitted. The quest for a new state model has come.

Without dismantling the central state, the Prince sees a need to end its "monopoly" on power. "The political units with a right to self-determination" need to be rather small, he said. When the units are larger, self-sufficiency becomes easier to imagine, along with a constant danger of secession, as illustrated by the "break-up of Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, the Colonial Empires, and even the Austro-Hungarian Empire" in the past.

The goal is to shift power to local communities.

"We have to empower small communities and encourage a sense of responsibility and accountability," he said afterwards. Taking the example of taxation in remote areas in Austria, the Prince clarified that "cheating is much easier when there is no social pressure. We have the duty to empower control so that you know who you can lend your money to."

"Building up the social feeling that is currently falling apart – this is our most important task." This is a European man, for whom solidarity and social cohesion are paramount.

From the Prince’s speech alone, however, it might have been easy to misunderstand. Between his discussions of limited government and the privatization of some public services, you might easily have concluded that he was a Neo-Liberal in the mould of Friederich von Hayek, who believed that the self-regulating ability of markets made state power beyond law enforcement largely obsolete.

"The only duties that should remain in the state’s power in the third millennium are foreign policy, law and order, education and state finances," the Prince said. All other tasks "can be fulfilled better and cheaper on the level of communities," inter alia referring to the troublesome issue of health care.

These views brought some challenging questions from the audience on how small entities would be capable of taking this responsibility. Prince Hans-Adam clarified that health care will not exclusively be the responsibility of the private sector. However, "there will be a certain task for local authorities and communities," he stated and further added that he is not in favor of the present situation in the United States as he sees it as costly system without showing profound results. Therefore, later in the interview with The Vienna Review, the Prince clearly emphasised that "everybody will be insured to a certain degree" and only parts of the health care authority will be transferred to local communities.

A further essential topic of the evening opened new perspectives to Austria’s long lasting debate on an educational reform. Fuelling the discussion, the Prince stated that "a modern state cannot be run by illiterate people." Believing that education should remain under the patronage of the state, he intended to introduce a voucher system to finance education. The state will, instead of financing schools, hand subsidies to students and parents to allow them to choose a school of their preference. "It works for everybody. The state raises money from indirect taxation for example, through foreign policy or police. This is how vouchers are paid for," Prince Hans-Adam told The Vienna Review. "The rest of the money is distributed to be spent locally, however, initially raised nationally." An intended outcome of this system is that schools will be forced to adapt to certain standards or they might disappear from the scene. It will be parents and students themselves who determine "the quality of their education."

Accompanied by the warm applause of the audience, the Prince left the stage as he had entered it, with grace and an amiable smile.

Later on, occasionally addressed by the one or the other eager guest, the Prince would listen with respect and keen interest. Whilst mingling through the audience and enjoying a glass of wine, he seemed far away from the untouchable heads of state of so many lands, a down-to-earth monarch guiding his people into a new millennium.


H.S.H Prince Hans-Adam II. of Liechtenstein was the inaugural speaker of the "Princeton-Vienna Lectures" that bring international leaders, representatives, scholars, experts and thinkers from all around the world to Vienna. Throughout the upcoming year, six more lectures will follow. 

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