7 Reasons to Read 7 Rules for Turbulent Times (The Habsburg Way)
“Knowing who you are gives you sovereignty over yourself. It will give you the confidence not to be swayed by fleeting fads, but to follow the truth—about yourself and about God. The alternative is the empty aimlessness that torments so many and characterizes so much of modern life.”
— Archduke Eduard Habsburg, The Habsburg Way: Seven Rules for Turbulent Times
More often than not, I read fiction. Yet I recently found myself perusing the pages of a noteworthy book from a remarkable individual. As the quote above attests, it contains truths needed in today’s world—or, truly, in any time. The Habsburg Way: Seven Rules for Turbulent Times is a compelling, important, and, at times, poignant book that I highly recommend to readers from all walks of life. Yet I also want to emphasize that it is not only important, but delightful. If this does not strike you as your typical read, I nevertheless challenge you to consider it for a variety of reasons, including those which follow.
1. The Author Himself
There are many history books out there, including several that center on the Habsburgs. Yet you would be hard-pressed to find such a book told from the extraordinary viewpoint of The Habsburg Way’s author. Archduke Eduard is a member of this renowned historical family who not only has learned its values and “ways” from a young age—in fact, he is one of only fifteen Habsburgs today who is a member of the legendary Order of the Golden Fleece—but has met some of the famous figures who appear in this book. His background adds depth and color to the story, both in terms of the accounts themselves and simply the knowledge that you are hearing from a narrator who lived, and lives, this path. For example, you will find here a first-hand account of visits to Empress Zita, the wife of the last Habsburg emperor*. She told the young Habsburgs stories of her life in a way that strikes me as both beautiful and timeless. (Was I just listening to a certain new release by a certain artist?) I felt that I grew to understand and admire this great lady through the eyes of one of her descendants. Our time spent with Empress Zita is complete with a fun little anecdotal bit, which brings me to my next point:
The unique perspective of the author contains facets that may be shaped by his roots, but that also are individually focused. To put it simply, his own sense of humor and engaging style are filled with personality, including delightful sidenotes. He is honest, but also doesn’t claim to be unbiased because this is a loving tribute to his family. Yet this admittance, ironically, somehow makes it less biased, an open and honest subjectivity leading to more objectivity. He likewise offers upfront opinions, whether negative or positive in his view. All of this, especially his deep and abiding love for his family, is rather refreshing in today’s culture. The author also would admit—and I say this in the best way possible—to being a nerd, which means that you just might find a Star Wars reference in the text, adding even more color to it. If you have watched any of Archduke Eduard’s videos, you may even “hear” the book in his voice. Exuberance—that is, authentic enthusiasm— for the subject is clear and makes the reader more excited.
*Empress Zita also has the title “Servant of God,” which means that the cause for sainthood has been opened. Her husband, Emperor Karl, is beatified in the Church, which is the step directly before canonization or recognition of sainthood. (Order: 1. Servant of God, 2. Venerable, 3. Blessed, 4. Saint)
2. Countercultural in Modern Society
As expressed by the opening quote, there is unfortunately an emptiness often found in modern society. An embrace of artificial lights instead of Light. A pursuit of happiness without true Joy. Each rule in this book is unique. Yet woven throughout each may be found a thematic trend: a focus on Light.
There is an emphasis on honor and justice, the importance of family, growing in your faith, treating others fairly—regardless of whether they are your subjects or employees—and, as a result, not only improving the lives of others, but finding inner strength because of it. There are also seemingly simple moments that bring the greatest meaning. One of my favorite stories involved Rudolf I, the first Habsburg ruler during the time of the Holy Roman Empire, and how he gave a priest his horse to cross the river with the Blessed Sacrament. His words at the time, and the entire scene, demonstrated so much humility and beauty. While it is unclear as to whether this particular story really happened or is a legend with religious elements—similar to the tale of “La Befana” for those of us who are Italian—its significance remains and is seen throughout those considered “fact.”
Deep truths pervade the book that transcend common reality by seeking something Greater.
In a jaded world of politics—politics not only in the literal meaning of the word, but how it might shape personal lives—this is truly inspiring.
3. Instill a Love of History
So many grow up learning to hate history. Perhaps this is because they dismiss it as a dry list of dates and facts, far removed from their own lives and far from “real.” As a storyteller and avid reader of fiction, I personally have been drawn to history because I choose to view it as a story.
The Habsburg Way: Seven Rules for Turbulent Times is the perfect antidote to such an educational crisis, for it allows you to travel back in time and “meet” a fascinating array of “characters” and circumstances. I highly recommend that schools consider this resource and allow an important historical family to come to life. Archduke Eduard Habsburg’s style and use of vivid and fascinating details in his storytelling allows it as such; indeed, history made “real.” Readers will encounter figures such as Blessed Karl and Zita, Venerable Magdalena, and countless others, inspiring in the way they chose a path of holiness and heroic virtue—or frustrating in the decisions that they made, reminding us how not to act. Sometimes a mixture of both. For example, they may, as I did, find themselves drawn to those such as the seemingly flawed yet deeply human figure of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (“Sisi”). They may wish to learn more about her or another individual, similar to how you might wish to seek the sequel to a favorite novel—a true goal of any educator for his or her students.
They may even find favorite “characters” that inspire gushing of the ALL CAPS variety.
I know I did. And so, I will leave the formal review for a moment to allow the reader to better understand such a revelation:
I don't think it is possible to love Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy any more than I do. They are iconic. Epic. Romantic. Perfect. Adorable. At the risk of being labeled insane (which would be accurate), I just wanted to give them a hug and write heart eye emojis whenever they appeared in the text!
First, we have Maximilian holding out and being The Last Knight. Then I learned that he was a WRITER, known for works with a delightful mixture of classic chivalry and endearing humor. That just made me love him even more. Of course, there is also the portrait room at Tratzberg Castle that you will have to read about, dedicated to his love of genealogy. It sounds incredibly immersive, stunning, and powerful. Did I mention EPIC?
AND. THEIR. LOVE STORY. The ROMANCE of the letters, the LEGENDARY way they met—his rescue, the quest-like journey to get to her, the love at first sight, all of it—instantly drew me in like a storybook. They had such a profound connection and truly seemed to understand each other on a deep level, even in a literary sense! There is more I wish to say, but that would be a more overt spoiler—history or not.
Yet I didn’t just gush; I also cried. At a history book.
There was the moving depiction of Marie Antoinette’s deep faith as she went to the guillotine—and what she saw shortly before, which you will have to read the book to find out. On the very next page was depicted Blessed Karl’s death—who, as mentioned previously, is inspiring—so I decided I might as well keep crying.
4. Perfect Content Balance
While there is much information presented, it almost does not feel like nonfiction due to that wonderful storytelling and engaging style.
As mentioned before, the author’s enthusiasm for the subject practically leaps off the page. He maintains a remarkably perfect balance between too much information and just enough to engage with readers who want more knowledge and provide evidence for his thematic purpose through support for the Habsburg “rules.” The rules build on each other to form a coherent whole, the “big picture” essentials that therefore invite one to ponder life’s greater meaning. Important dates are covered without being “dry”; in fact, you may find yourself eager to soak up that knowledge!
The text is also exceptionally well-organized, which may allow it to serve as an excellent resource from which to look up quick information post-reading. Likewise, while one of the rules is broken into two sections, they are generally chapters of approximately the same length—unlike my seven reasons. As a result, readers will know around what to expect if they want to fit in ‘one rule before bedtime.’
5. Develop appreciation and respect for the monarchy
Before anyone immediately skips this number, let me preface my comments by saying that, similar to how you can appreciate the emphasis on family regardless of whether you come from a family of sixteen children, you may develop an appreciation for the monarchy without being a monarchist. For, the context of the Habsburg rules should be considered to promote greater understanding. You could argue that the rules may be separated from this context, but that would be to remove a flowering blossom from a stem or branches from a tree and attempt to explain from where they came while simultaneously denying that reality. To explain their relevance without a true foundation. Indeed, would the author himself be exactly as he is today without that foundation of his family? Can we learn from his experience, and that of his ancestors?
When watching a certain recent coronation this year, I was struck by how it differed from our own system, of how something seemed to be missing in the latter—even though my support and pride in our republic remains. There was a deep and timeless solemnity there rooted in the commitment of a ruler to God, the King of Kings, that is sorely lacking in much of our society. I reflected at the time that there was much that we could learn from it.
And yet to delve into this book is to go further, to read how monarchs were profoundly impacted by their faith. It was therefore of even greater significance to me as a Catholic. Interestingly enough, a coronation connection to this book stood out to me especially:
“When Rudolf and his many successors were crowned, the coronation rite to become Holy Roman Emperor was deeply imbued with sacred religious symbols. Before they were crowned, they received Communion . . . and swore on a relic of earth containing the blood of St. Stephen, the protomartyr. The vestment they received was like a bishop’s vestment. More than one Habsburg ruler avowed that the moment of installation as emperor deeply impressed them for life. It was not simply a cynical political affair, but a religious event, sincerely celebrated.”
As seen above, it was “deeply impressed” on many of the Habsburg rulers to take their rule seriously. The relationship between the ruler and ruled was seen as a long-term relationship, not temporary. Those monarchs who succeeded in my book (and that of Archduke Eduard) ultimately viewed their rule in light of how they would be held accountable to God. Not all of the rulers were perfect, but the ideal was quite beautiful. Archduke Habsburg also explores the concept of subsidiarity in a way that those unfamiliar with political theory will be able to understand—and how rulers were “ruled” by such concepts to protect their subjects. Humility is likewise emphasized in death through the “knocking ritual,” in which the Habsburg royalty is only allowed entrance to the crypt after a series of questions that ultimately lead to the defining of the individual not by his worldly titles, but that of a mortal man before God.
And so, to learn about the Habsburg monarchy is to learn the greater context for how famous figures in history grappled with difficult circumstances through adherence to their faith. The inner nobility emanating from such could then be at the center of who they were.
Indeed, an appreciation of such may be relevant far beyond the scope of one single political system. Archduke Eduard Habsburg states it well toward the end of the book:
“Are we waiting for the monarchy to return? No. (Or are we?) But perhaps service is what we have in our genes, what we can do best, given the right circumstances . . .
. . . as you’ve seen through this book, forms may change but our values are still lived in today’s society, and they will surely apply to lives lived one hundred years from now as well.”
6. Grow in understanding of yourself
Some of my favorite quotes from saints echo this thought that pervades the text. St. Catherine of Siena famously said, “If you are who you should be, you will set the world ablaze.” Saint John Paul II expressed similar sentiments in the beautiful simplicity of, “Become who you are.”
Most of us won’t wage battle as knights, most of us aren’t kings and queens (*insert obligatory comment here about how “Gina” means “Queenly” and has been ruling as a benevolent monarch since birth*), yet we do face “dragons,” as alluded to by other writers such as G.K. Chesterton, not to mention Vintage Taylor Swift in her newly rereleased song “Long Live.” Through this book, we are given the tools to not only find a way to deal with the “battles” that appear in our lives, but to grow as individuals as we do.
Inspirational role models in the Habsburg family will challenge you to be heroic amidst suffering, fear, and turmoil, to be the best version of yourself. We are presented with stories and people who faced difficulties different from our own—but, in the end, not wholly so.
And so, you, dear reader, may learn how to face these challenges without losing who you are. In fact, perhaps you will “become who you are” more fully as you carry your cross, recall your past, immerse yourself in the present, and ultimately delve into introspection.
7. Dubbie the Double-Headed Eagle would be proud of you.
And I love Little Dubbie—as should you!