I Heart Liechtenstein

Not that I’ve ever been there, but…

I have evolved over the last few years to using, very explicitly, a comparative approach in my American Government class. As I tell my students, our system is just one case study in government, and you can’t really understand it unless you understand how it compares. And as a side effect, I’ve become intrigued with looking at governments as individual cases, each interesting in its own way.

Of course unusual cases are, as in every endeavor in life, the more interesting. And today I read the Wiki entry on Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein is definitely an oddity. It’s miniscule: population about 37,000 and geographic area of 61 square miles (160 square kilometers). That does make it far larger than either Monaco or the Vatican, but makes it far smaller than our smallest U.S. state, Rhode Island (about ½% as big), and just barely smaller even than Washington, D.C. And in an era that has pushed toward the concept of the nation-state, it remains stubbornly un-national, an independent principality.

But it’s history is what really fascinated me, showing the varieties available in state-formation. I’ll quote, selectively.

The Liechtenstein dynasty, from which the principality takes its name, comes from Castle Liechtenstein in Lower Austria, which the family possessed from at least 1140 until the 13th century, and from 1807 onward. Through the centuries, the dynasty acquired vast tracts of land, predominantly in Moravia, Lower Austria, Silesia, and Styria, though these territories were all held in fief under other more senior feudal lords, particularly under various lines of the Habsburg family, whom several Liechtenstein princes served as close advisers. Thus, without any territory held directly under the Imperial throne, the Liechtenstein dynasty was unable to meet a primary requirement to qualify for a seat in the Imperial diet (parliament)…

The family yearned for the added power a seat in the Imperial government would bring and therefore sought to acquire lands that would be unmittelbar, or held without any feudal personage other than the Holy Roman Emperor having rights on the land. After some time, the family was able to arrange the purchase of the minuscule Herrschaft (“Lordship”) of Schellenberg and county of Vaduz (in 1699 and 1712 respectively) from the Hohenems. Tiny Schellenberg and Vaduz had exactly the political status required: no feudal lord other than their comital sovereign and the suzerain Emperor.

On 23 January 1719, after the lands had been purchased, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that Vaduz and Schellenberg were united and elevated the newly formed territory to the dignity of Fürstentum (principality) with the name “Liechtenstein” in honour of “[his] true servant, Anton Florian of Liechtenstein”. It was on this date that Liechtenstein became a sovereign member state of the Holy Roman Empire. It is a testament to the pure political expediency of the purchases that the Princes of Liechtenstein did not set foot in their new principality for over 120 years.

Fascinating.

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
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2 Responses to I Heart Liechtenstein

  1. Dr X says:

    Since childhood, I’ve found San Marino fascinating.

  2. lancifer666 says:

    I wonder how it has remained a sovereign nation since?

    Not enough to spend a few minutes searching on line, but I do still wonder.

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