The Art of Acquiescence
At 30, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, was deep in melancholy. In 1888, he and his country were at a crossroads.
Freud lived down the street, slowly coming to terms with the unexplored frontier of the subconscious. Things like democracy and freedom and capitalism were no longer simple ‘ideals’ that could be ignored. Even as they admired the glittering palace on the monarchy, everyone could feel the Crown losing its grip. The Austrians had what they call the ‘nervous sickness of modernity’. They knew that change was coming but they didn’t know when.
His father, a Hapsburg King no less, was having none of it. Rudolf, whose liberal ideas were soon validated, was forced to sit and wait. He wasn’t playing the system so much as waiting for a chance for the system to let him play. A Prince, no matter how old or smart, is still considered a child – at least while the king is still alive.
“My youth is over,” he wrote. “Nobody believes in me and I can’t take hold.”
His father assigned him the important job of sitting through long society dinners and waiting. Waiting as the empire crumbled, and protests exploded across the country. He took to writing anonymous columns in the national paper but was powerless to act on the ideas he wrote about. And then he lost that last bit of relief too, in favor of a busy opera schedule.
Rudulf took his mistress to a empty palace in the woods. They signed a suicide pact. He shot her, waited two hours, and then turned the gun on himself.
Rudolf’s problem – aside from what was probably a chemical imbalance – was that he tied his own happiness to what other people ‘let him do.’ Anyone know can see where the world is going but is relatively powerless to do anything about it knows exactly what he was going through. It is crushing and depressing and humiliating. Waiting is awful, because it’s not just waiting – it’s wasting.
But dispersed throughout the year before Rudolf’s death were times of great happiness. Mary Vetsera, his mistress and he had fallen deeply in love. Through conduits, he’d found exciting ways to subvert the empire and he was certain that change was coming. And then he let someone take it all away.
I know for me, I have the same cycle. Big huge runs where the success (and now, a little money) starts to roll in. When it naturally dries up, I’ll convince myself that I must have it or something better, back. It is not a pleasant crash. When you let external factors validate your happiness, you lose the sovereignty of self.
The balance has to come from the inside. Otherwise, you end up being the guy whose murder-suicide causes the First World War. And all the stuff you supposedly cared about and believed in gets put off for half a century.
 A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton
I really enjoyed reading this entry for today. I’ve ordered the book.
Especially for young people still trying to figure out and make their own place in the world, this line here: “When you let external factors validate your happiness, you lose the sovereignty of self,” is perhaps your best piece of advice to date.
The most successful people I know are the ones who understand who they are, live comfortably in their own skin, and refuse to let others control their lives. Like you said, it all boils down to balance – roll over too easily, and your dreams are denied as you become a puppet to someone else; be too brazenly independent, and you drive away the very people who can help you.
A very mature article.
My last psuedo-relationship exploded in my face after I did something stupid, and resulted in my ex casually hooking up with one of my best friends, in front of me, to piss me off. I think…to be fair I was in somewhat of a drunken stupor and no one will confirm or deny that.
The point of my rambling diatribe? The truth fucking hurts, but you have to be brutally honest with yourself to avoid such a nifty phrase as “cognitive dissonance.” I’ve got this cool theory that years of unnecessary guilt will wreak havoc on your subconscious.
I find it creepy that I came across your post and this quote within the same hour: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers.
Geez, this is me to a T! My fear of failure usually out-weighs my desire for happiness and success. I’m not as aggressive as I should be and sort of wait for things to happen to me instead of making them happen for me. Dumb! I must right the ship, there’s still time!
Really great post man. Thanks.