“The Austro-Hungarian Empire did not collapse in 1918 because it failed to cultivate new ideas or nurture personal freedom. It was filled with expressive, entrepreneurial, and free-thinking groups. The problem was that the Habsburg political system, which for three centuries had held diverse groups together, generated remarkable wealth, and defeated foreign tyrants (notably Napoleon), failed to adjust to new demands for national independence and democratic participation. Franz-Josef served as Emperor for more than sixty years before his death in 1916, as a pious, hard-working, and fair-minded political leader. He even encouraged equality for Jews at a time of rising anti-Semitism throughout Europe. Nonetheless, the system of imperial monarchy that he directed failed to address the growing demands for independence, development, and wealth redistribution throughout his lands. Despite his efforts, he was a prisoner of a stagnant and outdated set of political institutions.
Even with the best of leaders and institutions, large societies cannot prosper if they cannot adjust to change. At the same time that the cosmopolitan city of Vienna entered a terminal crisis in 1914, much more provincial cities like Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland led a rapid growth in American wealth and power behind their flexible political systems of governance.”