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Feeling Blessed

At the Habsburg Convention in Plano.

WHY DID SEVERAL HUNDRED PEOPLE in Texas pay good money to spend a beautiful Saturday inside, listening to three living members of the Habsburg family and a scattering of Carlists talk about what ails the world? It’s clear what the Habsburgs got out of it: the conference, held in Plano and organized by David Ross, a Dallas-area realtor and right-wing Catholic, was in support of the family’s effort to win a sainthood for Emperor Karl I, perhaps the least successful and most tragic Habsburg monarch, who reigned for the last two years of World War I and then died penniless on the Portuguese island of Madeira. The family hoped to keep their memory alive—and maybe sell a few books. What everyone else might get out of it was unclear, at least at first.

Plano, a town of some three hundred thousand people just north of Dallas, seemed an unlikely place for a monarchist conference. The city’s name is pronounced Plain-o, which is about as complete a travel guide as you need. It is not unpleasant: it’s prosperous, peaceful, a good place to raise a kid. It is simply boring. If it has other redeeming characteristics, they are unknown to me. These are the kind of suburbs that foster alienation and a feeling of aimlessness even as they provide material security.

The Habsburgs can relate, perhaps. “We don’t rule anymore,” said Paul von Habsburg, the great-great-great-great grandson of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, from the stage, “so we find other things to do.” It is important to stay busy. “You might know I have a cousin who is a race car driver,” he added. Members of the Habsburg dynasty have been movers and shakers in Europe for a thousand years, during which time they married whom they had to marry and did what they needed to do to keep their family in power and their throats un-slit on top of the continent’s unending dogpile. Now, like his audience, he found himself adrift, an archduke of nothing. Before, he would have been born with a purpose. “There’s no real path anymore,” he said. “I think that’s good.”

Tales were told of a time and place when there was a path, whether those paths were “being the Habsburg emperor” or “serving the Habsburg emperor.” Eduard Habsburg, currently the ambassador to the Vatican of Viktor Orbán’s regime in Hungary, noted that Texas was once Habsburg land—through the descendants of Charles V of Spain, who oversaw the boom years of Spanish colonialism. To his mind, he said, it still is. The audience cooed.