Date of Award

Fall 12-1-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Andrew Wiest

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Brian LaPierre

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Heather Stur

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Guenter Bischof

Committee Member 5

Graydon A. Tunstall


This study of the origins of the Heimwehr (Home Guard) movement offers insight into the conditions under which such groups gained their following. As such, its story is a valuable one that shows a society groping with the problem of a complex, multi-faceted identity that was, at the same time, wracked with substantial economic privation and politically polarized. The paramilitary Heimwehr movement that began in 1920 was the creation of Austria’s conservative provincial governments. It was intended to preserve the existing social and political order—that of the hegemonic social groups of the Habsburg Monarchy—against the growing threat of Marxist revolution, embodied by the Social Democratic Party. The movement understood itself as the continuity of the centuries-old, volunteer militia tradition and carried on its rituals and adopted many of its values. In post-Habsburg Austria, the Heimwehren sought to defend their homeland not from any army, but from an ideology—Marxism. With numerous sources—foreign and domestic—of financial, material, and military support, the Heimwehr movement was at the epicenter of anti-Marxism in Europe and waged an ideological war against the Austrian Social Democratic Party.

The movement’s seemingly negative political agenda that extended beyond its aversion toward Marxism has been depicted by historians as indicative the absence of a distinct, overarching sociopolitical outlook. The controversial and misunderstood—even by Heimwehr members themselves—Korneuburg Oath its federal leaders published in May 1930 outlined the agenda of the movement and, when carefully read, reveals the guiding hand of Catholic social thought. The fact that far right circles of Austria’s mainstream conservative parties birthed and reared the Heimwehr movement, differentiated it from the Nazis and Italian fascism, who only later gained mainstream support due to the desperation of the latter.

Indeed, with the recent outpouring of populist, xenophobic nationalism in the United States and Europe, the Heimwehr movement in Austria, among other right-wing paramilitary organizations of Europe’s “Fascist Era” serve as useful, cautionary tales for the present political landscape.