On this day in 1806, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II abdicated and dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. (It helped that he had recently become emperor of Austria, so he was not compelled to give up the empering business entirely.) Voltaire famously remarked that “ce corps qui s’appelait et qui s’appelle encore le saint empire romain n’était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire” (“this body that was called, and is still called, the Holy Roman Empire was in no way either holy, or Roman, or an empire”); and because one good wisecrack can set a view of history in concrete, we are generally taught in school that the Holy Roman Empire was a failure through and through.  It took a thousand years to unravel, however, and there is something to be said for an institution that can last from the Dark Ages through to Dr. Boli’s own young adulthood. Doubtless it was thoroughly absurd from the beginning to the end of its history; but let us remember the attempt in the twentieth century to re-found the institution on rational principles, and we shall have a higher regard for absurdity.

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