Sebastian Kurz, Stefan Zweig and why age is important

Austria’s elections are a reflection of the ephemerality of our age

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, set to become the world’s youngest leader.

“A man of 30 was still considered immature, and a 40-year-old not regarded as ready for a position of responsibility,” Stefan Zweig wrote of fin-de-siècle Vienna in his memoir The World of Yesterday. “There was one astonishing exception, when Gustav Mahler was appointed director of the Court Opera at the age of 38, and horrified murmurs ran through the whole of Vienna at entrusting the highest artistic institution to such a young man.”

Now Austria has, if exit polls are to be believed, entrusted its high office to a 31-year-old — one so cocksure that he has renamed the party after himself on the ballot papers. Sebastian Kurz only became the leader of the conservative People’s Party in May. He’s pro-EU but seemed a little too comfortable playing with the agenda of the Far Right for electoral gain.

All this youth will become an increasing irritant to European commentators as they examine their greying temples in the mirror each morning.

Italy, too, has a 31-year-old challenger for the position of Prime Minister. And this shortly after the election of Emmanuel Macron, who is now looking pretty mature at 39.

But there is a genuine reason to worry: Kurz, and the Italian 5-Star leader Luigi di Maio, come to embody those dangerous moments in history when the young man in a hurry seizes the pace, where the pendulum of politics begins to lose its steady rhythm between Left and Right, between ideas that have steeped over time, and lurches to a new agenda.

This unlocking is not always a bad thing but the urgency of it might give us pause for thought. Both the desire for the shock of the new, and the insatiable hunger of the media for another twist in the plot, leave politics beginning to look like a version of Instagram chasing the next big trend.

Not all young men are Mahlers. Those grey temples of the commentariat, who have seen this folly before, may soon become a badge of honour.

First published in the Evening Standard on Monday, 16th October. You can read my full column here.

Like what you read? Give Joy Lo Dico a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.