A contemporary tale told in the past tense.
In 2014, the world recalls the “Great War” of 1914. Already the gap between the terminology used then, and the rating applied now, are thought provoking. The Great War held its title for twenty years. Then, the faults of the treaty that ended the conflict ripened. Clemenceau – France’s Premier drunk by grandeur - estimated that the dictated agreement was not a peace but an armistice for twenty years. The mistakes of a country that did not seek peace and reconciliation but a system to assure its continental dominance, converted the forecast into a fact.
There were other corrections to make. In a sale of snake medicine - repeated since then- a US President tagged the conflict as ”The War To End All Wars.” That eternity covered a few turbulent years whose misjudgments prepared the way for WW2. Avoidable mistakes are responsible for making the “adjusted” 20th century – 1914-1989, bloody and “unpleasant”. Looking back to get a sharper perspective of the present, one nurtures concerns because the past is repeated.
Let us begin with the tearing up of a superficial analogy and a fake “lesson”. The union of the US’ states, their rise, and especially the peace between them, might have a semblance to the EU without being an analogy to the Old World. In itself, “unity” does not guarantee peace. If imposed, it can cause conflicts once the eggshell breaks. Recall the unity the southern Slavs in Yugoslavia as Serbia’s mini- empire was called. It is here that the doubted relevance of America enters the picture. The Civil War has been an unwanted and unanticipated derivative of a mismanaged union. This demonstrates that an amalgamation of state-like entities does not bring peace if it is not an expression of pre-federation mutual loyalties.
“Unity” as a means to override diversity fails because it does not need to work. Imposed unity that self-servingly suppresses what is distinct, exacerbates differences. The dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire in 1918 tells that tale. Institutional unity is not what statesmen start with as it is a condition created by their efforts. Here we may refer to the erroneous reasoning behind an assertion. It is that peace since 1945 is to be attributed to the movement toward ever-greater unity in Europe. The opposite is true. Peace made the union possible. Europe’s peace is the product of the Soviet threat and of American protection. The warning message of the world wars did the rest.
About the first factor facilitating cooperation, one finds that, the example of Soviet control in Europe’s east overrode all inclinations for confrontation in the West.
America’s role is more complex than Moscow’s. US protection might have been too generous and too cheap. Even so, it has not been entirely devoid of conditions.
The US desired unity in Europe because she wished for an at least partly self-sustaining ally. Mindful of her security interests, the initial area chosen has been the military one. Once the French voted against a European army, the emphasis shifted to other realms. Consequently, the Europeanists as well as the American protector chose economic cooperation –steel and coal- to be followed by a common market. Eventual political unity was to rest upon the achievements of these fundamentals.
Here, we are reminded of a temptation. The absence of a popular desire for unity can be substituted by pressure - which does not have to be a singularly military one. Such as in the case of Switzerland, which is, with the succor of her local elites, extorted through economic threats to join and submit to the EU. Concurrently, the EU’s Left attempts to topple a democratically mandated but openly non-Socialist government in Hungary. Historically, and on the pan-European level, such authoritarian centralism is not new.
Since the demise of the Roman Empire, reunification had been the goal of conquerors, and lately, of the idealists, too. While the end is the same, the motives are dissimilar. Authoritarians saw in unity the extended implementation of the system they operated at home. Such an expansion of domestic tyranny served to give the regime permanency by eliminating potential opponents. Idealists viewed a united Europe as a vehicle to realize their ideals and to guarantee peace. These ends could be served by overcoming the nation state and the “tribalism” of it nationalism.
Let us turn to the historical record. The story begins with Charlemagne. In 800, he took the Imperial Crown and as a “Roman” Emperor –at least in the West- after which he commenced to subjugate “the neighborhood”. The medieval Popes and the Emperor’s of the Holy Roman Empire –neither holy, nor Roman- struggled to unite Europe under the crown or the tiara. Fortunately, their efforts canceled each other out. This produced conditions in which freedom could rise and so the continent could be developed politically and economically. Louis 14th of France initiated an era in which his country became Europe’s classical aggressor. While he achieved the cultural bonding of French speaking elites, the project of regimentation crashed on the resistance of provoked states. However, not all major powers, notably England, evinced an interest to unite Europe through subjugation. In fact, Britain’s “balance of power” policy helped small nations to preserve their identity against projects of “unity through conquest”.
Hitler’s and Stalin’s attempts to create a united Europe can be skipped here. The current project of unity, however, demands assessment.
The world wars have taught a lesson that worked for an united Europe. Small states can be threatened by large entities. In such cases, besides such sovereign communities, also the continent’s peace is imperiled. A European security structure seemed to be the answer. Reasonably, the original idea has been to provide as much coordination as the spontaneous, natural desire for bonding would support. By this standard, the extent of the coming federation was open ended. What had not been meant was the imposition of institutions that would bring centralism, or which would, through their might, make popular support unnecessary and disenfranchise sovereign peoples. Alas, the latter scenario is becoming the policy of the unionists that are frustrated by the slowness of consensual politics. With this usurpation of a good idea, the praxis is dangerously approaching the precedents set by history’s conquering unifiers of the continent.
Ironically, the once anti-state Left tries to navigate by replacing the wind from popular mandates by exploiting the power of coercive government. In the internal affairs of individual countries, the global Left had long ago become statist. The attempt to subject the Continent to bureaucratic centralism signifies the use of their local approach on a higher level. The might of bureaucratic institutions, placed beyond the grasp of genuine majorities, is an effective transmission belt to implement an ideology-derived program of transformation.
Currently, the EU is a force of “dirigism”; It endeavors to create a new state that has, so far, no people. The analogy from construction is building a roof before the walls would stand. The support of majorities that confer legitimacy, is to be the future product of the present’s administrative structures. Therefore, instead of protecting small communities, the emerging EU threatens the autonomy and identity of its member states. This contradicts the original blueprint unless the absorbed communities are satisfied with supplying folklore during celebrations praising centralism. Far gone are the days when Europe’s union was dedicated to guarantee the survival of its states. Those were the times when no attempt could be imagined to reduce these homelands into the mere provinces of an artificial creation conceived behind the desks of “administrators”.