Saturday, July 7, 2018

Is the European Union Imploding?

London bridges may or may not be falling down, but the European Union is imploding. It’s not just about Angela Merkel’s replacing the rule of law with the rule of sentiment. It’s not just about Western Europe’s efforts to open itself to Muslim migrants. It’s not just about Eastern Europe’s unwillingness to follow the example of its Western neighbors.

It’s about one of the most grandiose efforts to replace the nation state with collective government. It’s about making a dream come true, making an ideal become real.

Europe owes the idea of a universal world government to Immanuel Kant. The enlightenment philosopher wanted us all to have a cosmopolitan bias. He assumed that universal governance could gobble  up national identity, national sovereignty and national language. And would bring peace on earth and good will to men.

He was wrong, We are discovering it now, in Europe and also in the United States.

Max Fisher explains it well in The New York Times. For the record, the Times has provided very good coverage of the events:

The European Union has always been sold, to its citizens, on a practical basis: Cheaper products. Easier travel. Prosperity and security.

But its founding leaders had something larger in mind. They conceived it as a radical experiment to transcend the nation-state, whose core ideas of race-based identity and zero-sum competition had brought disaster twice in the space of a generation.

France’s foreign minister, announcing the bloc’s precursor in 1949, called it “a great experiment” that would put “an end to war” and guarantee “an eternal peace.”

Norway’s foreign minister, Halvard M. Lange, compared Europe at that moment to the early American colonies: separate blocs that, in time, would cast off their autonomy and identities to form a unified nation. Much as Virginians and Pennsylvanians had become Americans, Germans and Frenchmen would become Europeans — if they could be persuaded.

“The keen feeling of national identity must be considered a real barrier to European integration,” Mr. Lange wrote in an essay that became a foundational European Union text.

For all the whiz-bang ideals, Europeans had another reason for joining together as a union. They wanted to become a world class hegemonic power, one that could compete on the world stage with America and the Soviet Union.

Rather than see it as an effort to realizing a Kantian ideal, we can see the European Union as an effort to form a European Empire—led by Germany, France and Britain.

On their own France and Great Britain and Germany were losing influence in the world. They cannot even defend themselves against an enemy army. Together they could exert power, but only in economic terms. And only because America was providing most of the fire power.

As long as Europe did not have a military force worthy of the name, it was a castle built on sand, ready to be washed away by the next wave.

It didn’t help that the Brussels bureaucracy was making decisions for nations. It did not feel very democratic. The EU eventually saw English become the main language, but that was because of American more than of England. Now that Great Britain is pulling out of the union, French president Macron wants French to become the primary European language.

Intellectuals love big ideas. They assume that wishing can make it so and that big ideas must necessarily come true. Like dreams and wishes.

And yet, Fisher adds, they made a major miscalculation:

But instead of overcoming that barrier, European leaders pretended it didn’t exist. More damning, they entirely avoided mentioning what Europeans would need to give up: a degree of their deeply felt national identities and hard-won national sovereignty.

Now, as Europeans struggle with the social and political strains set off by migration from poor and war-torn nations outside the bloc, some are clamoring to preserve what they feel they never consented to surrender. Their fight with European leaders is exploding over an issue that, perhaps more than any other, exposes the contradiction between the dream of the European Union and the reality of European nations: borders.

Establishment European leaders insist on open borders within the bloc. Free movement is meant to transcend cultural barriers, integrate economies and lubricate the single market. But a growing number of European voters want to sharply limit the arrival of refugees in their countries, which would require closing the borders.

Ideas do not have borders. They do not have boundaries. They do not exist in space and time. Those who wanted to construct a union that would realize an idea failed to notice that ideas can never be realized. It’s why they are worshipped as ideals.

He continues:

Traveling Germany with a colleague to report on the populist wavesweeping Europe, we heard the same concerns over and over. Vanishing borders. Lost identity. A distrusted establishment. Sovereignty surrendered to the European Union. Too many migrants.

It is not easy for Europeans to abandon the old-style national identity, rooted in race and language, that has caused them such trouble. The human desire for a strong group identity — and for perceived homogeneity within that group — runs deep.

Germany for the Germans, Catalonia for the Catalans. A country of people who look like me, speak my language and share my heritage. These nationalist impulses, however dangerous, emerge from basic human instinct. It makes us feel safe; losing it makes us feel threatened. It is reinforced in our popular culture and built into the international order.

Fisher is correct to see that the need to belong to a discrete entity like a nation is not pathological. It is normal.


Sam L. said...

"Fisher is correct to see that the need to belong to a discrete entity like a nation is not pathological. It is normal." I take it from this that he'd see liberals and progressives as anti-normal.

Walt said...

When this project began in earnest about...25?...years ago, I said at tne time that it would either lead to Orwell's Oceania or WW3. The EU leaders seem to want the former; if they continue to ignore the will of at least half their own people, they may well get the latter.

Anonymous said...

Ideas do not have borders.
Agree - but they do have social/cultural contexts.

They do not have boundaries.
Disagree - many ideas are boundary *dependent* .

They do not exist in space and time.
Strongly disagree. Without denying the Eternal, visions of it are highly space, time and culture bound.

And it seems mistaken to conflate
"Ideas" with ""Ideal(s)".

- shoe

sestamibi said...

"Germany for the Germans, Catalonia for the Catalans. A country of people who look like me, speak my language and share my heritage. These nationalist impulses, however dangerous, emerge from basic human instinct"

Except for Israel, of course.

Christopher B said...

I wonder if the Europeans realize that we fought an extremely costly internal war before we became 'the United States IS' instead of 'the United States ARE', and even 150 years later we're still struggling with questions related to federalism re sanctuary cities and other issues.

Anonymous said...

We as humans are strongly oriented to family and tribal instincts throughout our history. These instincts do not disappear because our betters believe they should. Not even the immigrants shy away from these instincts in countries that they have migrated. Dare I say this is why it is important to have people become part of that "melting pot."