As the post-war neoliberal project of the European Union appears to be entering its twilight years, the thoughtful observer should consider the follies of its founders.
The Eurocrats thought that they would be the final act in the long play of history upon the European continent, that they would set the capstone of human thought and achievement upon a pyramid of free trade and free movement. They thought they would crucify the old blood and soil identities of the world upon a cross of liberty and markets. They believed they would bring peace and universal brotherhood to a fractious and violent continent with little more than economic leverage and lofty, sentimental rhetoric.
Even if one agrees with the goals and presuppositions of liberal internationalism, it doesn’t take an abnormal amount of intellectual acumen to see that the reach of the globalist dreamers has long exceeded their grasp.
Their dream of a Pan-European state, in which individual national identities would be subsumed into a great transcendent Euro-Geist, required more than just wishful thinking. Such a project has haunted the European imagination since at least the time of Napoleon. And although the Napoleons of the past ultimately failed in their quest for European unity, they had a much more realistic understanding of the means necessary to realize it.
The EU was initially founded solely as trade association, but the implied subtext was always that of a union that would naturally grow to become a Pan-European super state. The architects of the EU realized that much deeper integration would be required if the EU were to succeed. Such a union would have to share not just a common currency and labor regulations, but also a shared central government, military, and foreign policy. The architects of the EU understood this and believed, in classic Hegelian fashion, that the contradictions inherent in the embryonic EU project would be worked out as future crises forced an ever closer union upon an otherwise recalcitrant populace.
Rattled by the horrors of the World Wars and repulsed by the rabid nationalism that had supposedly spawned them, the architects assumed the end of nationalism within the boundaries of Europe would be an easy sell. Such a view may have seemed self-evident to a Western European living in the 1950s and 60s, but the sentiment has aged rather poorly.
The contradictions of the EU haven’t worked themselves out into a clearer and clearer synthesis as the original planners had assumed. Instead, all involved sought to maximize their own profits from the project, while limiting their investment. When the rubber met the road, no nation wanted to surrender too much of their nation’s sovereignty in order to realize the Pan-European dream.
They desired all of the benefits, but refused any of the necessary sacrifices.
Of course, this should have been a surprise to no one involved. Integrated markets were necessary for a project as ambitious as the EU to succeed, but they were never sufficient in and of themselves. The atomization and homogenization engendered by the free market certainly weakened traditional identities, but in the member countries of the EU, where roots go much deeper and identities are less fragile, the market in and of itself was not enough to meld these identities into a supra-national one, the Euro-Geist.
An element of coercion, of forced assimilation, is ultimately necessary for such a project to have any hopes of success. Without the Blank Slate of an empty continent, as in North America, such diverse cultures will not be melded together so easily. After all, not only are Europe’s cultures diverse, but so are its languages. The EU officially recognizes 23 languages within its borders.
As Alexander taught us, some knots can’t be disentangled, but instead must be cut through. Anti-thesis and thesis can indeed form a new synthesis, but sometimes a thorough hammering is required. Economic integration is necessary for any sort of supra-national Euro state to come into being, but it is far from sufficient.
Such a state can only be hammered into being by elites who possess not only economic but also military power and the willingness to use it. Without the plausible threat of force, there is simply no way to unify such a naturally fractious and divided polity.
This is the lesson of all truly successful multicultural states. Russia, China, Singapore, the United States, and Tito’s Yugoslavia among others all possessed the will to impose their version of order upon otherwise fractious societies.
Without the threat of military force, the United States wouldn’t have lasted past the Whisky Rebellion, much less the Civil War. If this use of force to maintain cohesion was necessary, in spite of the many natural advantageous afforded the American project in North America, how much more would it be necessary for the infinitely more complex European one?
The EU elites deluded themselves into believing their own lofty rhetoric; they drank their own Kool-Aid, which convinced them that they entered a new era magically free from war and the need for direct coercion.
The dream of swords beaten into plowshares is a noble one which, unfortunately, can only be actualized in the eschaton, not in our own immanent reality.
As Spengler noted:
The question of whether world peace will ever be possible can only be answered by someone familiar with world history. To be familiar with world history means, however, to know human beings as they have been and always will be. There is a vast difference, which most people will never comprehend, between viewing future history as it will be and viewing it as one might like it to be. Peace is a desire, war is a fact; and history has never paid heed to human desires and ideals.
In reality, the European project was never the grand New World Order so feared amongst the conspiracy theorists of right-wing fever swamps. Its architects drank far too deeply of their own sentimental propaganda to ever be able to bring their dreams to fruition. In this sense, they were indeed characteristic of the late modern age, which spawned them.
There is no impulse more truly modern than the simultaneous pursuit of two mutually exclusive ends. In our personal lives, we seek endless copulation without the possibility of reproduction. Our diets consist of decaf coffee, soy burgers, and non-fat butter, which promise us all the pleasure of the original without their natural drawbacks. We seek fame and recognition, but shun the virtues that traditionally correspond with them. So is it really a surprise that our political enterprises would follow a similar logic? The EU is merely the geopolitical version of a five step program, which is doomed to over-promise and under-deliver. It is the desire for peace without strength, for prosperity and coherence without sovereignty. And without true sovereignty, even the best-laid plans of mice and globalists are doomed to fail.
The Davos men believed they were the end of history, that Hegelian providence had preordained them to usher in a golden age of peace, prosperity, and self-actualization. In a hundred years, if power shifts away from progressive hegemony, historians will most likely look back upon them not as visionaries and world-improvers, but rather as a collection deluded dilettantes.
The great dream of a united Europe is still possible, of course, but it will not be delivered by the kale-eating bureaucrats scheming in the salons of Brussels. It will only be delivered, if it is ever delivered, by a group of elites dedicated to the acquisition and maintenance of strength and sovereignty. And until this happens, the grand dream of a United Europe will remain just that, a dream.