Reconstructing Europeanism?

/, Essays, Blesok no. 47/Reconstructing Europeanism?

Reconstructing Europeanism?

More than ten years after the Velvet Revolutions and the violent breakup of Yugoslavia, however, it has become clear that unquestioned coordination between “European” symbolic, moral, political, and social values, on one hand, and “European” capitalism, on the other, is no longer tenable. A Pandora’s box was opened after the fall of the Berlin Wall and it cannot be closed up again. As the eastern part of the continent witnesses the rise of fanatic nationalism and the birth of many new countries based on old (though not always discernible) ethnic traditions, Western Europe turns a blind eye to the return of a suppressed history, convinced that the “spring of nations” was something that happened long ago. It seems that the painful history of nineteenth century—the unification of the German Länder, the stitching together of the Italian provinces (“We have Italy, now we need Italians!” Massimo D’Azeglio notoriously exclaimed), and the brutal ethnic homogenization carried out by the French state—is nowadays completely forgotten. If these past nationalist movements had more clearly been integrated into the symbolic horizon of Europe, perhaps today one would not so easily get the impression that, whereas nationalism in the bigger countries is legitimate, nationalism in the new, smaller countries inevitably sets off alarm bells. In order for European integration to begin, it was imperative that the nationalist history of Western Europe be suppressed. Thus, erstwhile nationalistic countries have become enthusiastic Europeans under the cover of economic prosperity and a consensus on the inevitable progress of the “common market.” It was precisely in an effort to facilitate this progress, that Winston Churchill, in a famous speech at Zurich University in 1946, based the reconstruction of the European family on a prospective partnership between France and Germany.
France and Germany—which together represent the leading force for European integration today and, indeed, have a great deal invested in the existence of a strong Europe (although for different reasons)—have more or less buried their nationalist animosities by facing the demons of their own totalitarian history (the Vichy regime, the Third Reich). While their visions of the E.U.’s future structure may differ, based as they are on the countries’ specific histories (the French republican tradition of a strong state and the German development of constitutional checks designed to preclude the possibility of another Holocaust), we nevertheless can discern a common denominator in all their essential European efforts, namely, the nationalism of a fat purse.
Do not misunderstand me. There is no doubt that the historical reconciliation between these two traditional adversaries represents a significant achievement of political deliberation and is worthy of profound respect. But we would be misguided not to recognize the primacy of economic logic as the basis for this reconciliation. It was, after all, the economic integration of Western Europe that was the truly essential factor in Jean Monnet’s and Robert Schumman’s original idea. The political goal was to forever prevent Germany from building a war machine with the resources of mining and heavy industry in Saar and Ruhr valleys. A lasting peace between traditionally hostile countries could be achieved so long as any potential war is not only conceptually incomprehensible but also economically impractical. The forerunner of the E.U., the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was established in 1951 in Paris by six signatory countries, became the first truly supranational organization in postwar Europe to have teeth, regulating the production of coal, steel, and iron ore. The master narrative on which the legitimacy of postwar Europe rests was devised in order to prevent any new catastrophic breakouts of imperial chauvinism and ethnic megalomania, the past scars of which needed a long time to heal. Economic resources were used to further the process of unification in order to achieve a political goal, namely, the renunciation of force in resolving disputes among members of the Union.
The creation of a European “community of peace” is predicated, then, on a pragmatic consideration, which, however, demands to be teleologically justified. The telos of peace as the supreme value provides the irrefutable language of necessity embedded in the foundations of European unification. Such unification is required for the liberalization of the intra-European market, reinforcement of habits of institutional cooperation, and reduction of cultural and societal mistrust among the members. Economic integration would provide a sense of interdependence among the peoples, and this was supposed to keep the psychology of fear at bay and so, hopefully, eradicate the breeding ground for the kind of catastrophe that had devastated Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest, and Leningrad. Impediments to global trade and the free flow of capital were to be abolished and, in this way, international conflicts would cease. This mantra, though not necessarily heard every day, functions as an unquestioned assumption behind every argument promoting “Europeanism.” The less one hears it, the more effective it is.
The technocratic discourse of the E.U. fails, then, to set forth any comprehensive, albeit idealistic, vision that might give people direction and meaning beyond the realm of the mundane. Instead, it derives from a conviction that all visions are corrupt; one need only ensure the conditions for free trade, and all the rest will follow. Here, and here alone, has Europe managed to amalgamate irreconcilable differences. I am reminded of Blaise Pascal’s observation that the most important thing in the development of faith is exterior form: if a set prayer, for example, is repeated daily as part of a ritual, religious sentiment will follow spontaneously.
One can see the same principle at work in the discourse of E.U. experts, now linked to the perverted latter-day Cartesianism “I shop, therefore I am.” At a time when one ostensibly revolutionary idea after another has collapsed, producing immense suffering in its wake, many pundits continue to recite the mantra of the “invisible hand of the market.” But this merely obscures the fact that, if the hand of the market must remain invisible, it is only because it extends its middle finger. At a time of vast inequities in wealth and opportunity, relentless degradation of the environment, and proliferating outlets of consumerist indulgence, which have all but displaced any sense of responsible citizenship, great numbers of self-styled political realists continue to entertain the exclusivist illusions of Western Europe and of the E.U. as the one and only site of relevance.
Instead of radically reconsidering the continent’s changed cultural, moral, political, and economic terrain following the tumultuous collapse of communist anciens régimes, the E.U. engine, alas, merely kept on rambling along tracks that had been laid out for it before anyone could have imagined the possibility of an undivided Europe. Technologically advanced, economically dynamic, and rapidly integrating the western half of the continent, the E.U. miserably failed in recognizing the historic opportunity it was offered. “We fiddled when Sarajevo burned,” Timothy Garton Ash pointedly laments in his History of the Present. By “we” he means, of course, Western Europe.

2018-08-21T17:23:15+00:00 April 16th, 2006|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 47|0 Comments