The United States of What?

An argument is being pandered to the credulous in the debate that determines Europe’s and the Atlantic Alliance’s future. Only superficially is this a European matter: the United States is invoked, and the outcome affects the transatlantic alliance, whereby American security is involved.

The dispute is about the shape that Europe is to attain as a political-economic entity –beyond being a mere geographic expression. The answer is not only crucial to Europeans, but it is also fundamental to the USA. The quality and the strength of transatlantic relations hinges upon the response.

Clearly, the interests regarding the way Europe constitutes itself are similar, quite regardless on which shore of the Atlantic lake one is located.

Incessant conflicts have been a consequence of Europe’s multitude of states and their ambitions. The defensibility of countries went from the imperiled dwarf to the Great Power. Temptations grew out of this condition. Small states are hard to defend; weakness provokes aggression. Furthermore, the great powers of the European system had colonial ambitions and they strived to dominate Europe, too. Subjugating small countries meant to prepare for the “final struggle” in the heavyweight class. Accordingly, the attempt to “unite” the continent signified more than only war against competing great powers, as it also implied colonization next door.

Since the fall of Rome, European unity has been a goal of those that were obsessed by hegemony. Unity through conquest has achieved successes. However, these could not be converted into a permancy. Until 1945, diplomacy could, at its best, only manage turbulence without creating a consensual, and therefore durable, order.

The cataclysm of WW2, and American nudging, brought an attempt to break with past patterns to restructure Europe. The perished milions, American protection, as well as the Soviet threat, combined to push to create a new structure. It was to ensure peace, forego domination, provide security for small countries, and counter external threats.

The goal of security for frail communities, democratic structures, unhindered wealth-creation, and global security, demanded a new political entity. In part, the concept reacted to the assumed foundations of America’s success. She had proceeded from disjointed and small agrarian communities to a federal unity, and then became a transcontinental nation. Economic success and superpower status followed.

Presently, Europe-in-construction is in the midst of a self-generated crisis. Will the edifice continue as a confederation according to the principle of subsidiarity –tasks delegated to the lowest level able to carry them out? Will the European Union (EU) see its purpose in the protection of the identity of its members through the voluntary cooperation of national states? Alternatively, will existing arrangements be exploited to achieve centralization and a pan-continental state with a central government?

Centralization’s critique points out that the union’s original purpose is being violated; since there is no European people, language, culture, and ethnicity, a merger that overcomes national states must suppress identities. That shrinks the freedom of groups and of individuals. To that, the advocates of federal consolidation –followed by a unitary state- have a response. It is the case of the USA whose example is said to invalidate the concerns of the backers of a confederation with limited power. Under scrutiny, the US analogy appears as ill fitting, invalid, and as advocated to mislead.

Oddities come to mind through the favorable reference to the US. One is that those that invoke her example are, in another context, condemnatory of anything American. Equally queer is that, the USA is cited in a plea for big government and bureaucratic centralism. Neither is descriptive of America’s essence.

The question posed by the conflict between the two camps that support incompatible versions of unity is, “the United States of Europe (USE), yes or no”.

That American analogy limps in several ways. History’s nascent USA and present day Europe match only to the myopic and superficial observer.

Once Britain prevented a French empire in America, the founding colonies were shielded from incursions. Only the delusional will pretend that Europe enjoys comparable immunity. A Russian and a Chinese threat might be remote must not be written off, while an Islamic one, being combined with a subversive internal fifth column, is clear and present.

While the security situations, and so the leeway to experiment diverge, we find the main difference to be in the internal composition of America then, and Europe now.

The North American colonies’ separateness has been negligible. Their religion, the economic base and geography does show differences, however, these are outweighed by similarities. These begin with a shared language. Generally, European states have their own language making it into a divisive, not a unifying, factor. Only Switzerland and Finland are multilingual without damaging the country, while it weakens Belgium. Italy is now at peace with its German-speakers who would, if they could, belong to Austria. In some Central and Eastern European states, linguistic minorities that are often local majorities, are seen as separatist threats. Individuals that resort in public to their native tongue can be subjected to insults or worse. On the whole, languages, being ethnic traits, re-enforce ethnic differences.

Pre-union colonial history has not been one of armed conflict. The rivalry for western territories is a negligible theme. The “U” in “USE” is weakened by competitive histories, often confrontationally remembered. However, to the sane, this factor speaks for a union to reduce the significance of borders that separate ethnic minorities from the country in which their kind is a majority. Such regionalization –therefore de-centralization of power- could moderate tension and reduce the fear of separatism. At the same time, this point underlines that, what many EU members desire is not the USE, but a construct that secures their integrity and survival. This flight from destructively competitive nationalisms is not a centralized union -dominated by a German-French axis- but a confederation as originally stipulated by the EU. Here the idea of security in a supranational state clashes with the hope for mutual security, for different nations within a system of cooperation. The centralizers desire to use institutional power to create consent. Their opponents wish to use consent to create institutions with limited power.

Lastly and mainly, the political culture of the member states differentiates between the young lands that became the USA, and which defines the existing old states of Europe. Nascent America’s components shared the ideas of the enlightenment and had elites eager to create a democratic system to implement them. In that, they had the support of an educated mass that enjoyed sufficient material security to provide a stable foundation.  Additionally, the Colonies shared England’s political culture and tradition that constituted a useful scaffold to erect a successful society around it. On this basis, one might say that the constituent parts of the USA were, in language, religion, political ideals, institutions, and their economic outlook, as well as in their elites’ compatibility, closely related. Therefore, institutional unity brought together what matched even without a formal constitution. Thus, unity in a new state expressed the logic of the parts’ previous development.

The above does not apply to Europe. This is so evident that the theme needs no elaboration. Ergo, a unifying construction must bind what diverges. Not fitting parts need to be merged, but potentially conflicting entities are to be bound together to lower tension and to guarantee separate development in security to all.

We have seen that the conditions and strivings that characterize early America and contemporary Europe are so diverse that the transfer of the American experience is not possible. Those who legitimize their case by referring to America, plead for an “un-American” project. Their openly stated goal is not a consensus-defined confederation, but a unitary state to be achieved by beginning with a centralism that covertly leads to a federation. This project hopes to create through central institutions a matching, new synthetic people –an endeavor that recalls the “Soviet Man”. An order that facilitates the pursuit of liberty, of a free economy, and protected identity, is the only one that can receive the support of free men. An artificial USE is the admitted goal of the left. Such a framework expresses the elite’s craving for power and it caters to those that expect to benefit from bureaucratic centralism, -a substitute for freely given assent from below. If it comes about, the USE will not be a realm of freedom but a ghost from the past. The disappointing analogy of the USE will not be the USA. It will recall the defunct multinational empires –the Ottoman, the Habsburg, the Russian, and lastly, the Soviet one.

The countries, parties, and persons that criticize the EU are not against a community whose unity expresses the freely given consent of its parts. The aim is not to prevent cooperation in Europe, but to achieve it by making differently cast gears match in a composite. This approach accepts innate differences among the parts to enable the gears to churn. Similarly, those that plead for centralization are not the champions of a popular vision to overcome a failed tradition. Much rather, the advocating elites are in pursuit of their own utopia that is unwanted by those they claim to save from their errors. The resulting need to “reeducate” populations will demand coercive government, resented by all -except those that will empower themselves to do the “leading”.


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