Don’t Let America Imitate a Burning EU

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy's Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase.


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Traveling through Europe can obscure the looming crisis threatening the continent. Visiting the medieval villages of Alsace, the castles on the Rhine, or the magnificent cathedrals in Basel or Cologne, it’s easy to forget that Europe is on the brink of disaster. But these days even EUrophiles are sounding apocalyptic. The European Commission has said that the monetary union is in danger of “disintegration,” while the European Central Bank called it “unsustainable.” To some, the threat to the eurozone is a threat to the whole EU project. Joschka Fischer, Germany’s former vice-Chancellor, has said, “In a mere three years, the eurozone’s financial crisis has become an existential crisis for Europe.” As the Financial Times puts it, “The flames are licking closer to the eurozone’s combustible core.”

All that architecture and art, then, are the fragments of a glorious past, museum exhibits created by a once dynamic and powerful but now declining civilization. For Americans, Europe’s magnificent past is not as important as its current collapse, which should warn us against repeating its utopian delusions that ignore the hard realities of human nature and human limitations.

The EU and its common currency eurozone were founded on a shopworn idea and a simplistic understanding of history. The bad history is the reading of the state violence instigated by Germany for 70 years and culminating in the horrific slaughter of World War II. The exclusionary, if not racist, mystic nationalism of Germany was seen as the root cause of the war, and so it was concluded that diminishing the power of nationalism while promoting democracy and prosperity would prevent such violence in the future. In Europe, this meant reining in Germany by limiting its power with supranational institutions, and by fostering a pacifism that most Germans were all too eager to embrace. By integrating its own economic interests with those of Europe, Germany could prove it was no longer a threat to its neighbors. Former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt recently evoked this argument in his plea to save the euro: “More than once we Germans have caused others to suffer because of our position of power,” he said, adding that “whoever doesn’t understand this original and still relevant reason for European integration is missing the indispensable requirement for solving today’s precarious crisis.”

What’s forgotten in this analysis is that the European vacation from tragic history was subsidized by the United States. Europe’s once powerful militaries, always the instruments for pursuing state interests with force, could shrink because the U.S. military provided the security against the existential threat of the Soviet Union. Even with that threat gone, the globalized economy from which Europe profits is policed by American military power. Germany isn’t a threat not because of the EU, but because it hasn’t needed to build up its military due to the security dividend provided by American taxpayers.

The old idea is the two-centuries-long dream of a “parliament of nations,” the notion that supranational institutions and laws would replace the nation-state with its divisive particularities of custom, culture, religion, and language. Western civilization, it was thought, was evolving into a more universal identity created by science, technology, new knowledge about human nature and society, and the shrinking world created by global trade. These all were leading to a “harmony of interests” that increasingly rational people would realize could be served more by peace and prosperity than by conflict and war. This grand idea also lay behind the creation of the League of Nations and the United Nations, which both failed at creating a unified, transnational authority comprising sovereign nations with distinct and necessarily conflicting interests and cultures. The EU will not be any more successful than the other two, and for the same reason. EU member countries have never stopped being sovereign entities each with its own constitution that reflects national custom, law, and character.

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  • Hank Rearden

    There is a mysterious subtext to the whole EU idea that is very difficult to understand. It is obvious to an outsider that the preconditions do not exist for a politically integrated Europe. Part of what makes Europe what it is is the heritage of each of its countries, not to mention native languages. So, why is Europe always presented as having to be one unified whole or nothing?

    What Europe DOES share is sufficient common interests that a UN-type structure would very likely work there. Each country would remain independent, but there would be a "European Council" to make joint foreign and military policy. Each country could still go its own way, but it would become customary for Europe to have a unified policy on big issues such as the nuclearization of Iran or piracy off the Horn of Africa. In the age of computers, a common currency is hardly necessary as currency translations can be made instantaneously and separate currencird let each country have control over its economic destiny.

    Europeans are far too dazzled by the dollar. The universality of the dollar is the RESULT of American predominance, not its CAUSE. And having the dollar be the world's reserve currency is actually a burden as it has kept the dollar significantly overvalued during a period of enormous trade deficits for the U.S. Superficially, it benefits us to have oil traded in dollars, but that is more than offset by the damage to domestic industry from a perpetually overvalued currency. One of the most toothless threats currently is that China is going to unleash the yuan as an alternative to the dollar. That is the LAST thing the Chinese want, as the value of the yuan would surge if it were traded freely.

    Europe would do fine with a Council of Europe for the big international decisions and national governments for internal policy. And forget the euro! Who needs it?

  • Alvaro

    What we need is a Europe of trade and cooperation. What we don't need is unelected commissars running an European Union, pursuing all markers of statehood: Common currency, constitution, national anthemn, etc. All in the name of democracy, of course. And if someone votes wrong, they can always vote again until they get it right. Europe might turn into a totalitarian state, and it is not that many steps from it.

    Hank Rearden wrote: "So, why is Europe always presented as having to be one unified whole or nothing?"

    A large part of Europeans is against it as it is, so it is not that popular. But as for the people in favor of the strong political integration, I think it boils down to wanting a United States of Europe. In essence this means having a Europe less dependent of the USA, both economically and in terms of foreign policy.

    The thought behind it is not that bad, as can be said about communism, but anyone with half a brain should know that it has to fail in present day Europe. The economic and cultural differences are just too large. A provoking thought is that it might have succeeded in the 1940s if Germany had won the war. We would then have a Europe union under German leadership – much like today. But at least the Germans were honest about their totalitarianism and would have been ruthless carrying out whatever was necessary to accomplish the goal.

    I am not trying to imply there is a link between Germany of the 1940s and the current EU. Far from it, but the idea of a strong Europe independent of the USA is the same.

    "Europe would do fine with a Council of Europe for the big international decisions and national governments for internal policy."

    A European Union might work in parts of Europe,where there are strong economical and cultural similarities. But it also defeats the goal of having a united Europe. If having a united Europe is the goal, you are left with trying to mix the oil and water of the economies of northern and southern Europe. Either way, the project fails geopolitically or economically.

  • gamaliel

    Comments like The threat of the soviet union is gone are very misleading because the threat from Russia is very real.

  • http://www.maghrebchristians.com Youssef

    Her screams were not drowned out by the clamor of the crazed mob of nearly 200 men around her. An endless number of hands reached toward the woman in the red shirt in an assault scene that lasted less than 15 minutes but felt more like an hour.

    Read more: http://www.maghrebchristians.com/2012/06/07/alarm

    Youssef

  • WilliamJamesWard

    What has happened in America and the drive to financial splendor being derailed is the outcome
    of a warning that has gone behind the curtain of elitist failure. America has not avoided foreign
    entanglements and has bled out into the World system of devaluation of independece and
    freedom, galvanized by moral and social decay orchistrated at the United Nations
    where American interists are ground down into a miasmic superficiality…………….William

  • Western Spirit

    as we move toward a global government to go with a global market as our elitists would have it, we'll continue to see the decline of the west.

    p. c. has prepared the way with its leveling everything into equality that flys in the face of common sense, because in the nature of this existence equality does not exist. common sense tells us this, the common wisdom acquired by the human race through the ages.

    europe is simply leading the way into destruction because it was the first to abandon its judeo-christian values that
    has been the source of common sense wisdom. and we'll go down the same path unless we return to the ancient paths of righteousness that have been our guidelines through the ages.

  • mlcblog

    The reason Germany is in a position of power is that they are more industrious than the other European countries in general. They don't drink so much wine, they love to work and make machines and handle money. Bully for them.

    Too bad people the world over don't seem to know that money is created by people. People with ideas who are willing to work hard. Usually this is of great benefit to their fellow man. However, with twisted logic and extreme guilt unassuaged and complete ignorance about free enterprise (capitalism is a word I decry that was coined by none other than Karl Marx, as in socialist, capitalist, communist, his theory), then they fall in on themselves and lose their steam and abandon their natural place of leadership as a nation, a people, again who could benefit many if they just knew who they are. Sad.

  • mlcblog

    Mr. Thornton,

    …grand idea also LAID by…

  • wctaqiyya

    Big picture. We are looking at what happens when the US empire contracts. Sure, the military, political and economic dominance is still there. But, it's not as 'there' as it used to be and everyone feels it. Wonder how and why the Roman empire failed? This is the replay. Pay attention.

  • UCSPanther

    All I can say is:

    "Burn baby burn. EU inferno! Burn baby burn. Burn that mother down!"

  • joe

    What is confusing is why European countries bought into the UN/EU sales pitch of a single united EU – world entity of shiny happy people living in a perfectly diversified fantasy utopia.

    Europe fought long and hard against each other,invaders and at times the world in order to establish varying degrees of individualism,power and control.They finally seemed to settle into separate nations and to be developing and prospering .Now they are throwing it all away for a fairy tale nirvana that is unrealistic ,financially destructive and no different than a totalitarian regime.

    The UN and EU are corrupt ,biased,racist, and the UN are drug and sex slave dealers.

    How do European citizens benefit from any of this ? To created a perfect ,singular world you must have perfect,single minded,cloned people .