There Is No Such Thing As Europe

2006-04-11

While in London recently I had dinner with Helen Szamuely, my co-blogger at Albion's Seedlings. In the comments here, Helen introduces an idea she mentioned to me in person: "there is no such thing as Europe." (As noted by Jim Bennett, the point is also made by Daniel Johnson in his most recent Letter from London: "The European Union is not only more diverse but also more divided than ever.")

What does it mean that there is no such thing as Europe? We Americans tend to think of Europe as this monolithic entity lurking across the ocean -- we used to call it the Old World. But despite the existence of a European "union" (looking less united all the time), Europe has no enduring social reality. You can't have a functioning democracy without a demos, and there is no single demos (people) in Europe -- there are Poles and Spaniards and Swedes and Italians and English and Germans and all the rest. Can you envision a politician running for President of Europe -- say, an Austrian campaigning in Portugal and Greece and Ireland and France and the Netherlands and the Czech Republic? The very idea is risible.

It is possible for many peoples or at least language communities to function together if they have a robust tradition of federalism -- the Swiss have showed that for centuries. But the EU is not the Helvetian Confederation -- it is a strongly centralized state-in-the-making, but lacking a foundation in the social reality of a people having common cultural, legal, and social assumptions. The EU is a grand experiment in nation-building, an attempt by the ruling elites of its member nations to foist their centralized, bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all decision-making on the many peoples who inhabit the European continent. I fear the consequences when those peoples realize that they've been had.

UPDATE: Helen has posted her own thoughts on the topic.


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