European integration is not a cover for German hegemonic ambitions. It is the only alternative to the destructive power politics of the pastby Michael Mertes / July 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Like any good writer who knows who the enemy is, John Laughland presents a forceful and compelling argument. It is a pity, however, that the centre piece of his book (which is really a collection of five distinct essays) is wrapped up in a tendentious discourse on what fascism and communism contributed to the “European ideology.” Since the beginning of time imperialists have invented schemes to legitimise their conquests. The Nazi appropriation of “Europe” (under the swastika) is well known. But this guilt by association does not discredit the idea of European integration any more than Nazi ideas discredit the idea of patriotism.
Julien Benda’s Discours ?la nation europ?ne was completed a few weeks before Hitler came to power. So what? What about Jean Monnet’s Algiers memorandum in 1943 -Nazi thought? These sources are not tainted, and it is from them that the postwar politics of European integration has drawn its spiritual and moral strength.
What is the point in writing that “like many modern Germans, Goebbels believed…”? It makes about as much sense as saying that like Jean-Marie Le Pen, John Laughland is against the Maastricht treaty. Does Laughland seriously believe that European integration is a cover for Nazi-inspired German hegemonic ambitions aimed at eliminating Britain from continental affairs?
Let us consider some of what Laughland has to say about nationhood and sovereignty. Laughland believes that the concept of nation has not changed decisively since biblical times. But in divinely or- dained pre-modern dynasties its meaning is not the same as in secular modern nation states. Laughland’s conviction that the modern nation state has been, and still is, the territorial basis for liberal democracy is right. If we were asked to choose between liberty and unity, we would clearly opt in favour of liberty. But what if unity turns out to be a means of securing liberty? According to Laughland, one of the EU’s main tasks is to manage the distribution of funds. But he cannot see that, more important than that, it creates a legal system that civilises conflict between member states. European integration has strengthened the rule of law.
“To say that a state is sovereign is to say that it is responsible for the laws passed on its territory, and that its constitution does not require it to defer to a higher authority,” says Laughland. The author appears to be like those German idealists for whom the world is not what it is but what it ought to be. Real challenges cannot be answered by such normative statements. The Maastricht treaty, wisely enough, is silent on sovereignty. Why not accept the idea of a conceptual interregnum?
Modern nation states have undergone momentous changes, affecting both their internal life and their external relations. In the west, the idea of a neatly definable, one dimensional national identity is increasingly being replaced by an acceptance of cultural, religious and ethnic pluralism. Communication among individuals and groups is no longer confined to the national sphere. And in the post-modern state system, to quote Robert Cooper, “security is based not on the balance of power but on mutual openness and mutual vulnerability. The absolute sovereignty of states established in 1648 has thus given way to a high degree of transparency, permeability and mutual interference.” This is particularly clear in Europe where the rule of law, doing justice to all, can no longer be ensured at the national level alone.
The diversity of European nation states has been a source of progress because it created competition. It is also true that this competition often took the destructive form of war. Nevertheless, Laughland continues to favour as a viable international system for Europe the balance of power which is a euphemism for power politics-that is, a system which inherently tends to run out of control.
Laughland tries to persuade us that “Britain’s central aim… meant protecting the weak against the strong.” But did the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 really “introduce a century and a half during which Europe was free of major conflagrations”? For the French, the 18th century was “the British” one. It was a century of ever changing alliances, constant warfare and numerous treaties, few of which were detrimental to Britain. The power politics which destroyed Poland in the 18th century and the democratic movements in the 19th century were not good for the “liberties of Europe.” As much as Edmund Burke we admire British-born Thomas Paine. Somewhere between his careers in North Am-erica and France, Paine wrote about “dignity which is often superior to power.”
What would Europe have to gain from EU member states being renationalised, free to play power politics once again? It would be most unlikely to prevent the continental hegemony of an exclusive group, or even a single nation. At present, member states regulate conflicting interests within the solid but flexible framework of the EU, and defend their common interests jointly worldwide. Anyone got a better idea?
The tainted source: the undemocratic origins of the European idea
London: Little, Brown 1997, ?20