Some aphorisms looking at how we speculate about the future without trying to learn from what the past thought about the future.
The manifest flaws in the European Union show the failure of the present European construct – and the necessity of the European Imperium.
Translated by Martin Locker
In the following speech, given the 26 April at the 2014 colloquium of the journal Élements, in translation by Martin Locker, Alain de Benoist with his usual clarity and keen insight lays bare some of the fundamental problems at the root of the European project, and simultaneously states the case for the necessity of a united Europe. The original can be found in the blog of Éléments.
(Editorial note: This translation originally included the following phrase: ‘the European Union has not only wanted to replace Europe with nations’. This has been corrected to ‘the European Union has not only sought to replace the nations with Europe’. — 28/09/2018)
Ladies, gentlemen, my dear friends,
A quarter of a century ago, Europe appeared to be the solution to almost every problem. Today, it is perceived itself as a problem that has added to the others. Under the influence of disillusion, reproaches rain down from all sides. Everything in the European Commission is the object of reproach: its multiplication of constraints, its meddling in that which does not concern it, its wish to punish everyone, to paralyze our institutions, to be organized in an incomprehensible way, to lack democratic legitimacy, to annihilate the sovereignty of peoples and nations, to be nothing more than an ungovernable machine. In most countries, positive opiniones about the European Union have been in freefall for at least ten years. The proportion of those in France who think that ‘membership of the [European] Union is a bad thing’ even jumped from 25% in 2004 to 41% in 2013. More recently, an Ipsos poll revealed that 70% of French wish to ‘limit the powers of Europe’.
It is a fact that today the European Union is going through an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy. It is also a fact that the spectacle it offers has nothing appealing about it. But how did we get here?
The ‘deconstruction’ of Europe began in the early 1990s with the debate over the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. It was at this time that the future of Europe began to emerge as an eminently problematic one and many Europeans began to become disillusioned. At a time when globalization was giving rise to additional fears, people saw that ‘Europe’ did not guarantee better purchasing power, better regulation of world trade, a decrease in relocation, a regression of crime, a stabilization of labour markets or a more effective control of immigration. On the contrary. The European construction appeared then, not as a remedy for globalization, but as a stage of this self-same process.
From the outset, the construction of Europe was in fact carried out contrary to common sense. Four essential mistakes were made:
- Starting off focussing on economy and trade instead of politics and culture, imagining that, by a ratchet effect, economic citizenship would mechanically lead to political citizenship;
- Wanting to create Europe from the top, instead of starting from the bottom;
- Preferring an early expansion that allowed ill-prepared countries to enter Europe in order to deepen existing political structures;
- Never wanting to make a clear decision on Europe’s borders and the aims of European integration.
Obsessed with the economy, the ‘founding fathers’ of the European Communities have deliberately left culture aside. Their original project aimed to fuse nations into a new genre of action spaces within a functionalist perspective. For Jean Monnet and his friends, it was a question of achieving a mutual intertwining of the national economies to such an extent that political union would become necessary, because it would prove less costly than disunity. Let us not forget that the first name of ‘Europe’ was that of the ‘Common Market’. This initial economism has of course favoured the liberal drift of institutions, as well as the essentially economic reading of public policies to be made in Brussels. Far from preparing for the advent of a political Europe, the hypertrophy of the economy quickly led to depoliticization, the consecration of the power of experts, as well as the implementation of technocratic strategies.
We have deconstructed the nations without building Europe.
In 1992, with the Maastricht Treaty, we moved from the European Community to the European Union. This semantic shift is also revealing, because what ‘unites’ is obviously weaker than that which is ‘common’. The Europe of today is first and foremost the Europe of the economy and the logic of the market, for it is the point of view of the liberal elites that it should be nothing other than a vast supermarket exclusively obeying the logic of capital.
The second mistake, as I said, was the desire to create Europe from the top, that is, from the institutions of Brussels. As the proponents of ‘integral federalism’ would have it, sound logic would, on the contrary, have made it necessary to start from the bottom, beginning with the neighbourhood and then proceeding from the neighbourhood towards the commune, from the commune or agglomeration to the region, from the region to the nation, and finally from the nation to Europe. This is what the rigorous application of the principle of subsidiarity would have dictated. Subsidiarity requires the higher authority to intervene only in cases where the lower authority is unable to do so (this is the principle of sufficient competence). In Brussels-Europe, where a centralizing bureaucracy tends to regulate everything by means of its directives, the superior authority intervenes whenever it feels itself capable of doing so, with the result that the Commission decides everything because it considers itself omnipotent.
The ritual denunciation by the European souverainists of Brussels as a ‘federal Europe’ must not mislead: by its tendency to attribute all of its competence to its authority, it is built on the contrary on a largely Jacobin model. Far from being ‘federal’, it is Jacobin to the extreme, since it combines punitive authoritarianism, centralism and opacity.
The third mistake was to enlarge Europe unthinkingly, whereas it would have been necessary first to deepen the existing structures, while conducting a wide political debate throughout Europe to try to reach a consensus on the project’s goals. This has been particularly evident in the expansion to include the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Most of these countries in fact applied for membership to the European Union only to benefit from NATO protection. They talked about Europe, but they dreamed only of America! This resulted in a dilution and a loss of efficiency that quickly convinced everyone that a twenty-five or thirty-five [state] Europe was simply unmanageable, an opinion that has been further reinforced by the cultural, religious and geopolitical concerns regarding the prospect of Turkey’s accession.
Given the disparity in economic levels, social conditions and tax systems, the early enlargement of the European Union has also resulted in the blackmail of relocation [TN: of industry] to the detriment of workers. Finally, it has been one of the major causes of the Euro crisis, which explains why the introduction of a single currency, far from favouring the convergence of national economies in Europe, has, on the contrary, worsened it, making it unbearable.
European sovereignty is nowhere to be found, while national sovereignty is nothing but a memory. In other words, we have deconstructed the nations without building Europe – a paradox that can be explained when we understand that the European Union has not only sought to replace the nations with Europe, but also to replace politics with the economy, and the government of men with the administration of things. The European Union has embraced a liberalism that is based on the primacy of the economy and the will to abolish politics by ‘depoliticizing’ government management, i.e. by creating the conditions under which any recourse to a properly political decision becomes inopportune, if not impossible.
To this liberal orientation is added a moral crisis. Obsessed with the universalism of which it has long been the vector, Europe has internalized a sense of guilt and self-denial that has shaped its worldview. It has become the only continent that wants to be ‘open to openness’ regardless of what this might bring to others.
It is a fact that Europe, since its origins, has worked to conceptualize the universal, which it wanted for better and for worse; it wanted to be a ‘civilization of the universal’. But a ‘civilization of the universal’ and a ‘universal civilization’ are not synonymous. According to a beautiful and often quoted saying, the universal, in the best sense of the word, is ‘the local minus the walls’. But the dominant ideology ignores the difference between ‘universal civilization’ and ‘civilization of the universal’. On the requisition of its representatives, Europe was consigned to self-ignorance – and to ‘repentance. for what it is still allowed to remember – while the religion of human rights universalized idea of Sameness [TN: Mêmeté or ‘Sameness’ is an idea coined by Voltaire]. A humanism without horizons has thus posited itself as the judge of history, positing indistinction as a redemptive ideal, and making at the same time the process of belonging a conspicuous one. As Alain Finkielkraut put it, ‘this meant that, to no longer exclude anyone, Europe had to get rid of itself, to be “disoriented”, to retain from its heritage only the universality of the rights of man. […] We are nothing; it is the precondition for us not being closed to anything or anyone’. ‘Substantial emptiness, radical tolerance’, said sociologist Ulrich Beck in the same vein – whereas it is the feeling of emptiness that makes you allergic to everything.
Uniquely in the world, European leaders refuse to think of themselves as the guarantors of a history, a culture, a collective destiny. Under their influence, Europe never ceases to repeat that its own past has nothing to say. The euro banknotes prove this perfectly: we see only empty structures, abstract architectures, never a landscape, never a face. Europe wants to escape from history in general, and to its own in particular. It is forbidden to affirm what it is, and does not even want to question its identity for fear of ‘discriminating’ against one or the other of its components. When it proclaims its attachment to ‘values’, this is to emphasize at once that these values do not belong to it in their own right, all peoples being supposed to have the same values. This emphasis on ‘values’ rather than ‘interests’, goals or the desire for political sovereignty, is indicative of collective powerlessness. Europe does not know what it wants to do. She does not even ask the question, because she should recognize that she wants nothing. And why does not she want anything? Because she neither knows nor wants to know what she is anymore.
The consequences are formidable. In the field of immigration, the European Union has a very generous harmonization policy for migrants that no [member] state can change. In the commercial and industrial field, the same refusal of any ‘sanctuarization’ prevails. The removal of all obstacles to free trade has resulted in the mass arrival in Europe of goods and services manufactured at low prices in emerging countries who practice dumping in all its forms (social, fiscal, environmental, etc.), while the European production system was moving more and more to countries outside Europe, exacerbating deindustrialisation, unemployment and trade deficits.
To put an end to the domination of the American hyperpower, we must restore a multipolar dimension to the world. This is another reason to ‘make Europe’.
Foreign policy is the opposite of national sovereignty. As the European Union is not a political body, obviously a common foreign policy cannot exist; at most there is a cyclical aggregate of national diplomacies with an ‘external’ policy derived from ‘community’ capabilities. Whether it’s about the US intervention in Iraq, the war in Libya, Mali or Syria, whether it’s about Russia or the Middle East, Palestine, Kosovo or more recently Crimea, the Europeans have always been unable to adopt a common position; the majority of them simply align with US positions. Since they do not share common interests, they can have neither a common will nor a common strategy.
Yet, despite the disappointments that the European construct has so far engendered, a politically united Europe is more necessary than ever. Why? Firstly, to allow European peoples (who for too long have been torn apart by wars and conflicts or rivalries of all kinds) to regain a consciousness of their common belonging to the same cultural and civilizational area, and to ensure a common destiny without ever have to oppose each other again. But this is also necessary for reasons related to the historical moment in which we now live.
At the time of the Yalta system, when the world was dominated by the US-Soviet duopoly, the emergence of a third European power was already a necessity. This need is even greater since the collapse of the Soviet system: in a now fragmented world, only a united Europe can enable its peoples to fulfil the role in the world that they might play. To put an end to the domination of the American hyperpower, we must restore a multipolar dimension to the world. This is another reason to ‘make Europe’.
At the same time as globalization engenders a world without an outside, where space and time are virtually abolished, it also consecrates the growing impotence of nation-states. In the era of late modernity – or nascent postmodernity – the nation-state, which entered into crisis in the 1930s, is becoming more and more obsolete as transnational phenomena continue to grow. It is not that the state has lost all of its powers, but that it can no longer cope with the influence which is spreading today on a global scale, starting with that of the financial system. In a world dominated by uncertainty and global risks, no country can hope to come to grips with the problems that concern it. To put this another way, nation states are no longer the primary entities that solve national problems. Too big to meet citizens’ daily expectations, they are at the same time too small to face global challenges and constraints. The historical moment we are experiencing is that of local action and continental blocs.
In such a context, the ‘souverainists’ appear as men who often develop good critiques, but do not come forward with good solutions. When they denounce (and not without reason) the bureaucratic and technocratic nature of the decisions taken in Brussels, it is easy, for example, to reply to them that the bureaucracies and technocracies of the current nation-states are no better. When criticizing the European Union’s Atlanticism, it is just as easy to point out that the national governments are moving in exactly the same direction. Today, we are witnessing a vast movement of planetary homogenization, which affects culture as well as the economy and social life. The existence of nation-states does not hinder it in any way. The vectors of this national homogenization are borderless, and it would be a grave mistake to believe that we can cope simply by bridging them. Most of the criticism of Europe would, therefore, be equally justified on a national scale.
Other critics are contradictory. Thus, it is often the same people who deplore the political impotence of Europe (on subjects such as the Gulf War, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, etc.), to absolutely refuse the necessary delegations of power the establishment of a true European political government, the only one capable of taking the necessary decisions in the field of foreign policy.
The argument for the ‘sovereignty’ of nations is no better. When we say that the European Union involves the abandonment of national sovereignty, we forget that it has been a long time since nation-states lost their political decision-making capacity in all the areas that matter most. In the era of globalization, they are no longer the bearers of nominal sovereignty. The powerlessness of national governments in the face of capital movements, the power of the financial markets and the unprecedented mobility of capital is now evident. We must take note of this in order to find ways of establishing a new sovereignty at the level where it can concretely be exercised, that is to say, precisely at the European level. This is yet another reason to ‘make Europe’.
One of the underlying reasons for the crisis in constructing Europe is that, apparently, no one seems able to answer the question: what is Europe? The answers are not lacking, but most are agreed upon while none are unanimous. But the answer to the question ‘What is Europe?’ thereby necessitates an answer to this other question: what should Europe be?
Europe is a project of civilization or it is worth nothing.
It is well known in fact that there is no common measure between a Europe seeking to establish itself as an autonomous and sovereign political power, with clearly defined borders and common political institutions, and a Europe which would be only one a vast market, a space of free trade open to the ‘high seas’,1 destined to be diluted in a limitless space, largely depoliticized or neutralized and functioning only with technocratic and intergovernmental decision-making mechanisms. The hasty enlargement of Europe and the existential uncertainty that weighs on the construction of Europe have so far favoured the second model, it being of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘Atlantic’ inspiration. Choosing between these two models also means choosing between politics and the economy, the power of the land and the power of the sea. Unfortunately, those who are involved in the construction of Europe have generally not the slightest idea of geopolitics. The antagonism of terrestrial and maritime logics escapes them completely.
General de Gaulle had in 1964 perfectly defined the problem when he declared: ‘For us, the French, it is about Europe being made to be European. A European Europe means a Europe that exists by itself and for itself, in other words that, standing in the middle of the world, has its own policy. But this precisely is what is rejected, consciously or unconsciously, by those who nonetheless claim to want such a Europe to be realized. Basically, the fact that Europe, having no policy, would remain subject to that which would come from the other side of the Atlantic seems to them, still today, normal and satisfactory.’
Europe is a project of civilization or it is worth nothing. As such, it implies a certain idea of man.2 In my view, this idea is that of an autonomous and rooted person, rejecting at the same time both individualism and collectivism, ethnocentrism and liberalism. The Europe that I desire is therefore one of integral federalism, the only concept capable of dialectically realizing the necessary balance between autonomy and unity, unity and diversity. It is on such bases that Europe should aspire to be both a sovereign power capable of defending its specific interests, a pole regulating globalization in a multipolar world, and an original project of culture and of civilization.
For now, as we well see, the situation is at an impasse. We wanted the Europe of culture, we got that of the technocrats. We suffer the disadvantages of implementing a single currency without reaping the benefits. We see national sovereignty disappearing without asserting the European sovereignty we need. We see Europe as an auxiliary, not an opponent of globalization. We see it legitimize austerity policies, debt policy and dependence on the financial markets. We see it asserting solidarity with America in its new Cold War with Russia, and ready to sign with the Americans a transatlantic trade agreement that would put us at their mercy. We see her becoming amnesic, forgetful of herself, and therefore unable to draw from her past the reasons for projecting herself into the future. We see her refusing to transmit what she inherited, we see her unable to formulate a great collective project. We see her stepping outside of history, at the risk of becoming the object of the stories of others.
How to get out of this blockage? This is the secret of the future. We can see, here and there, the outlining of alternatives. They all deserve to be studied, whilst bearing in mind that time is running out. I have often quoted Nietzsche’s saying, ‘Europe will only be at the edge of the grave’.3 Nietzsche, as we know, also appealed to ‘good Europeans’. Well, let us be those ‘good Europeans’: let us launch an appeal so that finally the European state, the European Imperium appears, that autonomous and sovereign Europe which we want to forge and that will avoid Europe falling into her grave.
Long live Europe, my friends! Thank you.
Alain de Benoist
The ‘Europe a Market’ or ‘Europe a Power’ Colloquium, 26th April, 2014.
1Here de Benoist appears to be making a nautical reference, likely invoking the image of the great marine trading networks of yesteryear, and potentially the acts of piracy contained therein. – Trans.
2Who would build it. – Trans.
3Nietzsche here is saying that Europe will only come into being at the brink of her decline, at the very last hour prior to her doom, needing the impetus of dire straits to regain her power and will. – Trans.