Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, June 17, 2005

What ails Europe?

By Aussiegirl

In a must-read editorial in today's Wall Street Journal, historian Paul Johnson lays out what ails Europe today. And what he finds is that Europe has lost touch with its past -- its historical, cultural, religious and philosophical roots, without which it cannot go forward. In other words, Europe has turned its back on Western Civilization (see my review of Herb Meyer's DVD "The Siege of Western Civilization") and has instead resorted to the stagnant socialist welfare state model coupled with bureaucratic over-regulation and micromanagement of local economies on a totalitarian scale.

Some lessons are seemingly so simple -- and yet so difficult for the modern intellectual to grasp. This is what I believe being a conservative is all about -- not being a prude, or a narrow-minded person who wants to meddle in people's private lives in the way so many liberals like to caricature conservatism. No -- being a conservative means that we appreciate and value and want to conserve the best that our Western Civlization has to offer as a foundation for building a better society, while always being open to ways to improve and move with the times.

We don't want to reinvent the wheel and replace it with a Rube Goldberg construction of unworkable complexity when the simple wheel has been rolling along successfully for centuries.

The Continent has turned its back on both the past and the future.

. . . That Europe as an entity is sick and the European Union as an institution is in disorder cannot be denied. But no remedies currently being discussed can possibly remedy matters. What ought to depress partisans of European unity in the aftermath of the rejection of its proposed constitution by France and the Netherlands is not so much the foundering of this ridiculous document as the response of the leadership to the crisis, especially in France and Germany.

. . . What is notoriously evident among the EU elite is not just a lack of intellectual power but an obstinacy and blindness bordering on imbecility. As the great pan-European poet Schiller put it: "There is a kind of stupidity with which even the Gods struggle in vain."

The fundamental weaknesses of the EU that must be remedied if it is to survive are threefold. First, it has tried to do too much, too quickly and in too much detail. Jean Monnet, architect of the Coal-Steel Pool, the original blueprint for the EU, always said: "Avoid bureaucracy. Guide, do not dictate. Minimal rules." He had been brought up in, and learned to loathe, the Europe of totalitarianism, in which communism, fascism and Nazism competed to impose regulations on every aspect of human existence. He recognized that the totalitarian instinct lies deep in European philosophy and mentality--in Rousseau and Hegel as well as Marx and Nietzsche--and must be fought against with all the strength of liberalism, which he felt was rooted in Anglo-Saxon individualism.

In fact, for an entire generation, the EU has gone in the opposite direction and created a totalitarian monster of its own, spewing out regulations literally by the million and invading every corner of economic and social life. The results have been dire: An immense bureaucracy in Brussels, each department of which is cloned in all the member capitals. A huge budget, masking unprecedented corruption, so that it has never yet been passed by auditors, and which is now a source of venom among taxpayers from the countries which pay more than they receive. Above all, r´┐Żglementation of national economies on a totalitarian scale.

The EU's economic philosophy, insofar as it has one, is epitomized by one word: "convergence." The aim is to make all national economies identical with the perfect model. This, as it turns out, is actually the perfect formula for stagnation. What makes the capitalist system work, what keeps economies dynamic, is precisely nonconformity, the new, the unusual, the eccentric, the egregious, the innovative, springing from the inexhaustible inventiveness of human nature. Capitalism thrives on the absence of rules or the ability to circumvent them.

Hence it is not surprising that Europe, which grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, before the EU got going, has slowly lost pace since Brussels took over its direction and imposed convergence.

. . . There is another still more fundamental factor in the EU malaise. Europe has turned its back not only on the U.S. and the future of capitalism, but also on its own historic past.

Europe was essentially a creation of the marriage between Greco-Roman culture and Christianity. Brussels has, in effect, repudiated both. There was no mention of Europe's Christian origins in the ill-fated Constitution, and Europe's Strasbourg Parliament has insisted that a practicing Catholic cannot hold office as the EU Justice Commissioner.

Equally, what strikes the observer about the actual workings of Brussels is the stifling, insufferable materialism of their outlook. The last Continental statesman who grasped the historical and cultural context of European unity was Charles de Gaulle. He wanted "the Europe of the Fatherlands (L'Europe des patries)" and at one of his press conferences I recall him referring to "L'Europe de Dante, de Goethe et de Chateaubriand." I interrupted: "Et de Shakespeare, mon General?" He agreed: "Oui! Shakespeare aussi!"

No leading member of the EU elite would use such language today. The EU has no intellectual content. Great writers have no role to play in it, even indirectly, nor have great thinkers or scientists. It is not the Europe of Aquinas, Luther or Calvin--or the Europe of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Half a century ago, Robert Schumann, first of the founding fathers, often referred in his speeches to Kant and St. Thomas More, Dante and the poet Paul Valery. To him--he said explicitly--building Europe was a "great moral issue." He spoke of "the Soul of Europe." Such thoughts and expressions strike no chord in Brussels today.

In short, the EU is not a living body, with a mind and spirit and animating soul. And unless it finds such nonmaterial but essential dimensions, it will soon be a dead body, the symbolic corpse of a dying continent.

Mr. Johnson, a historian, is the author, among others, of "Modern Times" (Perennial, 2001). His most recent book is "Washington," due this month by HarperCollins.


At 1:20 PM, Blogger Michael Morrison said...

Paul Johnson has been my favorite historian for a long time, even though he can and does make the occasional error.
But his perspective is hard to find elsewhere and I highly recommend his work.
You might want to remember also the Santayana aphorism, "Who doesn't know history is destined to repeat it."
Johnson is not the only historian, by the way. There is one named Morison, but I figure someone who can't even spell his own name right is not to be believed about much else.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

We don't want to reinvent the wheel and replace it with a Rube Goldberg construction of unworkable complexity when the simple wheel has been rolling along successfully for centuries.

That describes the modern Europe perfectly; a Rube Goldberg machine!

Paul Johnson is right about Europe turning it`s back on Western Civilization. For example the Pope tried to get them to acknowledge an historical connection to Christianity but they would have none of it. This is what liberalism has wrought; it has always been about recreating society along a new model shaped by the liberal thinkers (that wiser and more noble breed), and they believe that the Old Ways must be exterminated for their plans to succeed. The E.U. is the final triumph of liberalism in Europe.

As you know, I think of the E.U. as Frankenstein`s monster; a patchwork of members of a decaying corpse which the mad French and Germans are trying to reanimate. The Frankenstein story ended tragically and so will this endeavor. The only hope for Europe is to return to her roots, find her lost faith. Western Civilization has deep and venerable roots, and any fast-food substitute liberals can create will fail to nourish a real culture. Europe will continue to decay.


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