The Evolution of Europe

4 January 2012


Detail from an early modern map of Europe; Europe has always been both one and many, divided into kingdoms or nation-states, and yet pictured as one on a map.

The idea of Europe will not go away.

Even as European economic and political institutions are undergoing paroxysms due to a financial crisis (which is largely a debt crisis), the idea of Europe is as strong as ever, and still exhibits its ability to exercise profound influence merely through its spiritual presence in the world.

Thirteen former dissidents in Hungary have issued a manifesto — The Decline of Democracy – The Rise of Dictatorship — that explicitly calls on Europe and European institutions to intervene in Hungary:

“The advocates of democracy and the rule of law within and outside Hungary must not acquiesce in having the government of a member state of the European Union crush these universal values. Nor should the European Union just sit back and watch as it is being held hostage by an outdated, provincial tyrant. It is in the interest of both Hungary and the European Union to make a stand against the prime minister of Hungary. The leaders of the European Union are right in their decision to tighten integration, but this step should be taken not only to combat the financial crisis but also to challenge political crises and risks. The European Union may disintegrate not only for economic reasons but for reasons of pursuing disparate and antidemocratic policies as well.”

The manifesto ends with this paragraph:

“Europe is at a crossroads too. Hungary is a sad example of what may happen wherever there is a concentration of crisis tendencies, aggravated by attempts to resolve problems caused by an economic and social crisis with authoritarian means and a policy of nationalistic isolation. Instead of prosperity and stability, such a policy can only lead to suppression, conflict and turmoil. The desperate situation of present-day Hungary should be a warning for all of us: if Europe is prepared to help Hungary, it will also help itself.”

It would be difficult to find a more strongly worded brief on behalf of internationalism and the European idea as an ideal to which the dissidents appeal, and for the maintenance of which ideal they explicitly urge intervention on the part of other Europeans. The Hungarian dissidents regard themselves as Europeans, and they are urging other Europeans to intercede in Hungarian affairs in order for Hungary to exemplify common European ideals.

Thus the idea and the ideal of Europe continues to inspire political change and inform political action, even at a time when Europe is a beleaguered political entity. But the idea and the ideal also change, however gradually, so that to be European means different things at different times.

Another recent news item is that the “technocratic” government of Mario Monti in Italy has passed a law effective with the new year that allows service industries in Italy to be open for business twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week, Sundays and public holidays included. While there is already some push back on this law, and other proposed economic liberalization in Italy, from a free market stand point these laws are welcome and long overdue.

However, it could also be argued that these new trade liberalization laws represent a threat to European traditions and European culture, and if this argument has not be made already, I’m sure that it eventually will be made. “Blue laws” have a long history in Europe, and anyone who has traveled in certain European countries and tried to find an open store on Sunday can attest, they are effective in changing the character of commercial society and economic activity.

Such changes in the law are enacted under financial pressure. Europe is experiencing what yesterday’s Financial Times called “the worst economic crisis since 1945” — and it might be added the the years immediately prior to 1945 were no picnic either. Financial stimulus is needed, so measures that might not be considered under other conditions are enacted now in extremis. Once enacted, it is difficult to imagine that Europe would return to its traditional blue laws; once repealed, they are likely repealed forever.

This is one way in which the pressures of industrial-technological society and the finance capital typical of the Western nation-states implacably if gradually pushes culturally unique regions toward a common model of socioeconomic organization. None of this comes about as a result of a “grand plan” — it just happens because this is the most rational way to organize a large industrial economy, and inefficiencies will inevitably be targeted during financial crisis because making the change is less terrible than experiencing a financial collapse. To continue with the development of free market capitalism is less radical at this point than attempting to turn back the clock and reconstruct the institutions of a past civilization in which these financial pressures did not force the hand of political entities in cultural change.

It is precisely such developments that are often dismissed and criticized in Europe as “Americanization,” and dismissed and criticized in the rest of the world as “Westernization,” when it is in fact neither. Industrial-technological civilization reveals a natural teleology in its development toward particular institutions, especially financial and economic institutions. The pressures that force such changes are utterly blind to any plan to model themselves after America or the West, as I have argued many times. We can expected criticisms based on the resemblance of these institutions to American or Western institutions, but this appearance is based on deep structural forces that have already played out first in America since America had the fewest traditions with which to contend.

Europe plus free market capitalism will be something different from Europe simpliciter. Europe will still be Europe, but it will change. That is the way of the world, and more particularly it is the way of Western civilization that Europe itself defined.

The saga of Europe is far from over.

. . . . .


. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

One Response to “The Evolution of Europe”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: