Soundings

Philippe Nemo
Europe’s Endangered Soul
Can the Continent survive the EU’s expansion?
Spring 2010

The European Union faces a major problem of governance, completely apart from its current difficulties with Greece. The politicians, administrators, and economists who run it, blind to the profound cultural and sociological dimensions of European society, are pushing unwise policies: expanded borders for the EU and continued heavy immigration from non-European countries. This is because the EU’s overseers, like all human beings, tend to be guided by their own interests. The bigger Europe gets, the more power, resources, and jobs flow to the bureaucracy of Brussels, and the more geopolitical prestige the Eurocrats gain. Thus the European machine has become self-propelled. And it has committed itself to a project that the peoples of Europe no longer understand.

This is something new. Until now, Europeans have broadly approved of the actions of the EU. The original idea of the EU’s founders was to establish peace on the Continent after centuries of war. And the construction of a united Europe did bring peace—the first total peace over such a long period since the Pax Romana—and, with it, economic growth. Consequently, people went along with what Brussels decided. No one asked their opinion, to be sure, but they approved of the EU’s overall direction, including stronger treaties and successive enlargements of the union, first to nine members, then 15, then 27.

The situation began to change with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the spread of globalization. A wholly new geopolitical situation required a rethinking of Europe: a redefinition of its purposes, structures, borders, and role alongside North America and the new Asia. But instead of rethinking, the technocrats have unhesitatingly marched forward, seeking to strengthen their bureaucracy as much as possible and to enlarge Europe indefinitely to the east and south.

They should have taken Europe’s culture and identity into account. The EU was successful when it included fewer member countries because these countries shared a common culture. They had similar conceptions of the human person; of morality, law, and the state; of the proper powers of government; of the meaning of democracy. The common culture made it fairly easy to build European institutions and law. It’s far from evident that the same happy result can be achieved by placing countries or peoples not sharing that culture under the same roof, either by enlarging the union or by accepting massive populations of immigrants from the Arab-Muslim world or from Africa.

The EU was never supposed to be an empire—that is, a union that diplomatically and militarily brings together various societies that preserve their identity and their internal means of civil and economic organization. Its founding idea, rather, was integration. The intention was to let residents of any member country communicate and cooperate directly with those of any other. The arrangement assumed that these people knew and respected the same rules of just conduct—that they shared laws and customs that made it possible to trade efficiently and without major clashes. A system of laws can never be fully explicit, of course; its proper functioning presupposes that people not only know the written code but also accept the same fundamental moral rules and even a certain common worldview by which they attribute the same meaning to particular rules. Failing this, communication is fraught with ambiguities and misunderstandings, and cooperation is blocked by litigation and conflict.

A common understanding of implicit rules is possible only within a relatively homogeneous culture. That’s why the idea of “multiculturalism” is inherently absurd. I remark in passing that despite what some claim, American society is not multicultural, though it is no doubt diverse. Rather, it has always been, at least until very recently, “unicultural,” with newer arrivals communing with the rest in a common faith in American values. The EU has functioned effectively until now because the societies it included likewise shared the same culture, shaped by Greco-Roman civilization and the Bible. This culture arose from a long history made up of the stages or “evolutionary leaps” that I analyze in my book What Is the West?

Now the question is whether the EU can function just as well if extended beyond the geographic borders of Europe, or if still more nonnative masses are admitted into its territory. At a certain point, countries reach a tipping point beyond which integration ceases to occur; schools cannot perform their assimilative function, and whole sections of cities become non-European. Immigration thus produces not Europeans but populations that retain their own cultures, often cultures incompatible with ours. As for the extension of Europe, it’s clear that the EU already includes all the truly culturally European peoples (with the exception of some Balkan countries). Any further extension of the EU’s borders can only bring in societies that do not share Europe’s culture.

Yet the Eurocrats seem determined to continue in this direction, and this is where their rupture with public opinion is evident. Their blindness is aggravated by their tendency to live and socialize only among themselves, influencing and reassuring one another in the politically correct ideology that they absorb from the equally superficial media. The explanation for their policy may be that certain political forces and lobbies—for example, industrial interests that wish simply to gain access to cheap labor and keep wages low—wield disproportionate and undemocratic influence in Brussels.

The EU’s technocratic folly threatens not just Europe’s political institutions but its very soul: its humanist and philosophical thought, its scientific ideas, its art, its architectural and urban patrimony, its rich common history, and its Christian and Jewish religions. This inheritance is not just the heritage of the distant past; it is also the fruit of the united Europe that has emerged over the last half-century. Indeed, it is only this unification that, by bringing an end to European wars, has freed the countries of Europe from the fear that caused them to barricade themselves against one another. Not so long ago, the survival instinct impelled Europeans to fear their neighbors’ virtues even more than their defects. Now that war is unthinkable, they are free to discover and appreciate one another without suspicion. The more I travel in Europe, the more I find to admire in each European country. I love German music, Italian painting and architecture, English humor, Spain’s Escorial, Prague’s castle, and all that is beautiful and good in Austria, Ireland, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Hungary, and everything from Croatia to Portugal’s Cape Saint Vincent. I find virtues in all the Europeans I meet; I find it easy and pleasant to imagine what we might do together in the future.

But at the exact moment when this community is beginning to gel, elites in Brussels argue that we should let it wither away by enlarging it as far as the Caucasus or the Sahara—or undermine it from the inside, in the name of multiculturalism. The result of this process will be a society in which the social bond is torn, where distrust prevents cooperation, and where life becomes more and more difficult. After waging cruel war for five centuries—ever since medieval ideas of empire and Christendom dissolved and rival nation-states emerged—we have finally brought an end to European wars by the free and consensual creation of the European Union. After just a few decades of precious existence, will this jewel of a united Europe disappear?

Philippe Nemo is a professor of philosophy and political science at ESCP Europe.

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