Chris Patten, the British Europhile-turned-Eurocrat, was bloviating on the floor when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French populist-nationalist who last Sunday elbowed Prime Minister Lionel Jospin out of France's presidential race, entered the chamber. Patten interrupted his oration to comment that coming his way was "one of the less agreeable aspects of European civilization."
Patten is often given to interesting turns of phrase -- he recently described Margaret Thatcher as "Richard Perle with knobs on." But it was one particular phrase here --"European civilization" -- that was so telling.
Of course, it is valid to speak of a European civilization, in the sense of a set of related cultures stemming from Latin Christendom and sharing the common experiences of the Industrial Revolution, the nationalist and democratic revolutions, and subsequent common events.
But Patten was using a newer and different definition. His "European civilization" is a synthetic construct floated by the European Union and certain sets of Europhile intellectuals. What is absurd is the way in which this new "European civilization" is defined to fit geographical coincidence and political convenience. This new "European civilization" extends to those nations that are in the European Union, and those which the consensus of Europhile opinion thinks ought to be.
This definition lumps together nations with substantially different historical traditions and sensibilities. It lumps together the Catholic South and the Protestant North; the Latin West, and, with Greece and soon Eastern Europe, the Orthodox East. It lumps together Common Law Britain and Ireland with the Civil Law Continent.
At the same time it splits Latin and Catholic Spain and Italy from Argentina and Chile. It splits English-speaking, Common Law Britain and Ireland from America, Canada, and Australia. It splits Orthodox Greece from Russia. It will split the Turkish Muslims of Cyprus from the Turkish Muslims of Turkey.
In short, this definition of "European civilization" defies any logic of cultural or civilizational taxonomy. It is as absurd a category as the "Moldavian" language invented by Stalin's linguists to justify stealing Bessarabia from Romania, and just as blatantly political a construct.
The political purpose of the synthetic concept of "European civilization" is obvious. It is a response to the failure of the Eurocratic elite to find any kind of socio-political glue to hold their creation together.
Originally, the European project had two forms of push and one form of pull. The pull was the obvious economic advantages of wider markets and cross-border integration; the push was the twin fears of relapse into intra-European wars, and invasion from the Soviet East. Today the former fear has become distant. The latter fear served well until the fall of the Berlin Wall.
That left nothing but economic rationalism as an argument for European unification. Economic self-interest, in and of itself, is seldom a sufficiently strong glue to hold together a polity, and Continental Europe is no longer the dynamic economic force it was when honing Industrial Age techniques was the order of the day. United Europe does not have the "mystic cords of memory" Lincoln evoked; rather, such ties belong to the nation-states whose strongest myths, narratives, and memories must be suppressed for the sake of Europeanism.
What Le Pen and other Continental ultras have demonstrated is that an appeal to the old nationalist narratives has more resonance with many voters than bland and increasingly unconvincing Europeanism. This is particularly true in the face of real and un-addressed problems, such as the byproducts of mass immigration without effective assimilation.
The Le Pens of Europe, however, have few if any workable solutions to the problems on which they feed. If the Le Pen agenda of protectionism and national regulation were to be implemented, the unemployment problems would grow worse instead of better, aggravating, rather than alleviating, ethnic and racial strife.
Once the Euro-elites recognize they have a problem, it is likely they will search for stronger social glue to hold together their Union. They could, of course, resolve their structural problems and loosen their centralist grip, opening themselves to the world and balancing their Continental ties with the external ties many of their members have had to sacrifice for Europeanism. But that would contradict 50 years of centralizing ideology.
Rather, having have found the pull of economic rationalism insufficient, they will start looking for pushes. The most readily available push is fear of enemies, internal and external.
The greatest danger with Europe is not from the little Le Pens seeking to return to inward-looking national protectionism and hatred of foreigners. It is from Eurocrats seeking to construct a grand Euro-Lepenisme of inward-looking continental protectionism and contempt for non-"Europeans," in the sense of the "European civilization" Patten and others seem to be trying to define.
In the search for enemies, it's pretty obvious who will be Candidate Number One. America, already a favorite whipping boy economically, politically, and culturally, will be further elevated as Europe's main rival. As for internal enemies, the European Union is defining a class of "xenophobes" whose xenophobia is evidently exhibited primarily by opposition to the European Union. Ironically, openly Zionist Jews may soon find themselves categorized as "xenophobes."
Americans need to stop deceiving themselves. Fifty years of enthusiasm for European unification in the U.S. foreign policy establishment have created not the allied bulwark they hoped for, but a rival hegemon with incentives to sharpen that rivalry. It has become one more bit of Cold War blowback, as absurd as exploding cigars for Castro, but in the long run more harmful.
The United States should look to the few genuinely pro-American forces in Western Europe, particularly the British and Irish Atlanticists, and work to short-circuit the incentive systems driving Europe to increasing centralism and anti-Americanism.In this, they may find allies among the Eastern European states, should the EU ever admit them, who for historical reasons have reasons to fear centralizing unions, suspect German ambitions, and think better of America.
It is no coincidence that the principal Euroskeptics among British political and press voices tend to be pro-American and pro-Israel as well. Le Pen and many other Continental Euroskeptics are also anti-American, a combination found in Britain primarily among the miniscule fascist British National movement. It is British Europhiles who tend to be the anti-Americans.
Reviving intra-Anglosphere ties is one of the best ways of reaching out to those friendly forces and deterring further deterioration in Europe. Such ties make a good litmus test of European openness. A Europe loose enough to accommodate special ties between the European Anglosphere and the rest of the English-speaking world is a Europe loose enough to be open to the world. Such an open Europe is also one less likely to fall victim to either the little nationalism of Le Pen or the Euro-nationalism of the Eurocratic elites.
To reach James Bennett, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.