I would like to congratulate François Furet (“The Long Apprenticeship,” July 1996) on his Richard M. Weaver Award and do him the courtesy of taking his acceptance speech seriously.
I start by confessing that here in England the sense of inexorable democratic/ constitutional progress which Furet claims for France and Europe seems tremendously problematic. England used to be a deeply constitutional country—as was her American offspring. When people—over here—stopped saying “England,” we had Britain, which was more democratic but had a pretentious imperial constitution which never stabilized. Now we have the Britain-in-Europe, where the constitution (as it might be inferred) is a mixture of pretentious sounds and disquieting silences.
A Frenchman celebrating the swelling constitutionalism of France’s Fifth Republic leaves an Englishman staring at the line of scrapped constitutions behind it. In any case, the restored and legalized ascendancy of the Executive over the Legislative—De Gaulle’s gift to his country—seems to us very French but not very parliamentary. Nevertheless, whatever the prospects of a Sixth Republic, the European Community is in a far, far worse state. It is a strictly bureaucratic mechanism for distributing subsidies. If the deliberations of its “Parliament” have ever been important, the secret is well-kept; it might as well not meet.
Once money passes from national treasuries into the hands of the European Commission, one must abandon all hope of seeing anything but fantasy accounting. The most recent audit confirmed all our worst fears. European justice goes from strength to strength—because national supreme courts have been made subject to it. As a result, we cannot call “Elderflower champagne” by its traditional name. It is a pleasant, nonalcoholic summer drink made from flowers, but Euro-judges affected to believe that it might be confused with French champagne. Euro-law protects not custom or tradition but the most organized producer interests. It is crude commercial law, now red in tooth and claw, and it is unmitigated by the common-sense restraint that is secured when judges are bound by the sentiments and seriousness of the communities in which they issue judgments.
Furet is seriously misleading in his concluding claim that throughout Europe’s “long apprenticeship” in democracy and stability, “the American experience has played a decisive role.” A desire to please one’s hosts may be a sweet and pleasant fault, but there are limits. For most of that long apprenticeship, the major European nations paid remarkably little attention to America. True, Tocqueville understood the American achievement, but he was a rare bird. It was American wealth, and the scale of the American economy, that impressed the Europeans. It was not George Washington’s Republic but the America of Standard Oil, General Motors, Bell Telephone, and IBM which stimulated Jean Monnet, the French technocrat advertised as “the father of Europe.” Whoever tries to construe Monnet’s European institutions (the Goal and Steel Community, Euratom, the EEG) in the light of the American Constitution might as well go to China equipped with a map of the moon.
Constitutionalism is not an inherent virtue that sticks to anyone like glue. It is a historical process that can flourish or fail. Each generation is tested and success is not guaranteed. There is no necessary Progress in it. The present health of the American Constitution I leave to Americans to debate. What Europeans do not care to remember is how it all began. Let no American believe that as the negotiating teams of the European nations gathered at Messina in 1956 or Maastricht in 1991 they were reenacting the debates that took place in Philadelphia 200 years earlier. There were no such debates; there is no such quality. The need for a Constitution was simply not understood, and even it if had been, there was no intention to achieve a sort of Foundation Compromise between the various factions. Our Europe is a stew of ambiguities, selfish advantages, and political hot air. Our constitutional arrangements are profoundly unsettled. The present European complacency about this would have scandalized everyone at Philadelphia. The neo-Carolingian fanatics will not allow the rights of the nation-states to be embedded in a treaty.
One risk is that in the not too distant future the European tide will go out even faster than it came in, that a new Protestantism, a new national skepticism, will overtake the Roman Treaty. If this happens, the skeptics will be blamed, but the real responsibility will lie with those who did not accept that a European Union cannot be founded on less than a constitutional convention. I devoutly wish a permanent European association of free states; I detest the existing concatenation of bribes, bureaucracies, and jurists’ plots, and I have no faith that it will evolve sickness into health.
America started well, Europe started and continues badly. Even the naming of parts is fraudulent. The treaties, aware of their own parliamentary deficit, spoke of a European Assembly; but the Assembly called itself, illegally, a Parliament. The Maastricht Treaty reaffirmed a European Community and added a European Union for such foreign policy and defense projects as might be agreed. Immediately, the neo-Carolingian lobby called both things the “Union.” The president of the bureaucracy pretends to be the President of Europe, and his predecessor invented a Euro-flag without anyone’s consent. (It looks like a banner of the Virgin Mary with Our Lady taken out and the circle of stars on blue left in.) We are told we are “citizens,” but the corresponding state has not been proclaimed.
Furet is right. Europe, by which I mean the Continent, has some old and wicked traditions. One of those traditions is the episodic attempt by one power-center or another to construct Euro-empires on the basis of threats, bribes, and bogus law. Popes, Kings of France, and Holy Roman Emperors all grasped for European dominion, driven to it, no doubt, by lawyers and fanatical integrationists. Europe was the most creative place on earth because they failed. Wars were the outcome, not the cause of the centralizing process. They were not the price we paid for the nation-state; the nation-state was the reward for frustrating the projects of grandiose integration. Is the present Euro-thing different merely because the rhetoric—certainly not the fact—is democratic? Alas, it is quite possible that some of Europe’s worst traditions may be at work. I would be relieved if today’s European enthusiasts understood that possibility or were willing to consider matters in a less handwaving, more rigorous way.
The question of war deserves historical reflection. The great wars of Europe were rarely national quarrels, although they absorbed some national quarrels as fuel. The wars of Louis XIV were not national, nor, in my view, were the wars of Napoleon. The war of 1914 was nothing so petty as a Franco-German quarrel. It was a war launched by Mittel-Europa for continental dominance. The war of 1959 was the same thing, with a more virulent ideological context, and both wars were lost by the side which proclaimed itself, with genuine conviction, the party of “Europe.”
The neo-Carolingian attempt to present the European Union as the solution to a problem of war is breathtaking. The European Community from l957 to 1991 excluded all defense questions and left the nations entirely free to fight each other. War was prevented by the hegemonies of America and Russia. Peace was imposed. War was not allowed. Two post-imperial powers—France and Germany—clung to each other in consolation for the fact that they no longer, any more than Luxembourg, had the power to decide on matters of war and peace.
With the end of the Gold War that power is reviving, and we all hope that the peace can be maintained. But the problem was never “national quarrels.” In this century, no country on the western fringe of Europe has threatened another with war. The problems lay on the other side of the Rhine. The question then is whether German democracy has caught up with France and Britain in what might be called instinctive peacefulness. If it has, there is no problem; if it has not, there is. The European Union is not relevant. NATO is more relevant, but could do little, except to fight, if Germany goes wrong again.
It is scandalous that Chancellor Kohl should go around warning about war. War will return to Europe, he says, unless we embrace federal union. But who is threatening whom? Russia is struggling against little Chechnya, and in any case is the one potential problem solved by NATO. Does Britain threaten Germany, does France? If Kohl has knowledge of a threat, let him name it. If, as I suppose, he means that Germany might go wrong, then he is saying that he must have what he wants or Germany will, in the end, go to war again. Herr Kohl is pretty obtuse and, I dare say, does not quite mean to be so crude. But his talk of war and his personal crusade for a grandiose, even Napoleonic, solution for the European problem are not new. Every exercise in Euro-megalomania has deployed an excuse in these terms.
The variety and richness of the nationals of Europe will only be safe, and her arrangements securely constitutional, when there is an end to the Carolingian vision of tidying up Europe. No era of constitutional good sense can dawn until Europeans recognize that the existing setup is hopelessly flawed. It would be helpful if the State Department stopped trying to lever Britain into an unsuitable union. The obsessive determination in the American diplomatic service to promote a deeply flawed project in Europe shows little appreciation of the otherness of Europe, as a community of nation-states, or the constitutional exertion which accompanied the creation of the American Union.