“What doth it profit a man if he gain control of the whole world
and lose control of his country?”
My first encounter with the new, post-national ruling class came in the early 1980’s. I was a young broadcaster with the BBC Yugoslav Service (as it was called then), and my work took me to Brussels seven or eight times in my first two years to cover various events related to the European Community and NATO headquarters, both located in the capital of Belgium.
I do not think that the founders of those two entities deliberately chose the least charming Western European capital or the most nondescript European country to be the location for those two vast bureaucratic machines; their choice, however, turned out to be strangely appropriate. They duly took over Brussels, and the name of that city came to denote an outlook and a way of life. It would not have been possible for 20,000 or so international bureaucrats to convert Paris, London, Rome, or even Amsterdam into a faithful reflection of their collective self. In Brussels, however, they succeeded. Their essence was expressed in the heart of it all, Berlaymont, a steel-and-concrete monstrosity that apparently sought the Third Way between Corbusier and Speer. Yes, “Europe” was to mean “Brussels,” and Berlaymont was it.
When I first arrived, the process was well advanced. The street signs were bilingual—French and Flemish—but the commercial ones were mostly English even then, with the prefix “Euro” missing only on funeral parlors. I once stayed in a hotel called the Eurovillage, memorable for the sounds of ABBA and the Osmond Brothers that followed me everywhere from concealed speakers. Its name notwithstanding, it lacked a single rustic detail in its furnishings and décor. It was distinguished, in those pre-CNN days, by the choice of an incredible 17 channels from Benelux, France, and Germany, many of them showing the same American soaps (Dallas and Falcon Crest were in vogue) or the British miniseries Brideshead Revisited.
During the day, I would meet middle-ranking bureaucrats for briefings and their bosses for taped interviews, while, in the evening, I would have a drink with their junior staffers. It was the Europe of the Twelve back then, and although all member-nations had their contingents, the one from Britain seemed disproportionately numerous. (Come closing time, it was certainly the loudest.) Everyone else spoke English anyway, even Belgium’s own Flemings, who preferred it to the language of their Walloon compatriots. But what an English! It was basic and synthetic in equal measure—like a Swedish pop group—and burdened with the bureaucratese “Eurospeak” of the workplace. It reflected the subculture of the English-as-foreign-language course and American electronic iconography. This was a thousand-word, three-tense language based on shared cultural clichés, not on inherited or internalized experiences. No witty turn of phrase, no pun, no spontaneous idiom, and certainly no subtle nuance was possible—or desirable. It seemed to satisfy the requirements of those people: In this language, they told jokes, exchanged office gossip, discussed Giscard’s prospects against Mitterand and the problems of England’s soccer team, and chatted up girls.
That was European integration in action, but it was vastly different from that of pre-1914 Europe. A century ago, Europe’s ruling classes shared social commonalities that could be observed in Monte Carlo, Marienbad, or Paris, depending on the season. Their lingua franca was French, but unless it was polished, and the syntax elegant, you did not presume to speak it. Englishmen, Russians, or Austrians shared the same overall outlook and a highly developed sense of propriety, but they nevertheless remained rooted in their national traditions, the only permanent vessels in which Weltanschauung became Kultur.
The modern variety of European integration does not create social and civilizational commonalities. It creates cultural similarity—dreary sameness, even—and hints at some undefined “potentials.” I could have had the same set of conversations on a range of topics with people from countries as different as Denmark, Portugal, and Luxembourg. Their attitudes differed according to age and bureaucratic rank, not according to their inherited cultural baggage. They read the same books, watched the same movies, ate the same food, and probably furnished their rented studios in the same way, too.
These people, unaccountable to any electorate, accept no natural limits to their desire to widen their power to run other people’s lives. As Larry Siedentop has noted in Democracy in Europe, the result is “bureaucratic despotism”: The rapid accumulation of power in Brussels is transforming the European Union into a centralized “tyranny.”
The tyrannical aspect of “Europe” is reflected in the way “democracy” is used as an ideological concept. It does not signify the broad participation of informed citizens in the business of governance; it denotes the desirable social and political content of ostensibly popular decisions. The outcomes are preordained; the process of reaching them is “democratic.” Any process deemed likely to produce undesirable outcomes is, therefore, a priori “undemocratic.” Accordingly, if the citizens of Ireland or Denmark reject the euro or refuse to ratify the Nice Treaty, such “wrong” outcomes are not deemed an exercise of democracy but a violation thereof, and the referendum must be repeated until the right result is obtained. The result is a dirigiste model of neo-absolutism, a “government of strangers” who rule from a distant metropolis. Regulation by Brussels erodes Europe’s local communities and traditions of self-government. It corrupts individual Europeans by breeding greed, fear, sycophancy, and resentment to replace such traditional civic virtues as emulation, self-reliance, and humility.
The rulers in Brussels are unperturbed by such criticism; they do not feel bound by the traditional moral code of the old “national” elite. If they are beset by anything at all, it is not guilt but anxiety—a nagging fear that a “nationalist” revival may yet occur back home and rob them of their power and status. They express emotion, in the form of embarrassment, only if a political leader from their country of origin makes discordant noises in pursuit of a “narrow” benefit of that country.
Margaret Thatcher regularly did this on the subject of Britain’s contribution to the European Community budget and with her demands for an overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy, which made her an object of derision and scorn among the Foreign Office and Treasury types sent to the Commission. She was despised and ridiculed because she presumed to rock the Euroboat in the name of the “British interest,” and they were, functionally, no longer British but “European,” part of a clearly defined “transnational elite.” (“Cosmopolitan” should never be used here: Biaritz and Baden-Baden used to be “cosmopolitan”; Brussels is “transnational.”)
This phenomenon was even more visible two years ago, when Austrian-born Berlaymontians went into fits over Jörg Haider’s outrageous suggestion that there are too many foreigners in Austria and that immigration threatens that country’s economy and traditional ethnic composition. Last year, the Italian-born Eurocrats agonized over Silvio Berlusconi’s victory. In early 2002, after Jean-Marie Le Pen’s success in the first round of the French presidential election, it was the French contingent’s turn to be embarrassed and outraged.
Members of the new elite have more in common with one another than with ordinary voters in their country of origin. By now, Brussels is theirs indeed—socially amorphous, filled with people whose identities are situational rather than ethnic. None of them will ever admit to missing “home” (except for the Greeks, who are outsiders anyway, admitted by some hideous mistake), because they are home: ibi quaestus ubi patria.
By the late-1980’s, I was somewhat surprised to find those deracinated Eurocrats’ equivalent in Washington, D.C., when I arrived to work for the Voice of America. The dynamics of this group’s identity seemed to transcend the boundaries of culture and space with ease. It was remarkable how American-born congressional aides, K Street lawyers, lobbyists, and agency bureaucrats blended in seamlessly with foreign diplomats, IMF analysts, Georgetown professors, World Bank experts, and media correspondents. This was indeed a “community” of sorts, dedicated to perpetual becoming instead of being. The traditional foundations of their respective societies—patriotism, historical memory, traditional morality, social homogeneity, and sexual restraint—were replaced by the culture of sophisticated disdain for all old bonds.
The Washingtonians (at least, those living west of Rock Creek Park) were, in some respects, different from their kinsmen in Brussels. They dressed more conservatively, exercised more, drank less, had more money, and apparently worked much harder. They were what Robert Reich called “symbolic analysts,” earning their living by trafficking in information and manipulating words and figures. Theirs is an abstract world in which information and expertise are the most valuable commodities. Since the market for these assets is international, the postnational elite is more concerned with the global system than with national, regional, or local communities.
“They send their children to private schools, insure themselves against medical emergencies . . . and hire private security guards to protect themselves against the mounting violence against them,” Christopher Lasch noted in The Revolt of the Elites. “In effect, they have removed themselves from the common life.” In Washington’s case, “common life” has an especially ironic ring. The Washingtonian elite keep their offspring well away from the horrors of the District of Columbia’s public-school system and steer clear of that violent terra incognita on the other side of 16th Street.
In foreign affairs, the members of the new elite are interventionists almost by definition, with “multilateralist” one-worlders currently dominating Brussels and neoconservative hegemonists presiding in Washington. Accordingly, the E.U. elite has taken over the Balkans, and its own proconsuls—Westendorp, Solana, Steiner, Kuchner, Ashdown, Petritsch, Haeckerupp—are building nations in Pristina and Sarajevo, now that the Beltway elite has more pressing business further east. They may disagree on some aspects of policy—whether Iraq should be attacked with or without the blessing of the U.N. Security Council, or whether Kosovo should be given independence in three or five years—but they do not question their own right to interfere in the affairs of faraway countries that neither threaten nor harm their own.
In domestic affairs, they see professional advancement and the freedom to make money as the main purpose of social policy. There is some difference, however: In Brussels, they like micromanagement even more than in Washington and have a “leftist” appetite for economic and social leveling. The difference, again, is only one of degree: Both groups’ focus on opportunity and the “democratization of competence” reduces the notion of citizenship to equal access to rank and money. Shared participation in the common life of an organic community is neither upheld nor desired. The result is what Zbigniew Brzezinski described approvingly a quarter of a century ago as a new, autonomous social stratum: “The ties of these new elites cut across national boundaries; their perspectives are not confined by national traditions . . . and their interests are more functional than national.”
This is the opposite of what José Ortega y Gassett feared in his Revolt of the Masses. The existing social order and the “civilizing traditions of Western culture” are threatened from above, not from below. The new elites reject rootedness and standards in favor of “progress.” The contempt of the elite for the common man, as Lasch sees it, is in part
the loss of respect for honest manual labor. We think of creative work as a series of abstract mental operations performed in an office, preferably with the aid of computers, not as the production of food, shelter and other necessities. The thinking classes are fatally removed from the physical side of life. . . . Their only relation to productive labor is that of consumers. They have no experience in making anything substantial.
The Washingtonians and their counterparts in Brussels also share a lack of religious conviction of any kind (unless the belief in the perpetual betterment of humankind by social and political activity is considered a form of religion). They both have an ideological preference for neoliberal globalization that includes an abiding commitment to multiculturalism, aesthetic relativism (just look at E.U.-sponsored art), and open borders. The notion that a government should have the right to control and restrict the flow of people (or goods, or capital) in the name of some “national interest” is deemed obsolete and dangerous.
That the post-national ruling elite is a threat to its host countries’ traditional identities and ways of life hardly needs arguing, but this has been the theme of numerous articles and dozens of books over the past couple of decades. What needs stressing after September 11, however, is that they are uniquely ill equipped to defend us from the immediate threat of a resurgent and aggressive global Islam. They are secularists and proponents of free immigration; and secularism, since replacing Christianity as the guiding light of the West, has cast aside any idea of a Christian social, geographic, and cultural space that should be protected.
The notion that there are lands, countries, and nations—specifically, in Europe and North America—that should be defended by virtue of being “ours” seems both strange and subversive to the members of the elite. They share Samuel Huntington’s dictum that the core concepts of our civilization are supposed to be individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of Church and State. They reject the suggestion that Christianity, the shared ethnic and linguistic origins of the European family, and that family’s common historical experiences are at all relevant in the coming struggle. At the same time, the post-nationals are inherently expansionist, and their foreign and economic policies aggravate the Muslim world, providing the radicals with an endless pool of potential recruits—resentful, violent, and willing to die.
The paradox is glaring, and its consequences will be very serious unless Muslims are either “Westernized” or vanquished. Neither can happen unless the present elites are replaced in a belated revolutionary recovery of Western spiritual and moral strength. If the post-nationals continue to run the show on their present assumptions, it is unclear how they will be able to prevent Islamic theocratic intransigence from winning support while hiding behind secular-liberal toleration. Instead, our elite will go on repeating the mantra of Islam’s “peace and tolerance” at home, while bombing Muslims abroad.
The danger of an endless cycle is real and present, and its ultimate victims may be those very Washingtonians themselves, if and when the terrorists obtain some serious weapon of mass destruction. In the meantime, they will continue telling us that the trend of global Gleichschaltung is inevitable, that economically motivated, unceasing immigration on a vast scale is unstoppable because it is the result of inexorable global market forces.
Any meaningful strategy for the War on Terror will have to start with Americans defining who we are and what we want and proceed to a frank assessment of the enemy. To this end, a new perspective on immigration and the Western identity is urgently needed, as is an understanding of the full and unvarnished truth about Islam. All will be in vain unless the murderous Islamic jihad, manifested on September 11, spells the end of another kind of extremism that is no less evil and murderous: the insistence of our ruling elite on constructing a multicultural, multiracial global village based on “democracy,” human rights, and open markets.