Eulogy for the European Union

Pericles, the last of the European Commissioners, appeared before the crowd in Athens. The mass was silent as he took the stage in the cool, dark December evening with yellow lights from the crowd flickering like fire-flies. He was there to announce the dissolution of the European Union.

“What sadder, and yet more relevant place, to announce the end of our grand European project than here at the very birth place of our civilization? From Hellas, and especially from Athens, came the seeds greatest and most unique contributions of our civilization to the inheritance of the world; our philosophy; our science; our democracy and love of freedom.

Our civilization was united only once under the stern, lawful dominion of Rome. A rule that appeared eternal, but like all that is human, or the work of human beings, did not last forever. What Rome left us was a dream of unity, a dream that was adopted even by the Germanic tribes that shattered the empire, and began the story of new European peoples.

The Roman dream was also kept alive by the Catholic Church which preserved for all Europe the grandeur and tradition of Rome, while, as it always is with irony and cunning of history, lit the kindling in the hearts of men, which burned with the desire of egalitarianism and individualism, and burst forth in the fires of the Protestant Reformation. The end of the Wars of Religion meant that Europe would never be united under a single spiritual banner.

Even in the midst of the howling winds of chaos the light of reason lit first by the Ancient Greeks was kept alive and grew bursting forth with modern science, exploration and discovery; enlightenment; capitalism and industrialization: European legacies that have so changed the world that it will never be the same again.  Under the powers brought by its knowledge Europe very nearly conquered the whole of the earth and brought at last Nature herself under man’s dominion. The reign of the West was littered with  contradictions: that of prosperity and enslavement; health and barbarity; power and impotence. But even though it ruled a world Europe still remained divided within.

The new Cesar, Napoleon, emerged and with his armies almost united Europe. Here too, the contradictions of history brought themselves to the fore. Here a republican army led by an autocratic dictator brought free government to Europe through the force of arms. Yet, rather than create a united, free Europe, the French lit the fires of nationalism that would seemingly divide the continent forever.

The First World War was yet a second attempt at uniting Europe this time under the banner of the ascendant Germanic peoples. The Great War was an unparalleled disaster for Europe and cast it from the pedestal of world power it had occupied since the beginning of the modern age.

The new chaos which descended upon Europe brought forth demons from the abyss- Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism- that sought to solve the contradiction of the need for European unity and the diversity of its peoples by destroying all of its differences.

It was only here, during the Second World War, that a truly democratic movement for the foundation of a united Europe, based on the diversity of its peoples, truly existed in the form of the European resistance movements to Nazi rule. There, in the words of Hannah Arendt”:

“As Jews we want to fight for the freedom of the Jewish people, because ‘If I am not for me- who is for me?’ As Europeans we want to fight for the freedom of Europe, because ‘If I am only for me who am I?’ (Hillel) [first century A.D. Jewish sage]. (Jewish Writings 141-142).

 “If any monument to the war dead of the European Union had been built it should have been dedicated to these martyrs for a free and united Europe.

The hope that such a world would emerge out of the ashes of the War was smothered by the big powers at the War’s end who wished for no new political structures in Europe, and instead saw Europe split in two by an iron wall.

It was in the wake of War that it was decided that the fate of Europe was best left to its elites. This too was part of the European tradition. Plato, who walked here, had his Guardians, the Church bound Europe with its in a trans-European clerical elite, the brotherhoods of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment were pan-European in nature.

For the modern denizens of unification from above by the steady hand of the more Enlightened, globalization seemed to show the way. What was needed was a single market rather than a single demos, what was required was a shared currency, not a shared parliament.  Some, and I count myself among the naive here, thought the European Union, offered a hint at the solution to the contradiction of modern politics- how to have a democratic form of society in a globalized world. In the end the Union seemed to offer little but the oppression of the small by the big powers, and the subservience of both to the all powerful global markets.

And thus it was, after the default of Greece and its exit from the Union was followed by similar events in Italy, Ireland and eventually Spain, that our project came to a tragic end. Unable to make our new empire as free and our loyalty to it as strong as that in and for our traditional nations, we returned to more narrow visions as the source of our aspirations, with the idea of Europe extinguished until futures far distant.”

Here Pericles ended his speech to crowd who remained silent.

Rick Searle

November, 21, 2011


One comment on “Eulogy for the European Union

  1. […] Europe this system is premised on the nation-state. Europe is now a supranational entity, but it is difficult to imagine how its version of social democracy can survive unless Europeans treat one another like a common […]

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