This essay is the fifth in a ten-part series being published in successive issues of The American Spectator under the general title, “The Pursuit of Liberty: Can the Ideals That Made America Great Provide a Model for the World?”
(Also in The American Spectator’s Pursuit of Liberty series: James Q. Wilson’s “American Exceptionalism,” James Kurth’s “America’s Democratization Projects Abroad,” Norman Podhoretz’s “A Masterpiece of American Oratory,” and Lawrence E. Harrison’s “The Cultural Prerequisites of Freedom and Prosperity,” with more to come.)
AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY WAS set on its modern path by Woodrow Wilson. Attributing the First World War to imperial competition, Wilson concluded empires should be divided into autonomous nation-states, their rivalries brokered by a “League of Nations.” Although those nation-states were soon involved in another catastrophic war, American foreign policy remained fixed on the Wilsonian path. The post-World War II settlement was again a settlement among nation-states, with a “United Nations,” guided by a well-meaning charter and a declaration of rights, taking the place of the League. Even though one member of the Security Council — the Soviet Union — was not a nation-state but an empire, and even though most of those who turned up at the meetings of the UN were sent there by gangsters who bore only a nominal relation to the “nations” that they purported to represent, American foreign policy remained fixed in the Wilsonian groove, and has remained so to this day. Hence the assumption that, because there is a seat at the UN for a place called Iraq, and because that seat has been filled by a petty thug with the title of Iraqi President, Iraq is a nation like any other, whose people are bound by a single national loyalty, and whose problems will be solved by a change of regime.
Meanwhile, the nation-state was undergoing a strange transformation, in the very continent where it had been born. In 1951, under pressure from a coterie of civil servants and politicians who met in secret and whose names are only now becoming known, the “European Coal and Steel Community” was formed. It seemed innocent enough, though the acute observer might have suspected, in the word “community,” an agenda that went beyond the topic of raw materials. The Coal and Steel Community was joined in 1957 by the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Commission. Between them these formed the “Common Market” which, despite the odd language, was generally assumed to be a well-meaning attempt to secure free trade and economic stability on a continent that had been ravaged by war.
Half a century later, following a process whose forward movement had been somehow embryonic in those initial “communities,” we find a Europe in which the nation-states have lost control of lawmaking, of immigration, of commercial regulations, and of effective sovereignty, in which their parliaments are obliged to adopt a code of law (the acquis communautaire) that now extends to 100,000 pages, not one item of which they can reverse and not one error in which they can correct — and all for purposes that have never been confessed to and which indeed were hidden within the original treaties as part of a secret plan. The process whereby this plan was advanced, regardless of the perceived national interests of the member states, and regardless of public opinion, has been carefully exposed by Christopher Booker and Richard North in The Great Deception (UK, 2005). The claims made in that book have not been refuted by the Eurocrats, who are in any case now invulnerable to criticism, and therefore in the habit of ignoring it.
Booker and North identify Jean Monnet, architect and first president of the European Coal and Steel Community, as the prime conspirator. Following the horrors of the First World War, Monnet conceived the life-long ambition to create a united states of Europe, as the condition of a permanent European peace. Unlike Woodrow Wilson, who wished to divide the continent into nations and achieve peace through a balance of power, Monnet wished to unite the continent in a new and more self-sustaining empire, though one from which the ghost of nationalism had been finally exorcised. He left public office in 1955 to form the Action Committee for the United States of Europe, dedicated to lobbying on behalf of transnational institutions that would be capable of overriding national sovereignty. This idea was opposed by President de Gaulle, who favored a Europe of sovereign nation-states, and with whom Monnet was at loggerheads during the 1960s. As a result Monnet developed the “Monnet method” of “integration by stealth,” in which unification would be advanced step by step without the goal ever being clearly perceived or clearly perceivable.
THERE SEEMS LITTLE DOUBT, now, that Monnet played a major part in shaping the European Union as an instrument with which to destroy the nation-state. But other figures, equally powerful and equally devious, had significant roles. Among them was Alexandre Kojï¿½ve, that wily, mesmerizing nihilist, ostensibly a French refugee from Russian Communism, though recently exposed as an NKVD agent, who advanced to the top of the French Civil Service, there to use his influence in promoting transnational government against the nation-state. Kojï¿½ve helped to set up both the embryonic European Union and the GATT. But he is better known today for his freelance seminar on Hegel, through which he formed the minds and souls of a whole generation of French intellectuals, including Andrï¿½ Breton, Georges Bataille, Jacques Lacan, and many others who achieved pre-eminence in the postwar period. In his seminars Kojï¿½ve argued that the need of human beings for equal recognition will lead of its own accord to the “end of history.” National boundaries and exclusive communities will wither away, and a bland democratic capitalism will spread like a fungus over the face of all mankind. This thesis, shaped for American consumption by Francis Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man), can be read in another way, as a codified admission of the secret plan for Europe’s future, which will also be the future of the world.
Unlike Woodrow Wilson, who blamed the First World War on the Empires, the founders of the European experiment blamed that war and its successor on the spirit of the nation-state. A united states of Europe seemed to them to be the only recipe for lasting peace. This view is for two reasons entirely unpersuasive. First, it is purely negative: it rejects nation-states for their belligerence, without giving any positive reason to believe that transnational states will be any better. Indeed, it resolutely ignores the history of the most belligerent state in recent times, the Soviet Union, which inherited all the ambitions of imperial Russia and added to them imperial ambitions of its own. Secondly, it identifies the normality of the nation-state through its pathological examples. As Chesterton has argued about patriotism generally, to condemn patriotism because people go to war for patriotic reasons, is like condemning love because some loves lead to murder. The nation-state should not be understood in terms of the French nation at the Revolution or the German nation in its 20th-century frenzy. For those were nations gone mad, in which the sources of civil peace had been poisoned and the social organism colonized by anger and resentment.
The European Union has tried to destroy the nation-states of Europe, in the belief that there is no peace while there are serious national rivalries; the United States has attempted to deal with the world as though each part of it with a name and a border can be treated as a national unity, in the belief that there is no democracy without the nation-state. The American project for world peace is therefore the polar opposite of that embarked on by the European Union. The question of which policy is the right one goes to the heart of our situation today — a situation in which, under pressure from transnational forces for which our political systems are not prepared, the Western alliance is being torn apart by the conflict between the American and the European vision of its goal.
IT SEEMS TO ME THAT, whatever the weaknesses in American foreign policy, it is right to take the nation-state as its premise. A nation-state is a form of customary order, the byproduct of human neighborliness, shaped by an “invisible hand” from the countless agreements between people who speak the same language and live side by side. It results from compromises established after many conflicts, and expresses the slowly forming agreement among neighbors both to grant each other space and to protect that space as common territory. It depends on localized customs and a shared routine of tolerance. Its law is territorial rather than religious and invokes no source of authority higher than the intangible assets that its people share. All those features are strengths, since they feed into an adaptable form of pre-political loyalty. However, they also ensure that nation-states are vulnerable at every point to subversion from those with a grand design. What Monnet set out to achieve in Europe was in one sense identical to what Lenin and Hitler had set out to achieve — to capture the unguarded instruments of social power, and to turn them against the people who had provided them.
The result of Jean Monnet’s plan is there for all to see: an unaccountable bureaucracy presiding over a continent that has been cast adrift from its traditional aspirations and historical ties. Europeans have been disenfranchised by the European machine, which has at the same time resolutely refused to address the real problems of Europe’s future. Of course, these problems (demographic decline, adverse immigration, the imminent collapse of the welfare state) might have arisen without the project of Union: but one thing is certain, which is that the project has weakened the authority of European governments and put no rival authority in their place. The unaccountable nature of the European institutions, their ability to spend money on themselves and to clutter the continent with their fantasy projects, their endless production of absurd and malicious regulations — all these things have deprived the EU of legitimacy in the eyes of the European people. But the Union remains, immune to any action that its “citizens” can take, cushioned from all popular resentment by the national governments that shield it from the people. If proof were needed for the proposition that the nation-state is the friend of democracy, and transnational government the foe, then the European Union is it.
But why did things not work that way in America? Why did the experiment in federal government, which has led to an unaccountable empire in Europe, lead to a viable democracy in America? The answer is simple: because American federalism created not an empire but a nation-state. This happened despite the dispute over states rights, despite the Civil War, despite the legacy of slavery and ethnic conflict. It happened because the American settlement established a secular rule of law, a territorial jurisdiction, and a common language in a place that the people were busily claiming as their home. Under the American settlement people were to treat each other, first and foremost, as neighbors: not as fellow members of a race, a class, an ethnic group, or a religion, but as fellow settlers in the land that they shared. Their loyalty to the political order grew from the obligations of neighborliness; and disputes between them were to be settled not by priests or tribal elders but by the law of the land.
The nation-state emerged in Europe as a perceived solution to the religious wars that had blighted the continent in the wake of the Reformation; it offered a political order in which religion would be discounted in favor of a shared attachment to the soil. But its foundation lies deeper than the needs of 17th-century government. All the ways in which people come to define their identity in terms of the place where they belong have a part to play in cementing the sense of nationhood. For example, the common law of the Anglo-Saxons, in which laws emerge from the resolution of local conflicts, rather than being imposed by the sovereign, has had a large part to play in fostering the English (and subsequently American) sense that the law is the common property of all who reside within its jurisdiction rather than the creation of priests, bureaucrats, or kings. A shared language and shared curriculum have a similar effect in making familiarity, proximity, and day-to-day custom into sources of common loyalty. The essential thing about nations is that they grow from below, through habits of free association among neighbors, and result in loyalties that are firmly attached to a place and its history, rather than to a religion, a dynasty, a family, or a tribe.
WE DO NOT NEED reminding that there are many parts of the world which do not benefit from a developed sense of nationhood. This is particularly true in the Islamic world where, with the notable exception of Turkey, most people live in a deeply conflicted situation, being exhorted every Friday to rehearse their membership of an Islamic ummah that recognizes no national boundaries and the authority of no secular powers.
A country like Iraq is not, never has been, and never will be a nation-state. This is not merely because it contains communities that identify themselves in terms of their religious and ethnic allegiance; it is also because for these communities their place of settlement has never been a country, a place defined as ours, where our way of doing things prevails, and which must be defended at all costs if our way of life and web of affections is to survive. Country has always taken second place to religion, family, or tribe. Iraq was carved out of the Ottoman Empire by Western diplomats who imagined, like Woodrow Wilson, that nation-states lie concealed beneath every empire, that national boundaries are already inscribed in the affections of the people, held in place by lines of force that have the same historical fixity as those which created the nation-states of Europe. This piece of wishful thinking is very far from the truth. Even if Iraq were to divide today into three regions, Sunni Arab, Shiite, and Kurd, these would not succeed in becoming nation-states. Authority would still be attributed to family, tribe, and creed above that of country, and in emergencies the people of the resulting territories would still unite behind those old ideas of identity, and not behind the “law of the land.”
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H/T to National Review Online