Of the many great follies inherent in political pan-Europeanism, the varied and necessarily hostile concepts of nationhood across Europe are the most intractable. As such, these follies are better defined as a monolithic problem that has been made worse by an attempt at a solution – a solution that since 1992 has been known as the European Union.
Throughout its long history as a culture that predates by thousands of years the history of a German nation-state, Germany has always been happier and healthier for itself and for its neighbours when it is a towering yet contented culture rather than a discontented nation-state. Long before there was ever a murmur of a modern Germany nation-state, Germany existed as a unified culture between and among both small and large sovereign units.
This arrangement proved not only successful for the Germans themselves but proved to be a happy arrangement for the rest of the world. The key to German genius is the ability to create, enjoy and export a rather singular culture without carrying the burden of the detriments nor the burden of the perceived benefits of nation-statehood. How is it that Beethoven, Wagner and Goethe could all be born under different sovereign entities yet still be part of the same readily defined culture?
Herein lies the great conundrum of Germany. A resourceful culture without physical resources was bound to catch the allergen of revolution and in so doing, a hitherto un-awakened impulse for nation-statehood rode roughshod over a previously contented culture housed in separate sovereignty entities.
The early success of Germany under Bismarck is often thought of by those seeking redemption through geopolitics as the true face of German greatness. Whilst Bismarck was indeed a great politician, his greatness within two thousand years of German history was the greatest of all aberrations! Bismarck sought to fashion a state on the model of France whilst retaining the cultural traits of Germany. He succeeded during his lifetime but no sooner did he die than the inherent contradictions of his great creation came to the fore in a most violent fashion.
Since the death of Bismarck, Germany has struggled with the paradox of attempting to retain a culture that prospered under political fragmentation on the one hand with the French ideal of modern united statehood on the other. The result has meant that with hindsight, Bismarck “final” war against France was merely the beginning of many more German wars against France.
The European Union has been an attempt to solve this conundrum by transforming Europe as a whole into the German style states which existed as separate entities prior to Bismarck’s Prussian lead drive for unification. The problem is that in reducing EU member “states” into mere “German electors” in the Holy Roman sense, Germany has now been confounded with the equal and opposite problem to her erstwhile conundrum of combining Germany culture with the French conception of modern statehood.
As a result, German culture has been nullified by politics and the sovereignty of non-German nations have been nullified by pressures to adopt German cultural traits and unspoken habits which served as the basis of German unification in the first place and the Holy Roman Empire prior to that.
Whilst German culture is easily defined and was so long before the creation of the modern German Reich under Bismarck, Britain is far more easily defined as a political unit than as a culture. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union of nations, each with distinct characteristics, with the traditions of England and her Common Law being the most overriding tradition overall.
In Britain, culture, law, politics and nationhood have all been so indelibly intertwined so as to make British culture indistinguishable from English and later British and UK political, clerical and legal history. Where the Germans have Goethe and Beethoven, the English (and in many ways the British) have Magna Carta and Anglican hymns whose authorship is either unknown or irrelevant.
This one must be necessarily confounded by a great paradox. English legal traditions place a heavy emphasis on the sovereignty of property and of each individual occupier of this property. Germany by contrast did not even have a single state under which to unify its property until the 1870s and even after the 1870s, questions of German Austria continued to cause manifold political crises.
In Britain, the concept of statehood was simple because it lay not in the state itself but in the history of the institutions within the nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (later Northern Ireland alone). As such, in Britain, tradition was an inherent and implicit part of one’s individuality whereas in Germany, great individuals shaped a cultural tradition.
This helps explain why Britain cannot easily be conquered by a foreign force. Whilst Russia is impossible to subdue owing to her immensity, Britain cannot be subdued because Britain’s culture is not locked away in a monument, written constitution nor easily named group of great men. Instead, Britain’s oral tradition of constitutionalism and precedent based (history based) Common Law make the United Kingdom a place ill-suited to adopt foreign traditions that may be rich in logic or even beauty but which are presented with finality.
Britain’s great constitution continues to evolve and its inherent cultural characteristics which are transmitted through this great constitution are paradoxically inclined towards tradition, gradualism and evolution as opposed to modernity, totemic politics and revolution.
It is for this reason that the modern concept of the EU was always destined to clash with British tradition and even everyday life.
France is nothing if it is not a state. It’s language, poetry, music, art and architecture are not so much the buttresses of state but are instead the great collection housed inside the edifice of state itself. One of the reasons why France has been historically so prone to religious warfare, dynastic warfare and since 1789 ideological/revolutionary warfare has been a supreme confidence in the fact that which ever faction wins, it will be supremely statist.
In this sense, whilst Germany has been made unhealthy by notions of statehood and whilst Britain’s history has been one in which the state has been weakened to the benefit of the liberties of institutions and classes within the state, in France the state is a sole constant. This is why every internal conflict and revolution fought in France is one in which one is fighting initially for control over the state and secondly for control over what the state will represent.
This is what has allowed France’s statehood to remain strong even as the various styles of statehood in France have undulated maddeningly between monarchy and republic, religious and secular, bellicose and pacific. Throughout all of these many changes the state has not only endured but has reigned supreme. Ultimately, the French state is like a body that every few decades radically changes its style of clothes and appearance and yet the body remains the body in spite of its undulating exterior.
And thus one arrives at the fundamental schism between the French and German conception of the European Union. To the German mind, the EU will relieve Germany from its great crisis of culture versus nation by turning all of Europe into a modern Holy Rome where nation-states are reduced to something along the lines of electors within a broader imperial sovereign. For the French, such a conception is entirely alien.
This is why French leaders tend to push for a more unitary conception of a European Union. A unitary Union fits in with the French conception of the state as a monolith irrespective of the events happening within its borders. For France, the events within a state are easily manageable right up until the moment that the events threaten to alter the qualities which define the state at any specific point in time. Until this moment, not an eyelid is batted and much cake is consumed.
Is Russia European or is Russia Asian? Russia’s geography and its history offer a contradictory answer to these questions. This conundrum can however be easily solved when one realises that Russia is neither a culture like Germany, a union of nations like Britain nor a state like France.
Russia is religion as personified by a set of populations within a sovereign territory. This is to say that more than in any of the other places mentioned in this piece, Russia lives and breaths like a great church in which social interactions and cultural development are parts of a lengthy Divine Liturgy, whilst war and diplomacy serve the function of a great synod.
With the Bolshevik takeover of October 1917, Russian merely substituted the Orthodox Church of Christ for the heathen church of Lenin and later of Stalin. But just as Russia was guided first and foremost by her faith since the baptism of Price Vladimir, so too was Russia compelled to worship at the communist altar by similar forces.
Ultimately though, Russia’s truest religion lies in Orthodoxy rather than in Leninism. This helps explain why in 1991 a “state” people loved fell so easily among a population who worshipped the authority of that which is Russian whilst rejecting the very alien ideology of Marxism. The Russian cannot live outside of a holy empire even if they reject the temporary heresy of such an empire’s leadership.
The great crisis between Europe and Russia has many geopolitical manifestations but at its spiritual level, Europe has historically been a land in which there are churches and other influential institutions. Russia by contrast is itself a church and all institutions within Russia merely exist under the golden dome of religion.
The only method through which to unite these varied and disparate traditions under a single sovereign would be through supreme acts of violence. As such a notion ought to be named as wicked, the best solution to the problem of pan-Europeanism is to accept that Europe cannot be united but that through the dignified weight of Westphalian respect and modern commercial relations, Europe needn’t be a land of flowing blood either.
Europe cannot exist as a united political unit but Europe is equally doomed if it does not recognise itself as a small place with a globally linked destiny in terms of trade. This is why future history books will shower the Eurosceptics and Brexiteers of this age with both affection and charity whilst their opponents will be damned to the dung heap of foolhardiness.