I am not a European, but I am a student of European history. If one thing has been made clear throughout the history books and throughout my trips to Europe, it is that someone is not European first, and then a nationality. You do not call a Welshman an Englishman, and you do not make the mistake of saying that Austria is an Eastern European country. Finland is not Scandinavian, and should you confuse a Basque with a Spaniard, you will certainly hear about it.
A Barely Articulated and Hardly Coherent Idea
Despite this, the EU would like to pretend that the idea of Europe as a country, of ‘European’ as a nationality, is viable. Reportedly European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, during the much talked about recent summit, said: “What I expect from all heads of governments is that they don’t come saying what they cannot do but what they will do for Europe.”
Here is the problem: Barroso is asking for the heads of these governments to sacrifice for Europe, a thing that is a barely articulated and hardly coherent idea. Europe is not a country, no matter how much the leaders of the EU may wish it to be. It is hard to sacrifice for something that you may not agree with, or even doubt the existence of. Really, what is Europe at this point in time? A continent, and once upon a time in history, a cohesive cultural unit (in which Russia could have been included), but certainly never one country. What is it now, with Turkey having clamored to be a part of the EU, and on the more frivolous but telling side, countries such as Israel, Armenia, and Azerbaijan being contestants in the Eurovision Contest?
Barroso’s words are (one assumes) an intentional echo of John F. Kennedy, saying “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Europe is not the country of these leaders, and more importantly, it is not the country of these leaders’ peoples. There is scant comfort in being told that one’s sacrifice is benefiting not one’s children, grandchildren, or countrymen, but rather those who abide by different laws, speak different languages, and have different values and principles.
The fact that British PM Cameron put Britain first should not be surprising, and should not be something that brings consternation. It should be the natural choice. It is the fact that that no other European leader did so that should horrify the peoples of Europe.
Added to that is the fact that the outrage is not simply directed towards Cameron for making an incorrect decision. One can understand frustration if a leader walks away from something that would be genuinely good for his country, but that’s not really what this anger is about. The rest of the European leaders seem outraged that Britain again (remember retaining the Pound) is not willing to sacrifice itself for the supposed good of the whole. Which, considering the utilitarian underpinnings of the liberal (read: progressive) philosophy of much of Europe, isn’t actually all that surprising. The logicality does little to lessen the blow, however.
A Good Leader Puts His People First
Democratically elected or not, a good leader puts his people first, not some ephemeral idea of ‘the good of the many.’ He has a responsibility to his people. Without that responsibility, the very idea of democracy in particular and of leadership in general becomes null and void. Those involved in the EU seem to have forgotten this, one official being quoted saying of Cameron: “We understand his domestic political situation. He is a prisoner of domestic constraints.” Cameron is not a prisoner of his domestic constituents, he is their leader, the man chosen to champion them. If a leader’s obligation to his people is considered a manacle, then the only way a leader can be free is through dictatorship.
At this point in history, we live in a society where saying “British jobs for British workers” doesn’t have to carry any racist overtones. Nationality is no longer always dependent on blood and heritage. Yet nationality does still exist, and it is something one can take pride in without beginning to touch on the stigma-tainted word ‘nationalism,’ which in the West conjures up almost exclusively fascist imagery. And nationality is a strong thing, for better or for worse. It can make a country strong enough to stand up to unbelievable odds (Switzerland for a European example, Israel for an international one), and when nationalities strive against each other within the same borders it can be more devastating than any foreign incursion (Yugoslavia).
Europe has seen both, having far more nationalities than countries, and it has seen time and again the destruction brought on by the clash of cultures within those nationalities. France has seen it, in their continuing struggle with a growing Muslim population among their secular indigenous culture. Spain has experienced it, found it inescapable among the smoke and rubble of repeated bombings by the Basque separatists, as has Britain in dealing with IRA.
If some of the most prominent European countries cannot put down national tensions, why should there be any expectation that the whole of Europe will fare any better instead of faring worse? If history, both recent and aged, puts bare the fact that these inter-country nationalities cannot put aside that nationalism for the good of their own country, how can the thought of such a torn country sacrificing itself for the whole of Europe even begin to be conceived?
A Devil’s Pact
The idea of a moral obligation to one’s country is a strong one, whether it is philosophically sound or not. It is what made Kennedy’s speech resonate so strongly; it evokes the sacred ideas of honor, sacrifice, and loyalty. Europe as a single entity, however, can have no such claim. It has no uniting language, culture, or religion at this point. What shared history there is almost exclusively involves bloodshed. The EU has proven itself a fickle and capricious body of government, sacrificing seemingly arbitrary parties for uncertain gains and showing unseemly petulance towards those would-be benefactors when they dared protest.
In the Crito, Socrates argues that an individual must submit to the demands and the judgment of the state because that individual has chosen to live in that state, and has benefited from it in terms of society, culture, and order. There is an intimate relationship between the citizen and the government which allows for the obligation of loyalty from both parties. The state must protect the citizen, and in turn the citizen protects the state. The EU, the idea of a united Europe, is not in the business of protecting the citizens of its separate and (supposedly) sovereign states. It is a devil’s pact demanding the sacrifice of the welfare of living, breathing individuals for the as of yet non-existent benefits of an unfeeling, inanimate, and inhuman state.