History has proved that large, complex, multicultural societies can in fact exist. There are countless examples of them. In fact, any state or society that achieves a large size will almost inevitably be multicultural in some way.
Historically, most large, complex, multicultural societies tended to be empires, controlled by brutal but pragmatic elites — as raw power always has its limitations. Many of them were of course monarchies, but some of them have even existed towards the more democratic end of the political spectrum. But, wherever they stood constitutionally, all of them have had major elements of instability to overcome in order to subsist and flourish.
The most important factor in any large, multicultural entity is its ruling elite, and how brutal and/or pragmatic it is. In earlier ages the element of brutality was more important (the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Czarist Russia, etc.), but the element of pragmatism was never absent. In many cases the element of pragmatism was more important (the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the British Empire, the United States, etc.) but the element of brutality was never unimportant.
It is clear that the European Union is also a large, complex, multicultural entity, even if it is not yet fully formed. It therefore has the same problems and dilemmas as any other large, complex, multicultural society, namely how to get diverse populations to co-exist harmoniously, or at least prevent them from pulling the society apart. Historically, many techniques have been employed — the creation of ethnic “safe spaces,” co-opting leadership cadres, favouring supranational elites (Jews, the Church, etc.) . . .
Because the EU was formed in a relatively unorthodox way — i.e., through voluntary entry — it is extremely limited in the degree of brutality that it can use to maintain its unity and power. It therefore has to rely much more on the pragmatic characteristics of its ruling elite — namely their guile and ability to perceive and carefully manipulate the balance of forces. The success of the European Union in the past was due to this factor. In effect, it was able to offer enough but not too much integration, while slowly, carefully, and cautiously preparing the groundwork for greater integration. This is testified to by its history, which, in the first 30 years of its history, shows a pattern of slow, gradual change, largely backed up by obvious.
The recent decision by 52% of British voters to leave marks the first serious setback this large, complex, multicultural entity has suffered. In this sense the Brexit vote can almost be compared to the Battle of Britain in 1940, which also ended an unbroken series of successes for another large, multicultural European entity that was attempting to expand. This defeat suffered by the EU in the Brexit vote therefore strongly suggests that something has gone seriously wrong with the EU’s formally winning formula.
Historically, the problem seems to stem from two closely related events, the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the 1992 monetary crisis known as Black Wednesday, caused by a flawed attempt to link the disparate British and German economies through currency pegging. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communist Europe led to the reunification of Germany, which was already the dominant economic power in the EU, while also creating a power vacuum to the East and South East of the EU.
This strongly shifted the balance of power in the EU towards Germany, a development that was reinforced by the fallout of Black Wednesday, when speculative financiers like George Soros made fortunes by using the recent modernization of the City of London (the much-touted “Big Bang”) to “short” the UK economy.
With Germany increasingly dominant in the EU, the union started to take on the characteristics and serve the interests of the German ruling elites. This effectively drove a wedge between the EU’s past of careful, pragmatic growth, which had mainly Francophone or Latin characteristics, and its subsequent more dramatic expansion, which reflected a more Germanic dynamic.
Almost immediately, we saw typically Teutonic attempts at Gleichschaltung (coordination) expressed in the 1993 Maastricht treaty and a series of subsequent treaties, all designed to transform the EU into a much more standardized and centralized entity, something that few of the member countries or their populations were ready for, least of all Britain.
These efforts also combined with rapid over-expansion to the East and the creation of a currency that was effectively designed to serve German business interests by permanently keeping the currency used by Germany devalued to favour exports.
At a time when Europe should have been growing more carefully and more organically, while maintaining harmony through subtle pragmatism, it was instead becoming a turbocharged asymmetric entity, centred mainly on the economic interests of the German elites, with some deference to the French political class, and an occasional bone thrown to London, bolstered by the initial eagerness of Eastern Europe to shake off its communist shackles.
This was a moment in history, but it was clearly a moment that could not last, and Britain, in the wake of Black Wednesday developed a hard core of Eurosceptics, whose voice in the Conservative party and UKIP could not be stifled and who were determined to undermine “The Empire,” finally achieving their goal a few days ago.
Britain’s recent defection is far from being an isolated case. Instead it is a harbinger of other crises to come.
Since the EU deviated from its initially winning formula, and instead embarked on its present course of increased centralization imposed with a Teutonic lack of tone, exacerbated by technocratic facelessness, numerous other fissures have opened up:
- Greece’s debt problems continue to bubble away, as do those of many other countries
- Youth unemployment remains extremely high due to employment over-regulation, leading to growing social chaos
- Culture clashes between the Westernized and less-Westernized countries over issues like homosexualism
- Problems caused by the migrant crisis, where again we see the greater conservatism of Eastern European states
The pressing challenge for the EU is to prevent total collapse. This is something that will require a complete overhaul in attitude and approach, and a return — in as much as it is possible — to something approximating to the formula that allowed it to grow in the first place. This will greatly depend on the degree to which Germany, in particular, can be persuaded to take several steps back from its destructive economic role.
Alas, the omens are not promising, as this would involve major reforms if not the actual scrapping of the Euro currency, a device that works to over-centralize the diverse elements of this complex European society through economic inequality. Unfortunately, this is a kind of fetish object or magic amulet for the German elites, serving to guard their power and ensure their continued virility as their country changes around them.
It is far more likely that Germany and France will seek to preserve the Euro currency and continue on their centralizing path, generating further tensions with member states in Southern and Eastern Europe, many of whom will look to Britain’s example.
How the EU deals with the UK throws up interesting questions. Will it attempt to make an example of it in order to temporarily cow other rebels and paper over the cracks, or will it look for a clean break in order to lighten its load for a necessary period of reform and renewal?
There now seem to be two Europes — a centrifugal Europe, led by Britain and its Eurosceptic movement, with allies in dissident parts of Eastern Europe, and centripetal Europe, led by Franco-German bureaucrats and business interests, keen to treat the rest of Europe as their colonial backyard. It is fascinating the degree to which patterns of history find ways to repeat themselves!