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Redressing the European Question

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My recent essay here at Counter-Currents, “Europe and Europa,” provoked a particularly thoughtful and thorough response by one commentator, who in the space of a single comment touched upon most of the principal positions taken by what might be called more “Europeanist” thinkers of the New Right. I believe this commentator penned his response in the same spirit in which I had written my article—with the desire, that is, to promote conversation of a very important question. I therefore think it only fitting to dedicate due space both to the acute objections he has presented to my article, and to a few replies that might be made in turn. 

In the first place some broad observations are in order. I begin with several of the commentator’s very just closing remarks: “We must deal with things as they are and not as we would have them. . . . We need practical solutions.”

These comments are most characteristic of the stance both against independence movements on the one hand, and against those who would dismantle the present European Union on the other. (Though I tend to be a proponent both of independence movements and anti-Unionism, it is important to remember that these positions are distinct and separable.) It is somehow thought that these positions are impractical or idealistic or unrealistically optimistic.

Yet it could well be parried that precisely the Europeanist position, as it is generally proposed, is the truly impractical stance from the point of view of the New Right. It is impractical to expect distinct ethnicities, even if they are all European, to live in harmony under artificial, homogenizing, and essentially economic arrangements (consider, for instance, the present threat of violence in Spain). It is idealistic to expect any good to come out of political, social, and economic structures which are founded on principles anathema to our cause and ruled almost exclusively by super-opulent technocrats bent on hegemonic globalism. And it is entirely and unrealistically optimistic to believe that the state of peace which Europe now enjoys can be maintained, in its present form, without the sacrifice of things that we as men of the New Right should do everything in our power to defend.

These assertions bear elaboration, and it might be that some or all of them are simply wrong. But it is clear at least that the allegations of “impracticality,” “idealism,” or “optimism” cut both ways. Everything depends on how one reads the present state of affairs.

Questions of Identity and Language

The commentator writes:

Most people in the world now live in big cities. While people take pride in their hometowns, in practice they act as citizens (i.e., voters, consumers, students, workers) of a nation-state. People routinely move to cities on the other side of a country for work, education, or a change of scenery. People tend to identify more with their country than with a particular region of it.

There is much truth in this, but it runs the risk of conflating the state of affairs in some Western countries (and particularly the extreme condition of the United States) with that of all Western countries.

I will again take the example I know best as my point of departure. Although the situation is changing here in Italy, it has been my experience that the Italians are still powerfully rooted in their native cities and regions, and they tend to identify more with these than with their nation. A man born, say, in Florence, will generally speak of himself first a Florentine, second as a Tuscan, and only last and finally as an Italian. This is not generation-dependent; it is almost as true of younger Italians as of older ones. (Interestingly, it is during times of crisis and emergency that a sense of nationalism emerges most clearly in Italy.) I do not doubt the situation is different in other European countries: but the very fact that citizens of various European nations and regions differ in their sense of “rootedness” can indeed be taken as another argument precisely in favor of separatism and local rule.

Now the commentator asserts that our historical period in many ways forces us into the role of citizens of a nation state. But this argument, which is proposed here in (albeit somewhat resigned) defense of nationalism or Europeanism, can be pressed by the same logic to favor globalism itself. As an example taken from the commentator’s own list: in innumerable cases a man, insofar as he is a consumer, really does act as a citizen of a nation state; but in that same capacity he acts also as a “citizen of the world.” A voter surely votes for his national representatives; but that means also in the majority of cases voting as a “citizen of Europe,” which, given the present state of affairs, almost certainly means favoring strongly globalist policies.

Yet I do not see that we should placidly accept this state of affairs. To take the more mundane example, the idea of living in America or Europe and buying goods (not to speak of food!) produced in Venezuela or China has always struck me as perverse. It is in many cases unavoidable, but one can still lament that fact and seek to remedy it as one may. I take movements to “buy local” and to support traditional artisans as the signs (albeit still unhappily faint, weak, tangential) of tendencies which I believe we should be encouraging.

The overall trends are toward “nation-statism” and “globalism,” I will agree—but there are still instincts and reactions to the contrary. Why then must the trends be taken as if they were faits accomplis—rather than precisely trends? I for one prefer to throw my energy, such as it is, to whatever opposes these trends—and that often means, practically speaking, to attempts to resuscitate local identity, or to movements toward independence.

The commentator continues:

Local languages and dialects have been largely replaced by standardized language, thanks to modern transportation, urbanization, schooling, mass media, and so on. Revival movements for language and local customs mainly serve to preserve historical curiosities rather than restore living traditions.

I must once more protest the conflation of tendency with condition. As a case in point, I noted in my original article that the language of the Sardinia is being replaced by Italian; but that means precisely that we speak of a matter in progress. Most Sards, particularly those living in small towns, are yet fluent in their native tongue. That forces a question: shall we favor what safeguards those local traditions, or shall we seek rather to undercut them? Or shall we simply shrug the whole question off as old-fashioned? Trends can be reversed; their courses can in some cases be altered. Such is absolutely impossible, however, if everyone who would struggle against them chooses instead to passively kneel before them as a force too powerful to be battled.

Now, if the argument is rather that there are indispensable advantages to be had from larger regimes and standardized languages—well, that is another matter altogether. And here, we run full into the problem of the nature of modern nations, and the nature of the European Union itself.

The Questions of Nation and Union

“America (perhaps as an extension of Britain) invented modernity, and it is lamentable that this image has been projected back on to Europe. Now, the European Union has begun to resemble America in its fluidity, like it or not. I do not celebrate any of these developments but I must accept them as present-day reality. One cannot unscramble an egg.”

Indeed, one cannot. I could not agree more that much irreversible damage has already been done. It is worse than useless to hope for a full return to some historical—and often irrationally idealized—epoch of the past. But there are two distinct senses in which one might “accept present-day reality.” First, one can accept it in the sense of comprehending it with due clarity; second, one can bow before it as before an unalterable and monolithic fact. No one among us should attempt to evade the first sense of “comprehending,” which is nothing more than the duty of every man who would look critically on his day and age. But the second sense is far from necessary, and intellectual appeals to “realism” too easily transform into practical defeatism.

The commentator and I appear to be of one mind in lamenting the course that Europe has taken, and also the American influences that have begun to reshape it. He seems to consider the gravity of these changes irresistible. Perhaps he is right. But if the center toward which that gravity is guiding us is identical to our obliteration or enslavement or our debasement, then I say we should stand against it no matter how strong it might be. It is not enough to posit it as an existential fact; one must also indicate that it is either actually or potentially to our benefit.

I will restate a fundamental point from my first essay. One can countenance, even wish for, the absorption of specific cultural identities into larger ones, when this results in, or at the very least someway promises, richer, more beautiful, higher, nobler forms, in politics or in culture. Short of that, we are dealing with the construction of soulless artifacts—or, as Nietzsche so memorably described the state, the “coldest of all cold monsters.” The day that the Europeanists can convince me that the better part of modern nations, or the Union which supposedly unites them, are anything other than so many tin Leviathans built on the fool’s gold of global capital, then I will gladly take up the banner of their cause.

Until then, I find the opposition to most modern regimes to be obligatory not only from a philosophical standpoint, but also from an ethical, and indeed ethnic, standpoint. Whence the question, which I believe is largely at the heart of this entire dispute, as to what the possible consequences of dissolution could be.

The Question of Dissolution

If I read your essay correctly, you suggest balkanizing all of Europe into statelets, then re-federating these statelets into an authentic European federation (or “empire”). But, then, why not three or four different federations or empires? While we’re redrawing the map of Europe, why not go whole-hog? One can imagine any number of schemes. But what if the northern countries get tired of financially supporting the south? What if the ruler of one of these countries have an entirely different concept of Europe (i.e., “pan-Germanism”) which violates the sovereignty of its neighbors?

It is true: the road to “balkanization,” as the commentator calls it, or dissolution as I have preferred to nominate it, leads to fundamentally unpredictable new political horizons. I attempted in my original essay to indicate the great hazard in all this, particularly given our present straits. The commentator is a hundred times justified in insisting on this danger, which I believe is often passed off somewhat too facilely by the more zealous proponents of independence movements. The question is not if dissolution will necessarily lead to peace or to the possibility for European rebirth—for no one but prophets and charlatans dare pronounce with certainty on tomorrow—but if it is at all likely to open possibilities that our modern polities have decidedly closed off to us.

I believe it is. My reader remains skeptical:

If an empire would correct these problems, what happened to the empires which formerly existed? Were they simply erased by the forces of modernity? Undone by scheming bankers and Freemasons? How can this empire be yoked together in the first place when so many of its people no longer share a common religion?

The empires of old were not undone solely by “scheming bankers and Freemasons”—though the influence of these should not be underestimated. They were undone fundamentally by the philosophy of an age. I am among that curious breed of human beings who believe that ideas are ultimately more powerful than Realpolitik. I consequently believe that the historical failure of a regime does not necessarily prove its invalidity. To demonstrate a strict connection here—as I believe can be done, for instance, with the Communist superstates of the last century—one must show first of all that the ideological core of the political form in question coincided with its destruction, or that it was brought to its end by logistical (taking that word in its original sense of proceeding from the logos) necessity, rather than by historical accident.

To my eyes, the empires of old collapsed or disbanded, not because they were institutionally weaker than the forms that replaced them, but because the fiber of the men who ruled them, and the faith of those who composed the bulk of their populations, failed. The reasons for this failure are manifold, and this is not the place to analyze them. I believe the commentator points us strongly in the right direction when he notes that there is no contemporary religion to seed the new birth of empires, and I do not think it an exaggeration to say that he has lain his finger here on one of the great problems of our age. Yet that problem is not solved nor even evaded by sponsoring the European Union or contemporary nation-states. Indeed, in these hollow and naked monsters the problem is only compounded tenfold, directing us to the core of modern political philosophy, and to the very innermost decay of our age.

If this is the case, however, then perhaps we must break this fetid society apart to show its inner rot to the sunlight—by whatever means we have at our disposal.

That, to be sure, is potentially violent:

What if ethnic rivalries erupt into wars with megadeath weaponry? It is easy to dismiss the possibility of total European war when one is several generations removed from it.

I find this to be one of the most compelling arguments against independence movements. I made note, in my original article, of the fact that we should never take for granted the almost century-long peace that Europe has enjoyed. And I agree entirely that those who have never experienced war too easily trivialize it, glorify it in the wrong ways, and thus render its recrudescence the more possible.

But as easy as it is to forget the violence of yesteryear, it is easier still to remain blind or ingenuous to the horrid possibility of that globalist dictatorship toward which we are presently drifting. And were I forced to choose between a new European war on the one hand, and a technocratic globalist totalitarianism armed with all the potencies of modern science on the other, I confess I would opt with full heart for the first.

I think it more rational, however, to put these matters into some perspective: while the first of these is a possibility, the second, given our present trajectory, is exceedingly probable. Indeed, in a great many cases (and I believe the regional tensions the commentator indicates above support this point) the way to peace in the short term lies precisely “on the road to Catalonia,” by freely permitting these secessionist urges to work themselves out however they may. Are there dangers attached to this, given a longer timeline? Certainly. But to evade a probable threat of spiritual and cultural annihilation, by risking our possible corporeal and physical destruction, does not seem to me an ignoble wager.

Europe is being invaded by hordes of Muslims and Africans. In a few generations it will be changed out of all recognition. Catalonia would throw its gates open wide, so that Catalan would soon be replaced by Arabic.

This argument, or variants thereon, is often urged against specific independence movements—questioning, in effect, the true political motivations behind them—and as I stated in my original article, I think this sort of analysis should always be entertained. Just as we would critique any progressivist policy of any given Western nation or law or leader, so it is right for us to denounce wrong-headed political tendencies in separatist movements. By the same token, I am not arguing we should simply give up on national politics; the case of Hungary alone more than demonstrates that certain European nations are still sound, and there is yet room to hope that other nations (Italy could well be among them) might follow suit. But there is an enormous difference between reckoning case by case on the one hand, and automatically opposing independence movements on the other.

I am moreover not convinced that our support for specific independence movements should necessarily be predicated on our agreement with their politics. As Greg Johnson has on several occasions noted (see, for instance, the recent Counter-Currents podcast on the Catalan question), ethnonationalism cannot expect to win broad appeal if it limits itself to a mere segment of the “political Right.” Ethnonationalism, even as the New Right itself, must transcend the traditional political spectrum. That might entail in some cases supporting nationalist movements which identify with the political eft. This returns us precisely to the question of pragmatism—of what can work today.

Now, the commentator pointedly notes that a small state, having received its independence, very well might accelerate the open-border policies which we most strongly denigrate, perhaps unto its self-destruction. But in such a case we must ask: if that portion of Europe is really so suicidal, so utterly torn from its better and more natural instincts, that it cannot even rise to defend its own narrow borders when it is given the power to command them as it lists, are we really not better off severing it from ourselves, even as we would a diseased limb? With such men as that, what chance can there ever be for us to organize a truly Pan-European resistance to the assault on Europa?

But more: arguing against independence movements because they might exacerbate immigration or globalism implies that there is greater possibility of neutralizing these threats through the European Union or through its constituent nations. This flies full in the face of all the evidence we have ever received on this question. Every recent attempt to reduce or resist, not to speak of arrest, immigration today, every “civic nationalist” or budding “ethnonationalist” tendency in Europe, has come exclusively from regional or at best from national founts; and these have to a one been smothered or strongly opposed by the European Union. All the tendencies of the Europe Union are demonstrably pro-immigration, pro-globalization, anti-European. The great majority of the tendencies of contemporary European nations bear a similar stamp. The leanings of smaller and still hypothetical ethnostates, meanwhile, might be precisely contrary.

In the end my question is simple enough. What is more likely? That the majority of the “citizens” of the European Union, united by no common cause save base economic interest, led by no continental political figure or religion or vision capable of inspiring any faith in the higher destiny of Europe, might suddenly awaken to the desperate importance of preserving Europa, might somehow find the means to purge the thousands of politicians and bankers and bureaucrats now in power, and might summon from their already feeble hearts the Herculean will to heave the Union’s gargantuan bureaucratic bulk onto some new path? Or is it more likely instead that a smaller ethnically and linguistically united people—joined, yes, by economic interests, but also by common ties of geography, common bonds of history, common blood, common sacrifices and common goals—newly granted authority in its own land, perchance proud of its recent emancipation, perchance filled with a renewed sense of purpose and responsibility for its cultural and political destiny, might perceive how all of this is threatened today by foreign invaders and internal enemies, and might tap the inner resources required to act accordingly?

It will be clear which of these possibilities I consider the most likely. But if I am right, then “balkanization” of Europe becomes precisely the most pragmatic, realistic, and promising chance that we have today to forward our struggle on the plane of real politics.

As for the question of what might come after—I admit, it is troubling any way one looks at it. Yet I hold out greater hope that a true sea-change in European politics brought by an initial and potentially destabilizing political fragmentation might render possible novel political, religious, and cultural forms, than I do that slogging forward and dragging the brutal weight of the status quo behind us, we might scale the mountain to Brussels.

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  • […] Bruce Leonard at Countercurrents touches on the Catalonian issue in this piece at Counter-Currents, as well as the larger issue of the European Union, and whether the fact that […]

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