January 4, 2005
The rise of EuronationalismBy James Lewis
How do you unite 500 million people who have fought each other for a thousand years? That is the biggest question for Europe today. In spite of endless denials, the answer is beginning to look a lot like old—fashioned nationalism. In Europe, nationalism has a black reputation ——— and rightly so. It was always a kind of mass egomania, which led to repeated warfare, culminating in two world wars and the Cold War. France went wild over Napoleon around 1800 and ended up with 1.4 million dead young soldiers. Germany had Bismarck, the Kaiser and Hitler. Russia glorified Lenin and Stalin. If Europe is at peace today, it is not thanks to its mad obsessions with national greatness.
And yet, echoes of that old familiar tune can be heard today. Take Dominique de Villepin, one of the leading politicians of France's ruling party. M. de Villepin positively worships Napoleon, and models himself after his hero. In a 600—page biography, Villepin wrote admiringly about the difference between great men like Napoleon and the 'common run' of men. It is worth reading every word carefully.
'Here we touch on that particular essence of great men, on what distinguishes Napoleon or Alexander, Caesar or de Gaulle, from the common run. It is excess, exaltation, and a taste for risk that forms their genius. It is why they are often better understood in their �lan by writers and poets, who are possessed of the same thirst for the absolute, than by those who pray at the altar of facts.'
And in praise of French nationalism, de Villepin wrote,
'The Gaullist adventure renewed the �lan of [Napoleon's] Consulate through the restoration of a strong executive and the authority of the State, the same scorn for political parties and for compromise, a common taste for action, and an obsession with the general interest and the grandeur of France.'
Those words come straight from 1800. Napoleon's 'genius,' his 'thirst for the absolute,' 'excess, exaltation, and a taste for risk,' 'a strong executive and the authority of the State,' his 'scorn for political parties and for compromise,' and 'an obsession with the grandeur of France' ——— it is all classic national hero worship. But today that kind of thinking is used to promote a new vision of destiny, the European Union.
Most Europeans understand their own dangerous history very well, which is why politicians have long denied that the EU was ever going to be a nation. Tony Blair has said that the EU 'will be a superpower but not a superstate.' But Mr. Blair knows very well that the world has never seen an international power that was not a state. Whether it is called 'great' or 'super,' powers are states. Like Tony Blair, Gerhardt Schroeder, the German Chancellor, proclaimed several years ago that 'national sovereignty in foreign and security policy will soon prove itself to be a product of the imagination.' But Jean Monnet, the founder of European Community, was a lot more honest. He wrote that the EC would 'compel nations to fuse their sovereignty into that of a single European state.' In spite of all evasions and denials, Euronationalism is on the march.
So how do you make unification work? The obvious model is Otto von Bismarck, who united the fractious German states under the first Reich in 1870. Here is the Bismarck recipe. First, centralize all power in your own hands. Then you glorify the new super—nation with saturation propaganda. Use your intellectual elites to tell the world how your new nation is destined to lead to a higher international order. In Bismarck's case, it was the philosopher Friedrich Hegel who 'proved' that Prussia was going to be the new model for world civilization. On a more practical level, the new state combines many small economies to create a new economic powerhouse, with great industries, global trading relations and military potential. All these ingredients are easy to see in Europe today, with the exception of rising military power.
Will the EU become a military power? The new Socialist prime minister of Spain, Jose Luis Zapatero, recently said that
"Europe must believe that in twenty years it can be the most important world power ... Naturally, it will still take some time until we develop a closed defense policy.'
Others passionately deny that the EU will ever be a military giant. But there are worrying straws in the wind. Jacques Chirac just visited China to sell advanced French arms, including stealth bombers. Following Chirac, Chancellor Schroeder just proposed that the EU lift its arms embargo against China. Both of them know perfectly well how fragile the balance of power is in the Taiwan Straits. Almost every week some Chinese general threatens to invade Taiwan. The Chinese People's Army has 600 short—range missiles facing the island. If that fragile balance breaks down, the United States could be drawn into a dangerous Asian war just as it is trying to defeat Islamist terrorism. American power would be split between Asia and the Middle East. If we didn't know that the EU was only interested in world peace, Chirac and Schroeder's arms sales would look just like a classic Great Power gambit.
The Bismarck recipe for cooking up a superstate has one final ingredient: You need a common enemy. For Germany the necessary enemy was France. Whipping up rage against France was a key to Bismarck's unification policy. On their side, French politicians encouraged vengeance against Germany. It was literally all the rage in Europe.
Today, Americans may be surprised to hear that we are Europe's common enemy, but that idea is all over the European media. Soon after the Twin Towers assault, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard praised the 9/11 hijackers in Le Monde.
'How we have dreamt of this event ... How all the world without exception dreamt of this event, for no one can avoid dreaming of the destruction of a power that has become hegemonic. ... It is they (the terrorists) who acted, but we who wanted the deed.' (emphasis added).
It is very important for Americans to understand that Baudrillard's rage is not just his own. It is the editorial policy of Le Monde, the equivalent of the New York Times in France, and it reflects political passions across the spectrum. The historian Philippe Roger writes that in France, anti—Americanism is the great unifier,
'the only French passion that calms the other passions, softens antagonisms, and reconciles the most bitter adversaries.'
And no, it is not George W. Bush's fault; it has been bubbling up for fifty years and more. France needs its rage against the US like alcoholics need their next drink. Jean Francois Revel has written extensively about anti—Americanism. In his opinion,
'Today's anti—American disinformation is not the result of pardonable, correctable mistakes, but of a profound psychological need to make the U.S. the villain responsible for others' failures.'
Revel's point is crucial to understanding Europe today.
Unfortunately, it is not just France that thrives on anti—American feelings. It is all over the European media, especially on the Left, where many people still lament the passing of the Soviet Union. Even in England, the novelist Margaret Drabble wrote in the Telegraph:
'My anti—Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.'
It helps to know that Ms. Drabble comes from an old Socialist family, which has always seen America as the enemy of human progress ——— as embodied in Stalin and Mao Zedong, for example. But there is anti—Americanism across the political spectrum, in Britain, Germany, France, Spain. The good news, if there is any, is that it has a lot more to do with Europe than with us.
The United States is a very safe enemy, because nobody is really afraid of us. Europeans know very well that the US does not exact revenge for outrageous allegations against us. Our 'world domination' consists of commercial products: MacDonald's, Coca Cola, Hollywood. The USSR always received more respect than the US, no matter how many people it crushed. Criticizing the Soviets had consequences; assailing America does not.
Europe's anti—American rage is saddening for most Americans. For fifty years the United States has been the most benevolent power Europe has ever seen. No other country has aided Europeans more generously. It is the United States that has defended Western democracy from imperial Germany, Hitler, and Stalin's Soviet Union. After defeating the Nazi scourge which overcame most of continental Europe, The United States generously financed the reconstruction of its former enemy's shattered cities. It is the US that pushed for the unification of Germany. We still provide the most widely imitated model of democracy and free markets. Most ordinary people in Europe like America and our products.
It is essential for the United States to understand, in the words of Jean Francois Revel, that anti—American rage reflects
'a profound psychological need to make the U.S. the villain responsible for others' failures.'
The biggest beef Europe has is its own sense of defeat. Europe still dreams of leading the world, and we are in their way. If the United States were to leave Iraq tomorrow, anti—Americanism would not stop. If we supported every European whim it might still not stop.
Europe's rage against us is very much like the anger of an adolescent child against its parents. Western Europe has been utterly dependent on us for fifty years. It is frightening for them to contemplate a future without our protection. To many Europeans we seem to be all—powerful, and really mean to boot. But it is a teenager's emotions, not those of a parent, which creates all that anger.
America should not aim to be loved, but to be respected and valued. With Europe's new adolescent rage the time may come for the EU to go its own way. America will then find new allies in the world. In the war on terror, India and Pakistan are more important than France. Whenever we become the scapegoat, the United States should be very clear about the reasons. We should not blame ourselves for Europe's emotional storms.