False Europe

[T]he future of Europe rests in renewed loyalty to our best traditions, not a spurious universalism demanding forgetfulness and self-repudiation. Europe did not begin with the Enlightenment. Our beloved home will not be fulfilled with the European Union. The real Europe is, and always will be, a community of nations at once insular, sometimes fiercely so, and yet united by a spiritual legacy that, together, we debate, develop, share—and love.

Europe is “reaching a dead-end,” warn the signatories of the Paris Statement. Entitled “A Europe We Can Believe In” this Statement by prominent academics and writers from across Europe (Roger Scruton, Remi Brague, Ryszard Legutko, Chantal Delsol, among others) says that Europe’s great civilizational inheritance has been dissipated and buried by ideological distortion and deception. Beyond hand-wringing, the Paris Statement evokes the manifold beauty of the European mind and spirit. The reclamation of Europe must engage its full cultural, political, and spiritual dimensions. Europe might be headed to nowhere, but the signatories provide an affirmation of Europe that should serve as a lodestar for efforts to revive its flagging fortunes.

The authors of the Paris Statement argue that the Continent’s problems do not stem necessarily from mass Islamic immigration nor from an emboldened Russia probing borders of European countries. The problem is “false Europe”; its gods must be dethroned. The Statement touches on the standard criticisms of the European Union. The “democratic deficit” is observed by the authors as a “fundamental commitment” of the EU’s rulers, “zealously defended” so that the EU can flex its powers apart from and, at times, in the face of public opinion. More than this, the signatories argue that a grander vision, gnostic at its core, animates the belief of “inevitable progress” for Europe.

The EU Wheel

Disciples and acolytes of false Europe are convinced that they sit atop the transcendental reference point of History, and that from there they espy the inevitable progress of human rights and global community. This “pseudo-religious universalism” and the machinations of the European Union that it justifies culminate in a “haughty and disdainful” repudiation of the glory and the pain of Europe’s past. Proponents of false Europe, the signatories observe, are “orphans by choice” and such homelessness is presumed to be a “noble achievement.” Their ultimate mission is to “confiscate our home” by making that home, in truth, “neither universal nor a community.”

Few things are more politically potent than the threat of homelessness. The judgment that home will be confiscated is stern, but, I think, finds support in the notion of territorial loyalty that undergirds the nation-state. That is, what are the various peoples of Europe actually loyal to and where will they turn when the chips are down? Brussels? The European Parliament? International human rights lawyers? Or do they instead look to the shared possessions, laws, historical experiences, and citizenship they have with those in their own country? It is this loyalty, shaped by habits of consent, that leads citizens to obey laws, even when they disagree with those laws because in due course they can change them through representative government.

The EU project aims to dispense with this loyalty to a democratic nation-state, but what would it put in its place? A determined governing class proposes the abstracted public square of EU governance, replete with endless rights and the rules of unaccountable commissions and bureaucracies. That is, an entity that is a home to no group in particular.

The crucial “work of renewal begins with theological self-knowledge.” This is no call for a Christian crusade to reclaim Europe, say the authors, whose nationalities range from French, English, Polish, German, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Hungary. Rather, the signatories interestingly argue that it is false Europe that is engaged in an “ersatz religious enterprise.” They call for Europe to be re-secularized. The creedal beliefs of false Europe support the effective removal of borders, diminishing the strength of self-governing nation-states, an apolitical and limitless devotion to rights, and thoroughly divesting Europe of its actual religious and cultural histories. The authors scold the reckless faith of Europe’s governing classes that the millions of Islamic migrants to the Continent stand ready in due course to embrace their project of autonomous individualism and multiculturalism.

Endless bromides about diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism have produced a Europe that can no longer comprehend itself. Unable to know what it is about, a paralyzed Europe is bereft of the resources that it could use to govern itself. In the place of actual history and the stories, myths, and ideals it animates, the grandees of false Europe attempt to shape a European imagination dedicated to a homogenized, utopian future, one that the larger world, they believe, will follow. But the larger world is unlikely to follow—instead it may well subjugate—such a hollowed out Europe or it will dismiss with contempt its apolitical allusions.

Freedom, Not Liberation

European Commission President Donald Tusk epitomized this overconfidence in an August 2016 speech in Vienna, claiming that “borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians.” Read: the political histories of Europe are so many attempts at manipulation and exploitation of human beings. It is we—the EU enlightened caste—who will bring liberation. There is a further tightening of the noose on political freedom, however.

The Statement points to increasing attempts by the governing classes to lessen the “aboriginal European freedom—freedom of conscience.” That is, by controlling political speech, false Europe aims to enforce who will be allowed to speak on issues of political saliency. Thus the politics of Europe will be decisively shaped in one direction, with legal penalties imposed on dissenting voices. Already we see those who have spoken in politically incorrect ways about Islam or on other sensitive issues hauled before courts to be humiliated in the public square. This is not political liberty, and as noted by the signatories, “Recourse to denunciation” means that we lack respect for language and the access to reality that it provides. It’s a sign of intellectual corruption that devalues political accountability. Left with only emancipated wills, many Europeans struggle to discuss the goods they hold in common. Uniformity must be achieved by a bureaucratic or transnational court order, or worse.

How ironic, then, that false Europe understands itself to have an “unprecedented commitment to human liberty.” In reality, this is the liberty of the Generation of 1968, which is endless liberation and expression; this redefinition of liberty refuses to recognize that it needs to be shaped by the nature of the human person. Come to that, there is no nature—only choices grounded in, ultimately, nothing. The result, the Statement notes, is the reduction of freedom to a mindless consumerism of “social media, tourism, and pornography.” In a powerful coda to this section, the Paris signatories declare: “The Generation of ’68 destroyed but did not build.” Amidst this seeming abundance of liberty stands the paradoxical fact of a Europe that is “more and more comprehensively regulated.”

An observer might also note that Europeans are free to live as they choose in only one area of their lives, the sexual domain. This must never be regulated. But human sexuality is fulfilled in reproduction and must be joined to a promise of obligations where the gift of one person to another is bound in love. Yet marriage in Europe continues its decline along with birthrates, which, in almost every European country are below replacement rate despite numerous subsidies and incentives to have children. Europe is dying.

The Need for Statesmen

Statesmen will be needed to return the European Union to its more humble origins, the Paris Statement gets around to noting. Perhaps that begins with the rise of statesmen who re-articulate the common goods of particular nations and are desirous of “the honors bestowed upon them by their people.” One thinks of Churchill and de Gaulle in the not too distant past. Here, I think, the Statement comes up a bit short. Only one paragraph of this 4,400-word document is devoted to the practical political actions that must be taken. Europeans need to recover a classic pagan understanding of politics and then conjugate it with their Christian inheritance. They need a class of men and women in the grip of a spirited but measured desire for political honor. Statesmen are the bridge between Providence and the understandings of human communities. The virtues of political courage and the fame and glory it can achieve must be the light of those who want to slough off “more Union” and restore the political liberty of their native lands.

I am left to wonder if postmodern allurements have forged contemporary European fetters, or if they have led to a passivity incapable of turning back a soft postmodern transnational despotism? Evidence against my gloom is found in the resurgent populism one sees in Poland and Hungary, among other countries. The authors observe that these muscular and rowdy attempts to reclaim self-government could be the beginning of a fruitful alternative course that reconnects Europeans to their cultural, civic, and spiritual roots. But EU subsidies might be withheld from rebellious countries. Various commercial and business pains might be visited on recalcitrant member states. What then? I’m not optimistic. In any case, the Paris Statement points in the direction of a rejuvenated Europe, capable once again of serious and humane thought and action.

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