Oh Europe! From Rome to France and Germany

I’ve posted a few things about the reaction to the Euro crisis and alluded to the need to explain what I think underneath.

So why Europe?

First of all what is Europe?

Well Europe is very much Rome, though the Roman Empire stretched beyond Europe into North Africa and the Near East, and did not cover the whole of Europe.  It would be a mistake, in any case, to look for a a completely clear and non-ambiguous boundary to Europe.  The collapse of the Roman Empire in the west coincided with there rise of the Merovingian monarchy, of Franks (that is Germans who had entered Roman Gaul) who ruled France and Germany.  The first Merovingian monarch Clovis was given the honorary title of Consul by the Emperor in the east, and he took on symbolic attributes of Roman sovereign rulers.  The state which he led, became the Carolingian state, that is the Carolingian dynasty descended from Charles Martel which produced Charlemagne, who was was proclaimed Emperor of the Romans in 800.  Meanwhile out east, the Byzantines were weaker but still maintained the Roman Empire, and provided a model of Imperium for Bulgars, Serbs and Russians.  Charlemagne became the model of west European kings, including Offa, Alfred the Great and Athelstan in England.  Even lands outside the Roman Empire took on the Roman model, Russia looking to Byzantium, so ultimately to Julius Caesar and Augustus; Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Poland looking to Charlemagne, and again ultimately to Caesar and Augustus.  Caesar is the origin of the words Czar and Kaiser. Mehmed II ‘The Conquerer’ claimed the title Caesar, ‘Kayser-i Rum’, Caesar of Rome.  So a reason for thinking of Turkey as European.  Additionally, I did see  Turkey referred to as ‘Rum’ once in a dictionary of Kurmanji Kurdish and English.  However, I think this might be unusual.  Maps labelled in Kurmanji of the region, which I found online, refer to Turkey as Türkiye, exactly as spelt in Turkish.  What the dictionary refers to is one of the ways that Turks referred to Byzantium, and presumes that can be transferred to Turkey.

Notions of Carolingian Europe coincide with Christendom in a Catholic centred way.  The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and the preceding Turkish movement across the residual Roman Empire, focused the notion of Europe firmly on the Catholic west and centre, with Russia as a marginal presence.  A large part of Orthodox Europe, that is the part of Europe where Christianity was Hellenic Byzantine rather than Latin Catholic, was under Muslim rule, along with an even larger part of Eastern Christianity.  The notion of an essentially Catholic Europe has not completely disappeared and certainly had an influence on Christian Democratic architects of the union.  Rocco Buttiglione who had to resign as a member of the European Commission before he took up his post in 2004 was an expression of that kind of Catholic politics, and his resignation was a sign of its decline.  It certainly had its role in building the idea of Europe.

Of course the geographical expression Europe comes from Greece before the rise of Rome.  These discussion of kingship, empire and sovereignty, are relevant though, because Charlemagne was referred to in his own lifetime as father of Europe.  The notion of Roman Empire had become one of a European dominium, but evidently not an undivided dominium, but a series of fragments in which Charlemagne had the most important part, and which made him a  secular count part to the Pope, whose authority evidently derives from the identification between Christianity and the late Roman Empire.

The end of Byzantium in the fifteen century and the renaming of the Holy Roman Empire as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation points to the decline of Neo-Roman institutions as sharing Rome, though still left Europe a place where the understanding of law and the state was shaped by the Roman legal tradition which was revived in the thirteenth century. The history of political theory since Aquinas is shaped by this process.  But now Rome is becoming an abstraction,  a source of theories of sovereignty rather than the historical beginning and full presence of Europe.  The Reformation increased the fragmentation of Roman Europe (itself an assembly of fragments), dividing western and central Europe religiously between Catholics and Protestants, and different forms of Protestantism.  The next pan-European Empire was bigger than the Carolingian empire, or Byzantium after the separation of the Arabs, but was very short lived.  That is a reference to Napoleon’s Empire, itself a product of a French universalism going back to the Middle Ages and  transformed by the French Revolution.  The idea of France as the European nation, and therefore as the universal nation goes back to the Middle Ages and the separation of the title King of the Franks from Roman Emperor in the ninth century.  The title had existed before Charlemagne but its separation from Emperor within Charlemagne’s coronation with that title, meant a French monarchy which was definitely French nor German, and the title became King of France in the twelfth century.  The weakening of the structures of the Empire from the thirteenth century so that the Emperor only had full powers over the hereditary lands of the Habsburg dynasty from the fifteenth century, left France with enhanced relative prestige, so that apart from the Spanish hegemony of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, France maybe had a claim to be the leading European power until German Empire established in 1871.  So maybe six hundred years of France the European nation, a claim made explicitly by Joseph de Maistre, for example.

We can see that the idea of a Europe existing politically through the French-German locomotive, which has seemed in danger of disappearing ever since the classic friendship between Giscard Valéry D’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, but keeps reappearing, is deeply rooted.  Underlying that is Roman Europe, which cannot be complete without Turkey.

More to come.


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