Europe and Liberalism: Beyond the Clichés

I haven’t blogged for a while, partly because of working on  a book.  No contract so I don’t want to go into it, if and when  it is contracted, I’ll post about it.

One thing I’ve been thinking about posting on, but couldn’t formulate something for, is the historical and value basis of the European Union from a liberal (particularly classical liberal/libertarian) perspective.  A post on another site that annoyed me, has helped me to formulate something; sometimes an antagonist, a negative stimulus of some kind is just what is needed.  So thanks to Chidem Kurdas for his post ‘Euro Crisis from Long Perspective’ at Think Markets: A Blog of the NYU Colloquium on Market Institutions and Economics Processes.

I posted a long comment which is pasted below.  I didn’t know anything about Kurdas before, and I didn’t check her out online before posting  my comment. She is a less of a technocrat and more of a partisan than I realised from her post.  If you Google the name you will see that is connected with hard core kind of libertarian places like the  The Independent Institute and The Freeman.  Rather hard core by my standards anyway.  These are both places where you can find the default American libertarian position, which gives extremely high priority to the greatness of the American constitution and the Originalist reading of it (a way of reading the constitution which goes back to the a supposed original public meanings of the text, discussion of the text at the time, and the publicly known intentions of the framers).  In that case I’m sure she found the comments I made about the US constitution repeated below, particularly obnoxious.  I have to say I find Originalist Libertarianism evasive and complacent.  That is not to say that everyone who has that position is stupid or dishonest, or that I disagree with everything they say.  This is a rather long post already and I’ll have to explain more in other posts and I think that will come quickly.  Where Kurdas is coming from in the post I’m commenting on is a bit of Hayek I don’t have time to locate right now but hope to in a post in the near future, which is widely quoted to the extent of being over quoted.  It has become libertarian boilerplate and inevitably like boilerplate versions of all positions, it tends to serve as a substitute for thought .  This is where Hayek criticises rational construction in law and politics, on the grounds such a thing is a top down imposition, which he compares unfavourably with law, and resulting political institutions, which emerges from a discovery process in which judges (and presumably juries) look at written law and custom in relation to basic social norms about justice, in an evolution of laws.  Libertarian critics of the European Union, very frequently and to the point of tedium bring out the relevant passage(s) in Hayek and claim the problem withe EU, by way of contrast with the USA, is its rational constructive basis.  What is below put that in context of the European Union and the United States.  AS I’ve said, more on the various aspects of this in future posts.

1. Hayek’s comments on constructive rationalism are trotted out regularly in relation to the European Union and have achieved the status of cliche rather than interesting use of Hayek’s thought.

2. The post compares the political arrangements of the early United States with the economic arrangements of the European Union. A comparison of limited use.
3. The United States constitution is commended as an example of Hayekian discovery procedure, but is itself an example of rational constructivism and intellectualism. Of course the colonists took things from English legal and political precedents, but the Constitution of the United States attempts to create a perfect republic on federal grounds which has no precedent in Britain. There is an evident element of fantasy in thinking that everything in the constitutional arrangements of the United States stems of Medieval England.
4. The United States constitution was also formed by a political economy/public choice process to satisfy sectional demands. The understanding of this process are not assisted by references to rugged colonists and the legal traditions of Merrie England, which in large part evolved through the violent impositions and constructivist projects of Norman and Plantagenet monarchs.
5. The US constitution which is commended was not able to prevent a devastating Civil War, the EU’s constitutional arrangements have yet to suffer such a blow.
6. The US constitution did not prevent a series of extremely ugly Indian Wars, and the effective destruction of the customary laws and property of American Indians. The EU has yet to be party to such a horror.
7. The problem with EU monetary union, with the Euro, is the lack of a fiscal union, not some failure to commune with the unwritten spirit of the law as it has evolved over history in the different European nations.
8. United States debt is at a level which would cannot be sustained without a crash at some time. The federal state has kept growing under both Republican and Democratic Presidents. Civil liberties are being trampled by the Patriot Act. It is very strange that we are invited to look to the United States for some alternative to the EU in constitutional and economic matters.
9. The EU will not be improved by a mixture of well worn passages of Hayek and idealising references to the United States, and its supposed continuity with monarchist feudal Medieval England.
10. If these bits of Hayek are going to be trotted out, again, it would be instructive to at least have some consideration of how compatible his very traditionalist views about law are with his views about economic and social innovation.
11. The politicians of European nations who created the European Union are no less part of tradition than the politicians who created the American Republic and its Constitution. The idea of the European Union, and its political basis in the Franco-German relationship has evident roots in the 9th Century Carolingian Empire, and even earlier in the Frankish monarchy.
12. The nature of EU federalism is clearly shaped by German experience in the federal republic, which itself draws on Weimar federalism, which evolved out of the federal aspects of Bismarckian Germany, itself developing of of the proto-federal nature of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation,a nature which it had acquire by early modern times. We can also see precedents in the unification of Italy (Mazzini was an enthusiast for European Federation) and the federal nature of the Netherlands going back to the formation of the Dutch Republic, itself an important precedent for the American Republic.
13. The EU also draws on the precedent of the Concert of Nations that emerged from the Congress of Vienna and which led to intervention in national affairs by the major powers claiming to act on behalf of Europe. It can also look back to the transnational legal and political role of the Medieval Catholic Church, a legacy of the the Roman Empire which itself provides an important precedent for ideas of pan-European law and sovereignty.

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