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.
11 out of a 13 post series expanding on a post of 1st June where I made 13 points in criticism of the clichéd used of Hayek’s style of liberalism to make sweeping criticisms of the European Union project. Go to my original post to link the item to which I was reacting.
The criticism of the European Union is often in comparison with the United States, which is held up as some more natural political union. The 13 colonies that formed the original union certainly had much in common, as far as the white population was concerned, with regard to shared origins in Britain, so that they were mostly Protestant English speakers, who could trace their laws and forms of government back in British history. As I have argued in earlier posts, their was less unity and less continuity than the EU bashing comparative account suggests. This kind of account ends up writing all political history and struggles out of the record.
I don’t have any story of the perfect continuity and deep primeval unity of Europe, but I d have a lot to say about European identity, transnational sovereignty, and inter-state structures throughout European history.
We can go back to the Celts, who clearly did not have a pan-European state, or a sense of European identity. Nevertheless, they existed in communities across the continental, which a shared if variable linguistic, religious and social characteristics. Even before the Celts there was cross European traffic in goods, people and culture. Their languages survive in the form of communities speaking descendendent languages in Brittany, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Attempts are underway to revive Celtic languages in Cornwall (south-west peninsula of England) and the Isle of Man (Crown territory outside the United Kingdom, but located off the coast of north western England). Celtic legends and the first layer of precedents for the King Arthur story, and for the tales of the Grail Quest (originally concerned with a Celtic cauldron) which merge through the story of Pervcival/Parsifal. The Celts, particularly Gauls, were primary enemies of the Ancient Romans and were also known to the Ancient Greeks. The Romans conquered Celtic states in France, Enland and Wales, thereby absorbing some part of the Celtic world.
The Celts have led us to the Romans who formed a state incorporating southern Europe (including Cyprus and what is now Turkey), large parts of central Europe, and northwestern Europe stretching up through France into Britain and the low countries. A common system of law and administration, and a common Latinate culture of the elite prevailed across the whole of this territory from the first to fifth centuries. The creation of a second Rome at Constantinople (Istanbul), with an eastern Emperor, who tended to be senior to the Emperor in Rome (or Milan or Ravenna), means that Europe from eastern Anatolia to the north west coast of England was at least nominally ruled from what is now Istanbul, from the fourth century into the early firth century, when Roman authority started to break down in the west.
The Roman Empire in the east lasted, as Byzantium (officially Romania), until 1453. The Ottoman Empire ruled over roughly the same lands as the Byzantines, and the Sultans even used the title of Kaiser-i Rum (Emperor of Rome) for a while. The Byzantine Empire even in its weakening, and disappearance, created a form of Christianity (Orthodoxy), along with associated ideas about the state and sovereignty, in the empires of Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia, and all states influenced by those examples.
In the Medieval west, claims to transnational pan-European political sovereignty was back at the end of the 7th century with the Franco-German monarch Charlemagne, who crowned Emperor of the Romans in 800. His authority extended across northern Spain, France, Germany, the low countries, northern Italy, and central Europe moving into the north Balkans. His influence stretched well beyond those lands, creating a model of monarchy, and attracting advisers like Alcuin of York. Charlemagne’s rule was preceded by Frankish kings going back to Clovis who claimed a kind of Roman consular legitimacy, so we see that the Roman thread in Europe is a constant. Charlemagne’s empire fragmented but still left a core in Germany, the low countries, and northern Italy which produced figures of European importance like the Hohenstaufen Friedrichs in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was the era of crusades, a very ugly phenomenon, but a cross European phenomenon, uniting fanatics, power grabbers and their victims across the continent. Major participants in the crusades included Robert Guiscard, a Norman prince form southern Italy. That is the Normans who conquered England from Normandy under a Duke descended fromViking conquerors, Vikings who were active across Europe as founders of Dublin in Ireland and originators of the Russian state.
In the Medieval west, Christian nations were also unified by the transnational authority of the Catholic Church, under the Pope who took one of the titles used by the Roman Emperors, Pontifex Maximus. There was an idea of Christendom which extended to the Orthodox east, and Monophysite ‘Eastern’ Christianity, but which was focused on a Catholic Commonwealth, in which Church law operated across boundaries between secular princedoms and republics. Church concern with law led to the revival of Roman law in the Medieval universities, with huge impact on ideas of law, politics,state and sovereignty. Part of that impact was the rise of the idea of the undivided sovereignty of secular states. That intellectual development also fed into the Reformation which fragmented ‘western’ Christianity between the Catholic Church and various Protestant churches. Nevertheless, Europe did not disappear. Byzantine scholars fleeing from the Ottomans brought renewed knowledge of Greek antiquity to the west, in a complex process which also included the work of translators and philosophers in the Muslim world. Out of this, and many other developments, we have the European phenomenon of Renaissance, which joins the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (or Catholic Reformation) as pan-European movements. The fragmentation itself was part of an intensifying European struggle.
The European struggle reached a long period of intense violence in the Thirty Years War of 1618 t0 1648, which brought European states together and confirmed their entanglement, though in the most negative way. That period ended with the Treaty of Westphalia, generally understood as the highpoint of the doctrine of state sovereignty in which states can do whatever they choose within their own territory. However, we should note the complications around this. The Treaty of Westphalia left in place a Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, descended from Charlemagne’s empire, in which sovereignty was very ambiguous. The Emperor was normally the ruler of the Habsburg lands in and around Austria. However, the Emperor only had clear administrative and political power in those lands, much of which were outside the Empire, and not over most of Germany, which was divided into a extraordinary complex mass of kingdoms, principalities, duchies, margravates, free cities, Bishoprics, abbeys, and lands of knights of the Empire, who accepted some very limited kind of last resort sovereignty from the Emperors. We can see the origins of European federalism in that peculiar Imperial confederacy, which lasted until the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon represents another reappearance of the neo-Roman dream of pan-European sovereignty, in a short lived, violent and despotic way. In any case the Promethean figure of Napoleon transforming Europe and the world from a start in live as a Corsican aristocrat inspired heroic individualism in Stendhal, Nietzsche and others, and maintained the idea that Europe is more than a geographical expression. The fall of Napoleon confirmed that Europe has always existed as a political entity, in the Concert of Nations that emerged from the peace negotiations at the Congress of Vienna. The political structure of the Concert was loose, but was real enough to justify intervention in southern Italy and the Balkans against Bourbon and Ottoman rulers who were believed to have failed to match the most civilised values in their rule. There was a growth of nationalism at this time, but by no means in opposition to European union. The great leader of Italian nationalism, Giuseppe Mazzini was also an enthusiast for a federal Europe.
The Vienna Congress system, and on many accounts the Westphalian European state system ended in the First World War, which terminated 4 empires (German-Hohenzollern, Austrian-Habsburg, Russian-Romanov and Ottoman), and brought totalitarianism into Europe. The Paris Peace Treaties represent and attempt to internationalise European national borders, and the rights of the citizens within those borders. Since Europe exploded again 20 years later, that attempt was evidently not too successful. It was the beginning of a major American role in stabilising Europe, since President Woodrow Wilson paid the leading role in formulating the supposed principles of the Paris Peace Treaties. The Second World War ended with a deeper Americanisation of Europe, Marshall Aid to maintain living standards in the countries of the western camp, including Turkey. On the other hand Europe became more organised as a consciously political area than ever before with the Council of Europe to promote human rights, and the European Union to promote all forms of cooperation. Whatever happens to the Euro, there is no going back from the way that Europe has recognised itself as a polity, and as more than a geographical expression. The experience of cross European co-operation and empire, the experience of a federal Germany/Holy Roman Empire from the late Middle Ages onward, the experience of transnational organisation in parts of Europe like the Hanseatic League for the Baltic Sea region, in the late medieval and early modern periods, the alliances of Greek states in ancient history, then the experience of federalism and confederalism in Switzerland and in the Netherlands from the 16th to the late 18th centuries, have all flowed into the European Union, amongst all the other many ways in Europe, and European nations have co-operated and shared sovereignty.
The difficulty in grounding the European Union in European history is not the lack of precedents but the abundance of precedents which defy summary. The extent of the European Union project does not have any exact precedent, but it builds on many precedents to work out a new form of government for the continent. Such attempts are part of history just as much as ‘spontaneous orders’ and historical tradition, neither of which has ever existed in pure form.