Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hubris from the past...

..."we will succeed where everyone in history failed". It's instructive to revisit the euphoria which seeds its own destruction. 61 years of peace in Europe is unprecedented. The odds are against it continuing (I am prepared to admit "conflict" might be something other than conventional warfare, but the time of solidarity is past.)

"We are carrying out a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace. The Roman church of the Middle Ages failed finally in its attempts that were inspired by humane and human preoccupations. Another idea, that of a world empire constituted under the auspices of German emperors was less disinterested; it already relied on the unacceptable pretensions of a ‘Führertum’ (domination by dictatorship) whose 'charms' we have all experienced.

Audacious minds, such as Dante, Erasmus, Abbé de St-Pierre, Rousseau, Kant and Proudhon, had created in the abstract the framework for systems that were both ingenious and generous. The title of one of these systems became the synonym of all that is impractical: Utopia, itself a work of genius, written by Thomas More, the Chancellor of Henry VIII, King of England.
Today, the commencement {of the Council of Europe} is characterized by a timorousness which many people will find disappointing. In this period while our States have not yet consented to renouncing any part of their sovereignty, and, when they make international decisions, they do not submit themselves willingly to each other as an engagement that they are fully observing their decisions, the debates of the Parliamentary Assembly {of the Council of Europe} can still have a moral and psychological effect. At least I hope so. They can influence the Governments and national Parliaments but they will create by themselves neither rights nor obligations.

We are still at the start of things. We would do well to bridle our impatience. If not, we are likely to make the doubters more distrustful and what is more serious, endanger not only the experiment but also the whole idea of a united Europe.

At the signature of the Statutes of the Council of Europe, I recalled to everyone’s mind that that we do not yet have a definition of Europe as recognized by everybody. I believed that I was then able to claim that in thus laying the first bricks of an organization, Europe is now beginning to define herself, without the aid of scholars and academics, who I fear, will never be able to agree amongst themselves. ... I do not have any intention of drawing a geographical line of demarcation between Europe and ‘non-Europe’. There is another valid way of setting limits: that which distinguishes those who have the European spirit and those who do not.

The European spirit signifies being conscious of belonging to a cultural family and to have a willingness to serve that community in the spirit of total mutuality, without any hidden motives of hegemony or the selfish exploitation of others. The 19th century saw feudal ideas being opposed and, with the rise of a national spirit, nationalities asserting themselves. Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalisms, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association. This would safeguard the diversities and aspirations of each nation while coordinating them in the same manner as the regions are coordinated within the unity of the nation.

-Robert Schuman, 1949

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