My students and I recently completed the History of Europe in the A First History for AdultsTM program. In that course, we traced the story of Europe from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the formation of the European Union.
It isn’t a pretty picture.
The ending, which I refer to as the “European Subordinacy” (mostly to America) has generated a cultural backlash rooted in the only outlook that Europeans seem to know: collectivism. Since this cultural coping strategy is now continental in scope, I call it “Europism” (or “Europeism” — I don’t don’t know the grammatical convention on how to form an “ism,” when the noun stem ends in an “e”. With the ”e” in it though, it’s just too tempting to pronounce it “Europ-ee-ism”. )
Europism is rooted in the dismal historical record of European people living as separate, antagonistic tribal and national groups. From the earliest time of the barbarian migrations, to the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries when Germany, Italy, and the various Slavic nations were formed, Europeans have had virtually no grasp of “man qua man.” They’ve always seen themselves as man qua Briton, or man qua Salian Frank, and later man qua Aryan, and man qua Serb, Bosnian, Croat…
This myopic outlook has proven to be a terrible handicap, contributing to centuries of warfare. For the separate German tribes especially, the multiplicity of allegiances was crippling. Bavarians, Franconians, Saxons, etc. all feared and hated each other. Only a greater enemy could ever bring them together, and when that enemy was dealt with, their petty feudal jealousies were reactivated. Then, in the wake of the Reformation, when man qua Austrian vs. man qua Prussian, came to mean man qua Catholic Austrian vs. man qua Calvinist Prussian, and man qua Englishman vs. man qua Frenchman was exacerbated to become man qua Anglican Englishman vs. man qua Catholic Frenchman, the impediment of collective self-identification only intensified.
It got so bad that Europeans were killing each other almost non-stop in some quarter of the continent during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.
The French Revolution, which many thought was an expression of the Enlightenment, and thus universalist in nature, was in fact thoroughly infused with collectivism as well. The big question of its theorists was not the question of the unalienable rights of individuals, but the question, “who is the state?”–the choices being only the king and the nobility, the clergy, and the peasantry–all collectives. In its Declaration, the rights of the individual are always subordinated to the will of the nation.
When Napoleon violently exported this collectivism to Europe, the reaction among its collectivist-minded people was reactionary nationalism. The archetypal intellect of this period was Fichte, whose “Addresses to the German Nation” and other philosophical works appealed to the divisive ethnic outlook of the Germans. To be German was to embrace the subjective greatness of one’s collective identity in answer to French ideas and aggression.
This outlook, of a collectively defined self vs. a collective “other” was disastrous. It yielded the greatest wars in the history of the world. Not surprisingly then, even while this period was underway, those who grasped its dangerous nature but at the same time could not see a real solution proposed a series of work-arounds. First, in an attempt to prevent ethnic myopia from causing wars, the Europeans tried to draw their borders along national lines to reduce the friction between collectives. If the Germans could just live with the Germans, and the Hungarians and Italians could be independent of the Austrians–if collective “self-determination” could be implemented, then peace might be achieved.
This supposed ideal was a flop. The Germans wanted a “GrossDeutschland”. Their “self-determination” was to be achieved at the expense of others. The Slavs wanted pan-Slavism, which inspired the Russians to regular aggression in the southeastern Europe. The French, Brits, and Russians each had their own beliefs of ethnic superiority driving them to ever more expansive empires and into constant conflict with each other and other the collectives arising throughout the world as the ideology of nationalism spread like a pandemic.
Internationalism proved (in the “League of Nations”) and continues to prove (in the UN) no means of harnessing mutually antagonistic collectives. So the Europeans have turned to the only thing they know–another kind of collective–in the hope that size matters. They have created the “European Union”–a fledgling supranational entity.
(Continued in Part 2.)
(Find out more about A First History for AdultsTM, Part 2 – The Story of Europe, here.)