Europeans are paying a price for believing in their own myth. With the furies of Brexit and the future of the European Union up for debate, proponents of the European project are burdened with a creation story that bears little resemblance to historical fact.
Whether they are friends or enemies of the EU, Europeans believe in the fable of the wise nation. According to this narrative, European nation-states have a long and rich history. In particular, these nation-states learned from World War II that war is bad, and so bound themselves together in its aftermath in peaceful cooperation.
Friends of the European project like this fairy tale, because it tells a story of learning and progress, and confers a sense of superiority over Americans. But enemies of the EU like this narrative just as much, because it suggests that the nation-state was always present and was the agent that made decisions. If a nation-state chose to enter the EU, they reason, it can choose at any moment to exit.
And yet the fable of the wise nation is false. The history of the nation-state in Western and Central Europe is practically nonexistent; in Eastern Europe, it is longer but hardly glorious. Nation-states in the Balkans set the stage for World War I, and in its aftermath six new nation-states were created in Eastern Europe, all of which had been removed from the map by the middle of World War II.
By 1945, European powers had not learned that war is bad. They kept fighting colonial wars until they lost them or were exhausted by them. Remember Indochina, Indonesia, Algeria and Egypt; Malaya, Kenya, Angola, Guinea, Mozambique and the Spanish Sahara.
The modern European state was conceived as the core of an empire. It has survived as an element of an integration project.
It wasnt nation-states that kicked off the process of European integration. It was fading empires, exhausted by their colonial efforts.
Its no accident that Germany took the lead in the process. The countrys defeat in World War II was the beginning of the end of European colonialism. And because Hitlers Reich was the first European power to indisputably lose a colonial war — World War II, at its root, was a German colonial war for land in Ukraine — post-war West Germany was the leading agent of European integration.
Other Western powers soon followed. As keeping a hold on their empires became too costly, they found European markets and a European identity. From the 1940s through the 1980s, Europe withdrew from colonies to find itself.
Finding oneself usually means forgetting everyone else, and Europe was no exception. The fable of the wise nation displaced the history of empire. Germans do not remember World War II as a colonial war for Ukraine, and in this they are typical Europeans. Throughout Central and Western Europe, the history of colonial atrocity and retreat is displaced by the more pleasant after-story of treaties and peace.
Two French soldiers leave their foxhole during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Indochina, 1954 | Keystone/Hulton Archive via Getty Images
The EU is the soft landing after empire. It has allowed Europeans to cheat fate. Think of it: Societies that fought two World Wars and lost far-flung empires have the worlds highest standard of living. Usually the collapse of empire means the collapse of civilization. Europe managed to do the opposite: to preserve the reality and burnish the image of its civilization despite the collapse of its empires.
It is often said that European integration permitted democracy in Europe. This is true enough. But democracy for everyone subject to the power of a given state is not possible for an empire.
Perhaps most fundamentally, the EU has created a framework in which European states can exist. The modern European state was conceived as the core of an empire. It has survived as an element of an integration project. In most Western European cases, as in the United Kingdom, there has never been a moment where a nation-state has had to make it on its own.
Until now, perhaps. The case for Brexit rests on the premise that there is a British nation-state lying in wait, if you peel back the layers of European integration and revert back tRead More – Source