'OUR POSTWAR WESTERN POLITICAL, ACADEMIC AND ECONOMIC CULTURE HAS NEVER MUCH CONSIDERED AN ALTERNATIVE'
So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can't plant me in your penthouse
I'm going back to my plough
Oh I've finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road
~ Elton John
The great success of the Concert of Europe was not so much due to the success of the balance of power its known for as it was the internal constraints placed on members within the alliances. Both the major alliances of the day constrained not only the actions of the smaller European nations and proto-nations within each, but also the actions of Britain and Russia, the hegemons of the era. The Concert was premised upon a congruence of interests: The preservation of status quo territorial boundaries, an equilibrium of power across the European system, and rule of law and predictability within the alliances. It worked well for a few decades and then fell apart due to external and internal pressures.
Fast forward to the end of World War II. Using the same ideas, now cloaked in the lately revived Wilsonian internationalist impulse, the United States - with a preponderance of global economic and military power that dwarfed even the might of the recently blooded Soviet Union - first tried to initiate a global management system that would include the Soviets, larger in scope but similar in intent to the Concert. Given the intransigence of the Soviets over various friction points, the United States was forced to settle for creating (with the nominal agreement of its allies) an international system outside a contained Soviet sphere of influence. This included an expansion of state sovereignty across the globe by sweeping away former overseas empires and replacing them with newly minted states grounded in the United Nations, a global free trade regime through Bretton Woods and the International Monetary Fund, and leading a pan-European alliance (NATO), the latter ostensibly designed to counter the weight of the Soviet Union, but also to constrain the future actions of Germany.
Indeed, the embryonic European economic integration project - the European Coal and Steel Community - was specifically conceived of as a way to tie a future Germany and its foes together economically in order to avoid the bloodbaths of the past. How would it do that? Because, as the liberal internationalist project has always maintained, capitalist democracies rarely go to war with each other. In effect, the aim of the integration project was to take the Concert of Europe and set it in immutable economic concrete.
Over the years, as European economic integration under the American military umbrella seemed to work flawlessly through a remarkable period with no major global economic crises, the idea of political as well as economic integration grew. But it wasn't until the heady days following the end of the Cold War, when liberal internationalism gripped western academia and Francis Fukuyama announced the "end of history", that the Maastricht Treaty (1992) mapped a route toward political integration. Like the mythical road in the story of Oz, the road to political union seemed paved in gold and full of promise. Maastricht was followed by the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, and in 2009 the Lisbon Treaty formally launched the European Union.
As a backdrop to the European project looms the one-worlder thesis. Couched in sinister terms by conspiracy theorists as "agenda 21" and talked about openly by so-called western elites as an obvious good, it is the logical end state of the European integration project...a world without destructive nationalisms, tied together by a welfare state confluence of interests, and led by largely apolitical technocrats. If Europe could do it, why not the rest of the world?
It is not particularly surprising that European elites see themselves as paving the way to what some have called the New World Order. After all, Europe gave birth to the Westphalian international system in the first place (there are alternate conceptions of global organisation out there to be sure, waiting to re-emerge), and Europe is leading the way toward economic and political integration, so what can the next step logically be but a gradual political and economic integration of the entire globe into a united humanity dedicated to larger issues like "climate change" and human welfare? To bring it home for a moment, the global integration project is epitomized by Justin Trudeau's claim that Canada is the "first post-national state."
Indeed, who could argue with this vision? Of all the potential directions that lie in front of us why would we not take the one that seems to lead, however vaguely, to an Emerald City where everyone will sing Kumbaya all day long? This thesis of eventual integration in one form or another is presented as a given in academia, based on decades of fundamental consensus in postwar scholarship, its wisdom unquestionable, the alternatives unthinkable. Our leaders glorify it, our academics applaud it, our science fiction assumes it, and the rest of us clap along in harmony. In fact our postwar western political, academic and economic culture has never much considered an alternative, and if we think of it at all it is a bad one, couched in apocalyptic terms involving blood soaked wars or worse. After all, we have ample historical proof of the destructive influence of nationalism and tribalism, and everyone knows that we all benefit materially from a free flow of goods, right? Internationalism good, isolationism bad. Yellow brick road, all the way.
So what went wrong with the European Union?