Quo Vadis Europa?
In May 2017, a group of European conservative scholars and intellectuals met in Paris. They were brought together by their common concern about the state of European politics, culture, and society. They believed that through delusion, self-deception, and ideological distortion, Europe was dissipating her great civilizational inheritance. The result was “A Europe We Can Believe… The post Quo Vadis Europa? appeared first on VoegelinView.

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In May 2017, a group of European conservative scholars and intellectuals met in Paris. They were brought together by their common concern about the state of European politics, culture, and society. They believed that through delusion, self-deception, and ideological distortion, Europe was dissipating her great civilizational inheritance. The result was “A Europe We Can Believe In,”[1] a succinct Paris Statement, as it is known, that was intended to be a substantive call for a renewed understanding of, and appreciation for, Europe’s true vocation. Among the scholars and intellectuals who signed the statement, one could find not only British and French recognized beacons – such as Sir Roger Scruton and Rémi Brague -, but also intellectuals from Central Europe. The statement did have some impact, but it was ultimately a limited one.
In keeping with the spirit of such statement, David Engels – a Belgian university professor who works for the Institute for Western Affairs in Poland –wrote a “Preamble to a Constitution for the Confederation of European Nations,” a project to ostensibly reform the EU. Its goal is best summarized by the polish social philosopher and politician Zdzisław Krasnodębski: “It is time for Europeans to begin to join together in defense of the Europe our forefathers handed down to us, simultaneously developing a form of political cooperation between European nations, which means our heritage will not only be saved, but will shine anew.”[2]
The preamble begins as follows:
We, the peoples of Europe, fully conscious of our historical responsibility, decide to establish a constitution and to bring the unification process of the continent to its conclusion. This constitution will create a confederation of Nation States that, while conserving their rights, agrees to pursue a series of common objectives for the good of all and for the care and protection of European civilisation, notably: a coordinated foreign policy, the protection of European borders, the fight against crime, the extension of a pan-European mobility infrastructure, the coordination of norms and rules, access to natural and strategic resources, cooperation in the domain of education and research, and the provision of the funds necessary to pursue these aims.
What is evident within the preamble as a whole is the notion of unity in diversity in Europe, which the current EU officially subscribes to but hardly honors. According to Engels, conservatives have been too passive in their opposition to the ideological slant within the EU.  In response, Engels postulates that some positive project with a forceful counterproposal must be developed in order to begin an open debate. And that is exactly what the “Preamble” is trying to achieve.
In gathering together various comments and reflections elicited by the “Preamble,” Engles edited the book —only available in Polish at the moment—Europa Aeterna: Our Roots, Our Future.[3] The objective of this volume is to gather different voices with a shared purpose: building an authentic European constitution, guided by a genuine understanding of the European tradition and values that, while preserved by the Christians, ultimately trace back to the Greeks and Romans.
The first contribution to the volume comes from Phillip Bender, an expert in constitutional law from the University of Bonn. Bender goes over the treaties that developed the EU to its present form and notes how the Treaty of Lisbon (2007) in essence marked the failure of the effort to develop a constitution. That attempt was dominated by a rather universalist, technocratic thrust that failed to include a reference to the Christian traditions at the base of European civilization. It is not without cause, Bender argues, that constitutional lawyer Joseph Weiler—an Orthodox Jew—claimed that in this effort the EU succumbed to “Christophobia.” He thus praises the preamble by Engels, agreeing that a constitution is necessary and that it should be built on a “principle of continuity, in which mature nations are the foundation of the European world of states, while the supra-national level merely unites but does not replace them.”[4]
The chapter on democracy by Egon Flaig – a historian of ancient history specializing in political anthropology and decision-making – is particularly rich and worth quoting at large. Flaig pertinently states that:
In the EU, by contrast, executives are appointed by gov­ernments, not put into office by the votes of citizens; legislative elections yield neither a government nor an opposition; pro­ceedings at every institutional level of the Union, including its judicial and financial arms, are shrouded in secrecy; decisions of the supreme court are immutable. In post-modern style, all this is presented as the last word in an up-to-date polity: in practice, it is the simulacrum of a sentient democracy.[5]
As an answer, Flaig proposes some seemingly obvious but that the EU has been forgetting: “The principle behind every democracy should be the sovereignty of the people, the ultimate will of the people to decide their own fate.”[6]
Krasnodębski’s chapter, “People and the Nation,” builds on the preamble’s pledge
to value the nations and peoples of Europe in their multiplicity and diversity as a precious and irreplaceable expression of the numerous facets of a common culture, to view them as the bearers of the European idea and of the European institutions, and to respect them as autonomous political entities which henceforth wish to settle their disagreements through peaceful negotiation and arbitration.
Krasnodębski recalls how the European elite looked somewhat askance at the reemergence of a number of nations that regained their independence in 1989 or shortly after: nations such as Lithuania, Estonia, Montenegro or Ukraine. It was likewise difficult for them to understand how “the primitive nations of Central Europe” could be responsible for bringing down a progressive Marxist system. This attitude was a result of the belief that nations were the source of many of the woes of the twentieth century and are to be superseded. Krasnodębski, echoing Yoram Hazony, argues this is a misreading. National Socialism was imperialist rather than nationalist[7] and, in general, the nations that caused the biggest trouble during the 20th century, Germany and Russia, were fallen empires that wished to regain their status as such.
Krasnodębski also points out that modernists such as Ernest Gellner and Benedict Anderson are mistaken in their convictions that nations are largely nineteenth-century developments or “imagined communities.” Using the work of the ethnosymbolist Anthony Smith, he argues that national communities have roots that go much deeper in time. Obviously, nations with long histories evolved over time and their modern versions differ considerably from their earlier forms. But the “conviction that ‘Europe’ is real, while nations are [imagined] is an ideological wish or political program. Europe existed and further exists through its nations: it was born together with European nations and will fall with them.”[8]
We can add that, with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Krasnodębski’s claim takes on a deeper significance. As Andrew Michta, an expert at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, has put it, Ukraine’s stubborn resistance reminds us of the importance of national sovereignty: “After three decades of post-Cold War institutionalism and globalism, we are back to the fundamentals of national security: only a sovereign Ukraine can provide its citizens with a secure homeland.”[9]
This brings us to the question of security, one that has grown particularly important as the EU deals with the major war just beyond its borders. In the book, Polish historian Grzegorz Kucharczyk discusses the question through the appeal in the preamble for the confederated nations “to intervene always to safeguard and increase the prosperity, security, liberty, order, peace and mutual understanding of the peoples of Europe.” He concentrates on the relationship between peace and security, pointing out that, as St John Paul II taught, the two are deeply interrelated. Kucharczyk thus argues for the importance of natural law as binding Europeans despite all their differences. Kucharczyk notes that “such an agreement no longer exists. Before our eyes not only natural law, but human nature itself is questioned (placed under the context of ‘cultural conditioning’).”[10]
Kucharczyk’s reflections on the necessity of internal peace within a troubled Europe, remind one of John Paul II’s insistence on the necessity of developing “two lungs,” that is, of building a close relationship between Western and Eastern Europe. For all the troubles of Europe, the presence of a criminal and aggressive neo-imperialism threatening Ukraine is the deepest: there’s a war on the “eastern lung.” And with that war, the devil has also returned to history.
A brief reminder of the devil’s forceful presence in European history in the not-so-distant past might be helpful. Inspired to no small extent by Kolakowski, Vladimir Tismaneanu identifies the “activities” of the devil through communism and fascism in the middle of the twentieth century and shows how, for all their differences, the two are related in spirit:
Communism and Fascism believed a fundamental change was possible. They engineered radical revolutionary projects in order to answer this belief. However, they enacted their utopias with complete disregard for individual human life. Their frantic acceleration of human history engendered the materialization of radical evil in history.[11]
Now Vladimir Putin has reenacted this radical evil in the invasion of Ukraine. And if that was not bad enough, he has the support of the Russian Orthodox church. Such concomitant support of the crimes committed by this neo-imperialist venture by a Christian church borders on blasphemy.[12] This becomes specially curious when one notes how there was a frequent concern in Western Europe that the Catholic or Protestant churches would interfere national politics. In today’s Russia, one finds the reverse situation: the Orthodox Church is effectively subordinated to imperial policy – a modern instance of Caesaropapism.[13]
But it is not as if Western Europe is blameless in this situation. German journalist Matthew Karnitschnig argues how his countrymen acted as Putin’s “useful idiots” for years:
Germany’s stubborn insistence on engaging with the Russian leader in the face of his sustained aggression (a catalog of misdeeds ranging from the invasion of Georgia to assassinations of enemies abroad and war crimes in Syria) was nothing short of a catastrophic blunder, one that will earn Merkel a place in the pantheon of political naiveté alongside Neville Chamberlain.[14]
Such a posture has aided the diabolic force that threatens the existence of one of the stalwart nations of Europe’s “eastern lung” and added to the insecurity of EU members from Central Europe. And the EU has done little to prepare for dangers to its own members that are closest to its potential spread.
A Europe facing so many challenges requires a stronger sense of itself as a political community with a firm memory of its past and based on sound values, both spiritual and moral. This is where the voices that form Europa Aeterna: Our Roots, Our Future have a good deal to contribute. This volume is much needed in the spiritually and morally diminished Europe of today if it is to thrive more fully tomorrow.

NOTES:

[1] Phillippe Beneton, et. al.,“The Paris Statement: A Europe We Can Believe In.” October 7, 2017, <https://thetrueeurope.eu/a-europe-we-can-believe-in/>.
[2] Zdzisław Krasnodębski, “Introduction to the Preamble for the Constitution of a Federation of European Nations,” in Engels, “EU-Preamble,” David Engels, nd., <https://www.davidengels.be/preamble>.
[3] David Engels, ed., Europa Aeterna: nasze korzenie, nasza przyszłość (Poznań : [Instytut Zachodni im. Zygmunta Wojciechowskiego], 2022). The publisher in English is Institute for Western Affairs, the place where Engels works.
[4] Phillip Bender, “Konieczność uchwalenia konstytucji,” in Engels, Europa Aeterna, 34.
[5] Perry Anderson, Ever Closer Union: Europe in the West (London: Verso Books, 2021), 228.
[6] Egon Flaig, “Demokracja,” in Engels, Europa Aeterna, 143.
[7] Yoram Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism (New York: Basic Books, 2018), 39.
[8] Zdzisław Krasnodębski, “Lud i naród,” in Engels, Europa Aeterna, 159.
[9] Andrew Michta, “Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine Is Transforming Europe,” 19FortyFive, May 8, 2022, <https://www.19fortyfive.com/2022/05/russias-invasion-of-ukraine-is-transforming-europe/>.
[10] Grzegorz Kucharczyk, “Pokój i bezpieczeństwo. Perspektywy nowej kultury bezpieczeństwo w Europie,” in Engels, Europa Aeterna, 279.
[11] Vladimir Tismananeanu, The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 52. In his book Tismananeanu discusses The Black Book of Communism, which came out in English in 1999. He was mainly concerned with the controversial argument of the moral equivalency of communism and fascism, which the above quote demonstrates he agreed with. He does not go into the estimates of the deaths that the authors accused the system of being responsible for, which the authors claimed to be several times that of fascism. The estimated figures were controversial, but it should be recalled that the unlike fascism, the Soviet Union was not defeated, and under Putin, that is, the entire twenty first century, the archives are closed to the matter, not to mention those in Peking. So the major avenues for deriving an accurate figure are closed to research. But however they are counted they are high enough for the argument of the moral equivalency of the regimes to hold.
[12] George Weigel has written a number of essays and columns on the war in Ukraine in which he frequently discusses the support of the Russian Orthodox church for the war. Links for these are gathered together here: Weigel, “Weigel on Ukraine,” Ethics and Public Policy Center, nd., <https://eppc.org/wegelonukraine/>. The dates for each piece are listed together with the place in which they were originally posted.
[13] For those—mainly conservatives—who feel Russia is a Christian nation, see Michael Cook, “How can Vladimir Putin be described as a defender of Christian values?,” Mercatornet.com, March 31, 2022, <https://mercatornet.com/how-can-vladimir-putin-be-described-as-a-defender-of-christian-values/78254/>.
[14] Matthew Karnitschnig, “Putin’s Useful German Idiots,” Politico.eu, March 28, 2022, <https://www.politico.eu/article/putin-merkel-germany-scholz-foreign-policy-ukraine-war-invasion-nord-stream-2/>. For a deeper historical treatment of this policy, see John Lough, Germany’s Russia Problem: The Struggle for Balance in Europe (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2021).

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