Protesilaos Stavrou

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Berlaymont in snow img
The Berlaymont building, housing the European Commission, on a snowy day.
Picture credit: Protesilaos Stavrou CC BY-NC-SA

One of the essential features of the European federalist movement that escapes the attention of many—federalists included—is the heterogeneity of ideas existing and growing under the conceptual canopy of ‘federalism’, with this very word—’federalism’—being as I conceive of it, open to diverging interpretations ranging from statist ideologies to libertarian ones, with varying permutations and combinations between them.

What theories the federalist movement has propounded in the course of its history will not be my chief concern in the present article, not because I labor under the delusion that we cannot derive any knowledge from historical experience, but due to my conviction that regardless of the actions and postulations of previous federalist generations, one can only converse with or challenge modern federalists by addressing the very premises of their existing ideology, their most cherished aspirations and their profoundest misunderstandings, if there are any after all; not by making judicious reference, in splendid sectarian fashion, to an hagiographic version of the life and works of some allegedly indisputable persona or other much-touted authority of the past; rather by scrutinizing their current propositions, unmasking and identifying the weaknesses underlying the hermeneutic patina of their rhetoric; not for the sake of annihilating that which has been concocted or meticulously forged, rather for engaging in a constructive and thoroughgoing critique of it, with a hope of stimulating a discussion that will improve it from within, or, at the very least, that will raise awareness and bring into focus the inherent diversity of this ideo-political movement.

Being oblivious to the aforementioned heterogeneity, one may only assume that federalists share the common objective of establishing a European two-tier state which will override some, most or all of the existing nation-states in Europe; a state that will only differ from its constituents in degree, not structure or fundamental principles. This impression can be well justified, given that the majority of today’s self-defined federalists, politicians, citizens and technocrats alike, have valorized “integration” as the ultimate telos of their efforts. This is so since integration and this magnificent phantomality of more Europe have undergone a quasi-mystical transfiguration from rather empty notions into pseudo-sacrosanct objectives, to be pursued in their own accord.

The recrudescence of nationalist and statist tenets

Many federalists of our day are, in my humble and perhaps uninformed opinion, merely reproducing some of the oneiric concepts of the past, as all they really wish to accomplish, once the veneer of progressivism is removed or penetrated, is the construction of a state that will refurnish in a brand new package the tenets of statespersonship that dominate political thought at least ever since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and the French Revolution (1789), those being encapsulated in the following four presumptions:

  1. state sovereignty: the supremacy of the state’s interest and edicts as against its subjects and the tacit statist rights ofcoercionandcontrol, which underpin the very promulgation and implementation of all secondary rules in a polity,
  2. nationalism: the formation of a collective identity based on a web of fictions about the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ and the entailing prejudice that the ‘self’, this phantasmagorized perception of the collective self, is mystically tasked to uphold that which is perceived as germane to it,
  3. collective essentialism: at bottom this is an Aristotelean meta-ethical conviction in the existence and precedence of the collective ontology, the nation, the society, the people, the tradition etc. over the individual human being, and
  4. methodological territorialism: the device, or rather the chimera, of identifying a state and a collective identity to a clearly delineated territory, which is a necessary presupposition for the realization of state sovereignty and for its moral justification.

These four shibboleths have formed the basis of all state-building processes in the centuries hitherto and, thanks to the intellectual bodyguards of the state per se, have bestowed a powerful impression on the people that any and all emanations of eudaimonia, however defined, cannot be even remotely realized or truly experienced in the absence of a robust hierarchy, where a selective elite imposes conditions and moulds society, in accordance with or in the name of, a tutelary idol, a spectralized elevation of a political process or conception, an exalted myth that is alleged as self-evident and universally true. In our case this has been the task of the federalists’ establishment, which oscillates between the principles of liberty and the ethics of sovereignism, in what now emerges in Europe as a timid yet determined European meta-nationalism, manifested in the politics of the Eurocore, of blithely proceeding towards “integration” and “more Europe”, towards the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union, by circumventing fundamental values and by casting aside anyone who disagrees with this bundle of propositions, this secular dogma (for more on the completion of the EMU see here, here and here).

Underpinning all of the aforementioned is a tacit fear of the “other”, an anxiety that rapacious forces are willing to challenge or devour “us”. There exists a narrative that “we” must band ourselves together to rise up to these potent threats and that “we” must do whatever it takes to stick together, so that “we” are not extinguished in misery, and implicitly, that “we” should regain or attain a hegemonic role over the “other” by virtue of the Eurocentric presumption that “we” have discovered the one and only truth, the conduit to all knowledge and to prosperity and by that account “we” are entitled to demand from the “other”, the eternal “other”, to conform with “our” social imaginary, our “truth”. When we are exposed to indignant statements that unless we form our little European neo-mercantilist gang, we will no longer be in the centres of international power; when every technocratic stratagem is justified as a necessary reaction to some external disturbance, perceived or real; when exogenous stimuli are invoked to justify and to accelerate integration as such, even if fundamental principles have to be undermined; then we are in effect bearing witness to the embryo of the age-old ‘we-they’ syndrome, which can only pit us in a race to the bottom with the “other” and which will coercively cast upon us an identity that we must conform with, in the name of whatever fantasy the demagogue, politician, or mild-tempered technocrat has put forth.

The importance of the narrative in a self-instituting polity

Politics is about the allocation of power among the members of society. Ideology is about the modalities of such distribution. An ideology is made manifest in a narrative. The prevailing narrative of a people, the volksgeist, and/or the prevailing spirit of the times, the zeitgeist, are of great importance in the political ebb and flow, though not in their essentialist, Hegelian sense, in determining the ways in which power will be structured, ordered and consolidated.

Any self-conscious meta-political impulse emanates from a compelling narrative. It is all about the “why” permeating and empowering change, and by that account, it is what influences and determines the end and the means of this reformulation. To overlook the importance of the “why” is to remain ignorant to the broader impact of the reformative dynamic and thus constitutes an irresponsible decision that may result in perverse or unwanted results. Practical people will find little value in such discussions, dismissing them cavalierly as armchair theorizations. Such a denial is fallacious for it first asserts that practical people are insulated from any ideological predisposition whatsoever and second that praxiscan be separated from theorisis, which is an impossibility for one must think before one may act. Reformative action is purposeful—it necessarily is the externalization of some theory, otherwise it is not “action” but mere “re-action”, and reactionary measures can be, or tend to be, unsound.

What is this “why” of mainstream federalists? I would certainly like to hear the views of others on the subject, but from discussions I have had in private and by monitoring the debates of certain prominent figures in the federalist movement, I am of the belief that there either is great confusion in the movement, or there exists a great sense of reaction to exogenous stimuli. Perhaps these are the two sides of the same coin.

Some wish to have integration so that Europe may remain part of the G20, G8 or whatever other economic conglomerate of world domination, as if membership per se in such organizations renders the lives of regular folks more amiable. Others raise the alarm for Europe returning back to certain abandoned methods of production in a hasty attempt to be protected from the vicissitudes of rising competition in world trade; where the very idea of trading and being interdependent with the rest of the world is seen as more or less evil or as a sign of weakness. And yet others want Europe to integrate so as to be truly sovereign and independent from whatever villain they may present. The standard bugaboos were the USA and China, while during the eurocrisis this cultivation of ghosts found fertile soil in the depiction of “the markets” as purely malevolent forces, conniving to jeopardize the ameliorative scaffolds caring leaders had raised for their own people. In a nutshell, whenever the impetus to integration is provided by an external source, actual or imaginary, and whenever it is presented and exploited as such, the new nationalism of Europe, the European meta-nationalism, comes out in full panoply.

Fewer are those who see integration as endogenous, as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself; it is those who need no ghosts to justify their position. The “why” for integration is in this case an extension of fundamental principles, of the maximization and greater distribution of liberty, welfare and peace. Integration in Europe is or can be the means to achieving or to extending such lofty ideals; it is a means not an end, for if it is an end in itself, then it shall suffer the fate of abuse by those willing to meet it, regardless of implicit or explicit costs and effects.

Ultimately, the way one speaks determines the way one thinks and if the oratory for the integration of Europe reflects the nationalism of the past, elevated to the European level, then it is a sovereign European nation-state that we shall have, with the concomitant ills this engenders and impregnates. Towards that direction, I am of the view that many fellow federalists may need to ruminate more intensively and perhaps reconsider their approach, in parts or in its totality.

On European meta-nationalism: A critique of the exogenous impetus to integration | Protesilaos Stavrou.