There is no such thing as Europe

How many times does one have to keep repeating that? All right, let me clarify that statement. Of course, there is a Europe as a geographical concept – it is a subcontinent of the huge Eurasian continent. There is also such a concept, though it is hard to define, as European culture, which melds into European history and European thought. One gets into serious difficulties with it as European culture and European thought are so varied in themselves.

What there is not and never has been is a Europe as a political concept. There is no such thing as European politics, though there is, obviously EU politics, a completely different concept, often alien to European history and traditions. Therefore, there can be no such thing as a European Tea Party Movement. Not if ever so many people join the group on Facebook; not if Real Clear Politics or Glenn Reynolds write about it.

It would be pointless to talk about tea parties as a political concept in Europe even if such a thing as Europe existed politically speaking. No-one would understand it. In Britain tea party (as in vicarage, for instance) means something quite different; on the Continent it means nothing at all. In fact, history tells us that on the Continent tax or bread riots tend to have further reaching consequences than the American tea parties have done so far.

The biggest problem, however, more or less understood by David Ignatius on Real Clear Politics is that each country’s problems are separate and different, even though they all share the understanding that the government’s role is to spend, spend, spend, an understanding they share with most other countries in the world. One suspects that, like Henry Kissinger, David Ignatius would feel happier if there were one European fiscal authority – easier to draw parallels.

What would a European tea party movement oppose? The European Union? Maybe, but it is hardly the biggest spender; its role in the destruction of the economies of European countries is a little more subtle: it used control and regulation to further integration.

Individual governments? Why would a European movement care about individual European governments? I see no point in going on a demonstration that would demand fiscal conservatism from the French or Greek governments. Let the people of those countries worry about that, as long as we do not have to pay.

All this talk of European this, that and the other or European elites, as Glenn Reynolds writes, comes to the same conclusion: we need some kind of a European political entity, a concept many of us radically disagree with. But the truth is that we cannot have a European tea party movement unless we have a European state, a European government and a European polity. People who support or call for a European tea party go along with the notion of a European state.

Cross-posted from Your Freedom and Ours

13 thoughts on “There is no such thing as Europe”

  1. An article in today’s NYT Book Review quoted Orwell as saying that: despite its diversity of ethnic groups could become a nation, whereas Europe never could. Irritatingly, the article didn’t cite either Orwell’s reasoning behind this statement or the book/article in which it appeared.

  2. Europe is a weird place. By which I mean that America is a deeply, truly “odd” place (but America’s size and success has led us all to think it’s “normal”) and when attempting to apply the worldview of America to Europe you’ll end up with a serious impedance mismatch problem. The shambling nearly accidental incremental migration toward a unified over-bureaucracy within Europe (i.e. the EU) is truly a strange thing when one truly analyzes it. Europeans do not have a greater European-national or even European-ideal sense of identity, nor do they have overly strong bonds of affection for their neighbor states. European history over the past hundred years has been remarkably consistent in its maintenance of tribalistic tendencies even up through the 21st century. There is serious doubt whether Scottland and Wales would, if given sufficient opportunity, remain within the UK. And, of course, we have the numerous recent historical examples of Yogoslavian, Chechoslovakian, and Soviet balkanization and tribal separation. Not to mention the serious internal conflicts relating to Belgium, the Basques, Northern Ireland, etc. The EU is not borne out of a greater sense of unity or common identity but rather, in my opinion, an unusual combination of the sort of shallowly friendly yet apathetic generic neighborly relations that are common throughout the industrialized world (spread to the scale of nation-states) and the accretive statist forces of the post-modern activist bureaucratic/intellectual class.

    It’s simply too hard to believe that, to pick just one example, the Czechs and Slovaks would decide to go their separate ways based mostly on matters of ethnic identity back in 1992 only to reform into the larger whole of the European Union some short time later. One suspects that no dramatic shift in notions of identity or even ideology took place in the brief interlude there. Rather, one suspects that the commercial and military advantages of EU membership, and nothing else, were the leading factors behind those countries’ membership choices. However, as the EU bureaucracy pushes ever harder toward “harmonization” and toward a true union, in law if not in spirit and identity, the strain between reality and institutional assumption will grow.

    There are many people in America who really do believe in their heart of hearts something along the lines of “America, fuck yeah!” (to quote Team America: World Police), yet I highly doubt there is anything approaching even a magnitude less than that number of EU member state citizens who believe anything approaching “European Union, fuck yeah!”

    Ultimately this creates a conflict which may well only be resolved through crises, given Europe’s recent and distant history this seems likely (and unfortunate). Though it’s certainly possible that such a crisis will be more melodramatic than tragic, resulting in merely a somewhat diminished, more self-acknowledgingly tribal Europe that has decided it’s really more just a region of mutually friendly nations than any sort of coherent union.

    How these dynamics will affect the future of various European economies, governments, and citizenry will be utterly fascinating to watch.

  3. Mark Steyn argues that Europe is monolithic in its protests for the state to do more, not less – that the Tea Party concept is uniquely American. I can see that merely wanting a stronger state is hardly a defining characteristic – the Germans would, I assume, want a Germanic state and the Greeks a Grecian one. I am curious, however, as to Steyn’s general point – and is there a continuum? Usually statistics indicate a high British value for individualism. I would think this post in itself indicates a respect for individualism (and beyond that to a self-conscious awareness of certain national values).

  4. First of all, ‘tea party’ is a unique american context. We might use it to understand events over there but it is unlikely to be helpful as a brand in Europe unless you wish to give an air of American imperialism to the whole thing. That’s distinctly unhelpful.

    I think the best analogy would be a reference to the revolutions of 1848 along the lines of 1848 done right. There is a reasonable case to be made that, once again, the vast bulk of european nations are messing things up.

    With the information revolution, there’s no need for each of the national insurgents to reinvent the wheel nor is there a need for them to be as violent as the events of 1848 were given the vastly different political conditions today. A pan-europe movement would be one of providing a toolbox of effective tools and training so that locals could apply them to local conditions and desires to create a better polity through the ballot box. If the ballot box fails, well, perhaps an American import would be justified, namely Jefferson’s right of rebellion but that’s a very long way off and I don’t think we’re ever going to get there.

    In the sense of tool sharing including training curriculum, there could be meaningful cross-atlantic cooperation. Those who have appointed themselves our betters have proven to be incompetent. It’s time for something different but these barnacles on the body politic will not depart without a good scraping.

  5. Considering that many in Europe managed to throw off the shackles of soviet domination only a few decades ago, I find the idea that they could not mount an anti-statist movement somewhat off key, to say the least.

    The fact is that the european idea of the proper scope of the state’s role in society is markedly different from the American view. Our citizenry is reacting to state policies and excesses that a great many Europeans find normal and acceptable.

  6. I didn’t actually say that Europeans could not mount an anti-statist or a revolutionary movement. Quite the opposite. History tells us that demonstrations in many European countries can have far-reaching consequences. What I am arguing is that they are not European demonstrations or European movements and cannot be such. Only those who believe that there is such a thing as a European polity and there ought to be a European state can argue for a European Tea-Party.

    Ginny, I have never been terribly impressed by Mark Steyn’s articles about European affairs but I would have to read the argument right through. Maybe twice or thrice. But no, there is no particular reason to suppose that all Europeans want a stronger state or that there is anything monolithic about European history or politics. I think he might have got Britain wrong as well but I hope that is just temporary.

  7. Helen – My understanding is that in the home of Washington and Jefferson we spoke of ‘these united states’ until the Civil War when the custom switched to ‘the United States’. I think that it would be impractical to limit discussion of US politics to post civil war discourse. Yes, there is little history of a pan-Europe political identity but I think that this is raising the bar a bit high. Europe certainly has pan-Europe political groupings. It’s had them for years and it’s how the european parliament organizes themselves.

    If the European Tea Party becomes a new force out liberaling the european liberals and bringing fiscal discipline to southern europe, it will certainly be at least as valid an expression of European politics as the christian democrats or the socialists who have been organizing across country lines for many years. If you don’t view those cross-country movements as being european then maybe the problem is terminology.

  8. Whether the expression was “those united states” or United States is irrelevant. The naming was done in one language across the states and on the basis of a common political understanding. The State of New York was different from the State of Florida but not as different as Lithuania is from Spain (or any other comibination one can think of). There is no commonality. Yes, the Christian Democrats (where they exist, which is few countries) and the Socialists are trying to create trans-European entities but that is part of the European Union project and is being imposed on the peoples and politicians with remarkable lack of success. The Socialists always pretended they were above such things as borders. We know how well that worked out in 1914 and since.

    The reason this does not work is because there is no pan-European political understanding. What you call possible European liberalism is an Anglospheric understanding of the term and meaningless to most Continentals. Needless to say, there is no European Tea-Party Movement – it was though of by an American and is supported by people who cannot understand that by supporting any pan-European movement they support a European state, which is the antithesis of all things we call liberal and was always intended to be.

  9. For all this article’s thesis that Europe could not have a Europe-as-nation level antibureaucratic movement, because Europe isn’t a nation… it doesn’t seem to have stopped Europe from getting a national-level invasive and expanding bureaucracy. It’s like the bureaucrats have figured out how to infest Europe with all the negative consequences of nationhood without any of the positive ones.

  10. Helen – Yes, EU states have a higher level of difference. But you are ignoring phenomena like the pan-European Christian Democracy which according to Wikipedia is active in both the EU states and in Latin America. Do you agree that a European Tea Party grouping could exist analogous to the christian democrats?

    Organizations, including political parties, are mutating as the information revolution plays out. Why a European Tea Party (under whatever name) is inherently impossible or even impractical is beyond me.

  11. There isn’t a pan-European Christian-Democracy. Some European countries have Christian-Democrat parties, others do not. And even when they have parties called that, they are not necessarily the same. Do not be confused by the groupings in the European Parliament. Those are just administrative arrangements to get funds.

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