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The Nation-State Writ Large

Morning's Minion offers a spirited defense of the European Union project, characterizing it, essentially, as an attempt to rectify the historical mistake of the nation-state:

But let me raise a rather basic issue here: what attracts me most about the European project is what many Christian Democrats (such as the Bavarian CSU's Edmund Stoiber) dub the "Europe of the regions" -- a loose supranational federation with much power devolved to the regions. What gets taken out is the nation state, which I consider an ugly step-child of the Enlightenment. For the modern nation state usurps powers that rightly belong to subsidiary mediating institutions and wipes out a traditional network of overlapping loyalties in favor of a direct relationship between the individual and the state (how delightfully Protestant!). Now, there are tendencies in Europe that go against this conception of Europe, but these tendencies are highly influenced by nationalism. And here is the rub: so many American critics of the EU are themselves deeply wedded to a nationalist conception of the USA. After all, the idea of a pan-European army would repulse me, and yet we think of the existence of a US army as beyond question (even glorifying it)-- why?

Particular points in the discussion have hinged on the intervention of the Irish Catholic bishops. I intend to prescind from that discussion, inasmuch as I am Orthodox. Suffice it to state that, on my interpretation of what the European Union is, and will become, I regard the bishops as either profoundly misguided or treacherous. My view, which is fairly common, even prevalent among the Orthodox - though I do not think it contrary to Catholic doctrine, either, notwithstanding the disagreement surrounding it - is given expression in a famous parenthetical aside from Solzhenitsyn's Nobel lecture:

In recent times it has been fashionable to talk of the levelling of nations, of the disappearance of different races in the melting-pot of contemporary civilization. I do not agree with this opinion, but its discussion remains another question. Here it is merely fitting to say that the disappearance of nations would have impoverished us no less than if all men had become alike, with one personality and one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, its collective personalities; the very least of them wears its own special colours and bears within itself a special facet of divine intention.

In the first instance, though Enlightenment political and economic ideologies have certainly abetted the rise of the nation-state, the historical processes that gave rise to the nation-state had their genesis a few centuries before the onset of the Enlightenment. The Reformation and the consequences thereof, not to mention the antecedent struggles of various royal dynasties to unify kingdoms and free themselves from the authority of the Church, contributed mightily to the development of proto-nationalistic sentiments. The Enlightenment might be seen, in this respect, as a philosophical and political movement which intended to complete the process begun earlier, as the project of eliminating the remnants of the old order that had somehow persisted. I don't want to spend much time dilating on this; the ground here is well trodden. Does the nation-state illegitimately usurp authority rightly belonging to more localized, subsidiary institutions and networks? Of course it does. Am I insensitive to the significance of this fact in my own writing? Hardly. I am, after all, a resident anti-Hamiltonian, Lincoln-skeptical, decentralist/distributist here at What's Wrong With the World. An America returned to its Constitutional foundations would be far more subsidiarist than the integrated nation-state, or, rather, empire, under which we dwell.

Why, therefore, might I be skeptical, even implacably hostile towards the European Project? If the nation-state just is the sort of political and economic entity which violates subsidiarity, why not oppose it by any means necessary? The trouble is that I cannot regard matters as being so simple. For the process by which the European Union augments - to the extent that it does; the degrees are certainly debatable - the powers of the regions and localities is merely the logical extension of the process by which nationalizing, centralizing regimes in the era of emergent nation-states appealed to the inhabitants of the regions as over against their local authorities: to the end that specific liberties or constellations of liberties might be vindicated against local authorities, a direct popular linkage between the regions and central authority was established. And gradually, local taxes, courts, economic regulation, and so forth fell by the wayside as the linkage of central administration and specific - which is to say that certain liberties were preferred to the detriment of others - liberties considered more valuable at the time carried the day. The evolution of modern capitalist economic systems occurred concurrently, and these economic developments and the emergence of the nation-state became mutually reinforcing. Obviously, this established the preconditions of later movements towards social democracy, socialism, and so forth.

It is this pattern which is replicated in the appeal of the European Union, on both cultural, sub-national identitarian, and economic bases: a direct relationship between the regions and a supranational authority in Brussels is to be established, though here as well, owing to the proliferation of centrally-dictated regulations, it is manifest that this 'liberation' of the regions both privileges certain liberties at the expense of others, and results in an increasingly centripetal distribution of effective, administrative power on the Continent. The regions are not being liberated from the domination of national powers that have usurped their prerogatives so much as appealing - to the extent, once more, that this is even an accurate characterization of the European Project - to the Center against the now-more-proximate national authorities. In reality, the effects of the European Project are perhaps more insidious than this. European regions may gain greater freedom of action relative to the nation-states of which they are nominally parts, but a principal effect of the homogenization of regulations across the Continent has been an increasing degree of economic integration, and increased internal (not to mention external) migration flows. Both trends facilitate the transfer of power to Brussels, but in any event, it is difficult to perceive how the European faces of globalization are compatible with subsidiarist considerations.

This leads to a final observation, namely, that while the European Union and its Treaty of Lisbon may instantiate

...(a) commitment to full employment, social progress, a high standard of environmental protection, linguistic and cultural diversity, equality between men and women, social justice and protection, solidarity between generations, protection of the rights of the child, and to combat marginalization and discrimination.

No demonstration has been made that these goods are incapable of realization at the national level, and that, in consequence, they must be pursued at the Continental level, much less by permitting majorities comprised of citizens of, for the sake of argument, France, Germany, and the Low Countries to overturn policies preferred by citizens of Poland. Moreover, as indicated in my previous post, such goods are susceptible of numerous, and incompatible, constructions; and the interpretations prevailing in the European Union are those of a secularist, technocratic elite, and not those of Christian philosophers.

Succinctly stated, the European Union is a violation of subsidiarity in much the same way that nation-states have violated subsidiarity down through the centuries; it is a continuation of political modernity's trend of appealing to the Center against more proximate authorities, in order to secure some particular set of goods - goods which have normally been assigned significance all out of proportion to their objective values. But if the European Union is a transposition of this error of political modernity onto a Continental scale, this also indicates why it is more to be feared than a continuation of the order of nation-states: the European Union will be less accountable, and will facilitate the emergence of a coterie of transnational elites who, far from honouring regional and local prerogatives, will regard rootedness and particularity itself as parochial and retrograde, much as American elites hold the regions, and indeed the nation itself, in contempt. And between the nation-state and a deracinated cosmopolitanism, there is nothing to choose. For all its flaws, the nation-state nevertheless introduces fewer refractions into the mechanisms of representative governance.

Comments (10)

I have an imperfectly-worked-out notion that contemporary cosmipolitan liberals crave a sort of secular version of the medieval Papacy. They define everything in terms of power and, wanting therefore not to be on the wrong end of it, seek to set themselves in a position of transendent authority, modeled of course after the most totalizing authority their liberal imaginations can conjure up.

I think that there's something to that, for secularists, technocrats, and leftists generally. For those Christians favouring the European Project, I'd suspect that there is a close association of the formal structures with imagined/perceived/desired substantive goods, despite the fact that in practice the EU doesn't quite function in that manner.

"Nationalism" is a word used to brow-beat people who conservatively believe in old-fashioned values.

Whatever the name, style, or mechanism, there cannot but be a highest government that one owes obedience to as a matter of social obligation. At the current time, that highest government is that of a nation. Anyone who rejects obedience to that government (when not illegally comprised) rejects a fundamental moral obligation.

Until the nations of the world explicitly and effectively recognize the fundamental principle of subsidiarity in political/social matters, any government higher than that of our current nation-state would be a moral and human disaster. So far, there is very little recognition of subsidiarity as a necessary ordering principle outside of English-speaking nations, (and a diminishing recognition in most of those nations), so a governing body higher than the nation is something to fight against at this time, even if one supports the theoretical notion of a world union on general principles.

Similarly, the traditional Christian notion of the rule of law - based on natural law principles stemming from God as the author of law and of authority - is vital to sound governance. Almost all the groups and bodies that are in the forefront of pushing for governance higher than that of the nation do not recognize, and mostly actively oppose, the very concept of natural law and of any connection between God and law. Therefore, any government organized by such men will perforce be a force destructive of good principles and good governance. So anyone who supports human law limited and constrained by human nature should oppose the current efforts to supra-nationalize governance.

Therefore, as a default, all men and women soundly believing in natural law and subsidiarity will want to oppose bodies like the EU and the UN aggrandizing ever more power from the nations - at this current time - because of who and what constitute those bodies. If in some far-flung future the conditions were such that the UN officially recognized natural law and subsidiarity and effectively worked with them, those VERY SAME people could support a world body becoming a supra-national governing body, while leaving the national government in place as a subsidiary entity.

Good comment, Tony M. It is a bizarre seguey from the premise that it would be good to have a king to the conclusion that that guy there should be made king simply because he is proposed as one, even though he explicitly stands against everything we believe and proposes to stamp us out of existence. It seems as though there is a contempt for the substantive, particular and incarnate lurking in there -- a self-hatred even. As usual, unfortunately.

I'd suspect that there is a close association of the formal structures with imagined/perceived/desired substantive goods, despite the fact that in practice the EU doesn't quite function in that manner.

Haven't we seen this with the UN? How many who ought to know better have been very pro-UN, as if they did not know (which they do know) what agenda the UN is really pushing? "Internationalism" is treated as an end in itself and indeed as if it is "Christian" in itself, which is silly, to put it mildly.

For my part, I suspect that subsidiarity is simply impossible to honour beyond a certain level of political complexity.

Apropos of Lydia's point, this is a problem with regard to the EU, the UN, and American politicians: these institutions or persons offer structural reforms that some people desire, never mind that those structures are then employed to do substantively evil things. Sure, I believe that there can exist "structural evils", but that isn't the limit of moral analysis. What you actually do within the structures you already have is often more important.

Morning Minion has;
1)falsely accused Irish Bishops of endorsing the Lisbon Treaty and by extension charges the Irish of "dissenting from the teaching of the bishops".
Here is their Pastoral Statement. I trust he has access to Google and should know better;
2)Claimed that the Irish pro-life community did not torpedo the treaty. Again, google will give him access to all the post-referendum autopsies and breakdowns of voting patterns. Here's some gloating;http://www.libertas.org/
3)smeared the good names of Catholic statesman and thinkers like Adenaur and Mauriac by claiming they they would support a project that aggressively disavows their faith. Anyone unfamiliar with their efforts in rebuilding post-war Europe and the rise of the Christian Democrats might believe him. Unreal.

My point; I hope you will post essays from more credible sources and that this entry was an aberration.

Well, my only point in posting this piece was to demonstrate how inadequate - to put it mildly - Morning's Minion's analysis was. An article in which it is argued that the EU instantiates the ideals of subsidiarity is a fat, hanging curveball, and I had to belt it.

Yeah, but it was off a minor-league pitcher. And, let me add to my complaints; I'm not thrilled by the lack of hospitality your Phillies showed my Saux last night.

a self-hatred even. As usual, unfortunately

Zippy, that is a good point. It is almost a hallmark of liberal expansive internationalism to revile one's own country in most of its traditional ways of governing.

Nationally, they use judges as battering rams and wedges to force the results they want, because they usually cannot win direct democratic referenda on the same issues. Internationally, they use conventions and extra-national bodies to supercede laws where there is really no authority to do so. Heaven help us when the judges get together with those conventions and extra-national bodies with no real authority - tyranny will be not far behind.

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