The post-WWII vision of a free Europe was hijacked by the ruling classes and gradually became the inversion of what was originally promised. Konrad Adenauer, Jacques Rueff and others who had resisted fascism attempted to recreate what fascism had sought to destroy: the Christian free-market order of the late 19th Century.
They believed that humans, made in the image of God, were entitled to dignity as individuals and did not derive their value from their role in the collective. They advocated sound money, limited government, free trade in economics and national sovereignty in international relations. Their brainchild, the Treaty of Rome, ascribed rights to individuals and removed the powers of nation-states to impede foreign trade and migration.
Since the end of World War II, two vastly different visions of a new European order have been wrestling in the womb. The classical liberal goal for Europe was one free market, many nations. The other vision for Europe, the elite one, is one nation with no genuinely free markets.
The former vision appeared under the influence of thinkers such as Ludwig Von Mises and Wilhelm Röpke and was embodied in the original Treaty of Rome, whose framers believed that protectionist barriers between nations were a chief cause of war. The official title of the treaty was Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community. Europe was to be a free ECONOMIC community, not a consolidated political one.
But over time the diplomatic mechanisms which had been used to create that free-market order were manipulated by interest groups which wanted the opposite. By the early 1990s those interest groups had gained the upper hand and used it to write the Maastricht Treaty. For whether the constitution should be a living or a dead document, is it of little consequence if it does not live in the hearts of the people, who are its only keepers.
What began as a Treaty Establishing the European ECONOMIC Community, ended up as a Treaty Establishing the European Community. The project which began in 1957 (with some small precursors) as the grant of the Four Freedoms to individuals, mutated into a political consolidation with a common currency and a super-government above the elected governments of the European nations.
Instead of an emperor, a Caeser, Kaiser or Czar, a king of kings, this new kind of empire would have a ruling council, a kind of parliament of parliaments, and a swarm of czars to enforce its rules. And if this new political community was to have a common currency, and that currency would be a fiat currency, then it must have a common central bank. So, the ECB, the European Central Bank, was “fiat-ed” into existence.
There was a great deal of resistance to this idea from the Germans. Their experience of hyperinflation under the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and then of the collapse of the Reichsmark under the Nazis was a terrible economic trauma and marked them (no pun intended) with a deep inflation-phobia. The only greater trauma for Germany had been two cataclysmic wars, and war guilt/fear was the cudgel that the EU-topians have used to cajole Germany and the rest of Europe into a relaxation of national sovereignties. And anyone who dared to publicly express even the slightest skepticism about the project was immediately portrayed as a closet racist, nativist, war-monger and driven into the outer darkness along with holocaust deniers, ultra-nationalists, neo-fascist and (more recently) global warming deniers. Few persons of influence had the guts to do so; Lady Thatcher comes to mind as a heroic exception.
After all, a common currency will promote European unity, and maybe even end war. What kind of retrograde monster could object to such a small sacrifice for such a great goal? It’s just a change of currency; there won’t be any bailouts. Countries that cheat will be punished, and if they refuse to change, ejected from the union. Give up your old symbols of national pride: cast your Pounds, Marks and Francs into the fire and watch world peace arise from the ashes. And not just peace, but ascendency.
The U.S. has for too long, the French said, enjoyed the “exorbitant privilege” of her dollar being the reserve currency of the world. The Euro would become a new super-currency to compete with and perhaps supplant the dollar. The European Union would become a new super-state to compete with the U.S.. After all, national consolidation had worked for the Americans. If there could be a United States of America, then why not a United States of Europe?
The French had been gradually losing their empire to anti-colonial movements around the world. Having abandoned the hard money policies of Jacques Rueff and embraced fiat money, the franc had suffered from loss of global prestige. They saw an opportunity to recapture lost power and prestige, and became the principle architects of the European Project.
But things have not gone according to plan. The euro-skeptics are enjoying a well-deserved new credibility. Uniting the states of Europe has proven to be quite different from uniting the States of America.
Our project in national unity was a very difficult one, yet we had several advantages over Europe. First of all, we had a shared language and culture. Americans were overwhelmingly English speaking. Second of all, we already had been part of one government, the British one. The colonies had never been separate nation states, but instead separately administered districts under the same crown.
When we broke from that, we broke off as a single entity under one Continental Congress. Finally, our most recent memories of war had not been wars with one another, but with foreign powers. First in the French and Indian war, and then against the British in the War for Independence. But Europe’s recent history is riven by two terrible world wars whose fronts fell upon the middle of the proposed United States of Europe, not along its borders. Those fears and grudges lay deep and cannot be exorcised by the wan incantations of public intellectuals.
All this comes down to one inescapable conclusion: the European Project will fail.
A whole continent will not forever subsume its own self interest to the need of a few men to rule the world and to make a name for themselves. Interestingly enough, the architectural design of the European Parliament building appears to be that of an unfinished tower.
My good friend Rabbi Daniel Lapin has reported that the building was based on Pieter Bruegel ‘s famous painting of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Perhaps that’s true; perhaps not. But one can’t help but wonder…have the Euro-boosters ever read to the end of that story? I think they should.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
Jerry Bowyer was the founding president of the Allegheny Institute of Public Policy, and has been the host of ‘WorldView’, and Sunday-morning political talk show syndicated on approximately two dozen TV stations. Mr. Bowyer is a weekly contributor to Forbes.com.