The Philosophy of 'Europe'

The Philosophy of 'Europe'

Mini Teaser: If the myth of destabilizing European nationalism continues to cast its spell over the decisions of Europe's political architects, then it will prove to be a self-fulfilling fantasy.

by Author(s): John Laughland

"The rational organization, at the global level, of human clearly an absolute necessity."
--Eduard Shevardnadze, 1992

There are moments when the swirling mists in which modern European
political speech seems deliberately to envelop itself are dissipated
by sudden, perhaps unintended, flashes of linguistic clarity. Two
remarks made in 1994 have illuminated, if only in silhouette, the
broad outlines of current European geopolitics and political culture.

The first came in May, when Boris Yeltsin paid a state visit to
Germany. The theme of his visit was the entry of Russia into all
European organizations, ultimately including NATO and the European
Union. As a priority, though, Yeltsin concentrated on a theme dear to
the Russian heart, the strengthening of the Conference on Security
and Cooperation in Europe, to which Moscow would like NATO to be
subordinate. The Russian president declared to an eager
audience--using words that would have been music to the ears of the
former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, as well as to many
contemporary politicians--that he wanted a "politically, economically
and spiritually unified architecture for our continent, which must
not isolate countries or groups of countries or separate them
according to the criteria of friend or enemy..."[emphasis added].

The second came in November. A few months previously, the ruling
Christian Democratic parliamentary group in Germany had published a
policy document entitled "Reflections on European Policy," which
contained striking proposals for the future political architecture of
the European Union. It called for the federal political union of a
hard core of five countries in the European Union (France, Germany,
Benelux). The document, which Chancellor Kohl has welcomed and
defended, and perhaps even surreptitiously encouraged, threatens that
if political union does not occur on its own terms, Germany might go
it alone in Europe, overturning the whole apple cart of postwar
European cooperation. According to this scheme, otherwise known as
the "concentric circles plan," all European Union policy would be
made by the hard core--or more precisely, by the hard core of the
hard core, France and Germany--and followed in variable participatory
arrangements by other member states. On a tour of European capitals
to peddle the plan, the CDU's foreign policy spokesman, Karl Lamers,
expressed the regret that many people in Europe were reluctant to
take such a bold leap toward political union, because they
experienced "the emotional difficulty of abandoning revered and
cherished institutions and notions even if, like the concept of
national sovereignty, they have long since become an
illusion."[emphasis added].

What do these remarks tell us about the likely evolution of Europe's
political architecture after the end of the Cold War? One thing is
immediately clear: Germany and Russia are the two largest and most
powerful countries in Europe. If there is to be a truly united
Europe, and not just a united Western Europe, then one of the most
important axes along which it will develop will be Berlin-Moscow. The
Germans, more than any other Western Europeans are aware of this.
Indeed, the CDU document emphasizes that the European Union's primary
foreign policy objective must be to ensure stability in Eastern
Europe by constructing an "all-encompassing partnership with Russia."
Similarly, Mr. Kozyrev, the Russian foreign minister, has often
spoken of the "special relationship" between Germany and Russia.

It is preoccupying, therefore, to observe in these remarks by
political representatives of both countries a clutch of ideas which
displays a striking contempt for the philosophical bases of democracy
and the rule of law. It is even more preoccupying to realize that
these remarks are utterly typical of contemporary European political
discourse. Indeed, they have become its common currency. Slogans such
as "United Europe," "falling borders," "convergence" and
"integration" trip lightly off the lips of all post-Cold War European
leaders. They are the foreign policy counterparts of similar slogans
about "protection" and "social security" which have become the staple
diet fed to voters at home. These clichés are disturbing because they
are manifestations of the extent to which European politicians have
lost a sense of the true meaning of politics itself.

Friends and Enemies

Politics is the necessary prerequisite for democracy because it is
only within a certain polity, a state, where the rules of the game
and the common reference points are understood, that democratic
debate and democratic accountability can be assured. Democracy
inevitably presupposes constitutional independence or national
statehood because, before the democratic mechanisms of control over
political power--a legislature, an independent judiciary, a free
press--can be put in place, the basic right of the state to rule--its
authority--must first be recognized. It is only from this fundamental
recognition of legitimacy that the rule of law can flow. If a people
agrees that the state has the right to rule, then that people is
constituted as a political entity. Without politics, therefore, there
can be no statehood, and if politics and statehood disintegrate, as
they are doing in Europe, then democracy will disintegrate too.
Politics is the realm of human freedom.

Yeltsin's proclaimed desire not to separate countries according to
the criterion of friend and enemy recalls the famous definition of
politics made by the right-wing German jurist, Carl Schmitt.
According to Schmitt, writing in 1932, areas of human activity like
morality, aesthetics, and economics each have their own criteria:
good and evil, beautiful and ugly, profitable and damaging. Politics,
he insists, is an area of human activity distinct from the others,
and its criterion is the distinction between friend and enemy. Anyone
who tries to overcome that distinction, as Yeltsin is, is trying to
overcome politics itself. Yeltsin is not saying, "I was your enemy,
now I am your friend," he is saying that the distinction itself
should no longer apply.

What does Schmitt mean? First, he does not mean that a state always
has enemies, although this may be so, but that politics only exists
where there is conflict, and that both foreign and domestic politics
consist in making the distinction between friend and enemy. An enemy
need not be evil or ugly or economically damaging: he does not have
to be hated or despised. The distinction between friend and enemy in
this sense is merely intended to indicate the difference between
association (with a friend) or dissociation (from an enemy). This is
not a bellicose or aggressive way of defining politics, it is a
factual one: where there is no conflict there is no politics, only
management. The term enemy is by no means limited to the military
sense, nor is the definition intended to assimilate politics to war.
On the contrary, war is not the continuation of politics by other
means, but something different from politics, with its own separate
set of rules.

Nor does this definition rule out peace between peoples or states, or
even neutrality. The decisive issue is that political life is the
domain in which the possibility of making the distinction obtains.
Indeed, far from peace being the absence of an enemy, one can make
peace only with an enemy. Just as there is no peace without an enemy,
there is no politics without the possibility of knowing who one's
(political) enemies are.

Indeed, peace is not the absence of antagonism or conflict, but the
absence of war. This fact underlines the essential difference between
politics and war: it would clearly be contrary to the essence of
politics as such to want to suppress one's enemies, or to dissipate
the distinction between friend and enemy into obscurity. This is
precisely because politics lives off enmity, the opposition between
parties and interests and ideologies, the antagonism between
different opinions, values and goals, as well as the divergence
between different solutions which are proposed in order to attain the
common good.In a European continent where "consensus," "cooperation,"
"stability," and "negotiation" are widely proclaimed as the cardinal
virtues (most notably by the British foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd,
who often seems to believe that diplomatic negotiation is a good
thing even if it does not produce any results, as in Yugoslavia) this
fact is almost universally misunderstood.

As Publius wrote in the Tenth Federalist Paper, "the principal task
of modern legislation...involves the spirit of party and faction in
the necessary and ordinary operations of the government." It is the
purpose of good government to contain and to channel this inevitable
facet of human behavior. But the negation of the enemy in domestic
politics, in the name of universal tolerance for instance, is
nonsense precisely because tolerance is a matter of behavior between
men--one tolerates one's political enemy--and not a relationship of
ideas. The irenic notion of universal tolerance is therefore not
evidence of bad judgment, it is the absence of judgment. It is
irrelevant whether we approve or disapprove of the distinction
between friend and enemy, for it is an incontrovertible fact of human
(i.e. political) existence. It is only in Utopia--i.e. nowhere--that
the distinction between friend and enemy does not apply.

The same is true of foreign policy, where peace denotes a certain
relationship between states. No law enjoining peace can maintain
itself in mere virtue of its status as law, without the political
will of two or more distinct parties--enemies--expressed in a peace
treaty. The notion of peace without a treaty representing the
expression of genuine convictions of those parties and the rules by
which they agree to abide, is nonsense. Similarly, in domestic
politics no constitution within a state can maintain itself if not
supported by citizens who recognize its political authority. If peace
is not the absence of conflict, the difference between peace and war
is simply that in peace, a state or a person does not seek to destroy
the enemy, but rather recognizes him as an equal in all his
difference. Accordingly, any so-called proclamation of peace which
implies the suppression or the negation of the enemy is in reality a
camouflaged declaration of war. This is the danger in Yeltsin's
remark. To put it bluntly, if the price of peace with Russia after
the Cold War is the disappearance of the states of Western Europe as
genuine political entities in any meaningful sense, then that price
is too high.

Essay Types: Essay