LRB Vol. 29 No. 18 dated 20 September 2007 Perry Anderson tell a friend
Depicting Europe Perry Anderson
Depicting Europe Perry Anderson
An epiphany is beguiling Europe. Far from dwindling in historical significance, the Old World is about to assume an importance for humanity it has never, in all its days of dubious past glory, before possessed. At the end of Postwar, his 800-page account of the continent since 1945, the historian Tony Judt exclaims at ‘Europe’s emergence in the dawn of the 21st century as a paragon of the international virtues: a community of values . . . held up by Europeans and non-Europeans alike as an exemplar for all to emulate’.1 The reputation, he assures us, is ‘well-earned’. The same vision grips the seers of New Labour. Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century declaims the title of a manifesto by Mark Leonard, the party’s foreign policy wunderkind.2 ‘Imagine a world of peace, prosperity and democracy,’ he enjoins the reader. ‘What I am asking you to imagine is the “New European Century”.’ How will this entrancing prospect come about? ‘Europe represents a synthesis of the energy and freedom that come from liberalism with the stability and welfare that come from social democracy. As the world becomes richer and moves beyond satisfying basic needs such as hunger and health, the European way of life will become irresistible.’ Really? Absolutely. ‘As India, Brazil, South Africa and even China develop economically and express themselves politically, the European model will represent an irresistibly attractive way of enhancing their prosperity whilst protecting their security. They will join with the EU in building “a New European Century”.’
Not to be outdone, the futurologist Jeremy Rifkin – American by birth, but by any standards an honorary European: indeed a personal adviser to Romano Prodi when he was president of the European Commission – has offered his guide to The European Dream.3
Seeking ‘harmony, not hegemony’, he tells us, the EU ‘has all the right markings to claim the moral high ground on the journey towards a third stage of human consciousness. Europeans have laid out a visionary road map to a new promised land, one dedicated to reaffirming the life instinct and the Earth’s indivisibility.’ After a lyrical survey of this route – typical staging-posts: ‘Government without a Centre’, ‘Romancing the Civil Society’, ‘A Second Enlightenment’ – Rifkin, warning us against cynicism, concludes: ‘These are tumultuous times. Much of the world is going dark, leaving many human beings without clear direction. The European Dream is a beacon of light in a troubled world. It beckons us to a new age of inclusivity, diversity, quality of life, deep play, sustainability, universal human rights, the rights of nature, and peace on Earth.’
These transports may seem peculiarly Anglo-Saxon, but there is no shortage of more prosaic equivalents on the Continent. For Germany’s leading philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, Europe has found ‘exemplary solutions’ for two great issues of the age: ‘governance beyond the nation-state’ and systems of welfare that ‘serve as a model’ to the world. So why not triumph in a third? ‘If Europe has solved two problems of this magnitude, shouldn’t it issue a further challenge: to defend and promote a cosmopolitan order on the basis of international law’ – or, as his compatriot the sociologist Ulrich Beck puts it, ‘Europeanisation means creating a new politics. It means entering as a player into the meta-power game, into the struggle to form the rules of a new global order. The catchphrase for the future might be: Move over America – Europe is back!’ In France, Marcel Gauchet, theorist of democracy and an editor of Le Débat, the country’s central journal of ideas, explains, more demurely, that ‘we may be allowed to think that the formula the Europeans have pioneered is destined eventually to serve as a model for the nations of the world. That lies in its genetic programme.’
Self-satisfaction is scarcely unfamiliar in Europe. But the contemporary mood is something different: an apparently illimitable narcissism, in which the reflection in the water transfigures the future of the planet into the image of the beholder. What explains this degree of political vanity? Obviously, the landscape of the continent has altered in recent years, and its role in the world has grown. Real changes can give rise to surreal dreams, but they need to be calibrated properly, to see what the connections or lack of them might be. A decade ago, three great imponderables lay ahead: the advent of monetary union, as designed at Maastricht; the return of Germany to regional preponderance, with reunification; and the expansion of the EU into Eastern Europe. The outcome of each remained ex ante indeterminate. How far have they been clarified since?
Of its nature, the introduction of a single currency, adopted simultaneously by 11 out of 15 member states of the EU on the first day of 1999, was the most punctual and systematic transformation of the three. It was always reasonable to suppose its effects would be the soonest visible, and most clear-cut. Yet this has proved so only in the most limited technical sense, that the substitution of a dozen monies by one (Greece joined in 2002) was handled extremely smoothly, without glitch or mishap: an administrative tour de force. Otherwise, contrary to general expectations, the net upshot of the monetary union that came into force in the Eurozone eight years ago remains undecidable. The stated purpose of the single currency was to lower transaction costs and increase predictability of returns for business, so unleashing higher investment and faster growth of productivity and output... Transcendence of the nation-state, Marx believed, would be a task not for capital but for labour. A century later, as the Cold War set in, Kojève held that whichever camp achieved it would emerge the victor from the conflict. The foundation of the European Community settled the issue for him. The West would win, and its triumph would bring history, understood categorically – not chronologically – as the realisation of human freedom, to an end. Kojève’s prediction was accurate. His extrapolation, and its irony, remain in the balance. They have certainly not been disproved: he would have smiled at the image of a chit of plastic. The emergence of the Union may be regarded as the last great world-historical achievement of the bourgeoisie, proof that its creative powers were not exhausted by the fratricide of two world wars, and what has happened to it as a strange declension from what was hoped from it. Yet the long-run outcome of integration remains unforeseeable to all parties. Even without shocks, many a zigzag has marked its path. With them, who knows what further mutations might occur.