This is the first part of a two part essay.
‘The Tainted Source: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea’ by John Laughland was originally published in 1997 and has been out of print for the past eighteen years. Edward Heath described the book upon publication as ‘Preposterous… A hideous distortion of both past and present’. Rereading it after nearly a decade and in the run up to the referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union has led me to believe a reissue is now long overdue. Laughland’s work is a superb synthesis of politics, law, economics, history and philosophy. Nevertheless, Laughland remains very readable as he hammers home his core thesis that the rule of law and democracy is under threat by an ideology which posits that nation-states are an anachronism incapable of governing modern societies while ignoring the necessity of a national community in facilitating political discourse that sustains a liberal constitutional order. Laughland thoroughly demolishes this perverse, and to my mind highly eccentric, European ideology and argues that only a return to law, democracy and sound money will halt and reverse the continent’s relative decline.
The withering away of the state gives way to the administration of things wrote Friedrich Engels; and these words have been heeded by the proponents of the European ideology. This is the essence of the crisis in European politics, the attempt to obviate political discourse, to replace dialogue with monologue, by abolishing the nation state. It was thus when Laughland wrote ‘The Tainted Source’ in the 1990s and it remains so well into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Instead of public participation in politics, the essence of the parliamentary system, society is to be administered by unseen specialists. Independent nation states are after all in this view a nineteenth century anachronism which inevitably lead to chaos and destruction and must be submerged by a supranational saviour. That the elites might make the wrong decisions and frustrate a people with an inherent desire to be free thereby creating tension and unrest is not countenanced by those dreaming of a post-national future. Laughland attempts, and successfully does so, to unpick the European ideology, that is to replace politics with administration, and explores what the consequences of the idea are when applied and what they might be in the future. Laughland observations have been eerily pertinent two decades later as we shall see.
Perhaps the most controversial and contentious of Laughland’s assertions in the ‘The Tainted Source’ is the link between the European ideology and fascism. Disputing the claim that European integration was born out of necessity after the Second World War, he asserts that it has much darker roots, going back to fascist thought in the 1930s. German wartime propaganda insisted that Germany was the best governed country in Europe so other countries should adopt its superior political and economic model and therefore integrate forming a single political unit. This pan-Europeanism was not simply a convenient front to justify German aggression. Fascism hated pluralism because multiplicity implies disorder which chimes with the supranational administrative ethos. Furthermore race transcends national boundaries so nation states are superfluous in the racialist viewpoint. Thinkers such Werner Daitz therefore popularised the notion of völkisch sovereignty over national sovereignty. The idea of grossraumwirtschaft or ‘great space economy’ was promoted by Daitz amongst others on the basis that economic activity should proceed in a self-contained area in contrast to the idea of global economic interaction. The idea of large integrated economic blocs remained popular with the founders of the European project after the war such as Paul-Henri Spaak who wrote favourably of Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s. Laughland also mentions that Robert Schuman, another of Europe’s founding fathers, served in 1940 as a minister in Pétain’s Vichy government. It is important according to Laughland that the fascist roots of the European ideology are exposed because it demonstrates how the rejection of the nation state has severe illiberal implications. Laughland concludes therefore that to be in favour of European integration is not necessarily a default progressive position.
Germany lies at the centre of Europe and because of her sheer size she is in a position to dominate the European continent. Laughland argues that peace in Europe has always depended on a balance of power. Whenever the equilibrium has been upset the cause has been a quest for hegemony. Laughland cites thinkers such as Cardinal Richelieu and John of Salisbury who asserted the organic link between the rule of law and the balance of power, because hegemonic powers have no interest in obeying the law one cannot have the former without the latter. This is in sharp contrast to Jean Monnet who wrote ‘Yesterday Power, and ‘Today, the Law’ in the belief that balance of power politics created friction between nations resulting in war. In Monnet’s opinion therefore, a pan-European legal and administrative structure should replace diplomacy between nations. Laughland describes this as a fatal misunderstanding of geopolitics and the preconditions for the rule of law. Laughland also provides a broad sweep of German history in the third chapter, from France’s rivalry with the Holy Roman Empire (of the German Nation), to the Treaty of Westphalia which divided Germany and produced over a century of peace, through the nineteenth century which saw German unification followed by the World wars. Throughout recorded history Europe is at peace when Germany is weak, which is when power is balanced owing to the absence of a hegemonic power. Germany has throughout her history attempted to break loose from the constraints imposed by balance of power politics. The consistent pattern which emerges is that she is thwarted by force of arms so attempts to consolidate via economic integration. The Zollverein, a Prussian led customs union, subverted the German Confederation imposed after the Congress of Vienna and spearheaded the drive towards German unification. The European Union mirrors this attempt to impose German hegemony on the continent without military means. Why should Germany attempt this though? The answer according to Laughland is in the German conception of the state which is a result of Germany’s unique political history. Unlike England or France, Germany has never been a nation state, i.e. where the state’s territory is congruent with the nation’s borders. Therefore the German states that have emerged throughout history have universal rather than national or territorial aspirations of sovereignty. These ideas underpinned Charlemagne’s monarchy, the Kaiser’s dream of Mitteleuropa and Hitler’s quest for Lebensraum. The irony is that the post-nationalist European ideologues who declare that national sovereignty is a relic of the past are setting a rather dangerous precedent.