What we ought to want is a Europe filled with variations of Israel
Charles Krauthammer is a very bright guy who is nearly always right on the issues, but his argument that a Le Pen victory in the French presidential election would be a disaster for Europe is utterly wrong-headed. France, he said on Fox News last week, is the lynchpin of modern Europe and is necessary to prevent a return to the sort of nationalism that plagued the continent during the last century.
The nationalism he is referring to was the hyper-aggressive attitude of Germany, Italy, and Russia – whose misconduct is well known – and also of Poland, whose arbitrary annexation of Vilnius and grab of Teschen during the partition of Czechoslovakia needlessly disrupted Eastern Europe. The problem then, as now, is not “nationalism,” which is neither good nor bad in itself, but rather aggressive nationalism that threatens neighbors.
The resistance the peoples of occupied Europe used to defy and distract the Nazis in lands like Poland, Norway, Holland, and France was also nationalism – good nationalism, which asserted the traditional values of those peoples in opposition to the new European order the Nazis were proclaiming.
The problem in dealing with the totalitarian threats in the last century was not excessive nationalism, but insufficient nationalism. When peoples asserted their rights as a separate nation, though occupied and threatened, these peoples brought down evil empires.
The Poles defied first the Nazis and then the Soviets, and the success of Solidarity as well as Pope John Paul II as the “Polish pope” broke the back of the Warsaw Pact. The agitation of the Baltic States, actually incorporated into the Soviet Union, weakened that whole empire.
When a people views itself as having a unique nation that is its own and a culture connected directly to that nation, then the people will defend itself. A perfect example of this in practice is Israel, which, without a strong national identity and a value system based upon the history of the Jewish people, would doubtless be swallowed into the horrific mess that is most of West Asia.
What we ought to want is a Europe filled with variations of Israel, seeking peace and eschewing aggression but demanding the safety of the people from internal as well as external threats. If France began to behave like Israel, dealing in a no-nonsense manner with anyone who threatened its people or its right to exist with a unique culture, then Europe would be stronger, not weaker. Every nation that, in its own way, followed suit would strengthen, not weaken, Europe.
What about the economic argument? If France withdrew from the European Union, would the sky fall in? Six European nations, including France, formed the Common Market, which was in many ways the beginning of the European Union. Nothing would prevent France from entering into a series of mutually advantageous trade agreements, and surely she would.
That does not mean creating an empire of bureaucrats and politicians whose alliance is to a super-national quasi-state. The problems today of ending the European Union are similar to the problems of super-banks in 2009 – it is “too big to fail” – which is to say the mess this union has created can be ended only with some disruption and discomfort, but that does not mean that the result over time will not be much better.
The sovereign debt problems in much of Europe have been aggravated by the European Union. The two leading creditors of sovereign debt in Greece, one of the worst offenders, are the European Central Bank, a creature of the European Union, and the European Union itself. If the European Union had not been propping up the bad behavior of successive Greek governments, Greece would have been forced to face and fix its debt problem, which is to say to do what it ought to do.
Supra-national organizations nearly always fail, with NATO during the Cold War being, perhaps, the only exception. The United Nations is a monstrosity, the League of Nations was a farce, and the European Union is an idea whose time is past. Nations are real things connected to culture and history and values and interests. The peaceful assertion of that culture and history and those values and interests is not a threat to peace, but the best promise of peace.