An Op-Ed in the New York Times by a Hungary-born historian gives an updated version of the traditional Austro-Hungarian Empire view on political structure: multiculturalism is incompatible with democracy, so down with democracy. The old Mittel-Europeans, like the late Otto Hapsburg, actually had some family memories of how to govern a multiculti state, so it`s worth considering their views on where the conventional wisdom is taking us.
By ISTVAN DEAK
WRITING some 50 years ago, Archduke Otto Hapsburg, the last pretender to the crowns of Austria and Hungary, warned that economic cooperation alone would not satisfy the peoples of Europe and that European unification could not succeed unless it was imbued with an abstract principle. Only something as mystical, he wrote, as the Holy Roman Empire could give people hope, a sense of religious renewal and combat the pernicious effects of local interest, chauvinism, xenophobia and racism.
Today’s European crisis indeed shows that great political institutions cannot be constituted solely on a rational basis or through the bureaucracy and incrementalism of Brussels. The true purpose of the European Union is to bring about peace, prosperity and equality among the diverse regions and groups. Peace has indeed prevailed on most of the Continent, but in the last few years, with prosperity endangered, continued regional inequality has become even more blatant, while radical nationalism has raised its ugly head.
Historic empires provided ideals — whether universal Christian unity or the Marxist-Leninist dogmas of the Soviet Union — in which people were able to believe, no matter how flawed the ruler and how corrupt the imperial institutions. So long as people believe in the principles, the system is likely to endure.
Today’s Europe possesses idealistic institutions like the Erasmus program, which allows student exchange; the European University Institute in Florence; the Jean Monnet program for distinguished scholars; and the Leonardo da Vinci program for vocational education. But these are clearly not enough to overcome regional tensions, bitter north-south divisions and a general indifference to the European project.
… A new attempt at Christian unity, called the Holy Roman Empire, was marked by its simultaneous partnership and rivalry with the papacy. …
But today, where are those formidable priests and kings whose bloody clashes and spiritual challenges created the foundation of European constitutional practices and whose antics inspired the Europeans to care? Latin-speaking teachers and students once moved as freely between universities as they do today; Erasmus of Rotterdam was friends with Sir Thomas More and the entire European intellectual establishment. The fatal break in the common European Latin culture came when the Reformation elevated the vernacular to a literary level and thus created the foundations of secular, cultural nationalism. It also led to terrible internecine wars. Later empires, like those of Napoleon, Wilhelmine Germany and czarist Russia, mainly served dynastic or national interests.
BY 1900, only two genuine multinational empires remained. One was the Ottoman, which was by then in the process of abandoning its traditional religious toleration for Turkish nationalism and even racism. The other was Austria-Hungary, home to 11 major national groups: a paradise in comparison with what it was to become. Its army had 11 official languages, and officers were obliged to address the men in up to four of them.
It wasn’t terribly efficient, but it secured an astonishing degree of loyalty. It also brought rapid economic and cultural progress to an area extending from the Swiss border to what is today western Ukraine. During World War I, Austria-Hungary fielded eight million soldiers commanded by, among others, some 25,000 Jewish reserve officers. …
A new imperial construct embracing all nations, religions and non-totalitarian ideologies might well be the only alternative to the revival of tribalism with all its tragic consequences. And it will be the sacred task of leaders to make the rest of society see this as an exalted, almost religious goal: a new European faith that belongs to no church.
Istvan Deak is an emeritus professor of history at Columbia and the author of “Beyond Nationalism” and “Essays on Hitler’s Europe.”
Of course, the Austro-Hungarian empire is precisely where World War I started …
In general, war within Western Europe is obsolete. So, why the ever-tightening political and economic constriction?
A dozen years ago, I looked into the political problems posed by the Euro:
by Steve Sailer
UPI, September 29, 2000
Raising basic questions about whether the European Union and democracy will ever prove compatible, Danish voters Thursday rejected the European Union`s floundering continental currency, the euro, in favor of keeping Denmark`s traditional krone. Although eleven European governments have already adopted the euro, this was the first time any nation`s citizens had been allowed to vote specifically on whether to switch currencies.
The Danish referendum demonstrates that the most serious obstacle to the Euro-elites` plan for unifying Europe is democracy. The euro controversy is not about economics, but about political accountability. Blaming the defeat in Denmark on the euro`s 25% plummet in value against the American dollar since its 1999 introduction, Italian Treasury Minister Vincenzo Visco pointed out, “The root of the problem is that the markets do not think countries can act as if they were a single country.” By this logic, the only solution would appear to be to continue the process of homogenizing the historic nations of Europe into one superstate that the markets would indeed view as a single country.
Can, however, this coming superstate become a true republic? (It`s not much of one now. Most power resides with bureaucrats in Brussels.) There are fundamental reasons why multilingual governments such as the European Union have always tended to either break apart into smaller nation-states or harden into authoritarian empires.
There is no denying the short-term economic benefits of a single European currency. Americans can imagine the inconvenience if they had to change money every time they drove from Kentucky to Indiana. And before the euro, European companies doing business in neighboring states had to pay an interest rate risk premium when borrowing due to uncertainty over currency fluctuations. For example, a Dutch firm`s subsidiary in Italy could be doing wonderfully, but if the Italian lira collapsed even faster than expected, the company would have to explain to investors why profits weren`t up to plan.
So, why did 53% of Danish electorate decide to stick with the old krone, despite the lavish pro-euro campaign by Denmark`s political, corporate, and media establishments? (In fact, in all of Europe, the only major party publicly opposed to the euro is Britain`s Tories.)
Denmark`s left and right found themselves in an interesting alliance against the centrist euro supporters. Echoing one of the themes of Pat Buchanan`s Reform Party Presidential bid, Danish rightists campaigned against giving up national sovereignty over economic policy. To them, managing the value of the currency is one of the basic responsibilities and privileges of a democratic nation-state.
The upstart anti-immigration Danish People`s Party has ridden the sovereignty issue to a new position of strength in Danish politics. Party leader Pia Kjaersgaard exulted, “The victory that we have won is one for democracy and for the Danish people against an elite.” …
Tellingly, the gender gap loomed large in Danish voting. Danish men, who work in large numbers for private firms that export to the rest of Europe, tended to back the euro. But Danish women, who mostly work for the government`s vast social service bureaucracies, staunchly opposed the euro. Inga Johnson of Women Against the European Union, called it a “rich man`s project,” driven by the “raw forces of capitalism.” She saw the euro as a threat to Denmark`s pervasive system of state-funded daycare, which allows 71% of Danish women to work full time, the highest percentage in Europe.
… “One can see why the Italians are OK with the euro,” observes businessman James C. Bennett, author of the upcoming book, “The Anglosphere Challenge: The Future of the English-Speaking Nations in the Internet Era.” “After all, the Italians are no more bothered by letting Germans run their currency than they are by having Swiss guard the Vatican.” In contrast, the Danes have managed their own affairs quite successfully. These chilly northerners still possess the self-discipline to be able to afford the welfare state. They are loath to give up the system they invented just because it`s no longer working well for the rest of Europe.
This section is relevant to why so many people are made uncomfortable by the contemporary assumption among American elites that, of course, American political campaigns should also be conducted in Spanish.
A single language unifies a country into a shared “information sphere.” When citizens can understand each other, they are much more likely to identify with their compatriots – and sacrifice for them. They can also monitor politics across their society and intelligently participate in debates.
Bennett comments, “No one person can really follow European politics as a whole, since that would require reading and speaking such a wide variety of languages with subtlety and ability to understand context, that only a handful might even try. A `European` politics outside of the corridors of EU headquarters in Brussels does not and cannot exist.”
Consider the difficulties posed by the need for translations of political discourse. Jamie Hamilton of AnswerLogic, a company that creates automatic translation software for technical manuals, points out, “To do cross-cultural translation right, you need a firm understanding of what the original speaker said, and how the listener is likely to (mis)interpret it.”
Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev notoriously told the U.S., “We will bury you.” American citizens took that as an extremely aggressive threat. Yet, according to Hamilton, in Russian the phrase actually “connotes something fairly mild: `we`ll outlive you,` `we`ll be there at your funeral.`”
The European establishment laid sanctions on Austria earlier this year because it didn`t like it`s democratically elected governments. But almost all the charges against rightwing Euroskeptic Joerg Haider consisted of objections to a few phrases he had used in past years. Concerned foreigners who don`t speak German found themselves at the mercy of translators, many with axes to grind, with little way to judge between competing translations.
And there really aren`t many concerned foreigners. These days, most citizens get their political opinions from watching leaders and pundits speak on television. For example, huge numbers of Americans will decide who to vote for in the Presidential race while watching the candidates debate on TV. If the Euro-politicians were speaking different languages and therefore would have to be dubbed like a bad kung fu movie to make them intelligible to the citizens, apathy will reign.
An older word for “superstate” is “empire.” The rigorous demands of running an empire naturally tend to undermine democracy. The complexity of governing multilingual domains is so great that more and more power flows from the legislature to the executive and the permanent bureaucracies. Fewer and fewer democratic controls are tolerated since the people are deemed to be not well-enough informed to vote on the many esoteric issues that come up.
The Roman Republic discovered this when Julius Caesar conquered Gaul. Nor is America immune to this trend. For example, the last nation the U.S. Congress declared war upon was Nazi Germany. After WWII, Washington`s new imperial responsibilities made the ruling establishment reluctant to carry out its constitutional mandate to submit questions of war or peace to the elected representatives of the American people … with, by the way, disastrous results in Vietnam.
Europe faces an even worse problem in this regard than the US, since it lacks a shared European language. Thus, power tends to drift into the hands of self-perpetuating elites, such as the Eurocrats of Brussels. These professional Europeans are either multilingual or can afford translators. For all the deplorable aspects of the current American presidential campaign, it`s only possible at all because the great majority of voters speak the same language. There will never be election campaigns for the President of Europe until enough Europeans speak the same language. And until the EU has a legitimate elected executive who can control the Eurocrats, it will remain an essentially authoritarian, anti-democratic institution.
Ultimately, Europe would need a common language to become a democratic nation-state. There`s only one feasible candidate, English, which is already a pervasive second language in Scandinavia, Holland, and Greece. Bennett, however, says, ” I can`t imagine the French adopting English as the language of their domestic politics (or many other nations either.) But even assuming they did, I`m not sure that a French politician would mean the same thing by the word “fair” as an English one.”