BY REV. JAMES V. SCHALL, S.J., OCTOBER 16, 2017
“Our beloved home will not be fulfilled with the European Union. The real Europe is, and always will be, a community of nations, at once insular, sometimes fiercely so, and yet united by a spiritual legacy that, together, we debate, develop, state—and love.” ∼ The Paris Statement, #12.
Aristotle had trouble comprehending the feasibility of Alexander’s Empire. It was designed to accommodate itself to all conquered peoples under his grandiose rule of common brotherhood and law. It seemed like such a noble scheme. This empire, stretching from Macedonia and Africa to India, was a vast and complicated undertaking. Aristotle thought that it would encourage an irresponsible random, undisciplined freedom. It would take a divine mind to rule it. In comparison with Alexander’s empire, even with sophisticated technology, the size and complexity of Europe and the world today make the divine mind even more necessary to cope with the varied deficiencies and goals of ambitious men.
The just-published document, “A Europe We Can Believe In,” maintains, in effect, that the European Union officials, under another guise, have assigned to themselves precisely this divine mind. They think themselves capable of replacing the old varied Europe with a collective, even globalized entity run not by Alexander, the Romans, the Popes, the emperors, or even the parliaments, but by themselves, by efficient bureaucrats, intellectuals, and scientists. They would allot, distribute, and administer everything in due proportion to the needs of peoples everywhere.
Such a development is the “false Europe” that has arrogated to itself the real genius of what was once known as the Europe of nations, with its diverse lands, with a common spirit and tradition. This “Paris Statement” was signed by ten well-known scholars from various European countries—Rémi Brague, Roger Scruton, Robert Spaemann, Ryszard Legutko, and six others. Significantly, no Italian, Spanish, Irish, Greek, Balkan, or Scandinavian name was signatory. The document can be classified as a conservative “manifesto,” provided we recognize that what it is trying to “conserve” is the very reality of “what it is to be Europe” seen in the relative autonomy of its different nation-states.
The Statement’s title, “A Europe We Can Believe In,” is somewhat misleading. Europe itself is not an object of faith, though it is the home of Christianity, its spiritual root, as the document insists on recognizing in several ways. The present European Union, however, denies or downplays its own spiritual origins. It is itself, as the documents maintains, based on a bloodless secular “faith” that substitutes itself for a religion. “The universalist and universalizing pretension of the false Europe reveal it to be an ersatz religious enterprise, complete with strong creedal commitments—and anathemas.”
Europe’s historic unity is formed more like what we Americans know as “a pledge of allegiance.” It is founded on something more than justice or obligation, though those too. Chesterton said that America was the only country in history built on a creed, on a set of ideals to which its citizens assented as the price of their belonging to its body politic. The extremist argument today insists that one can enter any society by right without having to accept that society’s rules of entry and order. In a way, the recent evolution or usurpation of power by a centralized, bureaucratic state in America parallels the similar phenomenon in Europe. The authors of the Paris Statement reject the premises of this all-seeing and powerful centralized state that promises to take care of everybody.
II. The American notion of federalism—with its roots in Thucydides—originally sought to combine the values of locality with those of a vaster array of interests. In reading this document, Europe seems more like what we once called a “confederacy” than either a centralized government or even a federal union. Europe today seeks and needs its historic differences. Current nationalist unrest in Europe, often made graphic by un-assimilating Muslims in its midst, almost always indicates a loss of local identity. People normally identify themselves with their own neighbors, with those of their own language and manners. In itself, this endeavor is a good, not an evil.
The Paris Statement takes a path away from what it frequently calls a “false Europe.” It affirms: “These lands are our home; we have no other. The reason we hold Europe dear exceeds our ability to explain or justify our loyalty. It is a matter of shared histories, hopes, and loves.” In the origins and growth of nations, something more than application of abstract principles is ever present.
This introduction calls to mind the warning of Edmund Burke about the dreamy, lethal French Revolution. The reformers of this “false Europe” are seen in the document to travel with a similar revolutionary hostility to religion, local customs, and family memories. The document implies that if this centralization continues, we will end with the same violence that erupted in the French Revolution.
In this light, the title of the document should not be “A Europe We Can ‘Believe’ In,” but a Europe we can thrive in, or breathe in. Europe as a political entity is not an object of transcendent faith. Reason gives us enough insight to do what is natural for our mortal being. This is what “the things that are Caesar’s” means. The modern state is not, and cannot be, the Kingdom of God on this earth that Europe, as Europe, seems to be striving for. Post World War II Europe sought to unify itself. Its wars were due to its divisions. This reconstruction was a vague imitation of the American experiment with federalism and central government.
So EU headquarters were set up in Brussels and Strasburg. A common currency was established, borders were easily crossed, and rules could be enforced. The major complaint about America in the document is that it sent to Europe multiculturalism, diversity, and identify politics. These current ideologies undermine the genius of Europe’s spirit of keeping the uniqueness of its many differing nations joined by a general spirit that comes from its Greek, Roman, and Christian heritages.
III. This document is filled with memorable passages. The following one is most graphic:
Marriage is the foundation of civil society and the basis of harmony between men and women. It is the intimate bond organized around sustaining a household and raising children. We affirm that our most fundamental roles in society and as human beings are as fathers and mothers. Marriage and children are integral to any vision of human flourishing. Children require sacrifice from those who bring them into the world. This sacrifice is noble and must be honored…. A society that fails to welcome children has no future (#33).
It would be difficult to find a better statement of this issue in our or any society.
The present birthrates in Europe already indicate a dying society. In many cities, Muslim immigrant children outnumber European ones. Ever since Plato’s Book Five of the Republic, with its commonality of wives and children, recurring efforts seek to replace the family by the state or today by science. The family is the foundation of both human life and any civilization worthy of the name. Its existence is seen by utopians as the cause of prejudice and a block to instituting those aspects of government that would, it is claimed, make the world free of corruption. This Paris Statement is one of the few public declarations to face squarely the fact that the family is the principal obstacle to establish a “false Europe” with its supposedly more perfect society.
IV. The document discusses the place of the free market and its limits. Its authors point out the dangers of “human rights” in the Hobbesian tradition, almost the only kind that still exist in the public order. In this sense, “human rights” presuppose no natural order. Hence, a “right” is whatever the state says it is. Our notion of individualist freedom underpins our “right” to have whatever we want. Here a “right” means merely what the state, at any given time, enacts, permits, and rewards. However, the document reads: “Human dignity is more than the right to be left alone, and documents of international human rights do not exhaust the claims of justice, much less the good.”
We will always need a “prudent use of law to deter vice.” There is room for forgiving human weakness “but Europe cannot flourish without a restoration of common aspiration toward upright conduct and human excellence.” The over-emphasis on both freedom and equality can turn an orderly society into either chaos or inertness. “For Europe’s younger generation … libertine hedonism often leads to boredom and a profound sense of purposelessness. The bond of marriage has weakened in the rolling sea of sexual liberty, the deep desires of our young people to marry and form families are often frustrated. A liberty that frustrates our heart’s deepest longings becomes a curse.”
The Statement also points out some unexpected things about the Christian nature of Europe’s foundations.
The true Europe affirms the equal dignity of every individual, regardless of sex, rank, or race. This also arises from our Christian roots. Our gentle virtues are of an unmistakably Christian heritage: fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity. Christianity revolutionized the relationship between men and women, vaulting love and mutual fidelity in an unprecedented way (#10).
From these considerations, little doubt exists in the minds of the authors that a direct relation exists between the health of the family, the health of a society, and the religious and philosophical ideas that explain them.
This Statement is not merely an “analysis” of a dire political situation. It is a wake-up call to action. We see a certain urgency in its arguments. Europe can be saved. “We reject as false the claim that there is no responsible alternative.” What is the problem? “Europe, in all its richness and greatness, is threatened by a false understanding of itself. The false Europe imagines itself as a fulfillment of our civilization, but in truth it will confiscate our home.” Again the theme of home and what it stands for returns.
The issue of the moral obligation to accept millions of immigrant foreigners comes up: “Talk of diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism is empty.” All of these justifying phrases imply that no need can be found to change from whatever one wants to a new situation. It is always well to recall that immigration into Europe has much to do with the deliberate choice of large sections of European society not to have one’s own children. This lack leads to a need for labor from elsewhere. Still, “We rightly expect that those who migrate to our lands will incorporate themselves into our nations and adopt our ways.”
What is the future of European conservatism? Does it relate to American conservatism? The first step is made with this Statement. We need to understand and appreciate what made Europe. Key elements of this history have been obscured and rejected. William Bennett remarked that we now have an administration even more conservative than that of Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, by most standards, in Rome, we have a papacy that can only be objectively described on most issues of politics, economics, philosophy, and environment as classical leftism, one that shadows much of what the Statement calls “a false Europe.”
American and European conservatism has in common a shared understanding of the Greek, Roman, and Christian understanding of man and the world. They see the origins of utopianism itself within the realm of western political philosophy. They see that in many ways the “false Europe” is a Christian heresy that seeks to establish by human power alone a purified Kingdom in this world, one that solves by political and technical, not moral and religious, means, the chief disorders of man that keep recurring in his history.
The Paris Statement describes the actual human nature that we have been given. It seeks a home in this world, one that recognizes that man’s final end is transcendent. We can only keep and live in our European dwellings if we realize that, lovely as they are, they are not our final homes.
Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. His recent books include The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books are A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and the forthcoming On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent book is Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017).