June 17, 2003

Rendering unto Caesar

Via Calpundit, this rather extraordinary National Review article by a “John F. Cullinan” about the lack of any reference to God in the draft EU constitution. It’s an odd piece in many respects. Cullinan not only argues that the Constitution should nod towards God, but is positively insulted that the draft text “respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organizations” as well as that of churches. Apparently, the new constitution is being hatched by “a militantly secularist elite determined to bring about a naked public square barring all opinions based on religious values.” Your guess as to what a “naked public square” might be is as good as mine, but I think it’s safe to say that Cullinan’s against it.

Cullinan has an axe to grind; he’s a former advisor to the U.S. Catholic bishops (the same gentlemen who have been so helpful in clearing up the mess over child-abusing priests). And he represents a sort of Ultramontanist Catholicism that sees the EU as a force of evil, bringing abortion, contraception and secular values to the masses. It’s a view that has a few adherents in Ireland and Poland (the main Irish proponent has Neo-Nazi links), but which is rather far from the mainstream. And in order to lend his idiosyncratic views some backing, he claims that Europe is traducing its “Judaeo-Christian heritage.” According to Cullinan, Europe has forgone its tradition of Christian-humanist values, and is now intent on the exercise of state power in a moral vacuum.

Now there’s a fair amount of controversy as to what Europe is, or should be. But even the most superficial reading of European history would suggest that Cullinan’s notion of European identity has problems. John Hale’s masterly work of history, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance has a nice discussion of the relationship between the notion of Europe, and the notion of Christendom. As he notes, the theme of Christian unity was most vigorously expressed when there was a spot of heathen bashing to be done: “given man’s incurable urge to fight, what better resolution to a domestic conflict than a joint Christian enterprise against the infidel?” More specifically, Hale argues convincingly that Europe only emerged as a substantial concept as the concept of Christendom faded, and more specifically as the Protestant Reformation led to bloody confessional wars among “Christian” states. These wars led of course to Augsburg, Westphalia, power politics and the modern state system. Which means that the European Union, in a roundabout class of a way, can be seen as an antidote to Christianity (and the urge to slaughter your neighbor over nice points of religious doctrine), rather than an expression of it.

Which leads in turn to a series of posts (here, here and here) by Chris Bertram criticizing Habermas’ and Derrida’s proposal for a common European identity. On the face of it, Cullinan has nothing in common with Habermas and Derrida; the one is a traditionalist Catholic, while the other two are die-hard secular humanists. But they both assume that Europe has to be built upon a common set of values; they simply disagree on what that set of values should be. Further, they both define these values in relation to an enemy (creeping secularism on the one hand, Anglo-Saxon laissez-faire values on the other). Chris’s basic criticism of these assumptions, is, I think, unassailable. There simply isn’t sufficient agreement among Europeans to make convergence on “European” values either possible or attractive. The bland, dull, technocratic European Union that we have today may in fact be the best, and most attractive form of Europe-level political organization that we can realistically aspire to; resolving (where possible) political problems that cross national frontiers, without claiming to be a political space in the strong sense of the word. Certainly it beats a return to “Hierosolyma est perdita” on the one hand, or a European Union built on resentment of America on the other.

Posted by Henry at June 17, 2003 03:16 PM | TrackBack

Yeah, great, but when are you going to blog about the constitution? I need to be told what I should think about it!

Posted by: David Weman at June 18, 2003 05:49 PM


Wasn’t this rather where we came in. I mean about Feldstein and the euro.

I absolutely agree that you cannot construct a european identity from above in this way, and that the polarisation US - EU is absolutely destructive. But that still leaves us with an identity problem, one which the Americans don’t have because they’re all immigrants in the final analysis. Our societies need to adapt, and need to open themselves to ‘otherness’. (perhaps Levinas should have returned from the tomb to write the constitution).

Of course the problem starts if you begin to talk about european music, or european food, or european housekeeping practices. I don’t see the convergence, which is why I don’t understand how anyone can imagine the euro is going to work.

Meantime, as I blogged this week, young educated germans are starting to pack their bags and leave, (the numbers doubled 2001-2002, and it looks like they are doubling again 2002-2003). This is extremely preoccupying, and could set in motion a negative feedback process from which there really is no way back. One of your beloved badly-branched path dependent whatsits.

Posted by: Edward Hugh at June 20, 2003 03:32 PM
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