Europe’s Imperial Dilemma

Europe has an imperial problem. Put simply, the European Union, formed as a political union to prevent war on the continent, is slowly morphing into a liberal utopian empire, undermining Westphalian nation-states with its open migration policy and fiscal meddling. Inevitably, this has resulted in the rise of pre-Westphalian ethno-nationalist sentiments. The imperial character of the EU has long term ramifications for great maritime powers such as the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as for revanchist land powers like Russia. Put simply, the EU imperium, which started as a prospective solution to the problems of a continent ravaged by centuries of war, is now turning out to be the cause of new and predictable troubles.

As Catalonia stands on the brink of secession from Spain after a controversial referendum, with Spain poised to send in troops to restore “constitutional order,” and terrorism and migration on mass scale result in ethno-nationalist backlashes, their is an increasing and urgent need in for  policymakers in the United States and the United Kingdom, to engage in a serious reflection upon and  reassessment of  the character of EU.

The Forces of Ethno-Nationalism

Historically, Europe was never united, either culturally, linguistically, or tribally. The only way Europe was unified, in temporal phases, was through imperium. But those forced attempts at imperium also resulted in nationalist reaction and inevitable backlash. The Romans fell prey to imperial overstretch, which resulted in differing ethnic tribes waging war against the central authority and, eventually, the dissolution of the Roman empire. From Bonaparte to the Habsburgs, Kaiser to Hitler, all of them tried to dominate continental Europe through sheer strength of arms. Similarly, during the last days of the Cold War, contrary to what liberal historians preached for the last quarter century, it was not liberalism that saw off the Soviet empire, but conservative nationalism in Eastern Europe against Soviet imperium. There’s a reason some countries like Poland are skeptical of a European superstate run from Brussels and similar attempts at social engineering through forced migration and settlements. They hear echoes of the past in this attempt to create a new and benign EU-SSR.

The European Union, however, seemed a necessary idea when it started, after years of conflict ravaging the continent. As Churchill wrote, the aim of British foreign policy for 500 years has been to see that there’s no single dominating hegemony or empire in Europe. After the fall of the British empire, the United States carried on the same balancing principle, which resulted in the United States confronting the Soviet Union. The geopolitical logic behind that was simple. Any single hegemon that controls the entire European landmass is bound to be powerful enough, militarily and economically, to dominate other great powers across the globe.

Just recently, for example, the EU threatened the United States with punitive trade deals, and fined Apple and Google for breaking competition rules. It is not hard to imagine a United States of Europe, with a joint army, independent nuclear deterrence, and ever increasing economic might. The elites in Brussels already are displaying a markedly different set of interests from those of the United States, or, for that matter, those of the United Kingdom.

Utopian, as Opposed to Liberal

We need to distinguish “liberals” in the domestic sense from “utopian Liberal hegemony” in the foreign policy sense. This always follows every time a conservative or a political realist questions liberal hypocrisy, and it is important to clear it up at this stage. Liberals in this sense are not the ones who believe in private property, free speech, and self-determination. Rather,  the liberals in question are foreign policy liberal internationalists, the sort of utopian idealists who prophesied the end of history in 1991. These radicals believe in global institutionalism and rule by technocrats, mass migration and open borders, foreign interventionism and selective usage of human rights rhetoric to justify completely arbitrary foreign policy. Nationalism and sovereignty are poisonous concepts to these liberal ideologues, who refuse to believe that different parts of the globe are culturally very different. In a sense, they are qualitatively no different from Trotskyite internationalists or even neoconservatives. Unfortunately, although these ideas of global governance seem good in theory, research has proven time and again that there is no global order that will follow any norm or rule of law as nation-states and great powers will do whatever they want. Hard power is the only variable that genuinely matters.

The Imperial Paradox

Which brings us to the remarkable similarity between Brexit and the current Catalonian crisis. The British exit and the Spanish crackdown are both a direct consequence of the EU shaping up as an empire, without having the requisite will or capability to manage order across the continent or control the backlash resulting from its idealist and incoherent policies. Undermining state sovereignty has only empowered differing forces within EU. The culturally Catholic conservative Central Europeans, for example, are opposed to Brussels and Berlin meddling in their domestic affairs with  unchecked migration or energy deals with the United States. Britain, on the other hand, left the EU due simply to a rational fear of Germany’s Angela Merkel opening the whole of Europe to millions of migrants. Now, ethnic groups like the Catalans have decided if they are going to be ruled by Brussels anyway, why bother listening to the middle man in Madrid? Also, there’s no logical coherence in the policy of EU supporting humanitarian interventions in Libya, and self-determination of other ethnic groups like the Kurds and Irish, while simultaneously and hypocritically opposing Catalonian independence.

A great Machiavellian paradox now tests Europe.  It is too diverse, differing in language and culture, and never united before other than through forced imperium, to be bound together in the way the EU has envisioned. An empire, or its modern jargon-oriented equivalent, ultimately cannot be sustained, or defended without using brute force. After all, Westphalian nation-states came into existence as the old empires faded. That led to imperial colonial powers, which then ruled the world for centuries, before being dismantled by other regional nationalists. The last empire to fall was the Soviet Union, which kept the Warsaw pact countries under their power not by the strength of Marxist ideology, but by sheer military force. As soon as Soviet economic power collapsed, so too did the strength of their military, resulting in an opening for a nationalist tide. If the EU tries to morph into a full empire, the result would be more nationalistic backlash and chaos—to say nothing of heightened wariness and tensions with the United States, the UK, and Russia. If the EU doesn’t act like an empire, the regional ethnic groups will rebel against their national states.

And that’s the dilemma for humanity’s greatest liberal utopian project. The EU’s imperial obsession with cheap migrant labor from Asia and Africa, imposing liberal mores, human rights for terrorists and migrants, and transgender rights across the continent, sowed the seeds of its own destruction as history in the Hegelian sense proved to be cyclical and continued to repeat itself, as both tragedy and farce.


About Sumantra Maitra

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, and a member of Centre for Conflict, Security, and Terrorism. He is also a regular analyst for Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, and a regular essayist for various publications, including The National Interest, The Federalist, and Quillette Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.

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21 responses to “Europe’s Imperial Dilemma”

  1. In the second paragraph,
    “…their is an increasing and urgent need in for policymakers in the United States and the United Kingdom, to engage in a serious reflection upon and reassessment of the character of EU.”
    …I would add “and NATO,” as President Trump has been hammering member nations to live up to their treaty obligations of spending 2.0%/GDP on their militaries, with a less-publicized obligation to spend 25% (0.5%/GDP) on advanced weapons systems. On The Other Hand, Germany only spends 1.22%/GDP, resulting in an annual US$29 billion shortfall.
    Currently, only US, UK, Estonia, Poland, and Greece(!) spend at least 2.0%/GDP; but with Greece at 2.2% bloating their enlisted corps to use as a government jobs project.
    For these reasons, plus the fact US & UK are nuclear powers, re-evaluation of the relationship with the continent needs to encompass both the EU and NATO.

  2. It’s somewhat similar to 1. The Clinton “Scandals”, 2. the Harvey Weinstein “scandals”, the Kennedy Dynasty “scandals” and the many others not yet become public of the long term plans of the architects and engineers of the structure.

    Their “Open Secret” to be “exposed” when the time is ripe. To be known ultimately as “The United States of Europe”. Developed through the baby steps of the EEC, then the EU.

    Why not indeed. Those “stupid citizens and ghastly Britons” and who knows how dismissed by the “great and good of Germany, France, Italy and Spain who buy anything if advertised “For the Good OF The People”.

    To discerning, informed people who understood the manipulations of these persons and groups lusting or power over “The Lives of Others” the “Intent” from the outset to replace the former European Empires lost with the Versailles Treaty.

    Not only Hitler, Lenin and Stalin saw that Treaty as THEIR OPPORTUNITY. So what if it took the loss of millions of peoples lives. Wasn’t that

    Turns out that

  3. Articles like these are why I JUST LOVE this site. Here, we get the likes of Mr. Maitra, Angelo Codevilla and a less inhibited Victor Davis-Hanson (who must write with a hand tied behind his back at NRO).

  4. A good article. We unfortunately also seem to be in a lot of trouble. Does America even still exist as a country? Social cohesion and trust are the foundation of a society. Where is our foundation? Where is the inner structure of our society? We don’t even have a common reality and without something as basic as that, how do we have a country?

    Recently a leftist told me we never have had a common reality in America. Well we sure had a lot more than we have now which is why America used to be a highly functional society. Those days are long gone and will never return.

    Many people believe America is simply too big and too powerful to collapse but many people also believed that about the Soviet Union. No one in 1985 would have believed that the USSR, the mighty “Evil Empire”, would be a disintegrating mess in 10 years.

    I told that to someone last year who said “But the Soviet Union was a collection of separate countries”. What we have here though is a collection of separate realities which is a much deadlier situation. I recently read that a feature of life in the modern world is always living with a sense of impending doom. That sure is the truth. Time will tell what fate has in store for us.

  5. “As soon as Soviet economic power collapsed, so too did the strength of their military, resulting in an opening for a nationalist tide.”

    This is partially incorrect. Soviet Union collapsed not because of sapped military strenght. The Soviet military power was not appreciably smaller in 1989 than in was in let’s say 1960.

    It collapsed because, as author is correctly pointed out, by raising nationalist tide in Eastern Europe, but even more importantly by the economic collapse, which lowered the standard of living so much that people became desperate for a political change. That is especially true about Poland.

  6. Excellent analysis. My only quibble is with that the EU “formed as a political union”. It was a trade union to fuel economic growth through a common market. It was federalists in the mold of Juncker and Barnier who pushed political union surreptiously behind the peoples’ backs and through useful idiots like John Major. The attempt at political union didn’t formalize until the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties.

    • It started as the European Coal and Steel Community. Why those industries in particular? Because they’re the essential ingredients of arms manufacturing and modern war generally; interdependence was seen as an alternative to mistrust and conflict, and the principle’s scope widened with each iteration of EEC, EC and now EU, wherein it even encompasses monetary, military and border policy. Prevention of war in Europe for seven decades is a favourite Europhile claim, after all, though they seem to forget NATO when making it.

      • You are absolutely correct. NATO kept the peace in Europe not the EU.

  7. The European Union failed to recognize that “nations” were in reality conglomerations of separate geographic, ethnic and religious groups which were being held together by an interest to cooperate for the common benefit of the “nation”. When the controlling authority, the Union , took over as defacto governing authority, the old compromises and agreements were no longer valid. The break-up has only just begun.

  8. Great analysis with analogous historical examples. History will repeat itself if people don’t observe and learn.

    The EU was doomed from the moment it was formed because it was based on the false premise that all cultures are compatible with one another and have similar goals. People are genetically programmed to be tribal because it has evolutionary survival value. Allegiance to sports teams, religion, and association with people of similar appearance and values are examples of tribalism. Nationalism is an unusually powerful unifying force.

    Political Correctness goes against ingrained tribal instincts and is particularly disruptive.

    Trump is tribal (Make America Great Again, build-the-wall, etc.) and will be the most successful president we’ve had since George Washington. People who don’t understand this (snowflakes) are flummoxed and afraid.

    • What does this have to do with Trump? The majority of Americans have ancestors who came from different EU countries, and of course we have assimilated people from many other parts of the world. If “nationalism” was so powerful that people from different EU countries are not compatible than the USA would not exist.

      • If I’m not mistaken the first American colonies, those represented on the first American flag, were British, not Arab, Nigerian, Spanish, French, etc. As all Brits they were culturally coherent. They had different views and opinions within their British culture but shared the same language, laws, religion, customs, etc. They might argue violently among themselves but there were no cultural (tribal) surprises. It’s like a family that argues among themselves, but woe to any outsider who picks on any of them. The Hatfield and McCoy feud comes to mind. Anthropologists will understand what I mean even though I might not be expressing myself well.

        Any coherent group that mongrelizes itelf with others of different beliefs and priorities becomes weaker in group actions. This concept shouldn’t be too hard to grasp.

        Trump is important because he has tapped into a large group of citizens who were reared in a different era where everyone had similar ethnic and cultural aspirations and goals. America has never been perfect, and its leaders have also been imperfect, but our culture was more coherent and consistent (stronger) before we became “progressive” and PC. Even with our differences we were proud to be Americans. Right or wrong, this is what Trump is trying to restore. … Things may have degenerated too far for someone even with Trump’s abilities to correct. He’s also having to work for progress with one hand while defending his back with the other.

      • Just read “Plain, Honest Men” by Richard Beeman, a book about the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. My impression is that there was a wide spectrum of cultures from all parts of the world united by the idea of freedom and solving the problem of crafting a government that protected freedom. The glue was conceptual, not cultural.

      • Yes, but a lot has happened since then. Millions of people have immigrated to the US from the current EU countries and they all have been assimilated into the majority culture. Culturally all of the EU countries are very similar, and many if not most Americans are “mongrels” as you call us. So this is the monolithic culture that you say Trump is trying to restore. Trump himself is of German and Scottish ancestry, so I suppose you would consider him to be a “mongrel.”

        Of course there were a LOT of Nigerians living in the US at the time of the founding but sadly they were not allowed to vote. There was NEVER a period in US history when everyone had similar ethnic and cultural aspirations and goals.

        Ironically the author of this article seems to be an ethnic Indian who has fully assimilated as an Englishman so much so that he considers people from mainland Europe to be less “British” than is.

      • Everything you say is true, Dave. You’ve apparently missed my point but are accidentally validating it. As we “assimilate” more and more people from diverse (not necessarily bad) cultures we slowly lose sight of the original coherent values that set us apart from everyone else.

        It’s not surprising that the ethnic Indian author considers himself more “British” than the people now occupying Britain. The Brits have become diluted with everything imaginable, the Muslim now Mayor of London being a case in point, and there are many others. India is indeed probably now more “British” than the current UK mixture that calls itself Britain. Britain is heading away from the Magna Carta (on which our own American Constitution and laws are founded) and headed toward Sharia. And today’s Brit diversity is weakening the nation.

        Regardless, the mistaken assumption that diversity is intrinsically good will soon peacefully break up the EU and/or there will be extreme “civil disobedience” (PC for riots and rebellions) by people who still have a backbone and want to restore their nation to its original cohesive singularity. Diversity is not inherently good. That’s a feel-good myth.

  9. Mr. Maitra,

    Your article includes some valid points but you sure have no idea about what’s going on in Spain. Catalans are not an ethnic group, they are Spaniards. The Catalonia crisis doesn’t have anything to do with Brexit and it’s not a consequence of the EU shaping up as an empire. Were separatist Catalans successful in carrying out their independence dream, they would be immediately expelled from the European Union. Moreover, it’s not that the recently held “referendum” was just controversial, it was a pathetic joke without any legal support and guarantee and absolute lack of transparency and control. Also, according with the Spanish Constitution, it was illegal. If you read up on it, you’ll find out that the silent majority of Catalans want to remain as part of Spain, as it’s always been.

    • A lot of people are conflating Brexit, Scotland and Catalan Independencia. Each have different drivers, different objectives.

  10. This piece, while grad, ignore the three philosophies of civil life: a) Overt Tribal Slavery, b) Covert Progressive-Hegelian Slavery or c) Liberty’s Non-Slavery. The EU was based entirely on Covert Progressive-Hegelian Slavery therefore it is a pig, no matter how marvelous the words are to describe it. Covert Slavery systems secretly love and are jealous of Overt Slavery: Islamic Fundamentalism. Hence, Covert Slavery has invited Overt Slavery into the EU’s midst… as a backlash against intelligent Liberty’s Non-Slavery.

    You want to consider a big-picture piece which is not ignoring the dastardly covert slavery system of the Prog Drone Queens?
    Fourth of July 2016 Speech (Proposed) Lincoln-like, if you will… Lyceum, the pattern.

  11. When I asked my Catalan friends why they would have faith that the EU would be content with their succession from Spain and wouldn’t they subsequently not be happy within rule under Brussels, they would stare blankly back at me. Apparently, they thought that the EU thought as they did as global internationalists and that nation-states were superfluous. They didn’t calculate that the utopian timeline would have to stretch out so long. They also seem to think that the rule from Brussels would be benign and light handed.