Recently the state and fate of the European Union have become topics of world-wide debate. The UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU last summer and the recent snap election, which called that vote into question, have ignited discussion about whether supranational organizations like the EU are even a good idea.
In an article for the Library of Liberty and Law, Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute, discussed the thought of Pierre Manent. Manent is a prominent French political philosopher who has called the EU’s position into question. What makes Manent’s critique unique is his emphasis on the special character of nation states. As much as globalist politicians may wish to ignore it, “European nations like France, Poland, and England are real entities with the type of deep cultural memory not possessed by supranational organizations such as the European Commission (let alone the United Nations).” Gregg writes:
By definition, enthusiasts of globalism cannot imitate national cultures and histories. Hence, they seek to promote a particular normative agenda, one in which phrases like “human rights,” “diversity,” and “tolerance” feature prominently but which have an ahistorical character. The effect is to reduce the practice of democracy in Western Europe (and elsewhere) to a type of proceduralism which further centralizes real power in supranational institutions.
When considered from this Manentian perspective, we begin to understand how globalist projects can threaten community and liberty at the same time. These two concerns are often at odds with each other, but when brought together through the medium of a concern for national sovereignty, they can generate substantive resistance to aspirations to supranational sovereignty or even dreams of world government.
Often proponents of the EU and other globalist initiatives champion values like “diversity” and “pluralism.” These arguments prey on fears created by the two world wars. If we embrace our particular national identities (the argument goes) then we will fall prey to the fear and hatred that led to the deaths of millions. Manent points out that, ironically enough, the actual policies the EU pursues undermine these values.
Efforts to gradually centralize power in supranational organizations implies ignoring or even doing away with this pluralism. This is not only because of the establishment of supranational courts and legislatures whose decisions standardize the treatment of many issues across nation-states. It is also because creating supranational standards positively requires the top-down suppression of variations at the national level. One of the paradoxes of this situation is that, while EU politicians and bureaucrats speak endlessly of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “subsidiarity,” EU institutions actually undermine the legitimate pluralism which is expressed through different national institutions, national histories, and national legal systems.
Most of the debate about the EU has centered on question of efficiency and corruption. In contrast, Manent offers a principled criticism based on the broader liberal and Christian intellectual traditions. His arguments offer a valuable resource to advocates of national sovereignty in Europe and the United States.
To read the entirety of Samuel Gregg’s article and learn more about Manent, read the full article here.