European integration: knowing the value of everything but the price of nothing!

The article in Greek here

The end of World War II promoted the cultivation of the appropriate political climate that favored the promotion of European integration, posing as its central narrative the unification of all continental nation states, as the only political direction to give a definitive end to the cleavages and armed conflicts that for centuries used to plague the continent. Thus, always aiming at the deconstruction and isolation of nationalism (which was condemned as being responsible for the horrors left by the whirlwind of conflicts), Winston Churchill in his speech at the University of Zurich in 1946 proposes the immediate constitution of a “European family”, that would promote peace and intercultural communication, leaving behind nationalist hatreds and “obsolete divisions”. Almost seventy years later, and seeing all countries sinking one after the other in the vortex of a toxic (economic, cultural and, above all, political) crisis, we have to ask ourselves if there is anything left from that vision. Many, under this grim political climate, refer to the return of racism (as shown by the recent results of the European elections) that erodes any form of social solidarity and cohesion, while at the same time the unbridgeable gap between European North and South keeps expanding itself. European leftists hasten to remind us of the liberal Enlightenment values ​​as an antidote to this toxicity, values that (according to their own perspective) should be put back on the table of European reinvention. While the neo-liberal and progressive forces violate basic rights and civil liberties, at the same time seem to be reluctant to acknowledge seriously the rise of the extreme right – or neofascism – that directly or indirectly invests in the logic of division. Is, nonetheless, this surge of racism a consequence of the infamous ideology of European expansion? Hasn’t, in other words, the promise of “European unity” been proven nothing but a utopian illusion? Such questions I will attempt to address below.

In order for the European vision to become implemented, a new collective identity had to be constructed, addressing the masses as European citizens, rather than subjects of a nation-state. So the European identity (mainly from the late 90s and onwards) came to deprioritize the traditional values ​​of civic nationalism which is based on the liberal spirit of the Enlightenment, emptying radically the idea of ‘the people’ from its essential meaning, and gradually setting up the first foundations of the so called European “integration”, depriving at the same time the civic roots of national institutions and promoting the homogeneity of all 27 peoples, as being identical members of a larger community. In addition, every invocation to culture and traditions became a subject of intense controversy, being treated as an action that awakens “the Nazi monster.” However, this deconstruction process of civic nationalism, instead of strengthening the passion for solidarity and cooperation, led to further intensification of cleavages, whilst the outbreak of the financial crisis and the inability of the highly centralized European institutions to tackle the catastrophic hyperinflation of debt and prevent the expected onslaught of poverty, came to give the final blow. Below I will explain the deepest reasons that led to this dystopia.

As we know from psychoanalysis (from Freud, Bowlby and Castoriadis), attachment (or identification) constitutes a sine qua non of human living. The primary identification is usually expressed by the attachment of the young person to the mother, precisely because of the physical care offered to the newborn. Then the role of the wider environment (together with the values ​​it stands for) becomes crucial, shaping meaningfully his/her own personality (already, Plato said that the very walls of the city educate children and citizens [1]). Thus, a special identification between the subject with the environment is created. When attachments break, however, human emptiness is reinforced, which in turn leads to distress and a collapsing personality. The death of national identity is also one of the most important forms of broken attachment, especially once this identity is replaced by an empty signifier (the European homogeneity), empty precisely because of its inability to define itself; European identity is not possible to obtain specific content, as long as it relies on the sum of the 27 nations, with different customs, history, language (and internal subdivisions which further amplify variations), making the determination of what European culture is (and thereby European identity) a very difficult task, as opposed to the less complex imaginary meanings of single nation-states [2].

Thus, once civic nationalism begins to decline – under the process of European integration, followed by the establishment of a euro-Leviathan state – the attachment between ‘the people’ and civic institutions is broken. Moreover, as the dissolution of each attachment leads to confusion and devastation of the psychic world, so the dissolution of nation states as signifier reinforces this sense of loss, essentially when the common world in which individuals of a society could find answers on their own prattein no more exists. Moreover, the annihilation of nation states in the name of a united Europe was, for the most part, the consequence of a series of aggressive and un-democratic policies. So, along with emptiness and social distress, disapproval of such an authoritarian social transformation foster either the pursuit of a much more introvert, reactionary – and often violent – substitute identify object (objet petit a), such as tribal nationalism, or to the redefinition of civic nationalism, incorporating (inevitably), however implicitly elements of racial isolationism. Under these conditions, racist parties like the Hungarian Jobbik or the Austrian Freedom Party emerge, together with the phenomenon of Islamophobia and widespread xenophobia.

If we take as a comparative case study the inter-war period – as stated by Hannah Arendt (1976, s.267-304) [3] – we see that in a similar way (paradoxically) economic liberalism contributed to the weakening of European nation-states. Civic institutions collapsed, whilst new nationalisms (as substitute forms of attachment) had to emerge. Such nationalisms were basically supra-national, darwinian/racial or tribal in character, deeply anti-Semitic, aggressive and highly authoritarian, leading to the rise of totalitarian regimes in power, to the outbreak of WW II and the Holocaust. As we see, liberalism has the capacity to generate a reality that negates a social paradigm (precisely, the nation-state paradigm) which had earlier established on the basis of the values it represents, since it embraces the imaginary of perpetual progress in its central philosophical core. This assumption gives us to understand that neither the nation state can be considered as a viable counter-proposal to the barbarism of racial fanaticism, once self-negation constitutes part of its broad ideological framework (of progress) that liberalism seeks to institute. Thereby, the creation of euromonster is a direct consequence of liberalism itself, since perpetual progress forces all structural institutions to expand, grow, and spread without recognizing any limit (trespassing, thus, borders and transgressing geopolitical constraints) leading to the concentration of powers into a transnational ultra-centralized technocracy. Therefore, national parliaments become deprioritized, and (as we see) most political decisions are designated by the European Commission and the European Central Bank, while the value-factors that determine the public world give way to a new identitary code, tailored to the ideals of unlimited growth.

This “new code” has failed not only to eliminate cultural divisions, but also to unite the peoples of Europe themselves; as we have clearly witnessed within the past five years, European nations have massively begun to turn one against another, especially the powerful countries of the North against the devastated South, since national antagonisms (that supposedly would disappear into the paradise of the European family) started to penetrate the economic and political sphere, within this climate of generalized introversion. While a totalitarian or fascist movement is nowhere to be seen in the current European horizon, nonetheless, this grim reality is anything but optimistic. But what practically matters right now is the rapprochement of some key concepts, in order to shift to a decentralized paradigm of democratic governance, focusing on the role of communal identity and municipality, and above all on the project of de-growth, aiming to overcome the paradigm of perpetual progress (that also constitutes an integral part of the structures of liberal national states). In other words, a localized democratic con-federalism (municipalism) has to emerge as a vital humanistic alternative.

[1] See, Cornelius Castoriadis (2007), Figures of The Thinkable, Stranford University Press (p.176)

[2] As rightly told Costas Lapavitsas, “I don’t believe in a single European people, there is no European demos, and there shouldn’t be. Europe is about plurality, many different languages, cultures. Since when was it desirable for all of us to be just European, to be one thing?”

[3] See, Hannah Arendt (1976). The Origins of Totalitarianism. 6th ed. USA: A Harvest Book.