Magazine article The International Economy

Don't Trust the European Union: American Presidents, Beware!

Magazine article The International Economy

Don't Trust the European Union: American Presidents, Beware!

Article excerpt

A well-known writer, Thomas Friedman, has argued that the United States should support the European Union because "The European Union is the United States of Europe." Perhaps one should not be surprised at such failure of analysis and insight, and even of simple observation, in a New York Times writer. After all, people far more eminent have made such mistakes. U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant misread German unification under Bismarck as presaging an era of democracy in that country and congratulated Bismarck on establishing a constitution to be compared to America's. The doyen of American historians of modern Germany, Gordon Craig, wrote:

   Grant congratulated the German government for having completed the
   long-desired unification of its territory and for its decision to
   embark on a new federal union like the United States itself a
   decision, the President indicated none too delicately, that showed
   a desire for speedy progress toward the blessings of democracy.
   This engaging exercise in self-satisfaction must have amused its
   recipient, Prince Bismarck, and he subsequently made a point of
   assuring American visitors gravely that he had been much influenced
   by the United States constitution when making his own plans for
   Germany. It is quite possible that he had gone so far as to read
   that document, but it would be difficult to demonstrate that he
   borrowed anything from it. The similarities that Grant found
   between the two constitutions were as superficial as his prophecy
   concerning Germany's future political course was erroneous.

Far from pursuing the path of democracy within a federal union, imperial Germany was Prussian-dominated, personal, dynastic, authoritarian, and illiberal. And, forty-six years after Grant sent his message of congratulations to Berlin, one of his successors, Woodrow Wilson, declared war on Germany at almost exactly the time that the German Chancellor's secretary, Kurt Riezler, was noting in his diary:

   The policy of the Chancellor [Theobald von
   Bethmann-Hollweg]: to lead the German Reich,
   which cannot become a world power by the methods
   of the Prussian territorial state ... to an imperialism
   of European form, to organize the continent from the
   center outwards (Austria [which then included what
   were to become Czechoslovakia and Hungary and
   large parts of the Balkans], Poland, Belgium) around
   our undemonstrative leadership.

Even though Friedman is in celebrated company, his misreading of the European Union is deeply worrying. Given the present state of American politics and society and the disgust so many Americans evidently feel for their political institutions, one might question whether it is wise to hold the United States up as a model for everyone else. No doubt some aspects of some national systems in Europe are an improvement on the American model. Nonetheless, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the United States has the worst possible system of government--except for all the others. But the European Union strives to eliminate anything that expresses democracy in its subject states. Unhappily, too many American commentators and even some American political figures see the European Union as the model for the United States, not the other way around, and have already succeeded in moving some way towards it.

It is too often forgotten that the American system of government, warts and all, is rooted in Magna Carta, in the primacy of common law established by Henry II in the twelfth century, in Bracton's principle, accepted by Edward I in the thirteenth century, that lex facit regem, not rex facit legem, in courts that were at least in theory apolitical, in the presumption of innocence, in the hatred of monopolies that was one of the factors leading to the Great Rebellion of 1642, in Lockean political philosophy, in the Glorious Revolution and the creation of a "merchant state," in the 1689 Bill of Rights and in particular the prohibition of attainder and arbitrary arrest, in Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England and in the principle, expressed particularly forcefully by Thomas Paine, that no generation can bind its successors in perpetuity. …

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