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Europe is Not the Sum of its Parts


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Apropos of the debate over a European constitution, it should be remembered that Europe did not arise as an agglomeration of nations. On the contrary, Europe existed before any of its constituent nations, and the unified Europe of Church and Empire created the nations along with their languages and cultures. As individual nations, Europe's constituent countries will die on the vine.

That, sadly, is the way things are headed. Europe's leaders on Thursday announced another tilt at a European constitution, after the rejection of a first draft in French and Dutch referenda in 2005. The prospect of an all-powerful entity in Brussels, less accountable to voters than national governments, continues to provoke sufficient revulsion that the European summit eschewed the word "constitution" in favor of the euphemism "institutional settlement".

Pope Benedict XVI raised hackles by insisting that the European constitution make reference to the Christian heritage of the continent, not only among European secularists, especially the government of France, but also of course in Turkey, a Muslim country that aspires to European Community (EC) membership. In fact, Benedict could have put the matter even more forcefully. There is no reason for Europeans to adopt a secular constitution. Absent the Christian mission that created Europe, the destinies will diverge of the European peoples, to the extent that no common policy will be perceived as fair and just.

Hilaire Belloc's famous quip - "Europe is the faith, the faith is Europe" - was precisely correct. Europe came into being before a single Frenchmen or German was born, at the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman emperor in AD 800. Voltaire was only partly correct - the Holy Roman Empire was neither Roman nor an empire, but it was holy. European monarchs donned the robes of ancient Rome like small children playing dress-up, and the power of their emperors was more symbolic than real. But the unifying concept of Christendom is what made it possible to create nations out of the detritus of Rome and the rabble of invading barbarians.

Why do European nations exist in opposition to Europe? That fact, I believe, is not a measure of Europe's political maturity but rather of its decadence. The German language in its modern form was born at the court of Emperor Charles IV at Prague, when Teutonic grammar was standardized on the Latin mold. Dante Latinized his local Tuscan dialect to create an "eloquent vulgate". The Catholic monarchs imposed the Castilian language on the fractious Iberian tribes, without complete success, as the survival of philological relics such as Catalan and Galician makes clear.

Why is there a Germany, and not merely a Brandenburg, Bavaria, Franconia, Swabia and Hanseatic League? Why is there a Spain, and not merely a Navarra, Andalusia and Castile? It is because European languages and European literature made possible a common discourse within the great national divisions. Europe's common faith and the institutions that supported it created this common culture as an expedient for worship and administration. Europe is the faith, for the faith gave birth to Europe.

Read the entire article on the Asia Times Online website (new window will open).

Posted: 15-Mar-07

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