Aron, Raymond: The age of empires

L’âge des empires et l’avenir de la France , Paris, 1945; extracts from pp. 23-7 and 253 f.
From W.Lipgens and W. Loth, Documents on the History of European Integration, De Gruyter, 1988

aron1(…) The fact remains that, within the narrow framework of existing economic units, none of the nation states of Western Europe has been able to use the resources of modern technology to the full, as the continental state of the USA has been able to do thanks to its undeveloped spaces. The old states of Europe which do not have the advantage of a large population or unexploited resources like those of the Soviet Union must rest their hopes on brain-power and the quality of their equipment and organization. Must they not also extend their frontiers so as to broaden their mental outlook?

To put it differently, the French crisis tends to merge into the crisis of our continent as a whole. For various reasons France’s expansion in the nineteenth century, on the human and individual level, lagged behind that of other great countries. But now that Germany has been overthrown and mutilated, and Britain brought closer to the continent by the development of aviation, the V1’s and V2’s and other inventions yet to come, we can see that France’s backwardness is only an extreme form of the backwardness of all nation states. The arrival on the scene of multinational, continental states has in a sense aggravated the backwardness of our country, but it has also given us a better chance of recovery provided we link our fate to that of others.

If we despair of France, therefore, we must also despair of Europe. If France does not recover, what other country would play the part that history offers us? If France is done for, what hope is there for Europe, drenched in blood and covered by ruins? To anyone who tries to see into the future there are in fact three main possibilities.

The first is that Europe, torn by rival influences, will be divided into spheres of influence by the non-European empires in the same way as the European states once partitioned the world. In that case France will be torn more savagely than any other country, because French people will pursue their ideas to the uttermost and fight tooth and nail for their conflicting aspirations.

Or it may be that Europe is ready to be unified by the arms and laws of a conqueror. The worst threat – that of a conqueror seeking to establish racial inequality as a principle for all time – has been overcome. The Soviet Union, though at present it resorts to methods that arouse our repugnance, at least professes a universal ideal. When it has solved the problem of poverty it may perhaps give up the forms of coercion and violence on which its economy has been based. But even if we believe that the USSR is bound to triumph, or at least likely to do so in the more or less distant future, how can we imagine Anglo-American influence being excluded from the old continent in the space of a generation, or in the next fifteen to twenty years? It is in this initial phase of reconstruction that the fate of Europe will be decided. For, assuming that unification is bound to come, its meaning will be different according to whether it is more or less freely welcomed by a restored, vigorous Western Europe, or shamefully endured by a group of exhausted countries.

Or again, it may be that Western Europe will exist in and for itself – not in opposition to the Soviet Union and the other Slav countries, indeed cooperating with them, but firmly resisting external pressure. And independence does not only mean the strength to take one’s own decisions but also the power to conceive an original solution to the problems of our time, that is to offer an original synthesis of the two basic principles of freedom and planning, or, if you prefer, plurality and organization.

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