Lipgens, Walter: The beginnings of the political unification

From Walter Lipgens, A History of European Integration, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1982.

palaisThe movement to unite Europe politically did not really get under way before the First World War. Those Europeans who were most anxious to recover the sense of the unity of their civilization realized that their history had consisted largely of interaction between factors common to the whole of Europe and those which belonged to particular regions, and that plans for European political unity had been drawn up in past centuries in almost forgotten profusion. Yet all such plans, which were especially numerous between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, remained for fairly obvious reasons paper projects and were never important enough to influence policy (except, perhaps, and then only briefly, during the Napoleonic Empire).

Some of these plans, beginning with one proposed by Abbé Dubois in 1306, were only a disguised form of a claim for hegemony put forward by one power or another. Other plans, especially since the seventeenth century, inspired by the consciousness of a common civilization and increasing concern at the growing lawlessness of sovereign states, had called for an end to the struggle for power and the setting-up of a European organization for peace. Yet individual authors had never been able to form political parties or influence practical politics in the way they desired. The gradual concentration of autonomous regions into what at the same time were large-scale national states temporarily satisfied the demands of technical progress; and since the wave of Islamic-Turkish expansion had subsided there had been no external enemy to make European unification a vital necessity. But ever since the middle of the nineteenth century the ascendancy of Russia and America had been foretold by far-sighted observers, and at the very time when the co-operation of Europeans in the world economy should have made them give priority to political security, the divisions caused by nationalism and the struggle for power reached their climax. It was then that Nietzsche felt moved to complain: ‘Thanks to the morbid hostility which the madness of nationality has created among the nations of Europe … the unmistakable signs proclaiming that Europe wants to unite are overlooked.’ And the ‘peace movement’ had to face the fact that at the Hague peace conferences of 1899 and 1907 the powers were not even ready for agreements on disarmament or arbitration. All they were prepared to do was to codify some humanitarian modifications of the laws of war.

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