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.

It was only after the resistance of the various European nationalisms to economic internationalism and to the opportunities offered by large-scale technology had plunged them into the catastrophe of the First World War that a reaction took shape in the form of a movement for unification, initially supported by a small section of the intelligentsia, but marked by great determination and operating through a number of groups and committees. Horror at the four-year blood-bath caused by ‘civilized’ European nations and at the decline which it portended led in every country between 1914 and 1919 to a passionate debate on how peace could be safeguarded by institutions using supranational legal sanctions, and how the anarchy of interstate relations could be overcome by a league of nations (the term most often used in 1914-16 was the ‘United States of Europe’), democratically based on the principle of self-determination.

An association called Neues Vaterland was founded in Berlin in November 1914. Its members included not only the leaders of the existing ‘peace movement’ such as Schücking and Quidde but the economists Lujo Brentano and Leopold von Wiese, the physicist Albert Einstein, the historians Max Lehmann and O. Nippold, and the former ambassadors Count Mons and Prince Lichnowsky among others. The object of the association was defined in Article 1 as ‘Promotion of all efforts likely to imbue the policy of the European powers with the civilized notion of peaceful competition and supranational unification …’ The Union for Democratic Control founded about the same time in London by Ramsay MacDonald, Charles Trevelyan, and Norman Angell declared in its first manifesto that: ‘Policy should no longer be aimed at a balance of power but should be directed to establishing a European federation of states’. A whole host of books published in Switzerland urged European union as a condition and basis of lasting peace and saw the European civil war as ‘the war of European unification’, since it would force Europeans to learn their lesson. The foundation manifesto of the Netherlands Committee ‘De Europeesche Staatenbond’ at the end of 1914 called for Europe to become ‘a closely united league of states or a federal state’. A Spanish committee urged European federal organization. In France, where J. Barthélemy and A. Thierry developed elaborate arguments on how to achieve European unification, Jules Romains described the war as ‘an armed conflict in the heartland of a homogeneous civilization … in its nature less a war than a civil disorder … a crisis of unification [showing] among the peoples of Europe an unappeased longing for unity’. In 1916-17 Hugo von Hofmannsthal travelled through the capitals of Northern and Western Europe making a series of speeches in which he described nationalism as ‘not only something limited but something unethical’ which confirmed Grillparzer’s prophecy: ‘From humanity through nationality to bestiality’. In 1918 Walther Rathenau called on Germany’s youth ‘to replace international anarchy by a voluntarily accepted higher authority’.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

You may also like...