Lipgens, Walter: The Triumph of the Supranational Principle in the Resistance

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

whiteroseDuring the inter-war period European-minded writers had given prophetic warnings that, unless unity was achieved in time, the selfishness of national states would plunge Europe into a new war. And this war, unleashed by Hitler in 1939 in a bid for German supremacy in Europe, was now a cruel reality which brought suffering to millions of families and expanded into a global conflict. Writers had earlier warned that Fascist nationalism would develop into totalitarian rule: and after the majority of European states had been defeated in less than a year, the peoples, including the Germans, experienced the reality of a totalitarian Nazi regime such as the civilized world would never have believed possible, a barbarous and anti-European dictatorship comparable only to that of Stalin. Many saw it as Moltke did in a letter to Lionel Curtis in 1942: ‘The tyranny, the terror, the collapse of all values, is greater than I could ever have imagined.’(63) Writers had also earlier warned that the old Continent, situated as it was between the rising continental-sized unions of the United States and the Soviet Union, had been granted only a brief time-limit in which to unite; and now the Europeans, as the war progressed, experienced for themselves the advance of these empires, which respectively comprised twice and five times as much of the earth’s surface as the countries of Europe combined. Between the wars the challenge to Europe to unite had been issued by those who had foreseen these threatening developments (for up to 1939 only the weakening and economic stagnation of the European countries had actually come about). Now in the middle of the war, the threats having become a reality, the challenge was felt in the shape of harsh facts.


The First World War, fought in trenches lying to a greater or lesser extent along national frontiers, was a war which (apart from the Habsburg Empire) did not bring about the wholesale collapse of states. Consequently at European level its impact was felt chiefly by small groups of intellectuals. The six years of the Second World War, by contrast, were a harsh and unforgettable experience for the great mass of the population and caused the total collapse of almost every state on the Continent. The experience of the inter-war period had shown that Europe’s states were too small to solve by their own efforts the problems of a modern economy, and the outbreak of a new war in 1939 proved the failure of all the attempts made since the First World War to set up a collective peace-keeping organization. Then for most Europeans came a still greater shock: by 1940-1 every European state north of the Pyrenees, with the exceptions of Great Britain, Sweden, and Switzerland, had been destroyed by Hitler’s brutal lust for power, in a process which finally led to the destruction of the Italian and German states. All these governments had shown themselves incapable of guaranteeing their peoples the minimum of security and independence which it is the first duty of any government to provide.(64)

During the war people had to put up with the effective domination of practically the entire Continent by the German occupation forces, the humiliation of their own governments, and the mobilization of all resources irrespective of existing frontiers. This was the day-to-day reality which lasted for four years. The object lesson provided by the collapse and conquest, and by the creation of a single centrally controlled economy, did more to accustom the public at large to think in Continental terms than the whole Coudenhove-Kalergi movement a decade earlier; and because of the cynical use of the slogan ‘Europe’ by Nazi propaganda many soldiers, both German and, for example, volunteers in Hitler’s forces, honestly believed that they were fighting for Europe. But such illusions prevailed in spite and not because of Hitler’s nationalist conception of a ‘Germanic Empire’. Still ignorant of the real aims and methods of Nazi leadership, idealists and fairly large numbers of ordinary people in the eastern and western parts of Central Europe as well as opportunists showed a readiness in the period immediately following defeat to co-operate with the Germans in establishing a genuinely ‘New Order’. But in the course of time they all became increasingly aware that in reality the Nazis had no acceptable answer to the willingness of the peoples to learn the lesson of the collapse of their states, that for Hitler a remodelling of Europe in which the non-German peoples would co-operate as equals was inconceivable, that he was prepared to tolerate non-Germans merely as subordinates. He was, they saw, simply pursuing the old nationalist and imperialist ends with the most ruthless means.(65) The more plainly the totalitarian character, contempt for legality, and racial arrogance of Nazism were shown in action, the more people came to their senses and returned to the true European tradition. In course of time everyone with any real European convictions joined the opposition to the Nazi regime. ‘Against the horrifying background of a Europe lying in ruins we shall be able to bear witness at the bar of mankind to the appalling consequences of old-fashioned theories of nationalism carried to excess.’(66)

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