Rougemont, Denis de: Europe Unites

A Lecture on “The History of the Ideal for a United Europe”. From: The Meaning of Europe, translated by Alan Braley,F.I.L.; published by Sidgwick & Jackson, London 1965; © Denis de Rougemont

TAKEN ONE by one, the vital organs of our society appear to me to be in quite good condition. It remains to discover whether the subject of our inquiry, Europe, still possesses a sufficient will to live to be able to fulfil the new functions which from now on are allotted to it in the world. I shall now endeavour to show that in practice, Europe’s will to live means her will to unite.

From diversity to division

THESE TWO things are not necessarily identical. Indeed, there might seem to be a contradiction between giving Europe a clean bill of health and saying that she needs to unite. for if all is well, why do we need to unite? Nations feel this need only at times of crisis, as a reaction against internal ills or against a peril from outside. Union is not an end in itself; it is a means to the end of survival, or of attaining a better life. It is even, in practical terms, a cure. But to speak of a cure is to acknowledge a disease. So what is this illness which afflicts Europe despite her organic soundness: I believe that it is of psychic origin.

Its overall effect is to transform our living, vital diversities into rigid, morbid divisions; political in origin they spread to the economic field and finally attack the common basis of our diversities – the unity of our traditional, creative culture. The short name for this sickness is nationalism, which is the claim by states to absolute sovereignty, in which they enclose their economy and even their culture but not, alas, always their armies. The fact that Europe has come close to destroying herself twice within the present century must be laid at the door of extreme nationalism. And it is this very disease, which we have planted on many continents formerly colonised by us, that causes the fevers and the paroxysms of hate against Europe from which so many emergent countries in Africa, the Arab world and Asia have suffered during the last few years.

Thus I believe that if we can show that the will to unite exists it will prove that Europe once more has the will to live; for it would stem from the desire to overcome our nationalist divisions, and thereby restore that healthy play to our diversities which is the sign of normality. The will to unite will be a sign of renewed health in the body of Europe in so far as it aims at federating our differences, not ironing them out or making life uniform throughout the continent. That could be done by allowing technology to proliferate without checking it . The will to unite will be healthy if it tends to eliminate the virus of nationalism, not to offer it greater scope by creating a continent transformed into a super-nation and saddled with a super-nationalism.

Three conceptions of union

I shall deal straight away with these definitions of unity, thus making clear my own position in the context of the discussion now going on about Europe. For there is a struggle between two extreme and opposite views on this matter. One has been known for some little time as “L’ Europe des patries”, or Europe made up of separate fatherlands (a fundamentally incorrect expression, by the way). This school would like to stick to an alliance of national states all keeping their sovereignty intact. It is the minimal position. The other, which can be broadly described as that of the Common Market, wishes to unify the nations on the basis of full economic integration. The former places its main emphasis on the points of difference, the latter on unity. My belief is that the only unity which is compatible with the genius of Europe itself, with its past, with its realities and its present vocation, is unity in diversity, a strong yet flexible union of which Switzerland has perfected the prototype: and that means federalism.

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