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To save itself, Western Europe must flood itself with the vitality of Eastern European culture. The alternative is that Western Europe will continue to wither away and die…

european union

‘The Slav Epic’ cycle No.18: ‘The Oath of Omladina under the Slavic Linden Tree,’ by Alfons Mucha

I have spent at least the last four years studying the question of European unity, both its practical status in terms of the dynamics of the European Union as well as its theoretical nature in terms of European history. Over the course of these four years, I have found myself in a most isolated political position. On issue after issue, I found myself agreeing with the most radical critics of the European Union—except on one issue: the dismantling of the EU. Is it possible to have a United Europe without subscribing to the modern litany of political correctness that dictates the content of the present European Union? Can we aim for a European Union that is classically European in the best sense of the term?

When the Polish conservative quarterly Right Option was kind enough to interview me in 2015, I made clear my position: I was and will remain opposed to dismantling the European Union, and insofar as I have a voice in the matter as a Polish citizen, I am opposed to Poland leaving the Union. Be that as it may, there were also men opposed to the fall of the Roman Republic. History, once set in motion by a combination of poor choices, must take its course. Ideas, particularly bad ones, do have consequences. The self-styled Euro-enthusiasts, who I have also persistently opposed, have proven themselves the modern archetype of Shelly’s famous poem. I can well imagine some European version of a pedestal placed in Brussels where these words appear:

My name is Schuman, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

And just as the poet wrote of Pharaoh, so we may yet write of the European Union: “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.” If this fate does await Europe, it will not be the United Kingdom Independence Party, or the French National Front that brought about ruin. Those parties would have gone the way of the American anti-Federalists had European government gone the way of the Federalist Papers. By this, I do not mean that Europe should have gone the way of a constitutional federation. A careful reading of the Federalist Papers testifies to the national unity of the American people that made political union under constitutional forms viable. No such national unity exists in Europe, nor should it. When I say that Europe must go the way of the Federalist Papers to save itself, I mean that Europe requires political philosophy of the highest order. Sadly, it has administrators rather than statesmen, activists rather than political philosophers, post-modern faults rather than ancient virtues refined by modern science. Still, it is perhaps time (after offering only the platitude that the true European is embodied in Tintin and four years of criticism) to elaborate upon a workable political course for the salvation of the European Union.

Why the European Union Should Be Preserved

It is proper to begin any suggestion for a remedy to European affairs from the principle argument in favor of the preservation of the Union. This is not a theoretical necessity; it is a political obligation due to the political reality of the second-largest economy in the Union voting to leave and the rising popularity of Euro-skepticism on the one hand and rapid transformation of Euro-enthusiasm into Euro-desperation on the other. This same political necessity obliges those who favor a United Europe to forever dispel from their minds the notion that the various complaints and criticisms fueling Euro-skeptic politics are merely the result of ignorance or of the litany of vices that say more about the laziness of the modern mind that imagines them than about the supposed perpetrators of these vices: nationalism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, genderism, and so on and so on. A Union incapable of recognizing that millions of people who are discontent due to unemployment and violence are not all xenophobes and racists is destined to collapse. The people who are skeptical of this decades-young Union and perhaps inclined to look back on their centuries-old political orders for solace are quite understandable in doing so. It is incumbent then to justify the preservation of the Union rather than assume it.

The one and only argument in favor of preserving the European Union is the simple fact that necessity would require its reassembly almost immediately following its disassembly. Europe has always been more or less united. One of the great follies perpetrated by the present Union is to treat age-old European rights, freedoms, and obligations as if they arose yesterday in a directive issued by one of the several administrative agencies of the Union. The goal of the Union is not the imposition of something novel, but the preservation of something old. Losing sight of this fact is one reason why Europe is unsure of its Union. A Union which serves anything but the simple preservation of peace and freedom amongst the European nations is a Union that fails.

There are those who would claim that postulates such as my own are futile calls for reform of a Union that has no right to exist and for which there can be no permanent remedy. These critics usually find the remedies to the problems that the Union fails to solve perfectly in the utopian oblivion of their imaginations. It is enough to universalize the British experience to recognize the limits of this utopia. If all member states of the European Union were to vote to exit the Union today, all of them would have to negotiate new modes and orders of cohabitation tomorrow. They would either form blocks or negotiate individually, and the results of their negotiations would be just as fleeting as the present Union, which they would have abolished in their hypothetical example. The utopian imagination often flirts with idyllic notions at this point, but political practice time and again has shown that the lack of formal union does not diminish but only magnifies the problems that an ineffective Union failed to solve. If, to give an example, the European Union is at fault for failing to curb German hegemony, the weaker and smaller will be left all the more at the prey of the stronger and the bigger without Union. One can imagine, given the content of European history, far worst things on the horizon than the present Union. All the vices now afflicting the Union will not disappear with the Union’s dissolution; they will remain like a festering wound on parts of a disembodied corpse. Europe is not dying because of the Union. The Union is dying because of Europe—because European nations are dying, both physically and spiritually.

Finally, in spite of the fact that Union ought not to be arrogantly presumed, sensible people ought likewise not to assume the inevitability of its dissolution solely based on the British referendum to exit the Union. English political order has long opposed all attempts at Continental consolidation—whether peaceful or otherwise. English civilization has stood athwart European civilization for centuries. What today appears to be the fragmentation of Europe due to Britain exiting the Union may appear in future as the catalyst for the Union’s preservation, as the Continental powers, free of the necessity to placate English sensibilities, proceed to consolidate a more permanent and effective Union amongst themselves.

Life of the East or Death of the West

The Achilles’ heel of the European Union was its inception as a Western political unit. Beginning with the treaty of Rome, a prejudice was solidified in political practice that made no sense in political theory: that Europe ended at the Berlin wall. It is wrong to imagine that the Cold War was at fault for this geopolitical short-sightedness. Rather, the Yalta order was symptomatic of long-standing Western prejudice which defined “Europe” as essentially “Western Europe.” In fact, European history is a long process of self-ignorance. Ever since at least the tragic schism of the Eastern and Roman churches, two Europes have developed abreast one another without recognizing that they were in fact organelles in the same Christian civilization. The lungs of this organism have been Germany and Russia. The heart of Europe has always been Poland.

When I speak of Russia, I mean the historical Russlands, not merely the political unit of the Russische Föderation. I allow myself to use German in making this distinction because I think it captures the essence of the cultural landscape which I wish to point to best. Literally, it is the Rus-lands, which are distinct from the Russian lands usually associated with Muscovite culture. The Russland, what Russians now refer to as the Russian Mir, is itself part of a broader European landscape: the Slavic world. We can see this world most clearly thanks to the brilliance of Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic. Rarely does art portray with such vivid beauty the essence of an entire civilization. This essence is anti-European and anti-Catholic only to the extent that the idea of Europe has been monopolized by the West, by Roman Catholicism, and by Enlightenment philosophy. This monopoly on European identity is fast buckling under pressure from the whirlwinds that have descended upon Western Europe like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse—Nihilism and Islam.

Yet the Slavophiles who so ardently rejected Europe and their Russian contemporaries, who insist that Russia is a separate civilization, are in fact the last bastions of Christendom precisely because they were perceptive enough to recognize all the cancerous dangers present throughout Western culture and shield themselves from them. Where the Catholic Western European once prayed for the abolition of a schismatic Eastern Orthodox Church, he must now bow in recognition before the spiritual fortitude and persistence of this Church. Orthodoxy, which seemed so alien and hostile to Western Catholicism during those periods of Western European splendor, is now the last remnant of anything remotely resembling Catholic religious culture when juxtaposed with the empty, mediocre, and lost churches that litter Western Europe or the shallow nihilism that has become the core of Western European culture. The Eastern Orthodox rites would be more recognizable to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine than modern Catholic practice. The majority of Catholic Popes, if resurrected today, would recognize the Church of Peter as it was in their time more readily in the churches of the Eastern popes and patriarchs than in many of the Western European churches which now function under Pope Francis. The Pope understands this almost instinctively, which is why his widely reported pastoral empathy for the complex and tragic reality of modern Western life (consisting of the trinity of divorce, abortion, and euthanasia) is coupled with his widely unreported actions on behalf of bringing the Eastern Russian Orthodox Church into closer communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope understands that pastoral empathy for Westerners is a necessary attribute of mercy, but the Church as such will only be healed by a culture of Christ—that culture is now in the Slavic world. It is this very schematic of empathy for the West and openness to the East which can heal the European Union. Europe must make a political effort that mirrors the Catholic Church’s spiritual effort in relation to Eastern and Western Eurasian civilization.

Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow

There can be only one axis upon which a reinvigorated European Union can be sustained. Like the Franco-German alliance which built the original EU on the rubble of Franco-German conflict, so too the revitalized EU must be a voluntary act of supreme will aimed at overcoming the history of the Second World War in the East—of overcoming the centuries of tumult which made the slaughter of that apocalyptic conflict possible. Today, such an axis seems utopian. Yet to survey the history of Franco-German hostility and to realize the force of will in Franco-German determination to reevaluate all previous values is to recognize that not utopia, but political necessity guides such thinking. Necessity is not fortune or destiny. Necessity must be chosen. Can Germans, Poles, and Russians make such a choice?

It is incorrect to believe that the failed Eastern Partnership was such a choice. This institutionalized Russophobia is the anti-choice because there is no Eastern Partnership without Russia. Yet the Eastern Partnership may yet become a platform which lives up to its name if it is wrenched from its present course of conflicting Slavic lands towards bringing them into unity with Western lands.

The great obstacle to this vision is the present ideology reigning supreme in the Western capitals of the European Union. This ideology designates starkly modern concepts and ideals as European and then proceeds to judge Eastern Europe accordingly. The West claims that democracy, women’s rights, tolerance, and multiculturalism are the defining values of European identity and proceeds to pronounce judgment upon the East. This hypocrisy ignores the fact that almost all Western European States retain monarchies while the East has none. It ignores the fact that women’s suffrage was universal in Poland immediately while women were deprived of the right to vote in France until after the Second World War. It ignores the fact that multiculturalism in the true and organic sense is the essence of Russian state life. It ignores the fact that the Jews of Europe were slaughtered by Westerners in the East where they fled Western intolerance for Eastern tolerance. One could go on and expound upon the cultural superiority of Eastern Europe and the extent to which it is truly European, but there is no need. There is no need because the West is faced with an inescapable existential choice: Either it will seek to revitalize itself through greater openness to Slavic Christian culture, or it will die and be supplanted by Muslim culture. A Slavic Eastern Europe can find political accord with an Islamic-Western Europe—but is this really the fate that Westerners desire?

This entire political program, rooted fundamentally in culture, is not as utopian as one imagines at first glance. Already the economic infrastructure of such a union exists. Business is often far ahead of politics in pointing to the future. Economic cooperation, despite even the setback of the unfortunate sanctions imposed on Russia by the West, is greater between Eastern and Western Europe than at any time since World War II. The European Union’s recent approval for visa-free travel for Ukrainians is long overdue and should be expanded to encompass Belarusians and Russians. To save itself, Western Europe must flood itself with the vitality of Eastern European culture. The alternative is that Western Europe will continue to wither away and die, supplanted in the end by Islam and the plethora of post-colonial nations who have flooded her shores in years past. Ideas, it is said, have consequences. So, we hasten to add, do sins. The wages of colonialism, revolutionism, and arrogance are at present being paid by a generation ill-equipped with the education and foresight to weather the storm, capable only of falling back on liberal platitudes without liberal understanding. This may indeed be the end, but the light of Eastern European faith and intelligence, despite the imperfections of Eastern European political forms, suggests that perhaps it is not the end—perhaps we are witness to a rebirth of Europe from a source at once foreign to the modern European imagination and central to the European character.

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4 replies to this post
  1. How vital *is* Eastern European culture? It’s certainly endowed with a less ethno-mascochistic mentality, which will probably work to its benefit in comparison to Western Europe’s failed experiment with mass migration from the Third World. But most of these states have rock-bottom birth rates similar to or worse than anywhere else in Europe, which indicates that they suffer much of the same (or perhaps different) civilizational malaise. Likewise, outside Poland at least, the greater presence of Christian language in public life (in Hungary, Russia, etc.) doesn’t actually seem to correlate with many people darkening the church door.

  2. Mr. Harris, it is not the darkness that enters but the Light that is sent out which will make the difference. Mr. Reith, the description of that middle ground of politics you quite accurately identify must be understood in the simplicity of the only two powers that count, God and mammon. Those exercising authority must learn the secret of service as they will be required to enter the narrow gate like anyone else. Holding authorities accountable is a duty you ably perform. That duty binds us all. Thank you.

  3. Very heartening article for a Pole like myself who at times–because of many of my countrymen–has difficulties being patriotic—thank You Mr. Rieth.
    So true that nowadays St. Thomas and St. Augustine would feel more at home in the Orthodox Church than in the main stream Catholic Church.
    I do not want to sound pessimistic, but it seems that the “West” mentality, in general, is so far removed from Christian thinking that it would take some serious divine intervention to change it. I have many acquaintances from Western European counties—one of them is a German man, a good friend of mine with whom I studied here in the US; talking to him about any religious matters is like talking about calculus to a mathematically impaired person, and since religion deals with moral and consequently every day matters I may agree with him on some and disagree on the others of the moral issues like nationalism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, genderism. And on the ones that I disagree any dialogue with him would be pointless, or maybe even harmful.
    And this brings out this Benedict Option as the only option. An example of which was demonstrated by Kazimierz Pużak a Polish (socialist) activist who, when tried in 1948 by Polish Communist traitors, told them “I am a Roman Catholic of Polish nationality. I have nothing else to tell you.” They killed him two years later. Arguing with them would not change either his or their fate. Of course, he could have apostatized, but that’s not an option for a true Catholic. I wonder what, besides Divine Intervention, it would take the “West” to apostatize its current beliefs (or their lack of) and return to its Catholic Orthodoxy?

  4. Mr. Rieth is always worth reading, and this article is no exception. He cuts through the ingrained anti-eastern bias that still afflicts so many of us.

    Sure, Eastern Europe and Russia have their modernist problems, too. But it’s worth pointing out that the future of the Faith, however dim, is still brighter in those lands than in the West. At least that’s how it seems to me. Maybe the difference is not enough to matter, but sometimes all it takes is a spark. I fear there’s no spark left in the West. To survive, Western Europe may indeed have to borrow some spark from the East.

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