TNR articles tend to be both erudite and wordy, but I will do my best to cut through the extraneous material and get to the hidden heart of this article. Author Walter Laqueur first discusses the concept that the weakening and perhaps collapsing Euro currency could mean the end of the European Union. He then points out that the chaos which could result might lead to extreme governments in the poorest of the former union members, and quite possibly the same thing for those few prosperous members which have been buoying up the profligate nations in order to protect their own reestablished currency and their borders. None of this is particularly new, and an equal number of conservatives and liberals have discussed precisely the same possibilities.
Laqueur leans toward believing that the cost of dissolving the currency union would prove too expensive for every European nation. He estimates the cost to the poorer countries such as Greece at $14,000 per person if the Greeks dumped the Euro and returned to the drachma as its sole currency. But he doesn't pretend to be a prophet. He also believes that powerful forces in the currency world might decide that the end of the Euro would bring temporary monetary chaos, but a long term recovery and ultimate fiscal health.
It is a very intelligent analysis, and I find little to criticize in his possible alternative scenarios. I tend to lean toward collapse simply because those countries in deepest financial distress are unwilling to take the extreme austerity measures needed to restore fiscal sanity to their social welfare economies, but Laqueur's opinion is not at all far-fetched. Among the scenarios he envisions is the political collapse of the union in the wake of the currency/monetary crises. Most of the rest of his piece revolves around what might happen as a result of political disunion.
This is where Laqueur and I begin to diverge. My belief is that if the currency collapse leads to the end of the political union, the worst that would happen would be a return to a Europe which looks a lot like the Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union and before full currency union and the arbitrary creation of a central European government. Laqueur sees far more dire consequences. He fears the return to the stultifying effects of competing nation-states and bemoans the loss of the civilizing nature of a masterful central government which prevents conflict between competing nations.
I should make it very clear that Laqueur is not an hysteric by any means. He makes it clear that he doesn't foresee anything that would lead to the armed conflicts of the Twentieth Century. His concern is that a few, a lot, or all the continental nations would return to various forms of repressive government in order to protect themselves from the pernicious influence of the other nation-states after the collapse of the central government.
He tries to be fair in his assessment. He thinks that those “repressive” governments could include neo-communist forms, but does seem to lean toward the liberal fear of “fascist-like” governments. Without the central political government, the kids will forget how to play nicely with each other, and will instead compete for supremacy. Anything is possible, but I fear the nation-state a great deal less than most liberals. He points out that significant portions of the populations of certain Euro nations felt that “the introduction of the euro and the relinquishing of existing currencies was never thought of as a hopeful measure of economic and political progress, but rather as a rude affront to national pride.”
He then shores up his centralist beliefs by saying: “Politicians will also use such nostalgia to insulate themselves from the economic hardship as a consequence of exiting the euro zone. They will praise the days before the globalized economy, when it may not have been as easy to acquire great wealth, but at least life was simpler, more familiar, and not as hectic.” He calls those politicians unrealistic, appealing to the populist appeal of nostalgia who are likely to extol the continent's former political divisions. This is a gross exaggeration, ignoring the fact that the euro and the European Union created a great deal more apparent wealth than real sustainable wealth. Centralized government discouraged diversity of trade and innovation in business rather than encouraging healthy market competition.
He worries that disaffected youth in Europe suffering most from the recent economic downturns and financial crises would be too quick to turn to men on white horses. He is not entirely out of step with historical reality on that issue. Angry youth manned the barricades in France during numerous popular rebellions, and in Germany, the Wandervogeln (the hippies of their day) rejected materialism after World War I, embraced pacifism and individualism, and yet became the heart of the heart of the SS. He believes that a benign bureaucracy which has no political stake in various national politics avoids such consequences by centralizing control in one body which has no national loyalty. The loss of such an authority would be part of the “danger” if the European Union falls apart. Rivalry and extreme national politics will replace relatively peaceful cooperation.
My observations lead me to believe that youthful enthusiasm and even anger would likely lead to very different forms of governance in some of the newly-seceded European nations. But they have the lessons of communist and fascist domination to temper their potential extremism. Laqueur concludes that “these movements, whatever form they take, will be unpleasant. These currents of nostalgia and radicalism may push European leaders to look beyond the monetary union and to undo the other institutions comprising the European Union, the single market, the European Court of Justice, the coordination of economic and foreign policy. When these functions are unraveled, the European Union would, in essence, cease to be.” He makes it sound apocalyptic, but is it really?
Still, he has his own sense of redemption as well. “What will eventually bring this to a halt will be Europeans' instinct for self-preservation. Indeed, this faint pulse of enlightened self-interest will also motivate their tentative rediscovery of the virtue of continental unity.” Simply, perhaps even simplistically put, big central government is the answer to all political ills, and sophisticated Europeans will quickly recognize it after the “populists” and nationalists have made a mess of it. If some form of the European Union is not preserved (or restored), only chaos and repression can result.
I leave it to you to decide if Laqueur is right. Before deciding, you should read the entire article: The Weimar Union.
Now, for what kept my attention about the article. It addresses the trials and tribulations of the European Union. But it's Laqueur's analysis that led me to see something else in the article. It is guided by the same Progressive ideology which has played so much mischief here in the United States. Progressives don't much care for the Constitution, and they certainly don't like federalism. Compare Laqueur's belief in an overweaning central government and the danger of a return to nation-states in Europe to the Progressive view of a strong national government in Washington DC which stops petty competition by bending the will of the sovereign states to the federal will.
Change “European Government” to “Federal Government” and change “nation-states” to “states” and Laqueur's entire article can instantly be converted to a Progressive opinion piece on the evils and dangers of American states' rights and the efficiency of centralized government. Europeans don't have a Tenth Amendment. We do, but Progressives simply ignore it or demean it.