HTLGI2013 The New Europe

May 28, 2013

I'd been looking forward to this session with Simon Glendinning of the LSE.   The issue was the role of Europe a topic which is a difficult one for the English (less so interestingly for the Welsh and the Scots).  He was addressing Habermas's ideas for a unified Europe with those implied in Kant and that is a combination that was always going to be interest.   My summary below is pretty comprehensive and as it was a smallish audience we got into an interesting discussion.   

I suggested that the homogeneity implied by Habermas was dangerous, but the idea of a collection of sovereign state interests was not sustainable in a modern world.  In that I was harking back to yesterday and some of the issues over how you control multi-national companies.  However I also think Europe needs to create a counter balance to the US and China not just for our own sake, but for the world.   I coined the phrase culturally cohesive historical groups to represent nations such as Wales and Scotland together with regions such as Catalonia.   I suggested that a European super-state for economics and defence was the only way that Europe as a future, but that there were a range of issues that were better handled in said historical groupings.  He confirmed that this idea of subsidiarity is talked about in the Commission, as I knew from some of my own meetings.  He was not sure it might not be difficult but I argued after the session that this could be messy.  You start to shift things as people change.  So Scottish independence would trigger a different type of relationship, Catalonia might take longer but London (if you believe Boris) wants to move faster and so on.  I also argued for delegative voting – you elect people you know who then elect the next level and so on.  My argument was that European elections like those for the American President do not really represent the considered choice of the people, but the people herded by the media.

It may be a pipe dream, but something has to change.  No individual State really has the power anymore on its own and the compromises that are Europe today are getting to be worse than useless.



This is the third in a series of essays on the philosophy of political union in Europe.  Developing ideas based on Kant and Jürgen Habermas.   He has been trying to avoid Habermas for sometime but has to take him on.

For our purposes the old Europe is one of nation states marked by wars and preparation for wars.  Within this Europe each tate should be able to make sovereign decisions without seeking permission from other states.  However there were huge inter-dependencies.  The new Europe is one we don't have yet.  The current institutions are founded on treaties between states.  In the conext of the current monetary crisis it is not surprising that the European Council has taken the initiative – heads of government not the commission or the parliament.  Those heads of state are still reflecting primarily on the interests of their own nations.  So its rather like the old Europe

The new Europe, if there is to be one, has to be a unprecedented act of radical self-sacrifice of sovereignty to create a supera national democracy.  An irreversible transfer, shift to political and economic union.  Habbermas favours this, the overcoming of national particularisms.  He wants this as soon as possible.  He accepts it is not an extension of the current set up.  The red line of classical understanding of sovereignty would be abandoned.  Retention of some national integrity but the role is very limited by retaining role of implementing administration.

Monetary Union without political union is problematic so people are realising this.  Bond change etc significant here. 

Simon thinks he is right about the way it would look but it does not mean opposition is skeptic, there are people who reject both sovereign states and Habermas vision of the new Europe  Kant offers a third way.  Kant thinks there will have to be transfer of sovereignty but it will be an enhancement of what is left which may be the most important.  Habermas says Kant saw this as a transitionary state.  Habermas calls it a League of Nations, Kant called it a federation but not in the modern meaning of that word.  habermas sees it as weak, conceptually flawed and sterile. 

Simon suspects the opposite, something short of an international state is paradoxically ideal and that is what Kant thought.  Kant projects a possibility for Europe's future which acknowledges interdpendency of trade etc which means that the political body of Europe exists in some form and all have interests in maintaing the whole.  The Rational Step says that only one way to emerge from lawlessness, they have to adapt to public coercive laws that will ultimatel embrace the whole earth.

Kant thinks that this requires of states something that is not only difficult but may be impossible.  So this is not the will of the Nations.   Simon thinks this is not weak and contingent, what he means is that it is not the sort of thing that a nation can will.  So we need a negative substitute as the rational ideal is not possible.  So there is something that cannot be bettered.  So create an enduring federation likely to prevent war.  He also said that the State would be too big.  the laws loose their impact as the government scales, germ of goodness but application would create a souless despotism.   A nation in ruins could will it, but not otherwise.

Nations in ruins coujld will it, but a strong nation and strong enough to see its interests as coinciding with Europe as a whole could will it too.  So Habermas says the German government holds the key, but his dogmatic rationalism has the opposite result. 


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