New French President Francois Hollande
The people of France and Greece have repudiated the European Union’s austerity mandate and Europe stands on the edge of chaos. Maybe not immediate chaos but chaos that will engulf the continent as country after country elects for its own history, culture, tradition and economic freedom.
This is nothing new. In fact the situation in Europe resembles the period of the early 1930s as the Great Depression brought about the rise of political extremist on the Right and Left in very new and fragile democracies, as well as more established democracies. Parallels can be found in many European nations. In France the election of Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party over Nicolas Sarkozy sent a shiver through the EU. Combined with the implosion of the conservative and liberal coalition in Greece in and results of other European elections the reality is that the European Union could be on the verge of breaking up. The Greek situation is especially foreboding as any coalition government will have to deal with the election of both hard line Communists and Neo-Nazis to parliament.
Now how it breaks up is not pre-determined, however it is obvious that the most strident voices in many European countries are people and parties that in good times are relegated to the political fringe. However social crisis driven by long term economic problems, especially high unemployment and reductions in support to those displaced by the economy are things that have historically brought about revolutions and dictatorships.
The European Union: Can it Survive?
Despite the Socialist win in France the trajectory of Europe is toward anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist and Xenophobic regimes. Such will bode ill for the world economy as well as peace and the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities. Europe’s long term record on these issues is dreadful and the ghosts of that record seem to rise up almost every time that you think it is safe to go out in the water.
Germany under Chancellor Merkel and her allies in Brussels are attempting to hold together a creation that can only hold together when times are good and money easy. When the hard times come, nations as well as individuals return to their basest and most primal concerns, not any utopian ideal.
The Hitler apologist and radical conservative pundit Pat Buchanan seems to think that this is a good thing in his latest column. He seems to revel in the potential collapse of the European Union. But then for a man that defend’s Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and blames everybody but Hitler for the war this is not surprising. While he may diagnose some of the problems inherent in the EU he also forgets that the EU held as its model the United States, the creation of a United States of Europe.
Nazi Election Poster
While I have always thought that the rush to admit nations to the EU in the 1990s and early 2000s was ill-conceived the threat posed by its break up is worse. This is simply because history shows us time and time again that such break ups are fraught with danger.
Likewise the same forces are at work in the United States. Long term economic difficulties are leading people to embrace extremes that in good times they would never consider. We are not all that different from the Europeans in this. Looking back to the period before the Nazi takeover of Germany one observer told historian William Sheridan Allen that “Most of those that joined the Nazis did so because they wanted a radical answer to the economic problem. Then too, people wanted a hard, sharp, clear leadership- they were disgusted with the eternal political strife of parliamentary party politics.” (The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922-1945 Revised Edition, Franklin Watts Publishers, New York, London 1965, 1984 p.86)
These are dangerous times. It is not time to look to extremists of any stripe that promise simple and radical solutions to the solve the crisis. To do such is to make a deal with the devil.