Anti-liberal Concepts of Europeanism: Part of the Process of European Integration

Book Cover Gosewinkel "Anti-liberal Europe"The history of how today’s Europe developed is presented from the present-day perspective, from that of the current form of European integration: a democratic, politically integrated structure based on the rule of law and economic freedoms, growing prosperity and voluntary membership. This structure is characterized by common values in the canon of classical rights to freedom and the obligation for peace. It reflects how, after 1945, the European integration process foreswore excessive violence, pronounced nationalism, and the policy of excessive and authoritarian state control that destroyed freedom during the first half of the century.

One central underlying assumption of this canon of values is a common awareness of ‘the European peoples’ cited by an early draft of a European constitution ‘being the heirs to a culture and a civilization’ and a common canon of values. This canon is headed by the ‘dignity, freedom and equality of man’, as formulated by the ad-hoc assembly for the foundation of a European Political Community in March 1953 at the zenith of the political unification efforts in Europe at that time. To guarantee these objectives, the process of European unification was tied in with respect for the law and the ‘natural rights’ of the individual as set forth in the declarations on human rights. In public and private, the protagonists of the unification process repeatedly state the last rationale for these values in the form of Christian values, which for their part are derived from Europe’s common cultural heritage.

These conceptions of a European federation have been held together by an ideal founded on Christian humanistic principles and aiming at the protection of human dignity and individual freedom. The projects for Europe therefore have a liberal core in a dual sense. First, they are defined politically by ensuring the freedom of the individual and by the development of his or her individual diversity and abilities – guaranteed and enforced by the protection of individual rights, particularly civil and political rights. Second, economically, these rights provide the basis for developing individual economic skills, capacities and action in a market society.

However, a narrative of continuous liberalization throughout the history of European unification obscures two basic, though not to say trivial, facts. Until 1989 essential parts of Europe did not participate in economic liberalization and denationalization (and were excluded from these processes). Second, ideas and political projects for shaping Europe as a political, cultural and economic entity were current not only in these countries but also in the countries of Western Europe that took part in economic liberalization and Europeanization that often not only went far beyond the idea of liberalism, but were opposed to it. They were – and are – often based on the idea of a community that is perhaps rooted in pre-modern religious ideas, cultural or ethnic homogeneity, or even in coercion and violence. They very frequently either reject the idea of modernity or give it an explicitly non-liberal, even anti-liberal meaning and thrust. The ideas, concepts and political efforts to build Europe from an anti-liberal perspective as well as the perception or experience of Europe as anti-liberal are at the heart of this book.

This volume proceeds on the assumption that a semantic polarity between liberal and anti-liberal with respect to Europe developed and intensified in the political discourses and movements of certain European countries between 1920 and 1970. For this period we find abundant references to ‘Europe’, declarations of common Europeanness or political European unification projects that differ from the well-known and allegedly self-evident liberal basis of values and objectives, and take on a decidedly and explicit anti-liberal thrust. Many of them can be shown to exist in the historical sources of the twentieth century, in political declarations, memoranda, institutional plans and autobiographical documents.

This volume concentrates on concepts, intellectual blueprints and perceptions of Europe from the interwar period to the 1970s. The period covered reaches from the upswing in projects for European unification after the First World War to the height of European colonization and decolonization, the conceptions of Europe under dictatorship and in the Second World War, up to the broad European movement and institutionalization of European integration. Like the experience of Europeanization that goes back to coercion and violence, conceptions of Europe emerged in the first half of the twentieth century that were decidedly non-liberal or anti-liberal in their thrust. Such conceptions are at the heart of this volume.

The first section traces the outlines of the historiographical and conceptual classification of the topic. It raises fundamental questions about the historically adequate formation of the concepts of ‘liberal’ and ‘anti-liberal’ and looks at anti-liberalism as a feature of colonial and conservative concepts of Europe.
Pre-modern, and in many cases anti-modern, religious conceptions of Europe from the period before and after the Second World War struggled against European nationalism in the service of a timeless Western order that was directed against democracy and an unrestricted diversity of world views. This is examined in the second section of the volume, which, first, deals with Christian religious groupings, and thus above all Catholics which combatted (liberal) modernity and fought for an Occidental Europe (“Abendland”). Like the Occident movement, second, the movement marked by the philosophy of personalism, which aimed to establish a ‘Europe of the Regions’, was part of the broad anti-liberal current within the European movement of the interwar years.

Anti-liberal thought ranged further from religious to areligious, conservative, and ethnocentric models of a European order to include notions of a decidedly anti-liberal totality in fascism, National Socialism and communism. This is dealt with in the third section on Anti-liberal Europe in Dictatorships and their aftermath, addressing a far from self-evident question, which seems paradoxical, absurd, or even offensive to prevailing historiography on twentieth-century Europe: have anti-liberal, even totalitarian regimes made a genuine contribution to processes of Europeanization? We know that the imposed European order of the Nazi occupation was supported not only by the use of weapons but also by ideas of multinational collaboration in a ‘New Europe’, which in many cases (especially in France, but also in other European states) had already developed before 1939 and did not vanish without a trace after 1945.

The volume sets itself the objective of investigating experience and concepts of Europe and Europeanization that do not correspond to the ‘tradition of the idea of Europe’ (Wolfgang Schmale) and do not fit in with the canon of values of European integration. Our interest is to record the historical appearance and impact of intrinsically anti-liberal concepts and violent experiences of or with Europe. In so doing we pursue the traces and continuities of anti-liberal concepts in their significance not only for the historical discourse, but also for the current discourse on the integration of Europe. This volume considers the ‘dark’, anti-liberal side of modern conceptions of Europe and the unintentional effects of enforced Europeanization. Both factors have affected the process of European integration, each in its own way.

The volume puts forward a twofold thesis for discussion. First, anti-liberal concepts of Europe were not simply anti-European; on the contrary, they were meant to strengthen a specific concept of European integration and to achieve the unity of Europe instead of hindering it. Second, Europeanization by violent means is not a contradiction in itself, but under specific circumstances may, like anti-liberal concepts of Europe, even strengthen the process of European integration. Both these sources of Europeanization may possibly constitute necessary conditions for its broad and far-reaching success. It is the task of historical research to analyze these conditions.

Contrary to the prevailing opinion expounded in the literature on Europe, anti-liberal concepts of twentieth-century Europe are not the counterpoint to but a part of the process of European integration.

Anti-liberal Europe: A Neglected Story of Europeanization
edited by Dieter Gosewinkel
Berghahn, 2015

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Dieter Gosewinkel is Head of the WZB Center for Global Constitutionalism. He is also Professor of History at Freie Universität Berlin.
Website at the WZB

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