National Review

The EU's Soft Utopia

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for American Common Culture

The New Totalitarian Temptation: Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe, by Todd Huizinga (Encounter, 280 pp., $23.99)

This is the best book ever written about the European Union. The author, Todd Huizinga (currently with the Acton Institute), served as a U.S. Foreign Service officer for two decades. After years in Brussels, Luxembourg, and Germany, he knows the EU as few American scholars or statesmen do. He deftly captures the essence of the European Union as a “soft utopia,” a quasi-religious vision of a secular heaven on earth.

At the core of the EU is the belief in supranationalism. The proponents of the EU consciously portray its supranational institutions as a model for “global governance.” In this intended utopia, all nation-states in the future would cede national sovereignty, and thus political and legal authority, to supranational institutions, just as today the European Court of Justice is a higher legal authority for Germans than their own courts, and most British laws originate not in the House of Commons but in the European Commission in Brussels. From the EU perspective, supranationalism is necessary to achieve world peace and global human rights.

In clear and cogent language, the author meticulously details the history of the EU from its idealistic beginnings in the ashes of World War II, through the creation of the euro more than a decade ago, to today’s refugee-migrant crisis. He laments that, “after 65 years, the EU has conclusively shown itself to be inherently undemocratic, unaccountable and unresponsive to voters.”

From the beginning, the intellectual architects of European integration sought to limit democratic sovereignty in the name of supranational governance. The strategy to advance integration has been dubbed the “Monnet method” after its foremost theorist and practitioner, Jean Monnet. The method envisioned a gradualist approach that started with consolidating the economic sphere, but with the ultimate aim of European political integration — while obfuscating the extent of this transfer of power from the citizens of the member states, through a conscious policy of “constructive ambiguity.”

The introduction of the euro was a classic example of the Monnet method. Huizinga writes that the political decision to create the euro “defied basic economics”: “The decision was taken . . . explicitly because they believed a common currency would prove unsustainable without political integration. Thus, it would ultimately force Europeans to accept a politically integrated EU.”

Indeed, the inevitable crisis resulting from the creation of a common currency for nations at vastly different stages of economic development (to say nothing of different work cultures and mores) has resulted in broad transfers of power from democratic nation-states to undemocratic supranational institutions. Hence, today the executive branches of democratic states must submit their budgets for approval to the European Commission (an unelected supranational bureaucracy) before they are submitted to their own elected national parliaments. At the same time, the European Central Bank has assumed unprecedented and unaccountable political power.

Huizinga notes that because of the euro crisis, “the democratically elected leaders of Italy and Greece were ousted in late 2011” by EU leaders in the name of economic stability. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it, the ousters of the Italian and Greek prime ministers “open a troubling window on what a true European state would look like. Stability would be achieved at the expense of democracy.”

Huizinga writes that German chancellor Angela Merkel, “arguably the most powerful person in Europe,” is walking a “tightrope” as she balances between her constitutional duty to German citizens and the utopian dream of European political integration and global governance. With “her sporadic calls for more Europe,” Merkel has “updated” the Monnet method and chosen “the utopian dream of European integration” over democratic sovereignty. “Merkel’s commitment to saving the euro at all costs” has led to significant opposition from “prominent business people, economists, and bankers” within Germany. Likewise, her “welcoming” attitude (the German establishment refers to it as “Willkommenskultur”) toward refugee-migrants has triggered increased political opposition to her policies in Germany and throughout Europe. Huizinga asks, “Will Germany, until now an indispensable motor of the drive for supranational integration, pull back from the dream of European political union?”

In May 2014, elections to the European Parliament in country after country resulted in devastating losses for the pro-EU parties and gains for Euroskeptics of the Right, Left, and center. The voters expressed an interest in returning power to nation-states, but the European Parliament is mainly a talking shop. For example, it cannot introduce legislation, although it can block initiatives proposed by the European Commission. In any case, the leaders of the EU, with the installation of Jean-Claude Juncker (an ardent eurofederalist) as head of the European Commission, essentially ignored the election results and even expanded the centralized power of the EU administration over the democratic nation-states.

Huizinga explains that, despite the often touted shared values and long-standing partnership uniting the U.S. and Western Europe, fundamental tensions exist between the American nation-state and the EU. At the deepest philosophical level, “the United States by its very existence stands in the way of the EU vision of a world that has evolved beyond the nation-state,” Huizinga writes. “The same goes for Israel, which suffers unrelenting EU hostility largely because [it is] a democratic and proud nation-state.”

No doubt EU elites sincerely believe in supranational global governance, but, as Huizinga remarks, this idea, “at its core, cannot but be a sworn enemy to democratic sovereignty as practiced in the American system.” Therefore, it is not surprising that the EU leaders’ adherence to global-governance ideology often translates into principled opposition to U.S. foreign-policy initiatives and, at a minimum, complicates cooperation within the Western alliance.

Huizinga provides us with examples of this from his days in the State Department. President Clinton attempted to work with our European allies to establish a Nuremberg-style international court for war crimes, a court that would respect democratic sovereignty, but they rebuffed him and insisted on creating the International Criminal Court with legal authority over American citizens. President Bush met opposition from European leaders in prosecuting the War on Terror, on issues ranging from POW status for terrorists to the need for U.N. approval for any use of force. Even President Obama has run afoul of EU globalists for ordering unilateral drone strikes against Islamist terrorists rather than the preferred transnational-progressive “global law” solution that would bring the “alleged” terrorists before a supranational court for trial.

Besides globalist ideology, for some Europeans (particularly French officials) the purpose of the EU is to provide a geopolitical counterweight to the United States. The view that a politically united Europe could become a world power that rivals the U.S. is, Huizinga writes, “ubiquitous among European pundits and elites.”

Most significantly, Huizinga identifies the “fundamental” source of American–EU tension as “the fact that Europe is largely post-Christian while the United States remains culturally, if not in actual religious faith, Judeo-Christian.” This divide is seen most emphatically in vastly different views of human nature. In The Federalist, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay sought to construct the American republic on what Huizinga summarizes as “reverence for wisdom and experience, prudent realism, and a sober view of human nature.” The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and The Federalist expressed a belief in an objective truth and reality and in a flawed human nature (while recognizing that human beings possessed enough redeemable qualities to make self-government possible).

The worldview of the Founding Fathers led to the creation of an American government that was limited and emphasized the separation of powers and checks and balances. The American Founders, unlike the revolutionaries of the past century in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, China, and Cuba, did not seek to create a “new man,” but assumed an unchanging human nature. Huizinga maintains that this Judeo-Christian worldview still, for the most part, prevails in America culturally, among both believers and non-believers.

On the other hand, Huizinga tells us, the worldview of the EU is profoundly different: It holds that human nature is malleable. It favors a “transformative and liberationist” approach that would reconstruct human nature and “free” human beings from the constraints of tradition, family, society, and even objective reality. In several chapters examining the EU’s global promotion of radical feminism, LGBT rights, and children’s (anti-parental) rights, Huizinga argues that the EU’s transnational-progressive agenda seeks to expand a supranational authority that promotes the concept of the autonomous, atomized individual in opposition to the traditional institutions of civil society (family, marriage, religion). At the same time, Huizinga examines how the “trickle-down postmodernism” of the EU is totally ill prepared, both physically and culturally, to face the threat of radical Islam in Europe.

Notwithstanding his criticism of the EU, Huizinga remains deeply appreciative of historic European civilization (“the unrivaled heritage of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem”). He describes Europe as “America’s most important ally,” insists that the “old Europe” that “birthed Western civilization is still alive and kicking,” and envisions a “reformed” EU of sovereign democratic nation-states in a strong transatlantic alliance with the United States. One can only hope.