The question came from a good-looking French girl, which focused my mind in ways similar queries posed by my fellow old codgers never would.
Why indeed? One of the explicit aims of the EU from its inception has been to counter America’s economic power. To that end the Union has been designed as a protectionist bloc… sorry, I mean as a free-trade area.
It’s funny how modern words denote not just something different from their original meaning, but indeed something diametrically opposite, and I know I keep banging on about this. In their day the French revolutionaries convinced the populace that martial law was liberty, the cull of the upper classes was fraternity and conscripting the whole male population was equality.
Now EU ideologues are portraying protectionism as free trade. They impose tariffs on America, Americans impose tariffs on them – trade suffers and so especially do consumers who ultimately pay all those levies at the till in their local supermarket or department store.
And yet it’s true that all US administrations since Wilson’s have been ecstatic about the idea of a pan-European, ideally world, state. Why? Are they out to cut off their economic nose to spite their face? Do they welcome obstacles to doing business because they see them as a character builder?
It would take a longer format than I have here to answer this question in all its complexity. But, off the top, the USA has been pursuing imperial ambitions for over a century now. It’s reasonably clear that the American establishment sees the EU, for all its protectionist churlishness, as something advancing such ambitions, rather than holding them back.
They may be right too, as far as it goes. For history shows that any modern federation, or any other multinational entity, will eventually be dominated by its most dynamic member. Prussia bossed all of Germany after 1871. Serbia bossed all of Yugoslavia after 1918. Russia bossed the Soviet Union from 1923 onwards. Germany is bossing the EU, running it into the ground. More to the point, the mercantile North got to dominate the USA after defeating the agricultural South after 1865.
Learning from these historical lessons, Americans seem to believe that, tariffs or no tariffs, the EU will sooner or later fall under their sway. For one thing, in their desperate attempts to keep this moribund abortion afloat for a while longer, the eurocrats are steadily disarming all Europeans countries, in spite of an extremely volatile situation in the world. This means they’ll depend on American protection even more than in the past.
In American streets and public bars one hears a lot of laments about their country having to spend a fortune on defence, just because Europeans won’t pull their own weight. But in Washington office buildings no one is complaining. The situation, as far as they are concerned, resembles the protection racket: retailers pay off big hoodlums to keep smaller ones at bay. Before long the charges become unaffordable, and the gangsters take over the business.
I’m not equating the US with the mafia in any moral or legal sense. But tactically the arrangement with the EU does bring such parallels to mind.
This, as I said, is off the top. There are deeper reasons as well, dealing with the very nature of our times. For over a hundred years now, America has been a champion of modernity – it’s not for nothing that the publisher Henry Luce spoke of ‘the American century’, meaning the twentieth.
Modernity is animated by a quest for both creation and destruction. The former deals with things of the body, the pursuit of ‘happiness’, which is to say philistine, gadget-laden comfort for the whole family (including those families where no one has had a job for three generations). The latter aims at eliminating every survival of the world in which happiness was defined in different terms, those springing from the soul.
While the creative impetus of modernity is universally recognised and lauded, its destructive animus is hardly ever commented upon. And yet it’s at least as strong, for in order for modernity to scribble its vulgar message, the slate has to be wiped clean.
This is where American politicians must sense, not necessarily in their minds but in their viscera, that their interests converge with the European Union’s. Hence their support for this abomination, which is particularly noticeable among the more aggressive members of the American establishment, those who describe themselves as neoconservative.
I don’t know if this answers to her satisfaction the question asked by my lovely interlocutor. I hope so, for I want to stay in her good books. If not, I’m sorry. It’s the best I can do in under 1,000 words.