Thursday, March 08, 2007



The lie of the land

Mar 8th 2007

Europe is united only by its contradictions

Get article background

SHOULD we ban the term “Europe”? It will be much used—and misused—at the EU’s 50-year anniversary celebrations in Berlin. “Europe” is certainly not the European Union. Cities like Königsberg and Lemberg have been European for centuries (albeit not under those names). They won’t be in the EU any time soon.

Even snobs who think that the mud-and-vodka belt is inhabited by barbarians would have to admit that anything that excludes Switzerland and Norway isn’t complete. The label is meaninglessly elastic. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development stretches to include such unlikely Europeans as Turkmenistan and Mongolia. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has (thankfully) a strong American presence.

So “Europe” means nothing geopolitically. Nor does it make sense in internal politics. The Belarus autocracy is “un-European”? Hang on: Belarus is the historic core of the late lamented Grand Duchy of Lithuania, once the largest state in Europe, an early modern superpower that was multicultural and multi-confessional before its time. Calling Belarus “un-European” is like calling Virginia “un-American”.

If only the Belarusian regime were more “un-European”. The idea that “Europe” means deeply-rooted multiparty democracy and strong institutions is fanciful, even if you look only at the past 15 years. Try finding a common political theory that encompasses Britain, Serbia and Belgium over that period. Look back over a century, and Europe is better termed the cradle of totalitarian dictatorship and mass murder.

What about the European Convention on Human Rights: surely that embodies the European ideal? Not a bit of it. Countries outside Europe (mostly, but not only, former British colonies) uphold those ideals better than some European countries that have signed up to it.


“Europe” means equally little when it comes to economic models. It is dirigiste and free-market, flexible and calcified, low-tax and high-tax, celebrating both private property and its confiscation.

“Well, what about creativity”, the Europhiles whinge, “surely the common European tradition is the wellspring of world culture?” True: there were at some points some common trends across the continent—the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, perhaps.

Thereafter, though, such trends were not European, but products of their time. They stretched across oceans to the Americas and India and beyond. European languages such as English and Spanish, when they reached other continents, produced great literature there too.

For those who use “European” as a term of approbation, surely faraway Canada and New Zealand are much more “European” than, say, Albania. But the map doesn’t lie. Albania is between Greece and Italy, the historic hearts of everything the Europhiles count their own.

Maybe distance doesn’t matter—maybe Vladivostok is a European town on the Pacific, and Tirana is a Levantine city in the heart of Europe? Fine, but then the European argument becomes even weaker. If Europe means anything at all, it is a place on the map, stretching from the Atlantic to the beginning, middle or far end of Russia depending on your outlook and upbringing.

In short, there are too many exceptions inside the definition, and too many outsiders who share the same qualities. If “Europe” means “tolerant”, “modern” or “civilised”, then say so—and be prepared to meet many “Europeans” who are anything but.

The more you think about it, the harder it is to find any meaningful use of the words “Europe” or “European” and anyone using them is probably trying to sell you something. Be particularly alert if they are used by someone from the rich west, talking to the ex-communist east. What they mean is “we got here before you”. To which the answer—especially if you are from the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania—should be: “No you didn’t”.


Unknown said...

"Grand Duchy of Lithuania, once the largest state in Europe, an early modern superpower that was multicultural and multi-confessional before its time"
so you are also historically ignorant; It was not the Grand Duchy that was all that, but what is referred to as the Commonwealth of the Two Nations: the aforementioned Duchy and Poland - under the political leadership of the latter. The multi-confessional and undoubtedly tolerant nature of its legal foundations was spawned in the Crown, as Poland was referred to at the time - freedoms enjoyed by the Polish nobility, the level of institutionalised democracy unparalelled in Europe of the time were the main factors that propelled the Duchy political decision-makers to join the union. The process of unification of the two began in the XIV century and was finalised in 1576 by the Union of Lublin - act and the process very similar to the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1703. Therefore attributing all these features to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with keeping silent about the driving force behind them is like talking (with all due respect for both Lithuania and Scottland) of the immensity and greatness of the Scottish Empire.

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Kuba

Thanks for pointing that out. I am sorry for neglecting Poland in this--it is normally the GDL that gets left out. I was really thinking of the 13th-15th centuries
(see this map)

On a broader point, I think you sometimes ascribe oracular qualities to journalism. It is only the first draft of history, after all, written with too little time and space to get everything completely right. The main reason that I bother to put all my articles on this site is so that the readers can help spot mistakes, omissions, nuances that have gone adrift, so that the final picture is more complete.



Unknown said...

..oops, you dropped Poland just like that - you expect me to believe that!
I am willing to bet all my earthly posessions that you know all that I have 'pointed out'-

On a broader point...let us not make it too broad, shall we?

- I'm not acribing anything to journalism as this is generalisation and implies an a priori approach, whereas my focus is specifically on you and is an a posteriori aproach - to follow the Kantean differentiation, ie, I am deciphering what has already been written to expose the implicit content which is more colloquially called 'reading between the lines'

I do not credit your assertion that your texts are going through the blog as through the purgatory to come out clean in print; with the majority of ur texts it has been the other way around - first you published what you fancied, then you used the blog to take the impact of criticism. You - simply - NEVER - EVER - re-edit your texts to include "mistakes, omissions and nuances that have gone adrift"...

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Kuba

Don't be so conspiratorial. There is a simple explanation for this. The Economist allows me to put copyright material on my own site, but only on the condition that it is in exactly the same form as it appeared in The Economist--I am not allowed to add material, make changes etc.

If I agree with a criticism, I say so in a comment.

Anonymous said...


I can't agree with your conclusion.

I think it's understandable that on most issues, most people can't argue with Edward. But on the issues that really hit home, they can...

All the best,

Unknown said...

To Oulematu,
Let me prove You wrong by pointing to the neighbouring debate about Your Country and turning Your attention to the fact that it was me who first protested against the biased "hush-hush" tone of the article.
All best to You and Kristjan E.L: I'm not being conspiratorial - I am just stating undisputed facts whatever the reason! Either way what you said above, that you "bother to put your articles so that the readers can help you spot mistakes" is hypocrytical; whatever they might spot, the wrong version goes about the world - is it not so? ... whatever the reason

La Russophobe said...


Say what you like, you sound like a paranoid maniac. Emperor's new clothes, dude. If somebody tells you your fly is open and you accuse them of trying to destroy you and don't look down, you're just a fool. End of story.

Unknown said...

To La Rusophobe: Damn, I can't remember asking you for a diagnosis; do you have anything to say specifically on the subject or just felt that midnight urge to lick E.L's ass? (paying you back with the same currency)When you are done with that, spare a minute of your precious time and actually read my objections - than you're free to tell me where I have gone wrong - otherwise - besa mi culo, pendejo

to oulematu:
...none taken! Just sayin'

Unknown said...

The basic problem with the EU is that it has serpent's egg where the heart should be; it has been conceived originally as the French project to keep a tab on Germany and make it an muscle for France to do all the thinking directed basically in one direction - how to get as tall as you jump - in other words - how to stand up to America. All the talk about European values at the early stages was just a smoke screen, perhaps a bit of self-hypnosis; to make it happen, Schuman, Adenauer and the lot had to believe in it a little.
It is not a secret that gen. de Gaulle's personal Anglo-Saxon complex has had a marked influence upon the formation of E.E.C (just to mention: France's withdrawal from the military structures of NATO, independent nuclear deterrent, France's veto against Britain joining in was withdrawn no sooner than de Gaulle had left this mortal coil - courtesy of G. Pompidou). Of course, this is a simplification - but only slightly. Unlilke the USA - founded on values, around which a political organism has been created with the sole purpose: to preserve them, EU was born out of cold geo-strategic calculation triggered by one country's elite's chronic inability to accept the new global reality, petrified by another country's horror at what it is capable of once left to its own expansiveness and with time has become little more than the clever way to pamper the lazy and inefficient French farmers with the cash flow from German economy (mind you that four fifths of the 'common budget' is consumed by the CAP, out of which 90% is digested by France alone.) All subsequent surges in concern for values have been so far stirred by the French political establishment as a cloak for their new ideas how to prolong this blissfull status quo into infinity. this goes for the Maastricht deal and the whole concept of Euro, for the constitutional treaty and so on. The true nature of the aforementioned contrivances rears its ugly head whenever 'values' threaten the status quo - see the issue of counting votes, deficit margin for the currency or smaller stuff as the debacle over the E.C.B's chairmanship. Expect all this to fall apart soon over CAP and Russia unless one basic truth is realised and accepted ; common distinctive values do exist but they indispensably encompass America and, very importantly - Israel!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Kuba said...
I am afraid, you have been lead astray as to what the open society really stands for. It might be for the shortcomings of Soros’s mediation; all respect due – he may be a better doer than a writer. Whatever it is – it is always better to consult the source, in this case - Karl Raimund Popper, the German philosopher who was the one to have spawned the term in his book The poverty of historicism.
This type of mediatory fallacy often befalls Popper’s work, as it usually happens in cases of inconveniently complex revolutionary concepts – however, the irony here lies in the fact that the most commonly met ‘variant’ of reported Popper actually turns his whole life’s effort upside-down and inside-out... it is a pity his work is not studied as much as it gets random-quoted.

Allow me to begin with your definition of ‘open society’, which apparently mixes two different orders of thinking: cognitive methodology with ethics – the former is at the foundation of everything Popper has ever written and – yes –it relates to ethics, but indirectly (forgive possible flaws in this improvized, pill-size overview):
- K.P's his first and seminal work, which revolutionized methodological approach of nearly every human activity aspiring to be scientific , was 1934 The logic of Scientific Discovery – what he had laid out there, was called Falsificationism and is present at the basis of all his later concepts, not least of 'open society'.
It can crudely be summarized as the exact opposite of the 'trial-and-error' method inasmuch as ‘t&e’ is meant as a cognitive proposition as the way to get at the ‘truth’.
He argued that the falsification, i.e. proving wrong, in the discourse that claims scientific status does not need to resort to actual facts, and that it is quite sufficient to refute theories by means of other theories – ‘positive’, or factual, support was, he said, both superfluous and ultimately unobtainable, as the number of facts to support a statement would never ultimately outweigh the possible number of those that might be called for to refute it.
- later , in his post-war period, this has led him to strip 'historicism' and 'holism' on the aforementioned grounds to the raw deal without even touching moving sands of ethical dispute; what he was saying was not that fascism or communism were wrong, because they incurred misery and suffering! He proved the speculative nature of the ‘original sin’ at the roots of every ideology and identified it (in this, following Kant) as the a priori approach to explicating the world, where the order of operation is re-casting facts into ready-made matrix to come up at the end with the self-justified deterministic over-all (or 'holistic') concepts, which are ultimately unfalsifiable and generate a vicious-circle kind of mental framework, regulated and inflexible, whose whole effort, regardless of a declarative layer it may present outside, in fact, is always and solely directed at providing its own raison d’ete and feeding it unto itself. The implicit threat that once they start going large scale from small – scale individual erring – they are more than likely to get nasty and may end up deadly.
Popper’s whole genius resides in the fact that he has mercilessly brought to the front the necessity for a sociologist or a historian to abide by the same mental discipline that is so vital in mathematics or biology.

- then, 'open society' was formulation of the best way that he saw to forestall small-scale erroneous thinking from ever growing bigger and his proposition was freedom of exchange of ideas! The liberated discourse, incessant clashing of thoughts between a group of people that assented to live together, was the remedy to prevent such 'failures' from growing large-scale.

Having said all that, I should add that freedom of thought he advocated is, however, something altogether different from 'not having common values' as you seem to define it! Moreover - I dare say, no group of individuals can actually get to 'live' together without prior agreement as to the set of commonly accepted and interiorized values (is it not how J.J. Rousseau defined society?); sharing values and having common notions does not eo ipso determine their becoming expansive and imposing - only if it did, would it be a violation to 'open society'.

In this light, your denying the existence of Judeo-Christian culture leaves a hollow space, because saying that there are no shared values fails to account for at least 2000 years of civilization and failure to propose equivalent other than face-value 'liberalism' – makes it a pure instance of nihilistic ideology in statu nascendi and I quite doubt if K.R. Popper would condone it.

As regards my previous post: I have not said anything that implies "uncritical support for the U.S. and Israel." - by re-calling the obvious - if often disliked - truth that Israel and America and Europe belong to the same culture and if the E.U or any other commonwealth project in this continent are to last for the benefit of all and not just a selected group - this fact has to find a positive place in its foundation and not denial.

Lastly: I fully agree that trustworthiness is wanting on the part of the old E.U and that it is necessary condition of success.

Unknown said...

Don't be sorry and don't apologize! If I am right sensing a sarcastic note in that,it probably means you have taken offence somewhere on the way. my guess is you've taken my post on Popper as 'lecturing' you. If so, let me just tell you that, on my part, I thought I was only extending to you that I myself expect whenever I am caught in the wrong - settin me straight Don't take it personal, when someone does that; I, for one, am not experiencing anything else when doing that than pure satisfaction I became of help.

That said, I must say, that I just cannot make heads or tails with what you have written, I mean really...

"So how does calling Europe a “Judeo-Christian” culture account for Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, Confucians and others? Or are you saying that those who are not Christians or Jews are not true Europeans?"

for a sec there I thouht you were pullin my leg with your:

"… Turkey, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, (...)[belong to the same culture]. At the end of the day, aren’t human rights supposed to be universal? And, therefore, aren’t common values really supposed to be common to all people on Earth?"

man, what is that?

I think I just leave you at that. offence, but it seems you've been tango'ed.;)

..all best


Unknown said...

ok, cheers!
ps.the explanation is all in the previous post.

Unknown said... conclude on a positive note:
since we both respect each other's rights in the exchange of opinions - I think its safe to say that we are a shining, if small, example of the idea of the 'open society' enacted; together with consent to terminate it - the late Karl Raimund would no doubt pat us on our heads for that!;)

take care!

Unknown said...

...consent to terminate the dispute - not open society, naturally...