Europe beyond and without federalism

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Ideology and political orientation are inseparably attached to the historical-cultural context that engendered and sustained them. To valorize the methods and objectives of a given system of values, as the ultimate telos of a political power impulse, is to bestow upon subjective ideas a supracontextual patina and to proceed with treating them as either self-evident truths of a functional-technical sort or as moral-legal axioms that justify ex ante specific courses of action or series of thoughts. All ideologies are potentially subject to the tendency of producing a concrete schema out of their complex of perceptions, convictions and logical concatenations; and, as a matter of historical fact, all ideologies can inwardly degenerate from their (self-) reformative/propositional form to their (self-) reactionary/conservative other, in the sense that what may enter the theatre of the historical-political as a struggle for the realization of the possibility to think otherwise, ends up morphing into a robust doctrine or of a set of sectarian shibboleths that determine an arbitrary terminus to thinking and doubting.

To be enumerative and thoroughgoing in the close scrutiny of self-denying ideas would require a writing exercise that stretches beyond the confines of this essay, suggesting that the principal concern herein shall be to merely draw the necessary insights from those recurring themes throughout the historical-cultural process of institution in an effort to place the foundations or to unleash the fertilizing sperms for the formulation of a new propositional system of political orientation for our immediate institutional milieu, for Europe. As such, further stress shall be pitted on the process of self-alienation ideas can and do generate, in the sense that what rather seems to be the origin of created differentiation in the institution of society is the willingness of the subject of politics qua individual or collective, to challenge oneself, one’s own established inner set of beliefs and environing magma of significations, rather than cling on to an ideology that was propositional only in its inception and which might continue to be perceived as such in spite of its inner transformation into its conservative, hetero-instituted-and-instituting other. Nonetheless, consideration of some well-known world-views can be supportive of the argument to be propounded.

The inward degeneration of laudable ideas

Progress is not intrinsic to ideas, as lofty values can transfigure into hetero-instituting norms that essentially constitute a denial of the very force that originated them, skepsis. Ample are the cases where a single idea or an entire world-view first appeared as a vector for social, cultural and political development only to become a tool in the hands of counter-forces to that very drive, to alienate the self from the ideas of the self. Parliamentary democracy appeared as a radical opposition to the sovereignty of the state and the concomitant absolutism of the monarch and his/her flunkies, only to produce its own hierarchy of control and coercion where the parliament as such attained the mythical sovereignty of the state and acted as the custodian of the state’s supremacy over a given territory, people and culture. Nationalism first appeared woven together with liberal ideas, for whilst it was a concoction of the intelligentsia, it effectively emerged as a popular movement aiming to overthrow despotic empires, to break the oligopoly of the feudal lords and to replace the rule of the “few” with the self-determination of the “many” qua nation; yet once it became the conventional truth and the ideology of the established architecture of power, it unleashed upon humanity the most pernicious follies and destructive forces a social imaginary has ever impregnated. Christianity, or rather the teachings and practices of Jesus, before being formulated and instituted as the official dogma of the Roman Empire, was one of the many ethics of tolerance and of the solidarity between all the people in the world, within a community of the whole that knew neither borders nor divisions; it too often resorted to the use of fire and steel in order to enforce its ostensible truthfulness, fostering segregations, hatred, witch-hunts and holocausts, in spite of the fact that no causal link existed/exists between its tenets or values and the nefarious propensities it harbored.

In a similar fashion, the laudable idea of a United Europe, also conceived by the anarchists/federalists of the 19th century, such as Mikhail Bakunin, and then reappearing as the only genuinely un-national drive for European integration, has through the ages evolved into an ideology of statism and nationalism whose objective is to establish a United States of Europe in the image of the United States of America, or in the words of incumbent European Commission President, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, to construct a “federation of nation states” as a sort of an revolution from above. Moreover, the movement of European federalism that once shared insoluble ties with the libertarian/democratic forces of social transformation took the form of a functional or technocratic medium that were to tacitly become the official ideology of certain European institutions in their struggle for control; and, in this regard, the locus of reformative deliberations on our common future moved from the popular mass to the bowels of the Berlaymont and the shadowy corridors of detached institutions. Its value base shifted from a root and branch reformulation of the radical imaginary underlying European society, to an administrative quest for the “harmonization” of rules and the perceived economies of scale they would bring about.

The federalist movement constitutes an opposing force to the confederalism and inter-governmentalism that nation-statism struggles for. In this regard, federalism is understood as the progressive wing of European politics, in that it aims for the realization of a state of affairs that has hitherto never existed on this rugged patch of earth called “Europe”. Nonetheless, the distinction between federalism and confederalism is mostly an exercise in hermeneutics by academics or researchers willing to be excrutiatingly precise and rigorous, since in practical terms the federalist movement ends up being aligned with the stratagems of the Commission as against the Member States in a clumsy effort to defend “integration”, even though the ends of that EU institution are not identical to the schema of federation idealists may have in mind. For the Commission, federalism and integration are but means to the attainment of more power and control within the EU edifice. In a similar fashion, the phantomality of “more Europe” is both a meaningless cliché of those groups of people willing to conceal the emptiness of their political propositions and of the governments who wish to realize a confederal super-structure while appearing as sophisticated and open-minded; it is, so to speak, a sacrifice to the altars of hypocrisy.

Such neo-federalism, if it may be termed thus, can never escape the rigid opportunistic dilemmas arising in the defense of a regulation or a directive aiming at “harmonization”, “integration” and “more Europe”, since it voluntarily confines itself to allying with the institutions that are presumed to be in opposition to the Member States’ machinations, thus preempting its propositional capacity of thinking and acting independently. Therefore, this self-alienated federalist movement can never be anything but the infamous cheerleader of incrementalism and the apologist of specific decisions and orientations, whose ultimate telos effectively is a specter of the past that was indeed desirable in the post-WWII era, for those willing to overcome the metapolitical negation of the Europe of modernity, but which now is a nostalgic and outdated caprice. Underlying the hermeneutic patina of the palaver on integration, is the phantasmagorized idea of producing a replica of the American model of constitutional statism in the space of Europe; a powerful conception, concentrically fastened upon an idealized type of governance that has essentially remained unchanged through the decades despite the profound reforms in institutions and in outlooks that have taken or are taking place across the land in the appraising minds of acting political subjects. In this regard, the reformative and reformulative persons congregating the streets and the city squares, have little or nothing in common with an ideology that once was of the bottom-up sort, but which now only brutishly survives as an intellectual sect concerned with narrow, legalistic power struggles and, conversely, which is insulated from the regenerative impulses that still remain outside the status/statist quo.

The future of Europe cannot just be conceived in “conventions” and ultra-technocratic platforms for decision-making, even if the phenomenality of government resulting from these negotiations is that of a federal entity, since the political state of affairs is, in that respect, determined from above, in the absence of popular participation or, even worse, in the presumption that a collective of individuals is indeed representative of the demands for greater liberty voiced by the many. To this end, it ought to be noted that there is nothing endogenously reformatory, democratizing and liberating in a federation as such, since this particular form of administration merely concerns the allocation of power among the various strata of governance, stipulating state rights and obligations, and delineating their scope of action. The ideology of federalism did not originate in arid cost-benefit calculations on the most optimal distribution of authority in a state, but was rather founded on tenets of thought that were at odds with the very idea of any impersonal agency or incorporeality exercising control over auto-instituting communities of citizens; it was, in other words, concerned with the cooperation of independent and self-conscious groups of people on the basis of equality and in the absence of hierarchy. In contradistinction, federalism now actually amounts to nothing more than a set of ideas on how to transform the Commission into the European government and make the Council of the European Union the second chamber of a bicameral European Parliament.

The paradox of federalism using the tools of nationalism

Adding to this inward degeneration of the federalist movement in the context of time, the unification of Europe has now been bestowed with a timidly imperialistic veneer, in regard to the concentration of power in the arena of international relations. A European federation, it is claimed, will be in a position to realize its great potential in introducing trade restrictions, in “setting the agenda” on important policies and in imposing its own understanding of the virtuous and prudent policies upon those not strong enough to compete with it or to resist it. Thus, federalism often verges on being little more than an idea underpinning the process of polarization to be achieved at the international scale, always forwarded against all those perceived as non-European, i.e. as “others”. Permeating and penetrating this neo-mercantilist trend are the two devices of nationalism, the one being the formulation of the “we” as contrasted to the “they” and the other standing as the identification of the state with a given territory and its corresponding socio-cultural presence. It is in this latter respect that federalism, perhaps paradoxically and/or inadvertently, essentially encompasses and harmoniously incorporates the imaginaries it sought to abolish, since the methodological territorialism of nationalism and statism, as being the heuristic device for the confirmation of the “we-they” dichotomy, can be rationalized and be embellished with rich techno-economic palaver as a re-organization of European society on a more economically optimal and rational footing.

Territoriality in the institution of society can only act as an obstacle to the realization of two main principles peculiar to the mode and objective of autonomy: (i) cosmopolitanism, (ii) individuality. At least from the time of the ancient Cynics, the citizen was not understood as a figure of the thinkable that was bound to a given polity, community or land, but, by virtue of its self-instituting capacity, was perceived as having the potentiality of citizen throughout the realm of the spatio-temporal, in the cosmos that is (hence cosmo-polite = world-citizen). By the same token, the actuality of autonomy rests on the prior existence of unencumbered individuality, for created-and-creating differentiation in metapolitics exists only in the willingness of the subjects to acclaim their environing natural or fictional milieu in a fashion that differs marginally or cardinally from that which existed before. Federalism as the popular impulse for the decentralization of power in society, cannot consistently subject the will of the citizen to the desires and sagacity of a power elite qua state, since such a subjugation would amount to a denial of individuality and, due to the necessity of erecting borders that separate one state’s omnipotence from another’s, would actually be an opposition to the very idea of a land-less citizen, of a cosmopolite.

The autonomy of the organized community rests in the recognition and acceptance of the otherness of the person, as only where there is mutual understanding, tolerance and respect can a community of equals be sustained; and, a fortiriori, only on the same basis may collectives of such citizens proceed in joint operations, as federated communities. Once the element of hierarchy is introduced to this setting, the notion of a federation can no longer be in line with the autonomy of the individual in the community, since some persons, in the name of concretized imaginaries, will wield more power than others to mold society in accordance with their perception of the good and desirable; and such concentration of control may perpetuate itself in the granting of special privileges to interest groups that will seek to extract benefits of a social, economic and political sort. In a nutshell, heteronomy and self-alienation are germane to hierarchy and to the valorization of a given conception as the higher end to be pursued by a power structure. With European federalism having elevated a tissue of recurring themes on integration as its presumed raison d’être, it can only remain captive to the day-to-day inter-institutional bargains that occur within the European Union, oblivious to the impetus for autonomy a self-conscious populous can provide.

Concluding remarks

In conclusion to this mere introduction to some ideological considerations that might merit analysis in depth and at compass, this author feels the need to suggest that there ought be no mistake that a European federation similar, identical or even distinct from that of the USA is by all means superior to a deeply divided Europe, plagued by the squabbles of nation-states pursuing their own parochial interests. Peace is indeed an end to be sought and in this regard, the otherwise suboptimal European integration of the present has been successful, even though in recent times, with the highly questionable practices of decision-making related to the systemic crisis of the euro, the divisive ghosts of the past have resurfaced and, should things continue to deteriorate further, they might as well gain a firm footing in the narratives guiding political conduct, decisively shifting the climate of thought towards the direction of presumptuous “we-they” struggles and similarly moronic, self-defeating races to the bottom. However, peace is not the ultimate or sole objective of a self-instituting polity, given that the absence of conflict is both logically and factually possible within any political arrangement. For instance, empires often experienced periods of prolonged peace and relative prosperity; yet this tranquility was not the end-product of a conscious affirmation of self-ness, but the achievement of an omnipotent power elite, in enforcing law and order, without anyone, bar the selective of privileged lords, being able to raise any objections whatsoever.

Between federalism and the alternatives now presented to us, namely confederalism and paleo-nationalism, there is little choice but to proceed with the federalization and full parliamentarization of the EU architecture, always with the tacit understanding that this can only be an intermediate step that has to be succeeded by thoroughgoing changes in the forms and the substance of the European polity, if autonomy is to be realized.

Alas and drawing from the aforementioned, the inward corrosion of the significations attached to specific terms, forces one to distance oneself from the very word of “federalism” and its derivatives, in an effort to be disassociated with the technocratic, statist and other opportunistic permutations that currently define its mainstream. The means and ends of autonomy, once understood through the context-specific narrative of the United States of Europe, must now find new ways of expression, if they are not to suffer the fate of degradation into darling illusions.

Perhaps this shifting of the hermeneutic and intellectual tectonic plates calls for contemplation on organic forms of political institution outside the scope of present federalism; a proposition that needs to be considered further. At any rate and in the absence of a better term, we may for the time being proceed to brand this reformulative impulse as “post-federalism” and we might as well venture to claim that those willing to think independently and to reformulate the radical imaginary underlying society, must escape from the logic of being concrete and practical, for these are secondary considerations (of great importance nonetheless); and in being committed to the task of reconsidering the theoretical underpinnings to autonomy, they shall proceed to the elaboration of a new vision of a nation-less and state-less European society. Once, this was to be achieved through “federalism”—now it can only be done beyond and without federalism, at least in the humble opinion of the present author.