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John Laughland writes on the EU for the Italian journal LIMES.

Date de publication: 01.10.2013

 The European Utopia: peace through post-modernism


John Laughland


LIMES, Rome, September 2013 


According to the official ideology, the European Utopia is a Utopia of peace.  Every single argument in favour of European integration - and many arguments attacking those who criticise it - are based on the claim that the European Union is the guarantor of peace in Europe and that any attack on it risks threatening that achievement. 

It is impossible to exaggerate the extent to which this ideology is supported at the highest official levels.  In his Europe speech in Berlin on 9 November 2010, Herman van Rompuy attacked Euroscepticism as "a lie" and strongly implied that it would lead to war.[1]  In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - even though there has been peace in Europe since 1945 while the EU was not created until 1957. 

There are very many other examples of this peace argument.  All of them  not only credit the EU with ensuring peace in Europe, misleadingly for the reason given above; they also tend to obscure a key element about the specific nature of the European ideology.  Although EU member states, especially France and Germany, have been happy to celebrate, this year, the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty which sealed the formal reconciliation between the two states whose wars in the period from the French Revolution to the Second World War had engulfed the whole world, the radical ideological difference between that treaty and the European construction is overlooked. 

This difference lies in different views about the role of the state.  In the European Union, the founding ideology, which unites all of the major players of the European construction from Jean Monnet to politicians in our own day, is that nation-states must be subsumed into a post-national unpolitical administration in order for there to be peace in Europe. Jean Monnet, for instance, precisely spoke of "a union between peoples, not cooperation between states".  In the minds of Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, by contrast, who famously both attended Mass in Reims cathedral to symbolise the new friendship between their respective countries, peace in Europe was built on classical alliances between states, especially between France and Germany, of the sort Winston Churchill famously called for in his Zurich speech in 1946.

This radical difference between an inter-state logic of reconciliation between two former enemies, on the one hand,  and the anti-national or post-national model of the European Union - which constitutes the very essence of the European Utopia - can perhaps best be understood by pondering a statement made by the then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, in his address to the Bundestag after the Maastricht summit in 1991. Kohl said

It is not possible to turn back from the path to European union.  The member states of the European Community are now bound together in such a way that makes any outbreak of or relapse into earlier national-state thinking is impossible.[2]

In this revealing statement - the first lines of Kohl's formal report to the German parliament on the summit - the then Chancellor not only expressed a belief in historical inevitability but also the idea that progress is irreversible because a new kind of man, or at least a new kind of thinking, will emerge from the new Europe.  It is the philosophy of the end of history and the last man.

For Kohl, who throughout his long career very often spoke about the need to abandon "nation-state thinking"[3], and who has been imitated by other German politicians including the previous German president, Christian Wulff, for instance on a visit to Italy in 2002[4], Europe was not only overcoming the nation-state but changing the very behaviour and even mentality of Europeans:  they would no longer even think in terms of nation-states in future. 

Fashionable pro-European philosophers have also emphasised that the end of the nation-state is the key ideological component of the European Utopia: Antonio Negri, for instance, wrote in 2003, "The breaking and dislocation of national sovereignties, to the extent of their complete extinction, is the basis of any democratic within globalisation.""[5]  However, many pro-European philosophers and many European political actors have also taken the argument a step further, saying that the EU also puts an end to sovereignty as such.  This is a crucial point which it is important to digest.  Many believe that the EU does not simply replace national sovereignty with supra-national sovereignty, but on the contrary abandons the concept of sovereignty altogether in favour of an entirely new kind of political association.

Drawing partly on the doctrine of subsidiarity, which postulates the misleading idea that because power is wielded at different levels there is no such concept as sovereignty, but also on the tried and tested method of engineering incremental transfers of political power to supposedly non-political supranational bodies like the European Commission, the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank with a view ultimately to de-politicising politics altogether and hollowing out national sovereignty before anyone notices, the European Utopia is that the EU has moved beyond the logic of statehood to achieve instead a post-modern stage of statelessness or post-statehood.

This is what commentators mean when, like Giuliano Amato, they call called the EU an "unidentified object" (in English in the text[6]).   The reasoning has been well explained by Professor Giacomo Marramao of the University of Florence, quoting Amato, who has written,

For sure, no one can say that the member states of the Union are sovereign states as they were half a century ago ... But this does not mean that the European Union is a sovereign organisation nor a federal state in gestation: even the EU is "not a state, it does not have juridicial personality and the Maastricht treaty was right not to give it one. [7]

Such reasoning became very explicit after the European constitution was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005.  European leaders realised their mistake: for decades they had used the surreptitious "Monnet method" to advance their aims of causing the nation-state to wither away.  Suddenly they were confronted with an unexpected opposition to their plans to codify the treaties in a single document called "European constitution", and this in my view is explained by the overtly political connotations of the word "constitution" which precisely does imply that the EU is becoming a state.  Realising their mistake, the key actors in the game of subterfuge which ensued - the subterfuge being to reproduce in the Lisbon Treaty precisely the same transfers of power as those which had been contained in the European Constitution, only this time in the form of incomprehensible complicated treaty changes to the already incredibly complicated treaty structure of the EU - specifically emphasised in their public speeches that the Lisbon Treaty was "not a constitution" and that the language of constitutionality had been abandoned.  Both Nicolas Sarkozy, the prime mover behind the new treaty, and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the author of the ill-fated constitution, stressed that the new text did not call itself "a constitution".[8] Europe thereby renewed with, and even strengthened, its goal of overcoming not only the nation-state but the state itself.


One ideologue, the British EU official, Robert Cooper, has been especially lucid about this.  For him, the post-modern state is characterised by an absence of all the things which constitute the modern concept of statehood - by a disappearance of the distinction between foreign and domestic affairs; by the concept of mutual interference in the affairs of states; and by the growing irrelevance of borders.

[9] This analysis corresponds to those of Ulrich Beck, Jürgen Habermas, Antonio Negri, Jacques Derrida and Edgar Morin who have also argued that Europe demonstrates "multilevel constitutionalism," that its competences are overlapping and exercised on different levels and under no single sovereign authority, and that it therefore represents a totally new form of political association. In a book aptly entitled "A constitution witout a state," Eligio Resta emphasised that the Nice treaty, with its Charter of Fundamental Rights, was precisely the opposite of a country because "It is not a God, a Nation, a Nature, a History - all these terms are rigorously written with a capital letter - which is at the beginning of this pact, but the pact itself which is voluntary, artificial, unfounded." "[10] 



This is but the extension of the Habermasian concept of Verfassungspatriotismus applied to the European level.  The idea is that political association is not, or should not be, based on things which people have not chosen, like the place of their birth, their mother tongue, or any of the accidents of history or geography, but instead only on the free choice of undetermined individuals. As Gianni Vattimo has written, "Europe, as a project of political construction based totally on free association - of citizens and states with equal rghts - is today the most concrete and visible manifestation of an anti-naturalist policy."[11] 

"Antinaturalist" is the key concept because this Utopian ideology is based on an denial of the concept of fixed reality and instead on an affirmation that political structures (and no doubt the whole of reality) are in a state of permanent flux. Vattimo specifically attacks the Eurosceptics for failing to understand this:

A Europe of the fatherlands or of the nations is a Europe which has not renounced the exaggerated cult of one's own roots, belonging and dialects,  and which does not want to take account of the fact that those same national or regional identities to which people are so attached were themselves formed historically by the dissolution of previous identities which were themselves "more natural".[12]

Vattimo is not alone. Many other commentators[13] share his love of indeterminacy, multiplicity and permanent change, and his dislike of the (in their view) inadequate, old-fashioned and simplistic certainties of classical sovereign statehood.   They reject all forms of natural or inherited authority in favour only precisely of the artificiality of the European construction, a pure product (they think) of free individual choice.

But this also accurately describes, in fact, the way the EU has actually been in a state of permanent revolution since the mid 1980s.  Its treaties have been substantially revised in 1985, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2009 and 2012, not to mention the equally radical enlargements from 12 to 27 and soon 28 member states in two decades (enlargements also based on treaty changes).  There is literally no stability in the legal structure of the EU which is in a state of unceasing institutional flux. 

At bottom, this vision is not post-modern at all.  It is nothing but warmed-up Marxism which is in turn warmed-up Heracliteanism.[14]  Because of the Soviet experience of the command economy, we associate Marxism with state ownership of the means of production and central planning.  In fact, this is not the ideological core of Marxism at all.  The core is instead a view of reality, including the economy and therefore its political superstructures, as being in state of permanent flux - or "permanent revolution", to use Trotsky's phrase.  As Engels wrote in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1886),  

All successive historical systems are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher ...  Just as the bourgeoisie by large-scale industry, competition, and the world market dissolves in practice all stable time-honoured institutions, so this dialectical philosophy dissolves all conceptions of final, absolute truth and of absolute states of humanity corresponding to it. For it [dialectical philosophy], nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher.[15]

Of course the cosmopolitan ideal, so dear to the Europeans, is Marxist in origin too.  Just as EU promotional videos today promote the image of nice-looking friendly and eminently centrist young people who are indeterminately at home in Athens, Luxembourg or the USA - and who often speak American English![16]  - so Marx and Engels famously wrote , “The worker has no country. National differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market …”[17]

But the most flagrantly Marxist aspect of this bundle of ideas is surely the doctrine of the withering away of the state.  The idea that the state is the primary obstacle to freedom is perhaps the single most important tenet of left-wing and revolutionary ideology. It appearance in the European Utopia is only the return of a ghost which has been haunting Europe now for over 200 years. The three strands of this ideology - the replacement of politics by administration, cosmopolitanism and the withering away of the state - therefore coalesce into one single, coherent ideology which inspires the EU today and which is identical to Engels' famous prediction that " the government of persons will be replaced by the administration of things and the management of production processes.  The state is not abolished, it withers away.”



[18] Lenin succinctly formulated this belief in The State and Revolution (1917) when he wrote, "So long as the state exists, there is no freedom.  When there will be freedom, there will be no state," as did Bakunin in The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State (1878) when he hailed "liberty which will shatter all the idols in heaven and on earth and will then build a new world of mankind in solidarity, upon the ruins of all the churches and all the states."[19]  The EU, indeed, is not only post-national and stateless but atheist to boot: it famously refused any reference to the Christian roots of European civilisation in the 2005 constitution, a historic absurdity as great as saying that the EU has brought peace, its authors preferring instead to invoke only the values of Ancient Greece and the Enlightenment. Finally, John Lennon put Lenin's and Bakunin's anti-state and anti-religious Messianism to music when he composed the Imagine whose lyrics are simply a political programme: "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.  Imagine all the people living life in peace." [20]  The generation of 1968 is in power[21] - and this is their European Utopia.




[1] Herman VAN ROMPUY, "A Curtain went up - ein Vorhang ging auf!", Europe speech, Berlin, 9 November 2010:

[2] Helmut KOHL, Speech to the Bundestag, 13 December 1991, emphasis added.  ("Der Weg zur europäischen Union ist unumkehrbar.  Die Mitgliedstaaten der Europäischen Gemeinschaft sind jetzt in einer Weise verbunden, die ein Ausbrechen oder einen Rückfall in früheres nationalstaatliches Denken mit all seinen schlimmen Konsequenzen unmöglich macht.")

[3] In 1970 Kohl welcomed "the complete abandonment of nation-state thinking and principles" ("die völlige Abkehr von nationalstaatlichem Denken und Prinzipien") which, he said, characterised the post-war period in Europe.  See the TV broadcast "Journalisten fragen - Politiker antworten," ZDF, 30th April  1970, .

[4] "Wulff warnt vor einem nationalstaatlichen Denken," Focus, 13 February 2012.

[5] Antonio NEGRI, L'Europa e l'impero: riflessioni su un processo costituente. (Roma: Manifestolibri 2003), p. 159

[6] Giuliano AMATO, L'originalità istituzionale dell'Unione europea in Germinello. PRETEROSSI (a cura di) Un passato che passa? Germania e Italia tra memoria e prospettiva, (Roma: Fahrenheit 451, 2000), p. 82.

[7] Germinello MARRAMAO, Passaggio a Occidente, Torino, 2003, pp. 232-233; citando Giuliano Amato, L’originalità istituzionale dell’Unione Europea, in Germinello Preterossi (a cura di), Un passato che passa? (Roma: Fahrenheit 451, 2000) pp. 81-91;

[8] Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Le Monde, 26th October 2007; Nicolas Sarkozy, allocution, 10 February 2008. 

[9] Robert COOPER, The Postmodern State and the World Order, (London: Demos, 1996, 2000), p. 19 ff; See also The New Liberal Imperialiam, The Observer, 7 Aprile 2002.

[10] Eligio RESTA, Demos, Ethnos.  Sull'identità dell'Europa  in Gabriella BONACCHI (a cura di) Una Costituzione senza Stato. Ricerca della Fondazione Lelio e Lisli Basso-Issoco, (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2001), p. 182.  Quoted in the excellent book by Roberto de Mattei, De Europa, Tra radici cristiane e sogni postmoderni (Firenze: Le Lettere, 2006), p. 22.

[11] Gianni VATTIMO, "Intanto a Strasburgo sguardo sull' Europa," L'Unità, 24 Gennaio 2002.

[12] Gianni VATTIMO, "Intanto a Strasburgo sguardo sull' Europa," L'Unità, 24 Gennaio 2002.

[13] They are discussed at greater length by Roberto DE MATTEI in De Europa.  Tra Radici Cristiani e sogni postmoderni, (Florence:  Casa Editrice Le Lettere) 2006, p. 87-88.

[14] John LAUGHLAND, The European Union - a Marxist Utopia?  (The Monist, Vol. 92 No. 2, April 2009)

[15] Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Part I, Hegel (1886, this translation from Progress Publisher, 1946,

[16] "I'm Christos and I'm European", Youtube,  Was the name Christos chosen deliberately for this purpose?  See also the song "I'm European" produced by the European Parliament in 2011 which starts with Ronald Reagan saying (twice) "Mr Gorbachev, tear down that wall!" and then John Kennedy saying "Ich bin ein Berliner".  European unity is predicated upon American power.

[17] Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848).

[18] Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring, Dritter Abschnitt, in Marx Engels Werke (Berlin:  Dietz Verlag, 1990) Bd. 20, p. 262. (An die Stelle der Regierung über Personen tritt die Verwaltung von Sachen und die Leitung von Produktionsprozessen Der Staat wird nicht 'abgeschafft', ER STIRBT AB.“.

[19] Mikhail BAKUNIN, The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State (1871).

[20] John LAUGHLAND, From Lenin to Lennon:  Left-wing ideology in the West before and after the Cold War," in Today's World and Vaclav Klaus, Festschrift in honour of Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, edited by Jiri Brodsky, (Prague: Fragment, 2012).  Czech edition 2011.

[21] Or the generation of 1975.  See this video of the then president of the student branch of the Maoist “Reorganized Movement of the Party of the Proletariat” during the Carnation Revolution, José Manuel Barroso.

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