Wednesday, June 01, 2005

History's Refrain

I don't really have a strong opinion one way or the other about the EU constitution being voted down by the French electorate. I have seen and heard a lot of sighing, sadness, back-slapping and whoops-for-joy as a result of the vote. I can't arouse an emotional response within me.

Just beneath Europe's egalitarian, socialist surface lies the bedrock of fascism, I believe. The caricature of the white-boy-Nazi-American-cowboy pales in comparison to Europe's practical experience with real fascism, which swept across the continent unabated until those cowboys showed up. Fascism flourished in Europe with the aid of a lot of accomplices, not just victims.

Europeans know this better than anyone. That's why their culture has become so tortured: obsessed with high-minded fairness, guilt and donning the mask of multicultural deference, Europeans do not strike me as secure with their self-image. They're covering their painful history as best as they can with EU paper. Quite understandable. Even their attempt at egalitarianism takes on the trappings of a utopian scheme, flirting with fascism. I really have no idea if Transnational Socialism and National Socialism are essentially the same kind of fascism, in different clothing. For all our sake, I hope not.

Europeans' close proximity to their sordid past of grand social experiments have naturally made them a bit touchy about their own identity. And maddenly preachy, to be sure. But for all their overwrought complexity, impotence and attitude, I remind myself that if their current egalitarian incarnation fails them, they can always revert to their time-tested fascistic roots -- which is never very far to go.

As I write this, it seems unfair to talk about 'Europeans' as though they are a contiguous body of like-minded people. They most certainly are not. However, the EU is a vision for a common European identity, promoted as a counterbalance to the United States. So group them together I must.

Europe by definition is multicultural. It always has been. It's a patchwork of abutting cultures, contained within a relatively small landscape. Their history is rich and bloody. Multiculturalism evolved to its current benign pacifist state on a staple of human catastrophe, over hundreds of years. Any European over 70 can reveal that multiculturalism, if managed improperly, has a severe, tragic proportions.

The EU experiment may be a victim of utopian overreach. It needn't have been: The EU could have concentrated on economic ties within the continent, and considered a loose confederation between sovereign states. It could've emphasized a transatlantic military alliance. The 'European Man' was the religious part. That's when the sunbeams supposedly cut through the clouds from Un-Heaven and illuminate Europeans as the Most Sublime Rational Ones.

This might be the period of history where overreaching meets backlash. Europeans can't muster the votes for constructing a mercurial European man, normalizing the continent with short work weeks and peace symbols; and American Neoconservatives may have over-stretched their idealistic commitment to spread democracy abroad. Idealists always overreach.

The lesson here might be that we are seeing history be history again: Expanding ideals that overreach followed by recoil is classic historical oscillation. No one's immune.

Whether or not France's rejection of the EU constitution puts Europe closer or further away from their fascist roots is anyone's guess. We should all wish them well, and hope that what has happened in France will keep the mask on a bit longer. Let's not applaud the mess over there -- the kettle's black on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ah, history. It always has the same refrain: "Gotchya."