EUROPE LEAD THE WORLD?
Al Gore in his ultra-prescient comments on the Iraq invasion back in 2002, when the US media jeered and he was a butt for the comedians, said that " (the invasion) …has the ability to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism,
and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new
century". Kofi Annan, in his final speech as UN secretary-general, all protocol put aside, said in his most explicit rebuke to date, that
the USA had sacrificed its global leadership on human rights because of its methods in the war on terror. "When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused," he said, speaking on 11th December.
This is the second article considering the obvious void in world leadership following the USA's decline in these terms, described in our November '06 piece:
(Wanted - A World
Leader). That stated in detail that there is a serious lack of world leadership on issues of major importance. With two more years to go of this US presidency the world is uncertain of whether the US - for fifty years leader of the free world, yet for six years past avoiding consensus in sensitive areas, and most alarmingly going to war unilaterally - is a leader that free nations can anymore follow.
If the question was a military one in terms of global war or confrontations, then there could be no issue on leadership since the US has not only proved to be good at this, but is so far ahead of any conceivable combination of opposing military forces, as we have earlier examined
Butt), that it would be absurd to look anywhere else. But the challenges of the 21st century are no longer military. If American taxpayers choose to spend so much of their money on military budgets then that is their business. The great president and former allied commanding general, Dwight Eisenhower, made penetrating but widely ignored comments on that.
But if the US cannot, or will not engage in such here-and-now issues as : resisting or even acknowledging the gravity of global warming; amending the penal anarchy triggered by Guantanamo Bay - and illegally snatching suspects off foreign streets to fly them to secret prisons to be 'dunked' - as vice-president Cheney jokes. Vital issues like protecting damage to the world environment from Big Oil, and enforcing scarce resource conservation. Most urgently perhaps, the need to design
a new and realistic Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and of sustaining a just, less partisan policy on peace in Israel and Palestine. With these and other matters, then to whom can the world look, to find the solutions for which these problems are crying out?
NATO: A MORE BIDDABLE UN?
Above all, this administration's attitude to the United Nations is very significant and deeply troubling for other member nations. Washington has no illusions that the UN is there to do it's bidding. Inconvenient certainly. Frustrating, without a doubt. It appears however - there are clear signs - that the US may now be seeking to circumvent the UN and to use NATO as a more pliable vehicle, not just in a military sense (it is always under the command of a US general who answers to the Pentagon), but as a worldwide geopolitical instrument of the US's will. We have already this year looked closely at NATO
is NATO For?) but matters have moved on , indeed are constantly on the move.
For such a change to take place for NATO, Europe would have to be convinced. It is the forum for any such collective decision as the future of NATO, and if because of the US's demonstrated abdication of responsibility, leadership on certain issues were to devolve back to Europe, it seems appropriate to look and see what in the 21st Century, Europe has become. The baton of world leadership was effortlessly and appropriately assumed by the USA as a result of WWII, and the forty six years of confrontation with communism that followed. If the US is now unable, or as it seems unwilling to continue to lead - or offers initiatives that the rest of the world declines to follow - then leadership has to come from another source. The US accounts for only 5% of the world population and if its introspective policies prevent it leading on world issues, then the other 95% have surely got to shape up - one way or another. As we have maintained, the UN is absolutely the appropriate place for this, but the UN can only be what its members will allow it to be. As of now, they plainly prefer that it remains grossly under-equipped to take on the pro-active leadership of the world.
It must in such circumstances make sense to look at the qualifications of Europe as it is today, and the directions in which it is going. To understand Europe it is necessary to know what it is, and how it got there. It is a remarkable story with a long way still to go. But amongst other things, as the European Union it does represent a template for the disparate nations of the world, first bonding economically - and successfully. From there, moving with all deliberate speed to shared institutions and a democratic base for shared supranational laws, whilst each member still retains their national sovereignty.
[It is not surprising that an East Asian Community is in the pipeline, given the success of Europe. Russia too seeks a community, which many of its former colonies see as a re-run of empire, since there is such a mismatch in every kind of criteria between them and Russia itself. India, the giant of south Asia, is likely to respond to global developments by a regional alliance, but in all of these line-ups the heartening thing is that these are economic alliances not military
THE EUROPEAN IDEA
Apart from its current half-billion population, Europe incorporates 'the old country' for many in the US and the former Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch empires and the British Commonwealth. Europe of the 21st century is remarkably different to that of the war-torn mid-20th century.
The concept of a European entity is both old and new as we seek to show below, but in the last half century has taken on a far more beneficial character than could have been imagined at almost any time prior to that. The 'long war' from 1914 to 1945, as with historical perspective we can now assess the two world wars (some add on the forty plus years of the cold war), finally produced such a degree of revulsion that men of vision and power in their several nations broke out of the straitjacket of nationalism, to seek a better way. It seemed that, welcome though it was, since Europe and Europeans historically had been the start and cause of the 20th century wars, as so many before; that perhaps it was a manifestation of that wisdom that sometimes comes with age. That these formerly proud and quarrelling nations had understood with the coming of modern mechanised warfare, itself overtaken by a range of 'ultimate' weaponry against which there was no defence, then as nation states concerned only with their own national interests and aggrandizement, they had run their course. Rather than expect to shape the affairs of the world, or even their own region as hitherto, they were content to settle to an economic arrangement for Europe that might, as it has done, lead on to a more profound political relationship for the continent.
National pride and consciousness is commonplace throughout the world, but to take a community of twenty seven independent nations, with seven more queuing up for entry, and yet others knocking on the door, indicates something more. An intangible, powerful, supranational spirit, an 'idea' in fact, based upon millennia of being players in a shared interactive history, in every aspect of human affairs.
Where and what is 21st century Europe? Article O of the Treaty of Rome, the founding article of the European Union, says, "Any European state may apply to become a member of the Union". Twenty seven, the newest being Bulgaria and Romania have membership. The EU already accommodates eighteen languages and currently has a population of around half a billion. Six Balkans states are seeking to qualify to join. This involves economic criteria and the harmonizing of national legislation to blend with existing and future European law. Additionally (unlike NATO), all candidate nations must be seen to accede to the 'Copenhagen Criteria' of democracy and the rule of law. Each nation remains sovereign but in terms of European Union legislation is represented at the European Parliament of nationally elected members, and through the Council of Ministers at government level. Its permanent executive is the European Commission, with (minister-rank) commissioners appointed from all of the member countries, to head all areas of supranational policy. There is an appropriate independent system of courts of justice. Each member state occupies the EU presidency for a six months rotating period, during which their political chief speaks for Europe.
The organizational process is ongoing, but multiple languages have not been a critical problem (the Austro-Hungarian empire had sixteen). The community has adopted a common currency, the Euro, based on a central bank backed by the resources of the member states, which confounded its sceptics and soon found its feet internationally. Very quickly, it has become one of the few major world currencies and is widely regarded as an alternative to the USD. Membership of the monetary system is not easily acquired and applicant nations have to pass stringent criteria - a few member nations have chosen not to join the system, so far. Similarly, most of the longer- term, more securely confident members, have via the Schengen agreement, abolished border controls between them, many others will in due course join them. There was no mandatory requirement for this for established members and some may always prefer to police their own frontiers.
Turkey after a hard struggle has candidate status, but apparently a long road to acceptance. It has a very large population at seventy one millions, much of which is unskilled; it is a secular state, but the vast majority of its people are moderate Moslems, and it has had a long running internal war with its large Kurdish minority. There is also a difficult territorial dispute with Cyprus, now an EU member.
Ukraine is not a candidate, but would dearly like membership. Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan similarly, Armenia is not clear. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, all of which easily qualify, prefer at this time to remain outside of the EU, but to have close economic ties to it - and are politically akin. All three are entirely supportive of the European concept, illustrating that whilst the EU conveniently incorporates most qualified states, the European Idea is wider than just the economic and political union.
Belarus is the only European state, along with Russia of whom it is effectively a satellite, in being within the geographical criteria, and so could seek membership, but does not and therefore, in the case of Russia, saves unending debates about it's European status (there is also a potent slavophile, "Russian Idea," and Putin we can safely assume is not about to join a political and economic alliance that is centered on Brussels, rather than Moscow).
WHERE IS IT ON THE GLOBE?
Geographically, Europe is defined as the western peninsula of the Eurasian land-mass and its associated islands. It stretches from Iceland in the west to the Urals in the east. It can be seen that most of populated Russia is west of the Urals, but the line of the Ural mountains and river also includes the Transcaucasian states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey also is comfortably within those parameters.
In the north it goes from Spitzbergen or Novya Zemlaya near the top of the world, to Gibraltar in the south.
It is feasible to believe, if the EU resumes expansion, that by 2025, the European Union could number perhaps thirty five states, with a population of 650 million.
ARBITERS OF WORLD AFFAIRS
For four and a half centuries until WWII, Europeans were - and expected to be, the arbiters of world affairs, ever since the late 15th C when they first discovered that there was a world out there beyond the Pillars of Hercules and the Atlantic coasts, and scurried around the globe planting flags. But these Europeans who were deeply divided in terms of language, religion, nationality, and were constantly at war with each other, were at least united in their arrogant belief that all the myriad nations and cultures that they encountered, were their inferiors. Even though they could not and did not try to conquer them all, for example China and Japan; the superiority of European military technology was enough to establish a trading presence, which was often all that was required. Their war ships, basically floating artillery platforms and troop carriers, usually gave them control of the littoral of all the seas they sailed upon, from which they often successfully extended into the interior and colonized.
THE FOUNT OF CIVILISATION
It is a European conceit, quite unforgivable, but typical in its patronizing implications, that Europe was the fount of world civilization - this is a factor in the concept of the 'European Idea'. This followed the Cretan story of about 4,500 years ago (where the King in his palace at Knossos already had indoor flushing toilets and good frescoes). It fails to acknowledge the reality of the 'Europa' creation myth, that what came originally to Crete from the Levant was in fact the diffusion of developed Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures percolating north, island-hopping to mainland Europe.
The belief persisted until modern times that the Greeks of the classical era, with their city states, featuring Athens with its democracy (that like post-colonial Jeffersonian America, excluded women and slaves - that is most of the population), really were the originators of everything worth having within a state. It is nevertheless true that democracy in different manifestations sprang from European soil, with the Greek versions of 2500 years ago, which did not last - the Romans weren't interested. Iceland, a thousand years ago having a participatory parliament reintroduced the concept, which never really went away, although in England and later Poland, it was at first a democracy only of aristocrats and landowners. It became meaningful as a bulwark against tyranny - rather the point of the exercise, with the English civil war. But this has been a magnificent European tradition, which now most of the world's emerging nations at least claim to have adopted, or to aspire to.
Greek city states developed from a political history of over a thousand years along with civil and military technologies, together with a pervading social culture, until superseded by a greater power. But before that great shift, Greece had defended itself successfully against invasions, spectacularly against the hordes of Persia, the western Asian menace of that time. They also produced one of the most successful generals the world has seen, in Alexander of Macedon, whose conquering armies penetrated as far as modern Tajikistan, on the borders of Afghanistan and China.
The Romans took over in Europe and the near-east, maintaining a relationship with a subsidiary Greece, rather like that of the USA with the UK - drawing on and modifying their culture, sending some of their brightest youth to hob-nob with their intellectuals, adopting chosen elements of their culture, and maintaining the airs and graces of the older civilisation. Greece however was not a cohesive nation but a collection of city states, who although sometimes in alliance, on the whole mistrusted and often fought their neighbours. Individually, the various cities expanded by means of a surprising number of far-flung trading and exploitable colonies, on the littorals of both the Mediterranean and Black Seas but also into riverine Ukraine, Russia, Spain and France.
Rome, early an imperial power, for the first time in European history created a settled order by means of conquest, over what was a large part of the continent, as well as in the middle-east, western Asia and north Africa. Until that time it would have been unthinkable, illogical even, to visualize an entity called Europe, as it had been nothing more than the western promontory of Eurasia. It changed because of the extraordinary progress of one tribe settled in central Italy - through local dominance to nationhood, to empire. Rome the city and state, became through its superior military might and good administration, the arbiter of the lives and fortunes of all within its widespread conquered territories. Until Rome, over the millennia, Europe had seen little but a one-way pattern of waves of nomadic hunter- herder tribes, moving from east to west to be farmers and pastoralists, until disturbed by more powerful newcomers, necessarily giving way and moving west again, or being engulfed.
Rome's empire brought, in a word, order, where previously there had been none. Technology in many forms, military organisation, settled populations in towns, the concept of duty to a distant capital city and membership of an empire. A single system of weights and measures, one currency, taxation, a system of laws and of dispensing justice, a developed culture, even towards the end of their days, one religion.
The empire eventually became so vast, in terms of the rudimentary transport and communications of the period, that eventually authority was divided into two. Western Rome based in the city, later Ravenna on Italy's Adriatic coast; and Eastern Rome ruled from the eponymous city founded by Constantine on the Bosphorus, at the entrance to the Black Sea. Not without difficulty Rome policed the seaways in the Mediterranean and along the North Atlantic coasts against pirates, just as their troops patrolled the modern, drained, stone highways that their military engineers had constructed over a large part of the empire, and safeguarded the long frontiers.
It seemed not to impinge on Greece, although Alexander must have been aware of it, but from Roman times an awareness grew that farther away even than distant Parthia, beyond the deserts and steppe of central Asia, lay another important empire. But apart from a small quantity of merchant's wares, silk in particular and porcelain, there was no particular interest in China, an attitude certainly reciprocated by the Asian power. But over the centuries, a more technologically advanced China diffused some key military elements such as the stirrup, which revolutionised cavalry warfare, allowing heavily armoured warriors the stability to fight from their saddles. Gunpowder was known there at an early stage, although the Europeans seemed to discover better how to use it in war.
The compass also made its way from east to west, in time for the European voyages of exploration that were to come (China had already made theirs and had abandoned the enterprise as insufficiently worthwhile, before the Europeans had even started). Obviously the distances ensured that there was no military interface between the empires of China and Rome - therefore no threat to either - preoccupied as they both were with permanent menace of the nomadic horse warriors on their frontiers.
THE ARROGANCE OF IGNORANCE
It could be said that both empires were equally arrogant in assuming that they alone were the repository of all that was good or desirable and that their society alone defined civilisation. Neither would have acknowledged the earliest of all known civilizations, in Sumeria - leading to Assyria and Babylon before being subsumed into Persia. Nor yet would they have had much knowledge or respect for many other organized, militarily proficient societies, such as those in India, because they knew little of them, they were no threat and the sheer distance between them looked like keeping it that way.
The onset of European awareness began to be settled in the context of the Roman empire which opened up what previously were no-go areas. Under the legionary system of centuries-long occupation, the tribal societies in most countries eventually developed a concept of nationality, subsidiary of course to that of Rome, but having much to do with language and religion and with a tribal cousinage, as for example between England and Wales with Gaul, Brittany and Galicia in NW Spain. (Most of Scotland and all of Ireland were never a part of the Roman conquests).
Gallic peoples at this time were the inhabitants of much of modern France. In Spain apart from Basques - not an ethnically Indo-European people, whose origins are still unknown - there were also Celts and Iberian tribes. Italy itself had over the centuries seen Rome weld its Italian and Estruscan tribes and the colonies that Greece had in its time implanted, into a common citizenship. The same process followed their later conquests. The Germanic tribes for centuries were the 'barbarians at the gate,' but some of them eventually became allies of Rome, and dominating ones at that.
About 410CE the city of Rome was sacked by Alaric, when the defences against the invading hordes finally gave way. Seeking to access plunder and the prospect of soft living through the rich farmland and the ordered life that this brought, finally brought nomadic warriors bursting through the defences everywhere erected against them. Within a comparatively short time, western Rome was over-run and the last emperor in the west was deposed in 476. In Britain, Wales was already abandoned in 390CE and England fifteen years later, the legions being withdrawn fruitlessly as it emerged, for the better defence of provinces closer to Rome.
THE ADVENT OF CHRISTIANITY
Rome and the western provinces of Europe of its creation, were all but extinguished for the next four centuries, during what is aptly described as the Dark Ages, partly because there is so little written record - writing and writers are not prominent in savage societies. But before the time of the collapse, the Roman emperor Constantine had addressed the many exotic and wonderful religions of the empire and decided to standardise them. In 313CE he acknowledged just one of them, Christianity. In 380CE Theodosius formally made it the official religion of the Roman empire. Before this, and with some alacrity afterwards, many barbarians were inducted into the religion, so when the secular organisation of the Roman state finally succumbed to barbarian onslaught, the church managed to survive - and more. It took over the organisational model of Roman administration and used it in creating the structure of a European-wide church through those new kingdoms that had been converted to their religion. They became the priestcraft of Europe, seeing off all others, operating side by side with the warrior chieftains that would accept them.
The church became the slender thread of a repository of such knowledge and learning, as had survived in western Europe. In spreading the word of the religion at a time of the darkest barbarity, it reflected the memories of the lost civilization, and the light of a higher calling for humanity than just the creed of violence, and of animal needs and passions. It was a feature of this religion that it had a strong missionary element. There were priests that were prepared to risk, and often to lose their lives, in seeking to spread their faith onto very unpromising ground, some of which however produced the results they sought. This shared religion was a powerful strand in the formation of a European consciousness which began to reshape itself under the name of Christendom. The new religion was always highly political and became a major landowner across the Christian world.
BYZANTIUM: LAST REFUGE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION
Constantinople was to outlast Rome by a thousand years. It was largely Greek populated - Greek in fact was the language - and celebrated the Orthodox form of Christianity. It became the continuation of Rome, which in the west with the exception only of the religion, had succumbed completely to the barbarian conquerors .
The Byzantine empire, as it became known, kept alive the scholarship and civilization that once had flourished in ancient Greece and the technologies developed by Rome. It was a mighty city and formidable empire, at first virile and expanding and an oasis of the former civilized norms in a wild and primitive western world. Then over the centuries it went into decline under the relentless assault of waves of nomadic invaders from all quarters of the compass. It was initially hard-hit by the Moslem 'explosion' out of the Arabian peninsula from the 7th century onwards, wherein it lost much of its middle-eastern imperial possessions, but beat them back from the city itself, from most of its territory and from any invasion of SE Europe. Having reorganized, it was strong again until the coming of the nomadic Turks in the 11th century. From then on it was in trouble, but was not conquered until the final Ottoman assault on the city in 1453CE. When it fell, these former nomads from Western Asia, who for nearly four centuries had been biting off chunks of the Byzantine empire in present day Turkey, and in Romania and Bulgaria, then moved on to Greece, the Balkans, Hungary and as far as they eventually penetrated into Europe, centuries later, to the gates of Vienna .
So the Turks too became a part of the European family, originally like the others by means of conquest and long occupation. The few long-term Moslem areas of Europe, Albania, Kosovo in Serbia, Bosnia and parts of FYR Macedonia and Bulgaria, are what remain as a religious relict, now a part of the European mix. Since most of the citizens that converted to Islam did so for the worthwhile privileges during the five centuries of Ottoman rule, they are ethnically mostly the same as the surrounding Balkan slavs. In Central Europe: Hungary, Rome's province of Pannonia, was always the favoured gateway for nomad armies entering Europe through the Carpathian mountains from present day Ukraine. It had often been invaded but now was settled a thousand years ago, by a nation of horse-borne warriors, the Magyars. Like the Basques in Spain these were not of Europe's predominant Indo-European ethnicity, they are Finno-Ugrarian from a scattered people originating along the northern Siberian roof of Eurasia, an ethnic background shared with two other European nations in the north, Finland and Estonia.
THE DARK AGES
Even before the collapse of western Rome early in the 5th century, waves of Germanic invaders crossed the Rhine, and settled either as allies, or having conquered all before them. A large group were known as the Franks (hence France - it later became a generic name for all Europeans in other parts of the world). Others, the Vandals, moved on down to occupy Spain and then further across the straits into Morocco and the Maghreb. Still more hordes, Goths, and Visigoths and Ostrogoths had moved into Italy and central Europe. Most of former Roman Europe was settled by these new waves of Germanic people putting pressure on earlier settlers, forcing them ever west.
Waves of these dispossessed: Angles, Saxons, Jutes being the best known names, crossed the North Sea to settle in eastern England, pushing the Romano-Britons farther and farther to their west - the present day Wales, Cornwall, Cumbria. In France to Britanny, and Spain to Galicia. This was also the age of the sea raider. From Ireland came slaving and plundering ships. The ferocious norsemen from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, called vikings, not only raided Britain and all down the European coasts but settled colonies in north-eastern England and western Ireland. Accomplished seamen, they discovered, and for a time settled in North America, five centuries before Columbus discovered the Caribbean islands. They also used the river system of Russia to penetrate from the Baltic down to the Black and Caspian seas, to raid or trade with Byzantium, settling as a dominant class for a while in Kiev in today's Ukraine, as a way-station to and from the south.
Audacious in the extreme, they entered the Mediterranean and attacked rich coastal targets in Italy, eventually their half-tamed Norman descendants captured and ruled Sicily, and large swathes of southern Italy. For centuries they were a significant political force in Mediterranean regional politics. Similarly they raided the coasts and up the rivers of northern France and finally conquered and occupied what became Normandy, with their leader becoming a Duke in the French kingdom. Later of course the Normans crossed the channel, conquered and ruled England creating an Anglo-Norman aristocracy anticipating the European concept, by having land-holdings throughout the continent.
A NEW UNIFYING 'ROMAN' EMPIRE
Out of the chaos of permanent wars of occupation and conquest, from the Frankish tribes there had emerged a dominant leading clan who had conquered much of western Europe, and their greatest war leader, Charlemagne. In Rome in 800 CE he arrived at an understanding with the then Pope. Charlemagne took the title of Holy Roman Emperor, so reviving the notion of a Europe-wide empire, this time to also secure and protect his ally the church, which from now on was to become a great secular as well as a spiritual power. Charlemagne granted them the lands of central Italy called the Papal States. He was anointed Emperor and although indubitably 'a man of blood,' was later canonized a saint. This creation of a political entity, the Holy Roman Empire, was the political re-awakening of that dormant 'European Idea', crushed in fact since the collapse of Rome.
THE MOSLEM INVADERS
Apart from the continually invading hordes from Eurasia, the advent of Islam had caused a massive, religiously inspired wave of proselytizing invasions, out of the heartland of Arabia, which mainly took over the Middle East, North Africa and Western Asia. They also penetrated Europe, conquering most of Spain and reaching as far as Poitiers in central France, before being defeated there by an antecedent of Charlemagne. They also settled in Sicily, parts of Italy and Greece, and raided southern European shores for centuries afterwards. They were inspired by their faith in this new religion, which shared much with both Christians and Jews, but in those times, like these - nothing much has changed - it was the different and competing prophets, as interpreted by their priestcrafts, that made sure it was the differences that would dominate. But their very existence was key to the formation of the 'European Idea'. To be invaded by people pushing literally an alien religion, and to finally repel that invader (after some five hundred years), as with much later rolling back the Moslem Ottomans in the Balkans after at least that long, created a pan-European distinct sense of 'us' and 'them.'
LAND WAS WEALTH
Europe within the Holy Roman Empire although plagued by continuing wars, already had the basis of the future national structure in that its leaders became mostly hereditary rulers over mini-kingdoms, manageable in size, called counties, duchies, etc. The most powerful of these tended to found the first distinct kingdoms and to adopt the title of king, religiously 'certified' through being anointed by a leading priest.
They were organized by a form of federalism, in many respects of near-equals with much intermarriage. In some cases the magnates (taking the names of historic Roman ranks:- counts, dukes, etc;) were as rich and powerful as the king. It was the key element of feudalism as the relationship was called, that created a series of tiers of obligation to do military service, in return for title to land, and its products. This feudalism was a weakness as well as a strength, as it led to military competition - inevitably local wars, but it was the system that prevailed for many centuries. It set the stage of social divisions between three classes of citizen - warriors that formed the aristocracy and did the fighting; workers and peasants - the vast majority that laboured; and priests who did neither, but provided a nascent intelligentsia. Such divisions endured for perhaps a thousand years, but then the emerging prosperous social class of artisans and merchants, formed a middle-class with a new energy to progressively take over the running of affairs from an aristocracy, which was becoming largely superfluous. That was a step-change which raised the new Europe from the ranks of many other warrior-led societies around the world.
The first expedition, the religiously inspired crusade, to invade Syria and Palestine, preached in 1095, was to all Christians, regardless of country of origin and this involved the east European countries as well. Franks, they were called by foreigners, but by now, they themselves thought of Europe - wherever Christianity reigned - as Christendom.
That was the descriptive name in common usage until the early stages of the Enlightenment after generations of religious conflict, following which the ideas of universal religious tolerance came to achieve increasing acceptance.
For the first half of the second millennium CE, much blood and treasure at governing levels was expended in wars and civil wars, usually in pursuit of power. Then two major events relevant to the 'European Idea' took place.
RELIGION NO LONGER A MONOPOLY
The Christian religion in western Europe divided, with a large segment of the most economically developed countries regrouping as protestants in a movement called the Reformation around 1545, opposed to the evident abuses of power and some of the doctrines of the established Roman Catholic church. This breach of many European kingdoms with the Roman church removed a tier of authority and external taxation, which in turn led to a more egocentric use of power - stronger kingdoms in fact. The Reformation led to long religious and civil wars, but finally these two branches of Christianity fought each other to a standstill, remained apart, yet finally accepting and relatively at peace with each other. Eastern Europe that formerly had been Greek Orthodox - yet another interpretation of the Christian faith, which maintained a distant but legal connection with the church of Rome, with the downfall of Constantinople in 1453 now had to contend with what their western co-religionists had experienced a thousand years before with the collapse of Rome. This time the patriarch and his colleagues under the Moslem Ottomans, although remaining in office in Istanbul and throughout their empire, retaining for worship many cathedrals and churches, did not as in the west, form a parallel power structure with the secular authority. Instead, the Ottomans shrewdly co-opted them as administrators of their 'flock' responsible for the behaviour of the Christian subjects of the Sultan, so in cases of rebellion for example, the Patriarchs of Constantinople (by now Istanbul) were punished, sometimes hanged, for failure to prevent this. Thus Orthodox priests still today remain political as well as spiritual leaders.
After Constantinople was lost to the Ottomans, Russia, a vast wild territory whose slav population was largely clustered at river ports, now started to emerge as a European player. Based on the principality of Moscow, they finally shook off the rule of the Moslem descendants of the 13th C Mongols who had conquered them. As the Russians had earlier adopted the Orthodox version of Christianity of eastern Rome, they saw themselves as the legitimate heirs of the Roman empire - the keepers of the light. Their rulers took for themselves the title of Czar derived from Caesar, and became champions of this prevailing form of christianity in eastern Europe. Also they modernized, modeling their culture on that of France, naval technologies on those of Holland and Britain, and military techniques from Sweden and Prussia, so becoming a formidable fighting power. Their own powerful customs prevailed against the flow of those of western Europe. Although greatly influenced by Europe, they developed a quasi-religious 'Russian Idea' which continues with a resonance at all levels of society, and moved south and east into Asia to expand their empire. Thus, they remained as now, only tangential to Europe proper.
THE AGE OF DISCOVERY
Russia's overland expansion east, coincided in the west with the age of discovery, enabled by technological discoveries in navigation and the impetus of an emergent middle-class, with the energy and resources to look outwards from western Europe. The results were spectacular. At the very end of the 1400's the American continent had been re-discovered by Europeans, this time starting from Central America spreading out both to north and south, quickly gaining a far wider perspective of the possibilities than did those Vikings perching on the windy North Atlantic coast, five centuries earlier. Almost simultaneously, European navigators rounded the southern tip of Africa and later up the coast of East Africa and across to India. In less than a century, the sailors and merchant adventurers of several European nations had sailed to some of the remotest places on the globe, had set up trading posts on all coasts of Africa, India, Indonesia, even distant China and Japan. In addition they developed the concept of colonies -overseas territories, 'owned' by the European state who both claimed and was able to hold them militarily, against both the indigenous forces and their European competitors.
Being exposed for the first time to myriad foreign cultures and engaged in all cases, except perhaps China, with countries being less technologically advanced and usually quite uninformed about other parts of the world; these adventurers performed amazing feats of conquest, never more so than the extraordinarily small number of Spanish conquistadors that conquered Mexico and Peru. Military technology in most arenas gave the
advantage to the newcomers, steel and edged weapons being still unknown in many places. But audacity had much to do with it. Rudimentary artillery and muskets were good enough, when the natives' distance weapons were still at the bow-and-arrow, and spear stage. Naval technology reinforced the view that it was the Europeans that 'discovered' these distant lands, as if they had been uninhabited!
One effect of this amazing success as colonisers was that it engendered in Europeans a feeling of superiority, grudgingly extended to other colonising nations, balanced in turn by a sense of inferiority amongst the indigenous conquered. Both could define themselves by comparison with those they conquered or traded with, and the common ground was the colonist's origin in Europe. Many parts of the world were settled by the new imperial states who planted overseas Europeans in positions of advantage. In some cases these new territories were settled by merchant or religious companies, as in North America. In other instances, particularly Spanish America, the resources of their new colonies particularly the labour force, were ruthlessly exploited to bring the product back to Europe. But in the other direction, the Europeans were in the forefront of the slave trade, transporting African slaves to both north and south America and the islands.
Thus from all of these historical events, a European consciousness was formed which for four and a half centuries was in the ascendant. During these centuries Europe itself changed socially with leadership passing to the middle classes. The break of the monopoly in religion and the massive wealth engendered with advancing modern technology and new markets, led to a enlarged leisured class, from whom an intelligentsia emerged, taking over, secularising and greatly enlarging the intellectual institutions, libraries, universities, formerly the unique province of the church.
From these roots emerged the Enlightenment, a uniquely European institution, perhaps it's most enduring product and Europe's best qualification, if any, for leadership in today's world. Everything that went before combined to create the Enlightenment, a Europe-wide movement as it became, spreading to America, starting from the decades on either side of 1700. It had to do with the recognition that science must be liberated from the former oversight of established religion. Intellectual thought of all kinds needed to be stimulated, including when it was incompatible with religious teachings. There was a social reaction against absolutism, exemplified by Louis XIV's long reign in Europe's most powerful state France, and in many other nations. It became clear that the nascent democracy, by now widespread and successful in municipalities, needed to be taken up to the nation state level. The experience of England in the forces of the elected parliament defeating those of a king who believed in his 'divine right' to rule, resonated throughout the continent and sparked off many political societies and movements. Money and power had become much less concentrated in the hands of hereditary landowners and the engine of growth now lay with the merchant class. The essence of this period was to take a leap forward across many areas of human activity, which by its nature implies the continuity which has surely followed from that time.
As a qualification to world leadership, one now looks at certain growing economies rising to giant status, like that of China. There is nothing that one can see to indicate that if China's phenomenal growth ever took it to the leadership of the world, that the gains, the continuing momentum, let alone the philosophy of the enlightenment would be safe in their hands.
EUROPE AT PEACE
Europe never stopped its wars of conquest, of succession, or of territorial advantage until 1945, a mere 60 years ago. As technology advanced and mechanized warfare became the norm, the massive casualties led on to conscription and citizen armies. War was no longer to be the exclusive province of an aristocratic military elite. The need to win, slowly but inexorably meant that merit overcame birth and the last province of the aristocracy was no longer theirs.
Alongside the military changes came a leveling of power and influence whereby the worst injustices of a rigid class order were extinguished. Governments became dependent on the citizens and accountable to them. Although there was a prolixity of nation states, - for centuries at the top they had been linked by marriage between ruling royal families. Alliances came and went, and few nations were not at some time in alliance with the very nations with whom at other times, they were at war.
The twentieth century saw fundamental change. The end had come for European world empires, which were no longer sustainable, and the fall of three empires within Europe - Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Ottoman Turkey. But even more significantly the rise and fall of two mighty totalitarian forces that had limitless ambitions to spread their competing creeds. Communism, that first saw the light of day in Russia, lasted for seventy four years in Europe; whilst its rival fascism, appeared first in Italy in the 1920's and then Germany and Spain, but collapsed as a direct result of WWII in 1945. Both credos were ugly manifestations of humanity at its worst, since their high sounding objectives in fact were inoperable except in a police state, where citizens were merely 'units,' subordinated to those who were the all-powerful agents of the state which was in no way accountable to them.
The sheer disgust and horror at the scale of the suffering of the two twentieth-century world wars - the latest of a never-ending series of wars and of killing, throughout and beyond recorded history, motivated certain senior statesmen of different countries to find practical ways to avoid it happening, yet again. They did this by binding their nation states together within an economic community on democratic principles, which could foster mutual economic strength and avoid the circumstances which had historically led to the European wars. They succeeded brilliantly in founding the world s biggest democratic, economic and political community, strengthened by constitutional checks and balances and it's continuing success, which enabled it after the collapse of communism, to pick up the pieces- by including them in - of those former communist satellite states that geographically lay within Europe.
Thus Europe, although it obviously has its problems, is looking comparatively good politically and economically. It is not a great military power in itself, relying mostly on NATO, with some engagements such as UN peacekeeping missions, on a purely EU level. But two of its members own nuclear arsenals with the means of delivery, and several have impressive professional armed services, sufficient as they see it for their defensive purposes. Europe knows what it has been, who it is now and how it got there. It has known deep suffering and great triumphs. It has been the engine-room of progress in every sphere of human activity. It understands diversity and it has lost the arrogance that once disfigured it. Above all, Europe is mature and being a collective authority depending on consensus, cannot be the creature of a single party or of any individual .
It has the credentials to provide world leadership in nearly every sphere, now that the criteria are no longer purely military. Whether these are enough has not been tested, but it is a unique and successful institution in itself and has come a long way, as the foregoing illustrates, to reach its present position.
Whether 'the moment' could find the man - or woman - is another matter, but Europe can only work as a consensus. Personalities, although always important, are less so than in a bi-polar party-political conflict like that of the US.
If the urgency of the issues demands it. More importantly, if America continues to fail to provide leadership - and the UN is not given the resources to do so, then the rest of humanity has to do the best that they can in the circumstances, which may include looking elsewhere than Washington DC.
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Publisher - Clive Lindley