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EUROPE WATCH : New World Order?

Americans have long had the habit of speaking of American polity as a vast experiment. The metaphor is a liberating one because it implies that our institutions, however good, are not perfect and that we intend to improve them as we go.

The United States is not the world’s only political laboratory, however; and as the 12 European Community heads of state gather for far-ranging discussions at Maastricht, the Netherlands, it is clear that their laboratory is also one to watch.

In “Nations and Nationalism Since 1780,” Eric J. Hobsbawm, a senior British historian, argued not long ago that nationalism, the very engine of history in the 19th and well into the 20th Century, was a spent force. Neither political independence for every ethnic grouping, Hobsbawm thought, nor imperialism under a national flag seemed to have a future.

What does have a future?

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As nationalism surges back in the erstwhile Soviet Union, the search is on for alternatives. One way or another, the future will almost surely belong to a polity that finds a way to acknowledge the twin realities of economic internationalism and ethnic nationalism. Economic life is already multinational; polity must be no less. But ethnic identity cannot be denied political expression simply because it is bad for business.

Beyond the technical complexity of such matters as a common European currency, this is the long-term promise of the “United States of Europe.”

The new Europe that is now in the making may point the way to a new world.


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