In reading this old review in the University Bookman by the historian Patrick Allitt of a rather grim book by Thomas Molnar, I came across the following lines about European unity (circa the late 1990s) and the relationship of aspirations to unity and the realities of historical and cultural difference. They reminded me of a few of the themes that emerged in our conference on international religious freedom this summer:
The idea of a united Europe, [Molnar] believes, is itself an American notion, even though it has fired the imagination of “Europeans” like Jacques Delors with all-but-evangelical intensity. Although I have my differences with him, this is a point where I find Molnar convincing: the idea of a united Europe is no more than an idle fantasy, contradicted at every point by history, and advocated at present only by businessmen and their political cronies who anticipate large profits. The European Community has homogenized, standardized, and centralized its affairs, chipping away at local traditions, undermining regional authorities, always advancing with its soothing rhetoric about peace, goodwill, and efficiency, and favoring the mild curiosity of tourism over the heroic self-discipline of cultural creation. But “Europe” has never been able to still ancient animosities, many of which still smolder beneath the civil surface. What’s more, it has only to glance a degree or two eastwards to remember some hard truths. Eastern Europe, though also prey to “Atlantic” delusions, is both literally and figuratively further from the great waters and a standing denial of “European” dreams. Swept first by the barbarian invasions, later by the Ottoman Empire, and more recently by the Nazis and the Soviet Union, fraught with fanatical hatreds of the sort which exploded the idea of Yugoslavia, let alone European unity, it promises to act the part of Banquo’s ghost at all Atlantic feasts.