Greece will push the French banks down the chute first; but German banks won’t avoid it, and together will finish Italy off. With luck, Italy will suck Spain into the abyss; Portugal will follow Spain, and Ireland Portugal . . . Then continental banks lock their doors and the cash machines dry up. Minestrone kitchens appear on the streets of Rome. . . . When Greece defaults and defects without warning in April 2012, a Committee of European Salvation meets in Luxemburg and suspends all treaties.
his is how the eminent British historian Norman Davies imagines future history textbooks describing the decline and fall of Europe that is unfolding before our eyes.1 I suspect Davies is mistaken about the particulars: No Committee of European Salvation will form to inter the European Union, nor is anything else so dramatic likely to take place. I suspect he is right, however, to insist that yet another “world of yesterday” has disappeared even before we managed to detect any serious fading.
When man-made worlds of political and cultural artifice disappear, they do it fast. And indeed, the European Union as we knew it just a year or two ago has vanished. Elites have lost their way even as publics have lost their patience. The official EU elite mantra, that European citizens will save the Union, is so desperate a plaint that, upon hearing it, a few privileged, cosmopolitan Europeans actually imagine their leaders capable of replicating—fully and successfully this time—something on the order of Alexander Hamilton’s federalization of America’s post-Revolutionary War debt as a way to midwife a successful pan-European polity.2 But Alexander Hamilton cannot save the eurozone, and there are, in any event, very few European citizens. The actual citizens of individual European countries are far more likely to destroy what is left of “Europe” given half a chance, whether at the polls or, possibly, in the streets. The current crisis has painfully demonstrated that, despite all the solidarity rhetoric we have heard for years, European publics’ readiness to share burdens does not readily extend beyond national borders.
Let us state the matter directly: The real crisis in Europe is not a financial/economic one, but a much deeper social/political crisis, of which the financial/economic dimension is just a symptom. That deeper crisis has formed not just because there is a democracy deficit between the center and the parts of the European Union, or because current European leaders are less devoted to genuine federal union than their predecessors. It has formed because of a cumulatively dramatic transformation of the very character of Europe’s liberal democratic regimes. The European Union...