Is the European Union condemned to fragment? Is every human endeavor to attain security and prosperity through collective agreement destined to fail? Are we programmed to dream of the good but then to cave swiftly to fear and aggression, allowing the worst part of ourselves to triumph? After decades of stability, today we can see clearly the danger of Europe falling apart and each country returning to a time of fleeting alliances and eternal conflict. Myths and religions, history, and human nature underline the dangers. Catastrophe and misery repeat themselves continually. Humanity’s natural state is war, pain and hunger. Periods of stability and development are bright, brief intervals, which in the past usually came at the expense of others (who would be enslaved, colonized, exploited in some or other way). The great question now is whether the people of Europe will see the danger in time and whether they will avert it.
Today, as never before, humanity is at a point much like the biblical Tower of Babel, just before a vindictive God condemned the world’s collected nations to incoherence, division and war. The project of Europe’s economic and political unification put an end to endless bloodshed. The internet and new means of communication give each nation and every person the power of knowledge and provide channels for the exchange of ideas instantly around the world. The globalized economy allows great parts of humanity to escape abject poverty, raising living standards of even the poorest among the richer nations, allowing all to enjoy the fruits of cheaper goods. Europe, however, is rocked by new, widening divisions. The internet and telecommunications are open to all kinds of crime and exploitation. And though many people around the world live more comfortably today, the cost to the environment is increasing while the gap between the rich and everyone else grows wider, raising feelings of anger and leaving great parts of even the richer populations vulnerable to the trumpet calls of bigotry. Poverty and war in many parts of the world continue to drive millions of people from their homes in search of security and a better life, placing further pressure on social security systems already struggling in even the most prosperous nations.
We are at the peak of human development – and from here, with the first sign of trouble, we can feel the tower rock and see eternal dangers return. Today we cannot imagine a vindictive God condemning humanity to destruction – we are perfectly capable of doing so ourselves. The European Union is home to more than 500 million people. All its 28 member-states joined of their own free will and together they constitute the world’s largest economy, its most prosperous and just region. It was built on the foundations of liberal democracy and humanism and is a bright beacon of humanity and cooperation in the darkness that Thomas Hobbes described so frighteningly and memorably in 1651, where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The collective effort of the European Union provides security to each of its citizens, and yet it is jeopardized by the woeful performance of today’s leaders in the first problems they have had to face. First, the Greek debt crisis was handled so badly that for a while it seemed to shake the foundations of the common currency. It left a poisonous legacy that still affects relations between Greece and its partners; the death of diplomacy between partners opened the way for new rifts among member-states.
Then, the flow of refugees and immigrants provoked xenophobia in several countries, opening new divisions and establishing fences across once open borders throughout the Union. Terrorist attacks undermined trust between partners even further. The threat, however, is mostly within the walls, as we saw in the attacks in France and Belgium that were carried out by people born in those countries, as we saw in the murder of British MP Jo Cox on Thursday, where the suspected killer appears to be a nationalist compatriot of the victim.
Europe started on its course toward union in the ashes of war, driven by the visions of people who had lived through the horror of millions of dead and had witnessed the inconceivable crimes of nominally “civilized” people. It is beyond belief that this course can be stopped because today’s leaders are beholden to the emotions of their voters (when they are not stirring them up). Instead of making the effort to develop the Union in a way that they can present as the foundation for solutions that cannot be achieved otherwise, they choose to present the EU’s principles as problems that must be avoided, that can be solved through fragmentation, with each nation hiding behind previously defunct borders and resorting to national stereotypes in seeing themselves and others.
The forces of disarray are growing and multiplying. It is in our nature to test the strength of whatever keeps us from harm. If, however, we cannot see the danger, if we cease to believe in the power of union, we will find ourselves in the ashes of our homes. Again.