Thursday, 3 June 2010
Neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire
I have in the past compared the European Union to the old Soviet Union simply in terms of the political structures in place; the one is as unresponsive to popular pressure and as bureaucratic as the other. But there are other historical examples which are perhaps even more meaningful in explaining the political condition of modern Europe, a place where the nation state appears to be dying, replaced by a supranational empire. But what kind of empire, it’s legitimate to ask? Will it be a new Roman Empire? A Roman Empire, certainly, but not the one that normally comes to mind, not the realm of the great Caesars, merely that of the petty tyrants.
Consider it this way. The nation-state, in its modern form, is a largely artificial creation; the child, not of nationalism, as is usually assumed, but of the Age of Enlightenment. The European Union might be said to be a reaction against this, a process by which the nation state will be rendered obsolete. But all the evidence suggests that there is no European identity as such. Rather what can be seen is the liberation of a patch-work of local identities, formerly sublimated within the nation state. What we can see, in other words, is Transylvanian, Basque, Breton, Flemish, Scottish and a host of other fragmentations; what we can see is a revival, it might be said, of the crazy patchwork of the Holy Roman Empire. How the Gods of History love irony!
This process of division and subdivision is likely to continue, always looking inwards, towards ever more parochial loyalties. Consider the Scots, whose sense of identity - once the bogus tartanry is removed - has an entirely negative basis, along the lines of 'we are Scots because we are not English'. But once the old 'oppressive' English state is factored out, once the sense of historical grievance is removed, what then? How will the Gaelic Highlands see the Saxon Lowlands? How will the east sit with the west? How will Glasgow sit with Edinburgh? I can’t answer these questions; I do not have sufficient prescience. All I can say is that more and more prince-bishops and margraves are likely to emerge in a modern form as we move wider still and wider.