The development of the European Union as a community-based project of integration with decision-making powers outside the constitutional architecture of the nation-state is the most significant innovation in twentieth-century political organisation. It raises fundamental questions about our understanding of the state, sovereignty, citizenship, democracy, and the relationship between political power and economic forces. Despite its achievements, events at the start of the twenty-first century – including the political, economic, and financial crisis of the Eurozone, as well as Brexit and the rise of populism – pose an existential threat to the EU. Memory and the future of Europe addresses the crisis of the EU by treating integration as a response to the rupture created by the continent’s experience of total war. It traces Europe’s existing pathologies to the project’s loss of its moral foundations rooted in collective memories of total war. As the generations with personal memories of the two world wars pass away, economic gain has become the EU’s sole raison d’être. If it is to survive its future challenges, the EU will have to create a new historical imaginary that relies not only on the lessons of the past, but also builds on Europe’s ability to protect its citizens by serving as a counterweight against the forces of globalisation. By framing its argument through the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, Memory and the future of Europe will attract readers interested in political and social philosophy, collective memory studies, European studies, international relations, and contemporary politics.
The emerging supranational union of nation-states in Europe is one of the most important and theoretically stimulating political innovations of the twentieth century. The book argues that shared memories of war and suffering have been crucial to the development of the Union. The introduction outlines how the passage of time has undermined these cognitive, motivational, and justificatory foundations, as the generations that can directly remember Europe’s bloody history have passed from public life. It also introduces the Frankfurt School of critical theory as an engaged form of social research that proceeds in two operational stages: a crisis diagnosis followed by reflections on paths for future emancipation. Individual memories play a key role in this process by providing the theorist with the distance and the resources needed to diagnose problems in the present and envisage possible solutions.
This chapter links individual remembrance to the paradigm of collective memory and shows how history played into postwar European politics. Since the end of the Second World War, the remembered past has increasingly been recognised as an important source of stability allowing individuals and communities to integrate new experiences into existing understandings of the past. Although these narrative frameworks help maintain individual and group identities, the chapter develops a critical theory of memory as a resource for rethinking the foundations of political life in the aftermath of historical ruptures. Building on the work of the Frankfurt School, it argues that the experience of total war between 1914 and 1945 created a rupture in European understandings of its past. Despite its many traumatic consequences, this caesura gave political leaders the freedom to rethink the foundations of political order and provided them with the cognitive, motivational, and justificatory resources to reimagine the future.
Memory, leadership, and the fi rst phase of integration (1945– 58)
Peter J. Verovšek
This chapter details the founding of the first European institution, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, and of the European relance of 1957, which brought the European Economic Community (EEC) into existence. Using historical and archival research, it documents how important postwar leaders, particularly the first President of the European High Authority Jean Monnet, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, negotiated their differing memories and opposition from more traditional political actors to create the first European institutions. They all viewed the Second World War as an important historical rupture requiring basic changes to the political architecture of the continent. They believed that Europe’s experience of total war necessitated supranational cooperation as a way of curbing the violent tendencies of nationalism.
Eurosclerosis (1959– 84) and the second phase of integration (1985– 2003)
Peter J. Verovšek
The first phase of European integration was followed by a period of institutional stagnation lasting through the 1970s. This chapter argues that this Eurosclerosis was the result of a counter-narrative brought to the fore by Charles de Gaulle, who sought to return the state to the centre of political and economic power in Europe. The expansion of Europe beyond its Franco-German core reinforced the Gaullist challenge by forcing Europe to confront new understandings of the past. This was reinforced by the accession of the United Kingdom, whose differing, more triumphalist memories of the war meant that the British took a fundamentally different view of the European project from the start. However, by the mid-1980s a new group of leaders reacted against this challenge to what the chapter refers to as the classic narrative by building on their own childhood memories of the Second World War. Commission President Jacques Delors, French President François Mitterrand, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl set the second phase of integration in motion with a series of initiatives that once again combined the economic logic of prosperity with the moral logic of cooperation across borders.
The Eurozone crisis, Brexit, and possible disintegration
Peter J. Verovšek
Just as the founding of the first European Communities in the 1950s produced a backlash in the 1960s and 1970s, the second phase of integration has also met with resistance. Recent challenges to the classic narrative have taken a number of forms: the desire of the new member-states from East-Central Europe for recognition of their suffering under communism, the growing economic problems brought about by the Eurozone crisis, and the threat of disintegration posed by Brexit. In the case of European expansion, continental institutions and existing member-states were again confronted by conflicting understandings of the European past. In particular, the states of the east have challenged the central place of the Holocaust and the image of Auschwitz in the classic narrative of integration. The combined monetary, banking, and sovereign debt crisis brought on by the Great Recession of 2008 merely reinforced these cleavages. This was followed by the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016 and is further threatened by the rise of populism and the spectre of additional votes to leave the EU. These proximate challenges have been compounded by rise to power of the first generation of European leaders with no personal memories of Europe’s age of total war.
This chapter examines how Europe can address its crisis at the beginning of the twentieth century – and perhaps even take advantage of it – by reengaging its citizenry to create a democracy at the supranational level by transforming direct memories of total war into a more durable social imaginary. While collective memories of Europe’s age of total war helped push the Union through two phases of integration, it is clear that they can no longer play this role. This chapter argues that developments such as rising rates of intra-European marriage and the advent of the first generation of Europeans that grew up on a continent of open borders, combined with civic education focusing on teaching national history within its European context, can help ground the intra-European solidarity necessary for a true supranational democracy. In this way it can combat the negative memories spread by populism and reengage the constructive resources of collective memory.
The dangers posed to political institutions following the passing of the individuals that toiled in their foundation reveals the important generational dynamics involved in the (re)founding of political communities. This chapter reflects on these dynamics by moving away from the context of European unification and taking a comparative perspective on the problems new polities experience with the loss of the generation of the founding. By drawing on accounts of memory and rupture in the history of the United States, it compares the current problems of Europe to the divisions America experienced in the period leading up to the Civil War. This brings the book into conversation with the broader debates on constitutional moments and the founding of political communities. It thus reflects further on how the dynamics of rupture, innovation, and generational change play out in the development of all political communities.
This chapter sums up the argument, reflecting on the importance of collective memory in the origins and development of the European Union. It also explains fears of a return of fascism by reflecting on the loss of the generations that experienced and had personal memories of the rupture of 1945. The book concludes by reflecting on the continued usefulness and applicability of the Frankfurt School’s approach to critical social research in a period of increasing globalisation, which has been accompanied by a concordant decline of the nation-state. It argues that critical theory – and political theory more generally – is an important resource for analysing the problems of international capitalism and the crisis of the Eurozone, just as it was for understanding the political and economic pathologies of the interwar years.