The deep crisis in which Europe finds itself has not been imposed from outside. It comes from within. We are finally living the consequences of a danger that Robert Schuman, one of the EU’s ‘Founding Fathers’, warned about more than half a century ago — namely that a unified Europe must not merely remain an economic and technocratic enterprise: “It needs a soul, an awareness of its historical roots and its present and future obligations.”

Without a common identity, no European solidarity is possible in difficult times such as ours today; such an identity, however, must be based on more than just the idea of ‘universal human rights’; it also has to take into account what Europe and Europeans have in common: a Western view of man deeply rooted in tradition and history.

Should such an endeavour fail, there are only two possibilities: relapsing into nation-states, which will then be at the mercy of powers such as China, Russia, the Muslim world, or the U.S., or descending further into a bureaucratic, soulless centralism.  These are two risks of which Schuman already warned when he wrote: “[European] democracy will be Christian, or it will not be. An anti-Christian democracy is bound to become a caricature that disintegrates into either tyranny or anarchy.”

How could such an alternative, traditionalist Europe — a ‘utopia’ for which I would like to coin the term ‘Hesperialism’ in reference to the Greek term for the uttermost Western part of the world — be designed? And what could it actually look like one day?

It was a fundamental error to justify the existence of the European Community as the brainchild of the ‘Founding Fathers’ and to let its development be guided by the ‘Méthode Monnet’. This deeply dishonest mechanism derived the deepening of integration not from the consent of the people but rather from deliberately created bureaucratic necessities.

The model for a united Europe should have instead taken inspiration from those centuries of western history when the continent was already unified by a state, the Sacrum Imperium: the Holy Roman Empire. With well-defended external borders and inwardly peaceful, for nearly a millennium this entity held together in harmonious diversity territories extending from France to Poland and from Denmark to Italy. It was a success story which also inspired other large, multi-ethnic empires — such as the mighty Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom— and which was grounded on fundamental principles which could also be useful to us today.

‘Europa Regina’ maps were popularized in the 1500s. This image shows a 16th century version prepared by Protestant theologian Heinrich Bünting. “The queen’s crown (Spain), orb (Sicily), and heart (Bohemia), form a triangle that directs the viewer’s eye away from eastern Europe toward the West. The British Isles are a shapeless blob perched near her shoulder. Her skirt is composed of the Baltics and Greece; Turkey and Russia are beneath her feet.” Description courtesy of antique map dealer, Barry Lawrence Ruderman.

While the constituent states of the Holy Roman Empire enjoyed a maximum level of autonomy and their interests were represented in regular Imperial Diets, it was the ‘Head of State’ (determined by vote) that ensured the outward military defence of the Empire, as well as the internal settlement of disputes. He also guaranteed a minimum set of norms, such as were necessary for economic and cultural flourishing.

With a lifespan of nearly 1,000 years, the Sacrum Imperium was certainly one of the most successful political institutions in European history. Even today, when so many of George Orwell’s predictions have been fulfilled, the inner diversity of this empire, so often frowned upon by nationalist 19th century scholars, is likely to appear as a bulwark of freedom.  Indeed, the internal diversity of the Empire acted as a guarantor of liberty and humanity. In the words of Karl Theodor von Dalberg, Arch-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire, it was the equivalent of “a permanent Gothic building that is perhaps not built according to all the rules of architecture but in which one lives safely.”

An alternative Europe would therefore replace the current, uncontrolled unification process with a unique, definitive constitution. This new political order would be characterised by a fundamental reform of the system of parliamentary representation, in which the European Parliament would act as the lower house, while the European Council would represent the upper house. Together they would exercise full legislative and budgetary sovereignty over those areas to which the competences of the EU would be firmly circumscribed.

An engraving from the ‘Nuremberg Chronicle’ (or ‘Liber Chronicarum’) by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) depicting the organisational structure of the Holy Roman Empire. The work is located in Morse Library at Beloit College in the U.S.

While respecting national quotas, such an assembly would nominate a number of Secretaries of State who would take the place of the European Commission, which would be dissolved. They would carry out those tasks necessary for the upholding of the inner and outer security of the continent: the maintenance of a common defence force, the organisation of a supranational police service protecting the outer borders, development of key infrastructure projects, the harmonisation of legal systems, ensuring access to strategic resources, implementation of joint research projects, and the administration of corresponding  finances.

Only foreign policy, and the chairmanship of a permanent arbitration committee for disputes between the Member States, would have to be entrusted to a president elected by the entirety of European citizens who, like the old head of the Sacrum Imperium, would have to represent the united Europe, both internally and externally.

More important than a new institutional structure, however, would be the spirit that should enliven and inspire political life, the fundamental values of which should be enshrined in a new constitution in order to help define the legal principles by which the European Court of Justice could do its work.

These values should not only include universal human rights but should also serve to enshrine in law the worldview and the human ideals of the Western world’s millennial past. After all, the birth of Europe did not take place in 1789 or even 1945 but reaches back to the deepest past — or, in the words of Paul Valéry: “[e]very people and every land which have been successively Romanised, Christianised and submitted, as far as the spirit is concerned, to the discipline of the Greeks, is absolutely European.” This is the Leitkultur to be cultivated and defended; these are the values we have to protect.

Europe is much more than just the sum of the people who currently live in our lands. It has to remain faithful to the legacy of its ancestors by assuring a positive relationship with the Classical and Christian tradition, by protecting the Western ideal of the family, and by fostering a healthy pride in the uniqueness of its own rich legacy. If there is to be a moral obligation to grapple with the crimes of one’s own history — even generations after the events occurred — then there is also a duty to commemorate the great achievements and accomplishments of our civilisation.

Only if this recognition shapes the entire spirit of Europe will it be possible to halt the present disintegration, which essentially results from the fact that in every area of life there is almost a metaphysical inability to distinguish between rule and exception. Thus, in the name of a misunderstood diversity, by instrumentalising the notions of tolerance and equality, even the most aberrant deviations from overwhelming cultural norms are systematically fostered, nurtured, and even idealised as being norms in their own right.  This is a tendency that is leading not to more coherence and compromise but, rather tragically, to a growing fragmentation of our society — and thus, sooner or later, could lead to crisis and violence.

The ‘Quaternionenadler’ of 1510, showing a double-headed eagle with the coats of arms of individual states. It was prepared by the wood-engraver David de Negker, who was active in Augsburg, Leipzig, and Vienna in the 16th century. The title reads: ‘Das hailig römisch reich mit sampt seinen gelidern’ [sic] — ‘the Holy Roman Empire with all its parts.’
Is it already too late for a ‘Hesperialist’ return to our Western traditions? Does Europe, like so many societies throughout human history, first need a period of chaos in order to be reminded about what really matters and remember its fundamental values?

Unfortunately, this is not entirely unlikely. And yet, even the prospect of seeing the West engulfed by insecurity, chaos, and perhaps even violence should not absolve us from the duty to work on Europe and to already begin thinking of a political model — even if only as a utopian idea — that could avoid the ‘double danger’ of centralism and nationalism. Such a model could finally help Europe find that inner strength, which it needs to meet the various challenges that have arisen — not only from outside, in the form of competing international rivals but also from within, in the form of manifold internal problems (such as moral decay and the growing menace of the parallel societies living in our midst).

Is hoping for such a future for Europe unrealistic? For this election year in 2019 — this week — probably yes. But once a new economic crisis comes along and creates ‘Greek conditions’ in other European states, once the dissatisfaction of citizens with their elites has generated massive resistance that goes beyond France’s gilet jaunes (yellow vest) movement, once political and religious terrorism has disrupted what remains of social solidarity, and once the struggle between the cartels of ‘politically correct’ parties and the populist movements has fully paralysed national and European institutions — then, as historical experience suggests, it may only take a small trigger to transform such chaos into a new order.