On Problems of European Sovereignty

The current situation in Europe is nothing extraordinary. It was even predicted. Moreover, several times forecasts were made by people who had opposing views on the political system in this part of the world. The only difference is that some people considered the creation of the EU to be a systemic error, while others reckoned it to be only an intermediate step in the further disintegration of nation-states and the creation of global civil society. These two points of view are now manifesting themselves in the European crisis, and just what the point of geopolitical bifurcation will be largely depends on the further developments of events.

Let us consider these two cases with specific examples. For comparison, we will borrow the ideas expressed in two works with similar titles: The Breakdown of Nations and TheBreaking of Nations are going to be considered. The first was published in 1957, and the second appeared in 2003. The first work was written by a lawyer, economist and political scientist of Austrian origin, Leopold Kohr, who held the position of Professor of Economics and Public Administration at the University of Puerto Rico for about 20 years. He was also inspired by the Small is Beautiful movement. Kohr called himself a philosophical anarchist, although he never advocated anti-state activities. He was an opponent of large projects, including European integration. In 1941, Leopold Kohr predicted not only the fallacy of creating a supranational system in Europe, but also the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even back during World War II, he analyzed the balance of ethnic groups and came to the conclusion that both the Nazi and Soviet regimes were doomed. As history has shown, his analysis has turned out to be accurate even though few scholars have turned to his theoretical principles.

Forgotten prophet

Kohr’s approach to the Swiss Confederation is quite concise: it is not a confederation of ethnic and linguistic groups, but a confederation of regions. As he wrote in his work “Disunion Now: A Plea for a Society based upon Small Autonomous Units”:

In fact the basis of the existence of Switzerland and the principle of living together of various national groups is not the federation of her three nationalities but the federation of her 22 states, which represent a division of her nationalities and thus create the essential precondition for any democratic federation: the physical balance of the participants, the approximate equality of numbers. The greatness of the Swiss idea, therefore, is the smallness of its cells from which it derives its guarantees. People who argue for a union of nations in Europe because they believe that this kind of union has been realized and thus proved its practicability in Switzerland, have never based their wonderful schemes on the principle of cantonal or small-state sovereignty. The national idea has so much troubled the minds of the political thinkers, in contrast, the notion of the state is so much more flexible, adaptable and multipliable than that of the nation, that it has most completely gone out of use. For virtue has been seen only in great and greater while smaller entities have been thought and taught to be the source of all mischief and evil. We have been educated in the worship of the bulk, of the universal, of the colossal, and have come away from the minuscule, the completeness and universality on the smallest scale – the individual, which is the protoplasm of all social life. We have learned to praise the unification of France, Britain, Italy and Germany in the belief that they would give birth to a unified humanity. But they created only Great Powers.

Leopold Kohr upholds the principle of sovereignty for the smallest, not the largest state subject, or Kleinstaaterei, as the Germans say. He says that no one knows what the term “mankind” really means or why we should even die for it. Unionism and colossalism would not result in anything good. Moreover, Unionism is just another expression of totalitarianism. It is a one-party system transplanted into the international sphere. Kohr writes:

Not only history but also our own experience has taught us that true democracy in Europe can only be achieved in little states. Only there the individual can retain his place and dignity. And if democracy is a worthwhile idea, we have to create again the conditions for its development, the small state, and give the glory of sovereignty (instead of curtailing an institution from which no one wants to depart) to the smallest community and to as many people as possible. It will be easy to unite small states under one continental federal system and thus also satisfy, secondarily, those who want to live on universal terms. Such a Europe is like a fertile inspiration and a grandiose picture, although not a modern one which you paint in one dull line. It will be like a mosaic with fascinating variations and diversity, but also with the harmony of the organic and living whole.[1]

But this is practically the very idea of a Eurasian confederation, merely expressed in other words!

In his most famous book, The Breakdown of Nations, Kohr offers philosophical, political, cultural, economic, and administrative arguments in favor of small state actors. In the section entitled “The Physics of Politics: The Philosophic Argument”, he says:

This is no accident, for smallness is not only a convenience. It is the design of God. The entire universe is built on it. We live in a micro-cosmos, not in a macrocosmos. Perfection has been granted only to the little. Only in the direction of the minuscule do we ever come to an end, to a finite, a boundary, where we can conceive the ultimate mystery of existence. In the direction of the colossal we arrive nowhere. We may add and multiply, and produce increasingly vaster figures and substances, but never an end, as there is nothing that can not always again be doubled, though doubling in the physical sense soon means collapse, disintegration, catastrophe. There is an invisible barrier to size beyond which matter can not accumulate. Only non-existing mathematical shadows can penetrate further. Division, on the other hand, brings us eventually to the existing, though unseen, ultimate substance of all things, to particles which defy any further division. They are the only substances which creation has endowed with unity. They alone are indivisible, indestructible, eternal. Lucretius has called these the first bodies or primal particles and, in an unsurpassed piece of reasoning, has argued in the Nature of Things.

Although at first glance it seems that Leopold Kohr is appealing to Democritus’ idea of atomicity and the individual (which, in a sense, can be translated into the practice of liberalism and multiculturalism), this is not the case. Unfortunately for many anarchists who are nihilistic materialist (especially followers of Peter Kropotkin, who tried to provide scientific examples of anarchy), Leopold Kohr always spoke of God and His will as necessary to try to understand from the perspective of state organization:

There are two ways by which equilibrium and order can be achieved. One is by means of a stable and the other by means of a mobile balance. When in their proper element, both are self-regulatory. The stable balance is the balance of the stagnant and the huge. It creates equilibrium by bringing two objects into a fixed and unchanging relationship with each other such as a house with its ground, or a mountain with its plain. Instead of creating harmony, it moulds its diverse parts into unity. Being the balance of the rigid and fixed, it could be conceived as a universal principle only if the universe were still, non-moving, lifeless. Then the existence of only a few large bodies would make sense and, for that matter, even the existence of a single one. But in the bottomless vastness of the abyss of creation, it could be maintained only by the ever-conscious will of God Himself who, in order to prevent it from dropping into nowhere, would have to do nothing less than hold it perpetually in His hands. Since this was obviously not His intent, He created instead a moving, breathing, and dynamic universe, maintained in order not by unity but harmony, and based not on the stable balance of the dead, but the mobile balance of the living. In contrast to the stable balance, this balance is self-regulatory not because of the fixity of its relationships but because of the coexistence of countless mobile little parts of which no one is ever allowed to accumulate enough mass to disturb the harmony of the whole.[2]

Kohr connects the political system to the idea of internal democracy which relies on the community: “A small state in its inner nature is democratic. The rulers of small states could be considered as neighbors of citizens…”

Although Kohr’s ideas are not quoted widely, the example of Switzerland could serve as proof of his ideas’ validity. Furthermore, it may be added that the majority of today’s nation-states of Europe are also in need of being ‘defragmented’ to completely eradicate the bourgeois spirit and erroneous bases of nationalism which in the Enlightenment intensely destroyed the traditions and cultures of the peoples of Europe, imposing bureaucracy in their place.

The EU against sovereignty

It should be noted that the destruction of the EU could have not only a positive, but a negative significance if this question is examined in terms of the classical notion of sovereignty. As mentioned above, the author of the second book bearing a similar title, The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century, is the British diplomat and strategist Robert Cooper. At the time that his work appeared in 2003, he served as Director General for External and Political-Military Affairs at the General Secretariat of the EU Council.

Despite the identical titles, the ideas and approaches in these two works are completely different. If Kohr proposes to strengthen sovereignty from the bottom, then Cooper, on the contrary, believes that sovereignty should be completely destroyed. “The sovereignty of the post-modern state is the right to a place at the negotiating table”,[3] he says.

Much of his work is contradictory. For example, he states that “Liberalism and nationalism can go together today just as they did for 18th and 19th century states emerging from one or another form of imperial rule”[4]. But why is this possible? For permanently destroying national culture or manipulating movements and parties that appeal to national identity? Cooper seems to have both in mind.

In the second part, he declares that “most people are subjugated by ideas rather than by force”[5], but later in the same chapter states that “European institutions strengthen international cooperation by strengthening sovereignty…the EU security of public order agreement provides for police action in other countries”. Where is the rule of law and ideas if “member-states of the EU have lost the exclusive right to the adoption of laws”?[6]

He speaks fearfully of Islam which could become the basis for a new imperialism, and he mentions the Pacific region where the question of a union could also be raised. Both of these, according to Cooper, are a threat not only to Western interests, but ultimately the West itself.

Consequently, Cooper defends the ideas of Western hegemony undergoing transformation into something new. For him, the post-modern state is the quintessential idea of liberalism which has hitherto opposed any forms of collective identity, be it class, national, race, or state. Cooper asserts that Communism and Fascism were attempts to contain the effects of the modernization of society caused by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution[7]. Hence his certainty that all industrial and post-industrial countries have potential for post-modernity.

 In the end, he reveals his cards and confirms the need to celebrate the individual: “Chaos is tamed by empire; empires are broken up by nationalism; nationalism gives way, we hope, to internationalism. At the end of the process is the freedom of the individual[8]. On the same page, he clarifies that he has in mind the open society which is in fact identical to post-modernity. In other words, this is practically the same thing that George Soros has spoken of and tried to realize in practice through various projects.

In addition, Cooper confesses on US interests and the difference between American and European perceptions of reality: “European countries are based on nationality and history. History is nonsense for Americans. They aim not to colonize space, but colonize time, in other words, the future space[9]. This colonization has been successfully implemented in Western Europe through a system of political, economic, and military dependence on Washington: “The American plan consisted in developing a global community of open markets and international institutions in which the United States would play a leading role…In general, the United States has managed to achieve the stated goals through the Marshall Plan, the creation of the European Union and international financial institutions, particularly the IMF and the World Bank[10]. Note the phrase “the creation of the European Union”. Did European countries, starting with the Coal and Steel Community, understand that the Americans were behind all of this? Certainly some of the actors must have benefited from such an association, but for just how long?

The fragility of the European Union has already manifested itself in Brexit, its inability to cope with the migrant problem and terrorist attacks, as well as some of its countries’ dependence on the dictates of financial commissioners. What does Robert Cooper offer as an immediate political agenda? “In politics it is necessary to restrain manifestations of the pre-modern or foreign; interests can be reconciled with the modern state, but lasting peace can only come with the confluence of postmodern identities[11], he writes. For the whole EU, this means a continuation of the erosion of the cultural code of all peoples and countries. As a result, a new type of Homo Politicus should appear. But this is only in theory. In reality, a weak identity will be pushed by stronger ones which are now represented by the masses of migrants who almost always position themselves as the bearers of Islam and show little respect for indigenous Europeans.

Perhaps such external aggression could help the peoples of Europe rethink their role in world history and try to reestablish their old identity and sovereignty as much as possible in present circumstances.


[1] Leopold Kohr. Disunion Now. A Plea for a Society based upon Small Autonomous Units. The Commonweal, September 26, 1941 http://www.panarchy.org/kohr/1941.eng.html

[3] Robert Cooper. The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century. P. 62.

[4] Ibidem. P. 29.

[5] Ibidem. P. 40.

[6] Ibidem. P. 61.

[7] Ibidem. P. 70.

[8] Ibidem. P. 98.

[9] Ibidem. P. 65.

[10] Ibidem. P. 161.

[11] Ibidem. P. 178.

Translated from Russian by Jafe Arnold.


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