Editorial from Church & State, Autumn 2008 (Number 94)

What Is Europe?

Cardinal Brady advocated a yes vote in the referendum on Lisbon. He has had the sense to look at the rejection of his advice by many of his 'flock' and to ask himself, Why? He has judged that

"Without respect for its Christian memory and soul, I believe it is possible to anticipate continuing difficulties for the European project. These will emerge not only in economic terms but in terms of social cohesion and the continued growth of a dangerous individualism that does not care about God or about what the future might have in store" (Irish Times, 25.8.08).

This is stating an obvious fact from even the most minimal Christian point of view, a view that is undoubtedly shared by the vast majority of the 27 Member States.

But the Cardinal's words caused a great furore among our Euro enthusiasts, as if he was launching a Crusade against it. Ms Brigid Laffan argued that there is no problem where the Cardinal sees one. She says:

"There is, however, a high degree of consonance between religious and political values in Europe and this consonance extends to the EU. The world's most successful effort at integrating strong-rooted nation states would not have been possible without the impetus provided by continental Christian Democracy. The founding fathers, Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer, were devout Catholics. This fact moulded their political values, ideology and behaviour. Continental Christian Democratic parties emerged during the period of mass political mobilisation and social transformation that accompanied capitalism, industrialisation, and a secularising world. Confessional parties engaged in highly contested cultural and political conflict with communist, socialist, liberal and social democratic parties" (IT, 15.9.08).

But the 'impetus' provided by Christian Democracy is now gone. Christian democracy is dead as a political force and survives by name only—it is merely a label. But is the EU thriving now that it is gone? That is what should be concerning Ms Laffan. Even she must admit it is not thriving. There is clearly not a similar impetus available now to move it on with the same commitment.

Ms Laffan is also distorting history here. Schuman and the others were not shaped primarily by what happened "during the period of mass political mobilisation and social transformation that accompanied capitalism, industrialisation, and a secularising world". For the simple reason that it was before their time. They were influenced by what happened in the politics of the 20th century, in their lifetimes and what they personally experienced. And first and foremost the formative influence was two World Wars. Christian Democracy as it actually existed was inspired and shaped as a response to those specific events—not by some ideological or theological counter to a "social transformation that accompanied capitalism, industrialisation, and a secularising world". These are abstractions. Schuman and Co. were not merely in "confessional" party politics either. She mixes up her historical periods.

Theirs was the Catholic world view that resulted from the position of Pope Benedict XV who foresaw what the nightmare consequences of WWI could be. He understood which country was responsible, i.e. Britain. The result was the destruction of what existed of European civilisation. WWI transformed the world and Europe more than most. Its consequences in the Middle East are still causing havoc. Nothing was the same again and nothing could ever be the same again and "confessional" politics, along with many other types of politics, disappeared forever.

Benedict's views—while being an elaboration of the traditional Catholic view on wars, just and unjust—made sense to any objective person, as did John Paul II's on Iraq. One could be impressed by them while believing in many gods or none. But the views of neither Pope prevailed with "the international community" of the time.

As Britain was seen, rightly, as having primary responsibility for both World Wars, the European project was founded and thrived in opposition to Britain. The main object of the founding fathers was to keep Britain from meddling in Europe and particularly from playing its balance of power game that fomented European conflicts and expanded them into World Wars. It was no theological belief, abstract or otherwise, that motivated Schuman and company in the politics of developing a European community. If that had been a great concern in their politics, surely they would have had no reason to exclude the UK from the beginning. Britain was Christian enough to be a member, surely? Britain was and is instinctively hostile to the concept of a real European union. The project was formed in opposition to, and with intense political hostility from, the UK, which set up a rival trading group, EFTA [European Free Trade Area], to do it down in every way possible. Christian values, how are you?

In fact the Americans took a different view, for Cold War reasons. They supported the European project as a counter-weight to the Soviet block.

It is interesting that Ms Laffan omits one of the political tendencies with which the "Confessional parties"—as she calls the Christian Democratic parties—were in competition. She lists "communist, socialist, liberal and social democratic parties" but makes no mention of the Fascist parties. But Christian Democracy was successful in Europe after World War 2 because it had resisted Fascism while not being part of either the Liberal Imperialist or Communist powers and ideologies. It knew that Liberal Imperialism had facilitated or encouraged Fascism and Nazism for many years before Britain eventually decided to make war on Germany. It could therefore be sceptical of British pretensions after 1945, while its own history placed it beyond suspicion of being Fascist, any more than Communist.

Through having resisted Fascism from a standpoint that was not compliant with either Liberalism or Communism it could establish a new order of things out of the chaos of 1945 Europe, while the Liberal and Communist Great Powers negated each other in a Cold War.

Certainly the Anglo-Saxon economic model, which has been rapidly displacing the founding vision, holds few attractions for the Christian Democracy. That 'dog eat dog' philosophy started out preying on the rest of the world, but is now wreaking havoc in Europe itself and is threatening the hard-won stabilities of the post-War settlement.

Human beings have always needed a narrative about who and what they are, or a memory, as Cardinal Brady put it. This story must make sense of the facts of their experience as near as it possible to do so, accepting that no narrative is perfect. It is very easy to dismiss and laugh at most of them, but only by those who have another narrative in their own past—or by those who base themselves on a different narrative from another situation. Russia is busy creating a new narrative for itself at present and succeeding beyond all expectations. Ms Laffan wants to have a new narrative for Europe but her narrative does not fit the facts. We do not have a totally secular, non-religious Europe. And where is the vision of social justice? A satisfying alternative does not therefore exist and Ms Laffan's leaves far too many holes in her story to satisfy.

Contents of Number 94

What Is Europe?

Iran & Israel.

British War Criminals In Ireland, No. 1—Malaya.
Conor Lynch

Me An Atheist? Surely To God Not!
Wilson John Haire

Finlay Holmes: an appreciation.
Stephen Richards

American Presbyterianism.
Robert Burrage

Pearse, The Educationalist.
Seán McGouran

Pearse's Schools Defended .
Dr. Brendan Walsh (report of letter)

Famine Studies.
Jack Lane (Review)

Vox Pat (Indian Cauldron; The Jesuits; Archbishop Martin On Recession; Reporter To Bishop; Coleman On Union; Books Of The Old Testament)
Pat Maloney

In Memory Of John Mtshikiza.
Tom Doherty


Massacres Of 1641.
Pat Muldowney

The Muster Of The North.
C. G. Duffy

The Cromwell Fiasco.
Brendan Clifford

Woodstock In Flames.
Pat Muldowney

"Remember Mitchelstown".
Mrs. Mandeville

Solzhenitsyn Remembered.
Pat Maloney

The Culture Wars To Come.
Seán Swan

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