Peace through victory - the American way.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Long Live The Nation State

Nationalism has a bad name in Europe. The 20th Century saw an excess of nationalism in Europe that left millions dead. In reaction the European Union was formed and for years the EU has sought to restrain the power of its nation states within a political union. That drive suffered a huge setback when France voted overwhelmingly to reject the European Constitution, which it should be remembered, was drafted by a former French president. It seems nationalism is not completely dead in Europe.

Not to worry though, the EU will probably do what it has always done when a nation's voters said no. They'll schedule another election and do it all over again, or they'll let the French legislature decide the issue. Nine European nations have voted in favor of political unity. Only one did so by national referendum. To EU proponents "no" never means no.

Europe's drive to eliminate the nation state and to embrace an international union is an odd one for a democratic continent to embrace. Although European nationalism performed badly in the 20th Century, democratic self-rule is more closely linked to the nation state than it is to international organizations.

At least one voter in the French election quoted in this AP article on Yahoo (click here) recognized that connection. Emmanuel Zelez is quoted as saying, "I voted 'no' because the text is very difficult to understand. Also I'm afraid for democracy. The way the EU functions is very opaque. Many people there are not directly elected." His concern was shared by other voters. As another voter, Gilles Nouel, said in this Washington Post article in the San Diego Union Tribune (click here), "I voted no out of a concern for democracy. For me, the decisions should not be made by Europe but by each nation. I want France to make decisions for herself."

Some have suggested that the EU is the model for a future world government and that the United States has no alternative to offer. In that view, one day non-European countries will be clamoring to join the EU. This view has always mystified me. I've never understood why a democracy would hand over its sovereignty to a bureaucratic government unaccountable to the voters. It's one thing to join an economic organization to enhance trade and wealth. It's quite another to join a political union that promises to strip elected national governments of their power. Why voluntarily trade democratic self rule for empire?

France's vote is a reality check. France has not necessarily killed the dreams of a European Union but the difficulty the EU has in convincing Europeans to join it politically suggests its future is not as bright as some believe.

Moreover, the United States does have an alternative model to offer. It's not a model for a world government but it is a model for a world of independent nations ruled by democratic governments. That model is based on delivering the promise of the Declaration of Independence to all nations. The Declaration's promise says that a nation's sovereignty rests with the people. It further says that a government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the people and a government that rules without the consent of the people lacks legitimacy. National sovereignty and democratic self-government flow naturally from this model. The Declaration does not seek to eliminate the nation state. Instead it seeks to make the nation-state's government directly accountable to the citizens.

The EU's model on a global scale would result in a bureaucratic government unaccountable to the voters wielding power over powerless national governments. On the other hand, delivering the promise of the Declaration of Independence on a global scale would result in a world populated by democratic nations with governments accountable to their own people.

Perhaps before the world embraces international government as exemplified by the EU it should let the history of democracy's takeover of the nation state play itself out until the last tyrant falls.




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