Rome, Brussels and Ventotene
Writing in Britain’s Catholic Herald, Ed West reports on the attitude taken by the Vatican to Brexit. I touched on this last week in a discussion on the award to the Pope of the Charlemagne prize, the first political prize to be established in West Germany after the war. The prize was the brainchild of Kurt Pfeifer, an Aachen textile merchant, and a former, if (it is said) reluctant member of the Nazi party. It is awarded every Ascension Day in, appropriately enough, Aachen, Charlemagne’s former capital, ‘for the most valuable contribution to West European understanding.’ This year, however the ceremony took place in Rome.
Ed West (my emphasis added):
The awards ceremony, held in the Vatican, was addressed by Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.
They must have been pleased to hear Francis identify Brussels with “the soul of Europe”. On immigration, the Pope brushed aside the fears of Eurosceptics and even the anxieties of pro-EU national politicians. Tighter border controls were a manifestation of “meanness”, serving “our own selfish interests”. It’s not hard to work out where the Holy Father’s sympathies lie in the British referendum. The Vatican’s “foreign minister”, the Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, has said bluntly: “Better in than out.”
Officially, Britain’s Roman Catholic Church is taking a neutral position on Brexit, but…
West delves into the early history of the EU, going back to the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the body that launched the process of European integration on its current path:
[The] European Coal and Steel Community [was]formed after the Second World War by Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi. Of these, only Monnet – the French political economist who became the community’s first president – was not a conspicuously devout Catholic. (His private life was complicated: he was married to a woman who left her husband for him and had to travel to Moscow to obtain a divorce; the Monnets could not have a Catholic wedding until the first husband was dead, by which time Jean was 85. The ceremony took place in the basilica at Lourdes.)
Schuman, twice prime minister of France, and De Gasperi, eight times prime minister of Italy and founder of the Christian Democrats, were men of such personal holiness that there have been calls to canonise them. Adenauer, the scheming first Chancellor of West Germany, is not a candidate for sainthood – but he was a trenchantly Catholic statesman during a political career lasting 60 years.
For Schuman, Adenauer and De Gasperi, the European Economic Community was fundamentally a Catholic project with roots that – in their imaginations, at least – could be traced back to Charlemagne….
In 2008 the Catholic historian Alan Fimister published a book arguing that Schuman’s plans for Europe were “to a remarkable degree, the conscious implementation of the Neo-Thomistic project of Pope Leo XIII”.
Schuman, De Gasperi and Adenauer all believed that the answer to totalitarian ideologies lay in Leo’s vision of the restoration of “the principles of the Christian life in civil and domestic society”.
But Schuman went further: he subscribed to the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain’s notion of supranational democracy as the foundation for a new Christendom. “He held fast to the magisterium’s demand that the final destination of Catholic political action must be the recognition by the civil order of the truth of the Faith,” writes Fimister.
Now, I have nothing to say about, good heavens, Neo-Thomistic projects (and I can think of kinder ways to describe Adenauer, a very great German chancellor, than ‘scheming’), but what’s interesting about all this is the way that these statesmen took Roman Catholic notions of Christendom, a Christian ‘ummah’, if you like, and transformed them into the idea of ‘supranational democracy’. Democracy? The idea of a supranational ‘democracy’ was, of course, a nod to the conventional political pieties of the postwar era. But a nod is all that it was, as those founders knew. Without a European ‘demos’, there could be no European democracy. There was no European demos then, and there is no European demos now. What’s left is supranational technocracy, something that’s very different.
West, focused on the Catholic debate (his whole piece is well worth reading) does not mention another of the founding key fathers of the European Union, Altiero Spinelli. Spinelli was no Catholic, but a communist, and then (eventually) a former communist, and thus, critically, someone else susceptible to a universalist creed impatient with borders. Democracy was not so much of a priority for him either.
Here is an extract (via Richard North and Christopher Booker’s The Great Deception) of what Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, a fellow political prisoner under Mussolini, wrote in their Ventotene manifesto (1944) (my emphasis added):
During the revolutionary crisis, this [European] movement will have the task of organising and guiding progressive forces, using all the popular bodies which form spontaneously, incandescent melting pots in which the revolutionary masses are mixed, not for the creation of plebiscites, but rather waiting to be guided.
It derives its vision and certainty of what must be done from the knowledge that it represents the deepest needs of modern society and not from any previous recognition by popular will, as yet non-existent. In this way it issues the basic guidelines of the new order, the first social discipline directed to the unformed masses. By this dictatorship of the revolutionary party a new State will be formed, and around this State new, genuine democracy will grow.
Spinelli died in 1986, after a distinguished career in the politics of the emerging European Union. He remains an honored figure in the EU’s pantheon. The main building in the EU’s (Brussels) parliament is named after him. The Spinelli Group is an initiative launched in 2010 led by the likes of Guy Verfhofstadt, the eurofundamentalist (and former Belgian prime minister) who heads up ALDE, the EU Parliament’s ‘liberal’ family’ and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ‘Dany le Rouge’ of Paris ’68 infamy.
Ancient history, yes, to a degree, but only to a degree: To understand the EU it is necessary to understand its intellectual and political roots. And to understand the EU and to oppose Brexit is, I would argue, an….interesting choice.