A story for Europe

In the 2009 edition of his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington famously turned his attention from the ‘Third World’ to Europe. His expanded thesis was widely derided at the time, receiving hostile reviews in the TLS, FAZ and IHT. Today, however, it appears oddly prescient: the European Union is showing just the cleavages that Huntington suggested.

Huntington was the one who, back in 1993, predicted that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War would create an ideological vacuum to be filled by ethno-religious beliefs, largely directed against the West. Following the apparent vindication of the 9/11 attacks, Huntington expanded his theory: in 2009, he suggested that the decline of the US and the breakdown of the ‘western bloc’ would give way to similar trends in Europe.

Huntington has been unnaturally quiet in recent years, but he surprised European viewers on Friday with an untrailed appearance on Euronews. The US academic had been attending the launch-event in Warsaw of a “New Narrative for Europe”, a Brussels initiative to update the story of European integration. “I’d just like to tell my friends in Europe that this may be the beginning of the end for the EU,” Huntington sighed. “I recognise the signs”.

The EU, he said, was echoing many other supranational regimes in their dying days: a European Cultural Committee had set up a listening exercise with Citizens to create a legitimate new Ideology for EU integration. Huntington’s verdict: “Oh dear, oh dear.” This small man with large gig-lamp glasses and white suit, a visible figure up in the gods, had become perceptibly gloomier as the day wore on.

Huntington said he had watched the Commission President address the assembled artists and intellectuals on the subject of the unfolding drama of Genuine Economic and Monetary Union and the EU’s cultural competencies under Article 167 of the Lisbon Treaty, while Commission Vice President Viviane Reding had spent an hour in ‘listening mode’ sympathetically telling the audience about the benefits of EU integration. 

The veteran Cold Warrior, a former adviser to Carter, said he had been drawn back to Warsaw to check on the health of the EU’s ideological basis. Saddened by its shaky condition, he named the forces likely to fill the vacuum. Speaking in his soft Noo Yawk accent, he suggested the sovereign debt crisis was splitting the bloc into three ethno-religious groups, all of which were prominently represented at the congress.

Europe’s ‘Catholics’, he said, were represented by the old guard who had been wheeled out to talk about their experience of Nazism, Francoism and Communism. They demanded solidarity and financial transfers between Europeans, framing these as atonement for past sins. “These elderly gentlemen,” said the sprightly 86-year-old, “are the reason that Europe’s new cleavages will be along transnational not national lines.”

However, they were under fire from the ‘Calvinists’, a group much in the news since the start of the crisis. Represented notably by French speakers at the congress, the Calvinists painted a bleak future for Europe in the face of international competition. Although they claim salvation is largely out of the EU’s hands, noted Huntington, they still demand that its citizens make painful choices and stick to the straight and narrow, just in case.

Huntington also identified a few lone ‘Anglicans’, not least in the form of a British member of the Cultural Committee. Clearly ill at ease with the dogma on offer, she had underlined the need to live in the here and now, albeit according to the principles of self-moderation and mutual respect. “You guys ever seen that limey sitcom, the Vicar of Dibley?” Huntington shouted. “It was like listening to the vicar of Dibley preaching PM Cameron’s Europe policy!”

In Huntington’s opinion, if you want to transform society, you have to present a strong vision of the future. “The Communists imagined a utopian future, the Fascists projected a utopian past, but you Europeans did something else – you looked back to a dystopian past and left the future undefined. The shared desire to leave that past behind was the secret of your success. But you’ve lost faith in a shared future now. That’s why the religious nuts are out.” 

Asked if he took anything positive from the event, Huntington replied “Oh sure. Hey, many of the speakers today have been completely off beat. Any continent that can produce the exciting array of hair and dentistry I’ve seen here must be doing something right. Narrative? You’ve got enough material for a whole telenovela.” And with that, he was gone, later tweeting “A New Narrative for Europe? #ucdntmakeitup”.


twitter: @roderickparkes