Wednesday, June 01, 2005First France rejects the new EU Constitution, and now Holland. The Neocons are probably thrilled, because the disaggregation of a large power bloc can only make them happy. But for Americans of the more enlightened sort, and for those of us on the left generally, this is a very worrisome sign.
From a strategic point of view, the right's concern with an American-European rivalry is just silly. Western democratic nations that are generally benefitting from the status quo have no reason to start bickering in any serious way. With the rising specter of China, you' d think the U.S. would like Europe to be as integrated and powerful as possible. Frankly we're going to need all the help we can get.
And the EU is in many ways an important model for us - its difficulties can only demonstrate our own problems. As I have written before, globalization is really nothing new. It is just the next step in the expansion of economic activity to larger and larger economic units. When economic activity shifted from the local to the national level, the center of policy had to shift to meet it: otherwise corporations would just have their way with tiny and weak governments. Today's analogy is irresistable: trade has gone global, and the only way that living wages and environmental standards are going to be preserved, much less extended, is to create international economic institutions. So the failure of a regional effort to do so is discouraging.
The failure of the EU should offer some real lessons for those of us trying to construct a new center-left political majority in America. The EU constitution has failed because of concerns about a "democratic deficit." Egalitarian social reforms require greater avenues for popular accountability. The technocratic leanings of the social democratic left in Europe and American liberalism has led to similar political outcomes: political defeat.
The EU debacle also underlines very real power of identity politics. We have forgotten that the left succeeded when it emphasized the common purpose of a given political community, when it pointed to the mutual obligation arising from common citizenship. We are fooling ourselves if we think that some kind of over-rationalized notion of economic self-interest is going to inspire broad political support. Pace Marx, there really is more to politics than economics. The sooner we remember that, the better.