Magazine June 11, 2012, Issue

Eutopia, Limited

As the advanced social-democratic Big Government state sinks under a multi-trillion-dollar debt avalanche, the conventional wisdom remains all too conventional, and disinclined even to mount an argument. So much “progressive” debate boils down to Ring Lardner’s great line:

“Shut up,” he explained.

It’s an oft-retailed quote. But fewer people know the line that precedes it (in Lardner’s novel The Young Immigrunts): a kid asking, “Are you lost, Daddy?”

As any motoring pater knows, it’s not easy to give an honest answer to that question. And the hardest thing of all is to turn around and go back, retracing your steps to the point where you made the wrong turn. If you’re a politician, it’s even harder. Leviathan has no reverse gear: “Forward!” as the Obama campaign’s 2012 slogan puts it. Yet in the end, if any of the Western world is to survive, it has to find a way to turn around, to go back.

Take the euro. It should not exist. It should never have been invented. And, ultimately, it is necessary to find a way to disinvent it. Yet even one of the least deluded of Continental leaders cannot acknowledge the need to turn around: To Angela Merkel, the euro is not a mere currency but what she calls a “Schicksalsgemeinschaft” — or “community of destiny.” Forward — to — destiny! Frau Merkel, like M. Hollande in Paris, has determined that what the Greeks and the Portuguese and the Spanish need is “more Europe.” Onward!

A decade ago, just before the euro was introduced, I noted in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that, whereas the currencies of real nations display images of real buildings (the White House on the $20 bill, for example), the handsome edifices on the new euro notes do not, in fact, exist. Europe is full of impressive buildings — Versailles, the Parthenon — but they are unfortunately located in actual countries, and so the designers of the euro notes preferred to use composite, fantasy, pan-European architectural marvels prefiguring the Eutopia that the new currency would will into being. “In the normal course of events,” I wrote, “monetary union follows political union, as it did in the U.S., Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and so on. In this instance, uniquely, monetary union is in itself an act of political binding. What’s important on Tuesday is not the introduction of the new currency but the abolition of the old ones — not the symbolic bridges on the back of the new notes, but the burning of the bridges represented by the discarded currencies.” In a “community of destiny,” there is no road back.

#page#Continentals talk in these Eutopian terms because of their recent history. The European Union is, philosophically, a 1970s solution to a 1940s problem. Except that, in one of those jests the gods are fond of, it seems to be delivering the Continent into the very situation it was explicitly designed to prevent. The ’tween-wars fascists sold themselves to their peoples by telling them that the world was run by a cabal of sinister foreign bankers. When the neo-nationalist Golden Dawn and the hard-left Syriza parties both reprised this line to such great effect in the recent Greek election, it had the additional merit, as Nixon liked to say, of being true. The euro has made the age-old conspiracy theories real: If you’re a Greek, your world is run by a cabal of sinister foreign bankers — the Germans and the other “northern Europeans” who control the European Central Bank, plus their chums at the IMF.

It requires a perverse genius to invent a mechanism designed to consign the horrors of the mid–20th century to the trash can of history that winds up delivering you to Mitteleuropa circa 1934. Sometimes the road forward leads you right back where you started. While Eurocrats still peddle the standard line about the EU acting as a restraint on the Teutonic urge to regional domination, the British defense secretary recently demanded that it was time for Germany, as the wealthiest nation on the Continent, to step up to its responsibilities and increase military spending. I would doubt Frau Merkel would take his advice, if only because the euro seems to be doing for Berlin’s control-freak complex what neither the Kaiser nor Hitler could pull off.

Back in 2002, the BBC’s Evan Davis assured us that the euro would make Greece financially “stable.” All the smart guys agreed: It would bring “long-term economic stability,” declared the Financial Times. By contrast, I wrote that “the euro is an exercise in vanity printing that will place massive social pressures on member states whose democratic roots go no deeper than the mid-Seventies.” That would be Greece, Spain, and Portugal, if you’re keeping track. But still the Eutopians push on to the sunlit uplands of the “community of destiny.” The euro zone’s architects now say that what’s needed is full fiscal union — or “F U,” as my old boss Boris Johnson, mayor of London, likes to call it. More Europe, more debt, more taxes, more regulation, more foreign bankers — and fewer jobs, lower growth, less democratic accountability. A decade ago I said that one advantage of those fantasy buildings and bridges on the banknotes is that being nonexistent makes them much harder to blow up. But in an ever more insolvent Europe there are plenty of real buildings to hand.

“Are you lost, Eurodaddy?”

“Shut up,” he explained.

– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline (www.steynonline.com).

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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