The British have voted to leave the European Union. In all likelihood, other European countries will follow suit, a real nightmare for Brussels bureaucrats. The British vote is another indication that the West’s attempt at reducing man to materialist categories has failed and that the only way to save the EU is a return to its founding principles. The current political situation in Europe has exposed a spiritual vacuum, and could be an opportunity for religious revival.
Earlier this year, I wrote in Crisis that today’s European Union bears little resemblance to the post-war European unification project pursued by devoutly Catholic statesmen like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman of France and Alcide de Gasperi of Italy. They didn’t want a European Union, but a European Community, in which European nations would work together as partners to achieve peace and prosperity, rather than be subordinated to a small clique of bureaucrats. The original European project was inspired by Catholic Social Teaching and emphasized the principle of subsidiarity, the belief that policies are best decided at the lowest level.
Since the Maastricht Treaty (effective since 1993) and the Lisbon Treaty (2009), the European Union has become a supranational super state in which the interests of a small group of bureaucrats trump those of the people. This was most evident during the migrant crisis. Rather than being asked their opinions, those opposed to Brussels’ decrees on how many immigrants their country should accept were presented as xenophobic neo-Nazis.
The euro currency is another example of the rejection of subsidiarity. Milton Friedman and other economists have noted that the common currency is a blow to independent fiscal policies and has no economic benefits; its only purpose was strengthening Brussels’ control. Many economists have argued that, in the long term, leaving the Eurozone would be beneficial for Greece. Yet Angela Merkel and Brussels bureaucrats waste exorbitant sums of taxpayers’ money to keep Greece in the currency. Their interests were more important than the welfare of 10 million Greeks.
And it was this gradual loss of sovereignty and subsidiarity that led the British to reject the EU. On the migrant issue, Britain already has millions of immigrants, both from the less prosperous eastern EU member states and its former colonies. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom covers an area smaller than that of Michigan, yet its population is comparable to that of California and Texas combined, so it can’t host an unlimited number of migrants. Then, of course, there were fears that the EU would eventually pressure the British into accepting the euro, or impose environmental sanctions that hurt British industry.
In light of this, as well as the fact that in recent decades Brussels bureaucrats have not only drifted from their Christian founding principles, but have in fact actively fought them (during the failed European Constitution project, they vehemently opposed any reference to Europe’s Christian roots in the preamble), it is odd that princes of the Church have backed the “Remain” campaign. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, didn’t explicitly endorse the “Remain” campaign, but expressed concern about the possibility of his country’s leaving the EU. Meanwhile, in an act of extraordinary chutzpah, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo in far-away Myanmar condemned the British for being selfish if they voted for the Brexit.
If the European Union wants to survive, it must return to its founding principles. The model of cooperation rather than domination worked in Western Europe during the early post-war era. But the current situation, in which two-thirds of EU member states’ legislation is made in Brussels, only alienates Europeans and will provoke even more Euroskepticism. What’s more, there is a growing number of national governments in the European Union that are not anti-EU, but won’t let themselves be Brussels’ colonial subjects. Interestingly, these include both conservative governments, as in Hungary, and far-left ones, as in Greece (Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras was a member of the Greek Communist youth movement and has named his son after Che Guevara). Eventually, their willingness to be bossed around will reach a breaking point.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Brexit referendum is that the British people voted against their economic interests. The “Remain” camp’s main argument was that leaving the EU would drag Britain into recession. Yet liberty and sovereignty were more important than their short-term economic wellbeing. This should give us reason for pause. Since the French Revolution, the left has been consistently anti-religious. This is because Christianity professes that man has a spiritual dimension with precedence over the material one. This prevents complete loyalty to the state, which in the left’s opinion solves all problems. Although today’s Britain is a largely secularized society, the British people by their human nature comprehended that material comforts are not enough. However, some Brexit supporters may have interpreted predictions of an economic crisis following a British departure from the EU as fearmongering.
In the United States, we saw this in 2008. Then, Barack Obama’s supporters presented an inexperienced, arrogant junior senator with connections to Chicago’s notoriously corrupt political machine and a pastor-mentor whose rhetoric makes Louis Farrakhan sound sane as a messianic figure. (Unsurprisingly, Obama has actively campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU). The same thing happened in Europe. As European elites drifted away from Christianity, the European project’s Christian founding principles were abandoned and replaced with the attempt at creating a bureaucratic super state.
The British people have come to understand that they cannot have salvation through politics and bureaucracy. However, the void will remain. Muslims, often with hostile cultural values, will continue to arrive, not in the least because many live in former British colonies like Pakistan and Bangladesh. This will once again pose the question of what it means to be European. And being European does not, as the British recently decided, mean subordination to Brussels bureaucrats.
Growing dissatisfaction with Brussels and the challenge posed by massive Muslim immigration could be an opportunity for the British and other Western Europeans to return to their Christian roots. A recent poll shows that there are now more “nones” than Christians in the United Kingdom. Now, however, they will have to ask what being European means, and an honest answer to that question isn’t moral nihilism. Rather, it inevitably leads to the conclusion of Theodor Heuss, the first president of West Germany, that Europe was built on three hills: Acropolis, the Capitol, and Golgotha.
In Britain, a Catholic revival is underway, with booming vocations to the priesthood and the number of young women becoming nuns. Although less spectacular, a similar revival has also been ongoing in France, where adult baptisms are on the rise. This shows that the ground is fertile. Rather than lamenting British dissatisfaction with the EU, European Church leaders should use this and the growing Muslim threat to invite more Europeans to rediscover their roots and devote themselves to the new evangelization.
Many European national leaders, EU bureaucrats, and, surprisingly, some high-ranking churchmen have presented Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as a tragedy. Instead, now should be a time for reflection on why this happened. Meanwhile, the EU’s failure resulting from the abandonment of its founding principles begs the question of what it means to be European. The right answer could be a deadly threat to the West’s dominant statist, secularist culture.
(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.)