The EU is the Wrong Tool to Defeat Nationalism

I am very much an individualist. As such I have always despised nationalism. I am convinced that we need to overcome this ideology if we want to live in a free world. One could think now that, since I hate nationalism, I probably should like the EU. The core political agenda of the EU has always been to defeat the nation state. And it seems to work to some degree. All nationalists that I know, have a passionate hatred for the EU. And it is nationalists who are very much behind the campaign to get the UK out of the EU.

But I have to say that I have always mistrusted the logic of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. As much as I dislike nationalism, I also dislike the EU. The EU is simply the wrong tool to defeat this ideology. Neither do I think that it will succeed in defeating nationalism, nor do I think that if it did, it would replace it with something better. The opposite might very well be the case.

The biggest problem with nationalism is that it is married to the state. I cannot think of any coherent theory of how to identify a nation that does not involve a state like political structure. So strong is the connection that every nationalist movement seem to automatically aim for a sovereign nation state. That is why we are seeing all European nationalists cry for an end of the EU, which threatens the sovereignty of their beloved nation state. In addition to that, we of course also seeing all kings of national liberation movement within the accepted nation states, which just goes to show how arbitrary the concept of a nation is.

But of course, nation states are a big problem in and of itself. When Europe only consisted of nation states, these states all insisted of putting up trade barriers between them. Even, worse, very often they saw each other as threats and fought wars all the time. These type of politics were very destructive for the well being of Europeans.

However, what was the problem? The problem was states. Ordinary people have better things to do than trying to stop each other from making trade deals or killing other people, who they have never met, in foreign countries. It is states who organise and facilitate these crimes. So it does make perfect sense to try to do something against these nation states.

Enter the EU. The EU tries to solve the nation state problem by putting an even bigger state on top of all the nation states. That way, so the idea goes, this more powerful big brother state can stop the nation states from committing crimes.

This seems to work to some degree. We have not seen any war between the members of the EU. And trade barriers, including migration barriers have fallen. However, the fundamental problem with the EU is that it is itself a state. And if states are the problem, then how is a bigger state going to solve it? It seems we are just trading one problem for others.

We have some precedents for what the EU is trying to do. Take Germany for example. Germany once was split up into dozens of small, independent states. And it had the same problems as Europe. These states were putting trade barriers up and fought wars against each other. Finally, Prussia, one of the two big kingdoms (the other being Austria) united all the small states into one big state.

And sure enough, there were no trade barriers within Germany anymore and the different ex-states, have not fought wars against each other ever since. But that is not to say that Germany did have free trade with the world and ended every kind of military engagement. The opposite is true. The destruction caused by this new state just got bigger. It got involved, and was arguably responsible, for two world wars and massacred millions of its own citizens. Yes, little German statism had its problems. But uniting Germany into one big state, in hindsight, looks like the worst possible solution for it. In fact, it was no solution at all. And yet, strangely, although everyone seems to agree that the history of a unified Germany is very problematic, few people would even suggest that the solution was faulty. The belief in the alternative of ever bigger statist solutions seems unlimited.

The US is another bad example. It first had a constitution, the articles of confederation, that did not have a central government above the individual states. But they quickly had a counter revolution that succeeded in installing a central government. And now we have a gigantic state that is running the biggest empire in human history. It is bullying everyone on the planet to bow to their demands. And no, it is not a good deal for its own citizens either. They are tax slaves even if they physically leave the country. And they have a very hard time to escape the law, if the US wants them. We just saw this with Edward Snowden, whose only possible refuge was Russia of all places. That is because the US Empire is big enough to enforce their laws and regulations, no matter how bad or silly, far beyond its borders. And lately, it even started to charge people huge exit fees in case their dare to say no to its citizenship.

The EU is on its best way to become like the US. If we know one thing about states, it is that they grow and grow and grow. Short of a revolution, nothing seems to be able to stop them from doing just that. We already have a European police that makes it hard to hide from the legislature of the individual states, no matter how unlibertarian it is. If the EU continues, we will soon see the establishment of a European army. This will be the beginning of another european imperialism, only this time American style. And of course sooner or later they will have a centralised tax policy that prevents the currently existing tax competition.

Many people will say, well this cannot happen. Every single member state would need to agree on this and there will always be someone in opposition. Yes, sure, there are some barriers. But, again, states always grow. They eventually overcome these barriers. The problem is, they can try as often as they want, they only have to succeed once. They may fail 20 times. But then the 21st time, there will be a special historic situation in which suddenly everyone does agree. At that point a new government department will be established. And of course, once established, it will be impossible to get rid of.

The Euro is a good example of this. Just like the EU, most criticisms of the Euro seem to be ill informed. No, you do not need a common fiscal policy to use the same currency. No, it is not the fault of the Euro that people in many Euro states are voting for socialists that are expending the welfare state to unaffordable levels. And no, these countries are not better off leaving the Euro and inflating their way out of it. Inflation has never made any economy richer.

Just like nation statism in general, monetary nationalism is a big problem. It makes trading across state borders more expensive and risky. And it gives the control over a currency to a single government, that can then use it politically without any opposition. Compared to national currencies, the Euro looks a lot better. It reduces the cost of trading within the Euro zone significantly. And it makes it difficult to instrumentalise the currency for political purposes.

Difficult, but not impossible, as we are seeing at the moment. Yes, for a while it looked like the Euro was working well. States that got into trouble had to cut spending and deflate their economies. That is because there was a lot of opposition to money printing. But eventually, this opposition was overcome. Now, the ECB is engaging in huge money printing programs and has set its interest rates below zero. But since the Euro is now covering a much bigger area than the national currencies, the damage being caused by this money printing is much bigger. In other words, as bad as national monetarism is, the Euro has now proven to be the wrong solution.

One interesting aspect about the fall of the Euro is that the Euro had a no bailout clause as a core part of its design. This clause was suppose to prevent the Euro to be used as a tool to bailout bankrupt states within the Euro zone. Had this clause been observed, the Euro would still be a pretty good currency. But it was not. The interesting thing about this is, that the clause was actually never repealed. Technically it is still the law in the Euro zone.

This is a phenomenon that we see over and over again with states. If there is a law in the books that is supposed to stop the state from growing, this law is simply ignored when it becomes inconvenient and cannot be formally removed. This is so common that markets, from the very beginning bet against the no bailout clause. This bet turned out to be a very lucrative trade. It is simply naïve to believe that states can be limited by written laws. It is precisely this observation that made me an anarchist.

So what is the right solution? The answer is, we need to get the government out of money. In other words, letting the market choose its own currency. However, political solutions like the Euro actually make this real solution more difficult. Because the real solutions will have to compete with the political ones. And the political ones have a lot more physical force on their side.

And that is true for the EU as a whole. Other then the official leave campaign suggests, the problem with the EU is not that it is undemocratic. It actually looks more democratic than the UK. But democracy in general simply does not work. Westminster will listen just as little to ‘the people’ than Brussels will. And it is just as capable passing tons of regulations. So to give Westminster more power is something completely different for demanding self determination.

Brussels simply has a PR problem. That arguably, actually makes it a more attractive government than Westminster from a libertarian point. A government that is seen as legitimate is much more dangerous than an illegitimate one, as people are more likely to obey its command. In other words, Westminster can probably get away with a lot more tyranny than Brussels can at the moment.

But, we really need to get rid of both, Westminster and Brussels. The way I see it is, if we get rid of Brussels we have one down, one to go. The real solution to the nationalism problem is global markets. But the EU is actually not helpful for that goal. First of all, since Brussels is loathed, it gives the national parliaments a much higher legitimacy. The governments of the nation states increasingly discover that they can just blame all problems on that other government in Brussels. So it is actually backfiring in the fight against nationalism.

But more importantly, nation states are not capable to deal with a globalised world. Today, more than ever, people and companies vote with their feed if they dislike the politics of a state. The more states exist, the more they are competing for productive people. And the more they are competing the less power they can actually exercise. The market can play divide and conquer with them.

Of course, there is a great need for international rules. If we destroy the state solutions for providing these rules, the market will come up with private ones. If on the other hand, politics provides them, the market for these products will be damaged or even destroyed.

That is not to say that we should oppose treaties that break down trade barriers. Ever treaty that fuels the competition between states should be welcome. But these treaties should not come from international governments like the EU. As soon as we establish institutions like the EU, whose purpose is to regulate, then that is what they are going to do, whether it is useful or not. Single treaties can be accepted or rejected one at a time. And there is no international political body that immediately goes to the next regulation once it has signed the last one. I cannot see, why there could not be a treaty like Schengen, which gets rid of all these, highly destructive, border controls, without having an international government.

We will need to crush the nation state eventually. But we have to do it with the means of the free market and not of politics. If we use ever bigger states as the solution, we will solve one problem and get 10 new ones in return. The EU, just like a bunch of other international institutions, are the wrong way to do it. We need to get rid of them.

The UK leaving the EU will probably be a big step into that direction. Of course, it will be very disruptive. All the talks about new, favourable deal with the EU after a Brexit are nonsense in my view. The EU is a political and not an economic project. I would be surprised if there is any deal at all. Since when do traitors get good deals? They get hanged publicly, to deter all other potential traitors. The most likely offer will be that the UK can re join the EU as a full member at any time, if it comes to its senses. Until then, out means out. There will be no deal whatsoever.

This will be the most likely outcome, because if the UK got any deal that is at all attractive, a lot of other states will then demand the same. And that would be the end of the EU. Not negotiating with Britain is pretty much the only way they can rescue this political project after a Brexit. And even then, they might no succeed in rescuing it. But to me, the chance of the EU blowing up completely is even more reason to leave. It might be disruptive in the short term, but in the long term, Europeans will most likely be better off.

  8 comments for “The EU is the Wrong Tool to Defeat Nationalism

  1. Richard Carey
    Jun 20, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Interesting piece. I have a few quibbles though 🙂 starting with:

    “I cannot think of any coherent theory of how to identify a nation that does not involve a state like political structure.”

    I can – a language community; one that shares a common language. This is a point made by Ludwig von Mises in “Nation, State and Economy”, a very interesting early work, online here:
    https://mises.org/library/nation-state-and-economy

    “all kinds of national liberation movement within the accepted nation states, which just goes to show how arbitrary the concept of a nation is.”

    Rather, it shows that nation is not necessarily married to state.

    “When Europe only consisted of nation states …”

    When was this? Surely not before 1918 – Austria-Hungary was no nation state, nor Russia, and many other nations had no state of their own. The Italians and Germans were for many hundreds of years split between many states that claimed no nationhood. No matter how proud the denizens of Hansastadt Bremen, I am sure they never claimed to be a nation unto themselves. The statement would be truer after that point, and certainly after the massive population displacement that occurred after WWII, but never wholly so, due to overlaps (Hungarians in Yugoslavia etc.) minorities (Basques etc.)

    • Nico Metten
      Jun 21, 2016 at 9:44 am

      “I can – a language community; one that shares a common language. This is a point made by Ludwig von Mises in “Nation, State and Economy”, a very interesting early work, online here:
https://mises.org/library/nation-state-and-economy”

      So everyone who speaks English is part of the English nation? I think there are lots of English speakers who would not agree with that. What about Germany? Everyone who speaks German is part of the German nation? The Austrians these days do not agree with that. Nor would the German speaking Swiss. The Swiss is another example. Is there a Swiss nation? If so, what is it? There is no way you can make a coherent statement about nations that every self proclaimed nation agrees with. It comes down to the state as being the one thing that clearly identifies a nation.

      “Rather, it shows that nation is not necessarily married to state.”
      But they are all seeking their own state. They thinking that since they are a nation, they need their own state.

      “When was this? Surely not before 1918 – Austria-Hungary was no nation state, nor Russia, and many other nations had no state of their own. The Italians and Germans were for many hundreds of years split between many states that claimed no nationhood.”

      The word only seems wrong, yes. But Europe consisted mainly of nation states. But the little German states did have their own identities. However, there has always been a king of kings that was elected, which was some kind of loose identifier of a German nation. And if there ever was a German nation, it came into being because of this King.

  2. Ayumi
    Jun 21, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    “If we know one thing about states, it is that they grow and grow and grow.”
    Yes yes yes. I’m not an anarchist, but wholly agree with you on this.

    “If we use ever bigger states as the solution, we will solve one problem and get 10 new ones in return.”
    Yes.
    Yesterday while leafletting, a Polish woman came out of the house, emotional and angry about our vote leave leaflet. “For Poland, EU is the last string we have of curtailing right wing dictatorship, it’s our only hope for democracy” she said. She was busy so closed the door. A lot to be said about this, but bottom line is, a bigger state is not the solution for curbing nationalism. Solution has to come from the bottom up, not top down.

    Thanks for the post Nico.

  3. Richard Carey
    Jun 22, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Nico, I didn’t propose a language community as a catch-all definition of all nations, merely that it could be a “coherent theory of how to identify a nation that does not involve a state like political structure”, Another could be geographical location. That many minorities within larger states wish to break away and form their own state is true, but nations pre-exist states and can transcend states, as was the case before Germany and Italy were united, or in classical Greece. More recently, when Germany was split into the BRD and the DDR, the states were very separate, but on both sides of the barbed wire, the people were unmistakably German. What should we call this persistent quality of Germanness, despite political coercion? If not nationhood, then another name must be found for the same thing. As with all human action, the reality is messy, complicated and full of necessary qualifications, but nations certainly exist without any violation of the the principle of non-aggression required.

    • Nico Metten
      Jun 22, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      > I didn’t propose a language community as a catch-all definition of all nations, merely that it could be a “coherent theory of how to identify a nation that does not involve a state like political structure”

      But it is not coherent, if it only works for one case. A coherent theory needs to include all cases. Thus the word coherent, which means something like consistent, being true all the time. I do not deny that we can come up with criteria to group people that does not involve a state. There seems to be an unlimited amount of these criteria. But when is a group of people a nation? The only coherent theory that I can come up with is, if they have or seek a state like political entity. That seems to be true for all groups that call themselves a nation.

      > That many minorities within larger states wish to break away and form their own state is true, but nations pre-exist states and can transcend states, as was the case before Germany and Italy were united, or in classical Greece.

      I don’t know about Greece, but it is not true for Germany for sure. The birth of the German nation is the coronation of Kaiser Otto in 936. But even if the word was historically used differently, today it seems to mean a state.

      > More recently, when Germany was split into the BRD and the DDR, the states were very separate, but on both sides of the barbed wire, the people were unmistakably German.

      Because they still identified with the old state. Austria today for some reason is not seen as part of the German nation. It certainly once was. The only reason it is not today is, because it is a different state.

      > but nations certainly exist without any violation of the the principle of non-aggression required.

      That is not how the word is used today. I cannot think of a single group of people, calling themselves a nation that does not have or does not seek a state.

  4. Richard Carey
    Jun 22, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Nico,

    firstly, your definition of coherent is idiosyncratic to say the least. To be coherent, something merely needs to be free of internal contradictions. There are many generalisations that could be suggested as defining characteristics of the German people. One of the most commonly true – and least controversial – is that they speak German.

    “The birth of the German nation is the coronation of Kaiser Otto in 936. But even if the word was historically used differently, today it seems to mean a state. ”

    Yes, today it is often used as a quasi-synonym for state, as country is used. But before Otto, there were Germans – lot’s of ’em! If you say that there was no German nation at this earlier point, okay, but then you must find another word to define that thing which they had in common with each other that made them Germans and not something else. If there was no German nation, there were German tribes, and what is a tribe if not a micro- or proto-nation? Moreover, although, as tribes, they saw themselves distinct from each other, they also saw themselves as having something in common when faced, for instance, by an external enemy. They had similar laws, language, religion. They had a collective identity. If you won’t call this nationhood, then you must call it something else.

    I understand you are attacking nationalism and the nationalistic state, which is fine. My argument is not with this. It is often the excuse for statism at its most ugly. You can be against nationalism without being against the concept of nationhood or nationality.

    • Nico Metten
      Jun 22, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      >“firstly, your definition of coherent is idiosyncratic to say the least. To be coherent, something merely needs to be free of internal contradictions.”

      Yes, that is why I asked whether all English speakers are part of the English nation. They should be if the language were to be the identifying characteristic. But since that is clearly not the case, there is a contradiction with your theory that Language is the key. I am testing your theory.

      >“There are many generalisations that could be suggested as defining characteristics of the German people. One of the most commonly true – and least controversial – is that they speak German.”

      But if that is the key characteristic of the German nation, then Austria and large parts of Switzerland would need to be part of it. But they are not. So that is contradicting to your theory.

      >“Yes, today it is often used as a quasi-synonym for state, as country is used. But before Otto, there were Germans – lot’s of ’em! If you say that there was no German nation at this earlier point, okay, but then you must find another word to define that thing which they had in common with each other that made them Germans and not something else.”

      They spoke German. But they were not a nation. It was more outsiders that saw them as a common people, because for them it did not make any difference. Just like people in Europe might say the Asians or the Africans. That is more a group that we think of. They themselves do not see themselves that way.

      >“If there was no German nation, there were German tribes, and what is a tribe if not a micro- or proto-nation?”

      I don’t know of anyone who would call a tribe a nation. A tribe is a tribe.

      >“Moreover, although, as tribes, they saw themselves distinct from each other, they also saw themselves as having something in common when faced, for instance, by an external enemy.”

      Yes they had the enemy in common. And they got together to defeat it. That is politics right there. And that was the start of the nation.

      >“They had similar laws, language, religion. They had a collective identity. If you won’t call this nationhood, then you must call it something else.”

      They did not have a common identity. They lived in separate tribes that barely understood each other. They would not have seen themselves as one people, until they good a Kaiser that told them they were. It seems it is politics that makes nations, nothing else.

      >“I understand you are attacking nationalism and the nationalistic state, which is fine. My argument is not with this. It is often the excuse for statism at its most ugly. You can be against nationalism without being against the concept of nationhood or nationality.”

      I don’t see how you can. The state and the nation seem to be married to each other. There are other things like culture that you might like. But culture is extremely complex. You can divide this in as many ways as you like. The definition of cultural groups is usually arbitrary.

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