The Freedom without which we won’t be able to live

The harsh contradiction that will dominate the politics of the 21st century manifests itself in the opposition of two equally necessary, equally indispensable tendencies. The globalization of opportunities and fateful risks will force all states to renounce part of their sovereignty.

The looming dangers of climate change, resource depletion and mutual nuclear annihilation can only be overcome by a world government that puts an end to mankind’s race against itself. As long as a multipolar order makes every state see its own advantage in harming the common good, mankind will move closer to the abyss with every passing year. It is only a matter of time before even the poorest of the presently two hundred states shall have enough nuclear weapons to make large parts of the earth uninhabitable. Only if all states, voluntarily or forced, renounce the possession of nuclear weapons – in the same way as the citizens of most civilized states have renounced that of pistols and rifles -, technology will benefit mankind instead of threatening it with destruction.

All unions of smaller social units in larger ones

of families in a clan, of clans in a tribe, of tribes in a nation, of nations in an economic federation like the European Union – inevitably entail a loss of self-determination: a loss of freedom. The greater unity lays down basic rules which then apply to all its members. In the European Union, this task is fulfilled by the so-called “aquis communautaire”: the body of binding rules common to all. Hans-MagnusEnzensberger mockingly notes, that the European stock of legally binding documents has become so bloated that by now it nearly reaches the weight of a grown-up hippopotamus. What a bureaucratic water head! And still – the advantage of unity should be obvious. While each of Europe’s 27 nations would be incapable of asserting itself against the three superpowers USA, Russia and China, it is quite possible for a self-confident and decisive Union to effectively maintain its concerns and interests. That is indeed the purpose the Union is meant to serve at the present time. Formerly, when first coming to life, it still aimed at the more urgent purpose of preventing the continuation of all those numerous wars, the bloody trail of which stretches from the Middle Ages right up to the 20th century. Fortunately, this bloody story belongs to the past. Now, the European Union serves to defend European interests within a wider world.

But the question of freedom

remains controversial as it may receive two different, even opposing interpretations, expressing themselves vigorously in contemporary debates. On the one hand, no politically clear-minded head still doubts the necessity that it is Europe’s destiny to grow together both economically and as a political union. On the other hand, we see that Catalonia wants to separate from Spain, the Flemish want to separate from the Walloons, the Catholic Northern Irish from England, and Scotland’s relationship to Great Britain remains ambiguous. As far as the United Kingdom itself is concerned, it simply wants to get out of Europe. This contrast of opposing aspirations within the Union – the desire for unity on the one hand, for separation on the other – reflects a basic contradiction in our understanding of freedom.

This contradiction is not irreconcilable, however

As a matter of principle, the renunciation of sovereignty should only reach as far as necessary to achieve a particular political objective. A world government – whether officially in place or unofficially in the form of the UN Security Council – is indispensable if we want to prevent that any dwarf state like North Korea may threaten the globe with nuclear devastation or that all states together will hopelessly destroy the planet’s ecology. But a politically united Europe will also prove necessary, because its inhabitants are crowded on a quite narrow western tip of Eurasia where they could suffer the same fate as the unfortunate Middle East: ending up as a new field of battle and ruins after being crushed by the superpowers US and Russia.

Please, do not try to belittle such a threat

as far-fetched or unreal. As of now, both powers are busy erecting more and more missile installations on either side of the Russian border. There is a real danger that they might fight their next proxy war on the soil of Europe. To be sure, our continent cannot avoid being caught between the fronts of the two power blocs, but it should at least be strong enough not to be crushed between them. Obviously, such strength requires a renunciation of national freedom – a renunciation that only seems bearable if limited to the necessities of self-assertion vis-à-vis the super states. Definitely, such a union does not require bureaucratically enforced uniformity.

It was with this reservation in mind

that Charles de Gaulle understood and pursued the unity of Europe. It should be constituted by different fatherlands (or let us rather say motherlands). De Gaulle wanted a strong Europe vis-à-vis the outside, but not one that enforces desolate uniformity on its members, thus destroying freedom to an extent that could not be justified by the union’s real purpose.

From the outset, the Europe envisioned and shaped by Brussels

has taken a different path. Based on the model of a business enterprise, where people don’t feel at home because they are expected to leave their self-determined self at the cloakroom in order to merely “function” in precisely defined production processes for eight or more hours per day, the inhabitants of Europe have been harassed with countless regulations in order to press both external reality and the invisible mode of behavior into an ever-expanding network of rules. The unification thus forced upon Europeans from far above certainly represents an advantage in terms of predictableness and smooth economic functioning – in business it is to a certain extent indispensable. Yes, and the example of China proves that it may be useful for government as well if they want to transform an entire state into a national company, so to speak, because this allows it to conjure large projects such as airports, dams or motorways out of thin air – without bothering about the consent of its citizens. All activities are then planned from above and carried out quite efficiently like in a big business concern. The sovereign will of a single CEO (such as Xi Jin Ping or Putin) is in principle sufficient to decide the destiny of immense populations.

It is hard to contest that such a development leads to the termite state

which, as we know, functions with greatest efficiency among bees and ants. Among humans it may be practiced only so long as the resulting gain in prosperity and power makes the loss of elementary freedom appear as a lesser evil. In China, this situation will probably continue during the coming decade, but the same is certainly not true of Europe. Here, the pursuit of common interests to defend against the outside world requires nothing more than a common foreign policy of trade and defense. In order to realize this purpose, there should have been a European President and a Trade Minister both elected by a democratic European Parliament. The latter’s responsibility would be restricted to external relations, while the national parliaments would retain control over all national affairs. In the spirit of a vibrant democracy that leaves to citizens a maximum of choice as all internal concerns of each member state would still be decided at national, regional and finally on the level of the community. The fundamental difference from a termite state is that everything that can be determined locally will be submitted to local decision.

Unfortunately, the actual development in Europe

does not conform to this democratic has model. In Germany, the parliaments of the individual federal states were deprived of more and more powers, so that today they represent hardly more than talking-shops for well-paid pensioners. Even if we need not take quite literally the figure advanced by former Federal President Roman Herzog that about 80% of all German laws are now made in Brussels, creeping empowerment of the center and dispossession of even national parliaments is an obvious fact. What we are now faced with, is not a Europe of father- (or mother-)lands, instead, Brussels is on the way of transforming the Union into some kind of business corporation – as if people could permanently live in a political order that bears a suspicious resemblance to a state of termites.

The resulting incapacitation of citizens at the local level

will not remain without dire consequences. It explains why a united Europe – a project not only necessary in world politics, but also beneficial for the citizens if properly implemented – still meets with such widespread resistance. Neo-liberal Europe, oriented exclusively towards economic efficiency, has increasingly replaced self-determination with heteronomy: that is remote control by the headquarters in Brussels. That, and not unity itself, is the shadow that is spreading across the Union. The individual only feels at home when he is able to create his own identity wherever he lives – a community, a district, a region. This identity must be created by willing cooperation and not be arbitrarily questioned or dissolved from above. Freedom is nothing other than human self-design, which even today, in the age of the Internet, can only be supplemented, but certainly not replaced, by an electronic traffic that transcends special boundaries. Man becomes home- and rootless if he is deprived of this anchoring: of partnership (family), of the community, of the city quarter. Then he feels treated as if he were nothing more than a mere cog in a machine that may be transplanted at will and replaced by any other. The desolation of entire parts of the landscape, for example in eastern Germany, shows this trend in blatant obviousness. There people feel only shame about their own powerlessness, because they are no longer able to live out the elementary need for self-design and self-determination: villages and small towns disintegrate as does the psyche of the inhabitants living in them.

The same development takes place in cities

when people feel imprisoned in anonymous sleeping barracks – a counterpart to animal factory farming, because under these conditions we cannot hope for creative participation. The more the freedom of self-design and self-determination is undermined locally – voting every four or five years is, of course, no substitute for this basic right – the stronger resistance becomes, and it finally threatens to erupt into turmoil: demonstrations in various parts of Europe suddenly turn into orgies of violence. We have already become accustomed to all those deafening sounds of hate pouring forth from the Internet. But public offices and hospitals in Germany as well as in other parts of Europe are exposed to more and more violence on the part of citizens. Violence too is an expression of individual self-determination. Take legitimate self-expression away from the people and you will see that they turn to illegitimate means.

Freedom resulting in self-determination

must not be limited to the family or partnerships, it must be realized locally everywhere on the smallest levels of human community, if the urge for upheaval and destruction is not to become paramount in people’s minds. The imperative to be applied is the very foundation of every living democracy: let the citizens decide on-site all matters directly concerning them rather than ceding their competence to any central authority. This imperative should, of course, mean that Brussels and the two or three major European states must not be allowed to dictate their internal policies to the rest of the Union. Europe should come together voluntarily by following those who convince most as trend-setting models. Forcing others in order to advance the unification process, will only result in stubborn resistance and even stronger tendencies towards secession.

The European Union must not become a centralized state

that sucks the blood out of its members, that is its regional and national parliaments, imposing ever more rules from above as if it were not dealing with states and regions that have historically grown to precious diversity but with an international holding where everyone has to think and act the same way for the next business quarter. To this day, Switzerland shows to the world how freedom may find its true and lasting expression. Up to the present day, the country may serve as a model for external unity and internal freedom (diversity) – a miracle that has successfully survived no less than two hundred years. To be sure, the balancing of local and central competences is made more difficult by the fact that common defense, common industrial norms and a common banking system naturally enforce a certain degree of supranational uniformity, but beyond that the central authority should not be allowed to stand in the way of local freedom. If the European Court of Justice continues to impose from above a unity of morals, customs, and traditions we should ask ourselves whether it is not in fact mobilizing the resistance of citizens against the great European project.

Greatest possible freedom given to local authorities

while at the same time renouncing sovereignty in matters of global concern – these two opposing demands point to the contradiction that our time has to face and will have to cope with. The 21st century will need much greater unity than only that of a unified Europe if it is to survive the deadly dangers threatening us today. It needs an effective world government as soon as possible (not just its unofficial, malfunctioning precursor, that is the UN Security Council). At the same time, however, it will have to beware of being transformed into a sclerotic termite state, where man is reduced to a passive cog, a functioning particle. “The atomic bomb as the problem of mankind par excellence may only be compared with the equivalent evil: the danger of totalitarian rule… with its terrorist structure destroying all freedom and human dignity. There the existence as such is lost, here an existence worth living”, said Karl Jaspers, who in this matter repeats Kant’s objection against what the latter had rejected as “soulless despotism”. Jaspers statement concisely outlines the challenge we face today, only that neither he nor Kant could have known those two additional evils that have joined the apocalyptical wars of annihilation: climate change and the depletion of resources.