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What America’s Founders Could Teach The European Union

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously asked: “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” Kissinger’s question describes the confusion and frustration of many Americans with the multitude of European nations.

After the terrorist attacks in Brussels, the media filled the airwaves with the incompetence of European security services and the problems of the open borders within the Schengen area. Particularly European elites share America’s frustrations. For many European elites and Americans, the answer to this problem is simple: a federal Europe, modeled on the United States.

Many in Europe do not share the optimism of the elites. The recent rejection in the Netherlands of the European Union (EU) association treaty with Ukraine, the close race in this summer’s Brexit referendum, and the rise and sustained presence of anti-EU parties all over Europe prove popular distrust and dissatisfaction with the European Union.

Challenges to its capacities and legitimacy poses a problem for the EU. As John Daniel Davidson argued, the EU must decide whether it is a state. To answer this conundrum, perhaps it is time to turn to men who already framed a union out of a loose confederation: the framers of the United States Constitution.

Ask the American Founders

Like Americans in the 1780s, European leaders today face an increasing security problem and a growing debt, but a lack of political power to solve it. The European Union has claimed in various stages to be a legitimate government, while few have taken its claims seriously. When the European Union is arbiter in a dispute or attempts to solve a problem, very few actually abide by the agreements made, if the agreements would solve the problem at all.

The larger the republic, the fewer factions exist, which thus preserves the liberty of its citizens.

The United States faced similar issues in the 1780s. In the “Federalist Papers,” Alexander Hamilton argued a federal constitution is necessary, because of the “unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government.” Like its contemporary European counterparts, Hamilton and many of his contemporaries thought the Articles of Confederation that held the United States together during the Revolutionary War were too weak to pay for the war debt and to provide for a strong defense against European empires.

The biggest problem the Framers faced was the issue of political factions in the federal government, comparable to “the curse of nationalism” EU officials try to cope with. Steeped in classical and Enlightenment political theory, the Framers knew factionalism eventually would destroy republics from within. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison argued in Federalist No. 9 and 10 that “a firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.”

Madison argued factionalism was inevitable as long as men are free, and that therefore the size of the republic must help control these erroneous effects of factionalism, both geographically and demographically. When you create a large republic, Madison stated,…

 if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.


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