The traditional nation-state wanted to safeguard and imperialistically promote the ideas of state, nation, language, economy and culture within one “sensibly” and “naturally” constrained territory. But who is to say what the correct political borders are? This collective error led to the First World War, “the great seminal catastrophe of the 20th century – the event which lay at the heart of the failure and decline of this Western civilization”, as the historian and diplomat George F Kennan put it.
It is an event in whose shadows we are still suffering; of course, the Second World War was just a continuation of the First, and the Cold War just a continuation of the Second. The disastrous issue was the vain hope of finding “just” borders. But there are no “just” borders. Borders are just borders!
Cultivating diversity is one of the great secrets of the Swiss success. European diversity includes the individual responsibility of EU member states for their own budgets, which requires a consistent no-bail-out policy that expects each member to take on responsibility for its own financing and to bear the consequences of national bankruptcy.
Most nation states are probably too large rather than too small. Their current size came out of an optimal defence technology in case of war. Large states did not rise through markets but through wars. However, this emphasis on size for military purposes becomes a moot point in our nuclear age.
There are political communities which are collecting money for the common good on the basis of self-administered taxes, on the model of club membership fees. Alternatively, whenever possible, they directly charge for use. The goal of all friends of liberty is not the removal of borders and the integration in centralising structures, but a political organisation which offers the best possible combination of “voting”, “voting with your feet” (exit) and “loyalty”.
The dictum “no taxation without representation” is well known, but sometimes the equally important opposite is forgotten: “no representation without taxation”. The “natural” political organisation is a group of people who agree to be taxed by consent. This group may be very small, perhaps even smaller than Switzerland. But small is beautiful, and there is no reason to fight against your neighbours. Provided, of course, that they don’t try to change your (tax) system.
This is, in fact, a form of experimentation. History does not offer us ready-made complete models that we can simply replicate. But it does show us a lot of interesting experiments. I, for example, never call Switzerland a model. It cannot be copied. But it is an, at least partly, successful experiment.
Cultivating diversity is one of the great secrets of the Swiss success. European diversity includes the individual responsibility of EU member states for their own budgets, which requires a consistent no-bail-out policy that expects each member to take on responsibility for its own financing and to bear the consequences of national bankruptcy. This combination of diversity and autonomy is what Eric Jones called “The European Miracle” – “The fundamental trump card of Europe is its diversity.”
It was not an Austrian economist but an Austrian poet, Franz Grillparzer (1791 – 1872), who had very good reasons in 1859 to be against nationalism. He remarked that “human development leads from Humanity via Nationality to Bestiality”. Unfortunately, we have observed this rapid progression over the course of the 20th century, full of war and the growing welfare state.
All friends of liberty, all classical liberals and libertarians, are called first to seek out the liberal core of the European idea and then to defend it tenaciously against all undesirable developments in the direction of more central bureaucracy and more personal and regional redistribution.
Diversity makes us all more robust and less vulnerable. It enables mutual transfer of knowledge: one simply copies the successes and avoids the mistakes.
I am convinced that Europe today needs more than short-term political crisis management. Nor will the flight forwards into a centralised economic, financial and social policy solve the current problems. What is required is a consideration of the conditions and facts that form the secret to the success of our little continent in world history. It is our diversity that enables competition in the broadest sense and mutual learning – that diversity which tenaciously resists the spirit of standardisation and harmonisation.
In the past this internal diversity used to be considered a disadvantage, but in a competitive world of a learning society it is effectively turning into an advantage. At least that is the experience we have had in Switzerland. Diversity makes us all more robust and less vulnerable. It enables mutual transfer of knowledge: one simply copies the successes and avoids the mistakes.
Indeed, the smaller the group experimenting, the better, because the risks of a failure are contained within a small area or a small group of people. Diversity over an area is then a natural creator of small groups suitable for experimentation. Historically, the most decisive cultural and political unit is the city (with its suburbs), not the centralised nation state. Political institutions of the future will simply be confederations of cities and local communities. I suggest that an actual path forward is not “let us forget about all regional integration and let us go back to the good old nation state!” Switzerland has never been a typical nation state, and this is another of the many secrets of our successes.
Most nation states that exist today are the result of very cruel experiments of unification and of discrimination (even extinction) of minorities. They have been steeped in Bismarck’s Blut und Eisen. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) may have been right, after all, in claiming that “war is the father of all things”.
But we should add that the mother of all things is the peaceful exchange and mutual learning and adaptation. So let us all together forget the authoritarian over-regulating father, at least in the political sphere. And let us go back to the tolerant mother who shows us how to exchange in peace and how to be creative.
Today, economies and cultures are essentially and increasingly spanning political or linguistic borders. The EU is not the positive alternative to the collective error of centralised nation states. Instead, the EU is a bureaucratic, corporatist empire, a political cartel in which the economically influential parties keep the smaller or economically weaker parties happy through transfer payments.
Most nation states that exist today are the result of very cruel experiments of unification and of discrimination (even extinction) of minorities. They have been steeped in Bismarck’s Blut und Eisen.
In return they demand financial and political tributes, whilst at the same time cutting off competition among systems as much as possible. The more ambiguous and indistinct the foundations are, the better for the self-assigned, self-empowering bureaucrats. Eurocrats in Brussels can live quite well in this state of hazily defined responsibilities, since bureaucrats are masters at muddling through. You can always present unnecessary restraints as inevitable practical constraints “without alternative”. It is well known that necessity knows no law.
The EU is trying to prolong this collective error on a continental level by muscling in a form of European pseudo-solidarity and nationality. It wants to be something of a mercantilist super-nation. If it lacks loyalty, it wants to buy people off by centrally organised redistribution. But in reality it is perhaps destroying the loyalty more than creating it. Coercion destroys voluntary action and genuine loyalty. Loyalty can be based on free consensus over enlightened self-interest, but never on bureaucratic machinery of redistribution.