Commentary Magazine

The New Europe, by George Lichtheim

Europe Renewed and Transformed1

The Europe they had come from lay out there beyond the Irish Sea, Europe of strange tongues and volleyed and woodbegirt and citadelled and of entrenched and marshalled races.

James Joyce, 1914

It would be a measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient States of Europe. . . . 7 look forward to a United States of Europe. . . . I hope to see a Council of perhaps ten units, including the former Great Powers. . . .

Winston Churchill, 1942

The Europe of Joyce’s revery, was it not, by 1945, quite obliterated? First the great killings of World War I. Next Bolshevism and then Fascism. In the West, economies that did not provide work. Everywhere, foolish and quarrelsome nationalities. Then Nazi destructions of many kinds. And, at last, the Russian design for military victory: trade five deaths for one, and let the armies advance. Churchill had thought to portion out with Stalin spheres of European influence—even in the East. Roosevelt had bemused himself with imaginings of personal blandishments. And now the Russian armies were in Berlin and Prague and Vienna. Would they not reach out for more?

But all the articulated differences of the Europe of 1914 did survive, though of course transformed. The years 1945—48 may be accounted Postwar. Postwar ended with the Communist takeover in Prague and the initiation of the Marshall Plan. The years 1948—53 count as Transition. By their end, Germany is firmly split, Stalin is dead, the Korean War is over, and the fundamental characteristics of the new Western Europe are set—clearly visible for anyone who has eyes to see. Since 1953, all is repeated confirmation.

In this West, property and society are stable. There will be no confiscations. Nationalizations, yes, but with ample compensation. No redistribution of wealth. No need for European capital to flee to the United States, as it did in the dangerous 1930’s. Instead, American private investment in Europe will come to total $13 billion by 1961—surpassing American investment in any other continent except North America. Why indeed should American private business not feel at ease where property is so highly regarded and generously recompensed?

The principal states of the new Western Europe care for full employment more aggressively and more successfully than does the United States. By minimizing unemployment, the state nearly eliminates zero incomes. But otherwise there is little income redistribution. The workers pay for their increased social benefits. “Tax reform” comes to mean—as in the United States—a less direct and less progressive revenue system.

Governments, in this new Western Europe, have annual revenues of between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of gross national product. But such revenues do not mean socialism. They will not frighten American businessmen, who live under a government system which, in 1961, collected current revenues (federal, state, and local) equal to about 29 per cent of the American gross national product. True, the European capital market is organized quite differently from the American. In France and England, institutions of “the public sector” direct the flow of some 50 per cent of all investment funds. But about half of these funds are directed into activities under private ownership. All together, therefore, about three-quarters of all investment remains in private enterprises. The management elite of government finance, public enterprises, and public planning exchanges positions easily with the management elite of private business and private banking. This is not the world of the Code Napoléon or the world of Marx. But the Saint-Simonians are at ease in it.

In this Western Europe, there are no world powers. Britain has relinquished Empire, and it minimizes recognition of the changed status by exaggerating the significance of its Commonwealth. France gave up Empire more slowly and grudgingly, and it softens the loss with the overblown rhetoric of “grandeur” and “gloire.” But not even supranationally is there a military world power in being or in becoming in Western Europe. The six countries of the Common Market plus Britain have a population larger than that of the USSR; their combined income may be two-fifths larger than that of the Soviet Union. But they do not maintain, out of their greater population and much larger income, a military establishment comparable to the Russian. Even today, all the other NATO powers together (including Canada) provide an annual military expenditure of about $18 billion, while the United States alone provides three times as much. Western Europe is not of a mind to pay the price of world power. This deficiency of power sets painful limits to the natural desire for political self-assertion.



Regarding this New Europe, Mr. George Lichtheim has written a long, and I believe excellent, political tract. It is full of penetrating and novel turns of thought, and is therefore worth reading from beginning to end. Indeed, of five sections, the first and last are, in my judgment, the best.

This said, I must quickly add that Mr. Lichtheim’s Europe is not quite mine, as his modes of thought are not completely those I can share. For example, he places great value on the idea that ours is a “post-bourgeois” Europe. Being myself little impressed with the explanatory value of the concept of “bourgeois society,” I find even less illumination in being told that a society is post-bourgeois. Also, he does not disassociate himself explicitly, and in so many words, from the (very different) European policies of the two Presidents—President John F. Kennedy and President Charles de Gaulle—as I would have done, writing his book. In general, Mr. Lichtheim is an historicist, while I think one should be anti-historicist. He consequently assigns what I think is a mistaken status to concepts like “growth” and “evolution” and even “historically progressive.” (I welcome the fact that, in the last case, Mr. Lichtheim has the perceptiveness to mock himself and to accompany the words “historically progressive” with the parenthesis “whatever that may mean”—as one who, being half aware of having committed a blooper, accompanies it with a nervous laugh. But I want more. I want a clear distinction between concepts of historical connection and concepts of value.)

Mr. Lichtheim’s book has almost too many ideas. It reflects a richly stocked mind—and a mind always ready to make one more point. He challenges the post-bourgeois survival of the family in one sentence, and he limits creativeness eternally to a minority, also in one sentence. But it is with ill grace that we protest Mr. Lichtheim’s abundance. In general, his is an admirable book. In these latter years, we have had a flood of books on European Integration and the European Common Market. They come trooping out monthly—most of them bearing the imprimatur of a Congressional Committee, a Policy Planning Staff, an Institute, a Foundation, or a Fund. I cannot pretend that my strength or interest goes beyond riffling a few pages in most of these books. But, among those I have read, Mr. Lichtheim’s seems to me to contain the most thoughtful political assessments. He signs his book November 1962—two months before de Gaulle excluded Britain from the Common Market. It testifies to the quality of his work that, if he were dating it March 1963, he could of course add some things, but there would be only the tenses of a few sentences to change.

Mr. Lichtheim does not, in so many words, reject the Gaullist formula of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.” But perhaps this is only a matter of taste in expression. He knows very well that the USSR does not end at the Urals, as Europe does not end in the West where de Gaulle sees the Atlantic. He knows also—and does not minimize, in the sometime manner of George Kennan—the profound differences between Communist Europe and Western Europe. Therefore, for the next decade, he is, I think rightly, skeptical of all far-reaching European neutralizations, and he speaks harsh words regarding “disengagement.”

Talk of “European neutralism” . . . is doubly senseless. Not only does it ignore the quite patent threat implicit in Soviet policies and attitudes; it also abstracts from the existence of the East European countries now attached to the U.S.S.R. To be at all meaningful, “neutralism” would have to embrace them too, which is tantamount to saying that the U.S.S.R. would have to be induced to withdraw and let the political system imposed upon its satellites be replaced by something akin to democracy. It requires an inordinate amount of optimism to believe that this is likely to happen, at any rate within the coming decade; and until it does happen, all talk of “disengagement” and “neutralization” belongs to the realm of fantasy.

Very good. And all talk of a “Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals” belongs to an even remoter realm of fantasy.

Where Lichtheim fails us distinctly, on the European politics of Gaullism, is in not seeing through the Gaullist public relations stunt of a “force de frappe.” He also does not penetrate to the deeper economic and political meaning of this stunt. It is a fable that Western Europe is not today a military world power because the economic requirements of such power would, in the popular phrase, “bleed Europe white.” No; there is no truth in such phrases. Western Europe could today, so far as economics (including manpower) is concerned, sustain a military power entirely the equal of the Russian or the American and still have a standard of living higher than Europe had ever known before 1953. By what peculiar path do we reason that a standard of living possible to our fathers, down all the reaches of time, is not now economically possible? No; it is the will that is lacking. It is preference that runs otherwise.

Because Western Europe has—by choice and preference—foregone independent military power, Western Europeans seem condemned to alternative frustrations. One main course is to deceive themselves comfortingly with the bluff of something like de Gaulle’s puny “force de frappe.” The other alternative is to negotiate for equality in NATO, arguing equality of sacrifice, and hoping—against hope—to succeed by friendly argument with the Americans, in spite of Europe’s drastic inferiority in power and contribution. One need not be lacking in sympathy for the choice, which Western Europe has made, of greater comfort and lesser military power, to wish to bring out, with all possible clarity, that it is a choice. Real alternatives exist. And many of Europe’s deepest political and public frustrations are direct consequences of decisions made in this particular matrix of choosing and rejecting.



One of the best things in Mr. Lichtheim’s book is his treatment of the vacillations and ambiguities in Britain’s attitude toward joining a European confederation. He sketches skillfully the two great companion illusions: first, Britain the leader of a powerful Commonwealth of nations and races; second, Britain the member of an intimate Anglo-American partnership, and hence the mediator between Europe and America. He finds that “. . . between 1945 and 1960, most British people of all parties still tended to believe in the possibility of an Anglo-American partnership that would become the core of an Atlantic system.” And he quotes, most appositely, de Gaulle’s record of a Churchillian outburst, in the presence of Eden and Bevin, in June 1944. Churchill was urging de Gaulle to go to Washington to solicit Roosevelt’s approval of de Gaulle’s being named representative of France. The meeting was stormy, and Churchill cried out:

Here is something you should know: whenever we have to choose between Europe and the open sea, we shall always choose the open sea. Whenever I have to choose between you and Roosevelt, I shall always choose Roosevelt.

De Gaulle learned and remembered.

It is a great pity that Mr. Lichtheim has not been available, during these past five years, to teach official Washington—the White House, the State Department, the Congress, and other bodies—in what manner good Europeans regard the relation of the United States to European integration:

Conceivably, there are people in Whitehall and in the State Department who still believe that, once inside Europe, the British will “manage” it—in the joint interest of the Anglo-Saxon powers. This is wishful thinking; the Europeans are in no mood to have their affairs run by people whom they regard as outsiders. If the British count on playing a leading role in the new Europe, they will have to demonstrate to their skeptical partners that in any serious conflict of interest between the two halves of the Atlantic world they can be counted on to come down on the European side. . . . What makes the decision crucial is that the [European] community will clearly aim at autonomy, if not independence, in the field of politico-military strategy.

Mr. Lichtheim has educational material to communicate also to those past members of English-speaking unions who wished the United States to “join the Common Market.” He says, what should have been elementary:

For the United States to adhere to the Rome Treaty—supposing such a thing to be economically feasible—would be to destroy the whole carefully built edifice of European political integration. . . . The Common Market was deliberately set up to serve as the economic framework of a future united Europe. It cannot be enlarged to include the U.S.A. without losing its original purpose.

And he states the central philosophy of European integration, regarding relations with the United States, with beautiful clarity:

The unspoken assumptions underlying the Common Market are not anti-American, but they are opposed to American hegemony within the Western world: Western Europe is to become master of its own fate, so far as that is possible. . . . In the measure that these nations—or their political and intellectual elites through which they express their collective feelings and ambitions—retain memories of this recent past, they are bound to view the United States as a temporary overlord, whose sudden elevation to the rank of primus inter pares corresponds neither to innate virtues nor to the long-range interests of the Western world as a whole.




As I have no access to confidential information, I hesitate to pinpoint what seems to me to be the substantial negative contribution of the Kennedy administration to the development of European political integration. It is possible that subsequent publication of confidential records will alter perspectives on these events. But I think a drastic alteration unlikely. And some evaluation of this aspect of the recent American contribution to the sad course of European integration is badly missing from Mr. Lichtheim’s analysis.

The decisive event then, I think, was Mr. Kennedy’s reaction to his Vienna meeting with Mr. Khrushchev. Mr. Kennedy mobilized the National Guard. He enlarged military expenditure. He dispatched additional troops to Germany. And, above all, mistakenly I believe, he pre-empted initiative in distinctively European affairs. He did not leave the forward position to Adenauer, de Gaulle, and Macmillan—promising them the support of their faithful American ally. He seized the forward position and shoved his European allies into the background. He exchanged demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in the streets of Berlin. He acted the part of the militant, myopic American overlord. Whom power had made unequal, forbearance did not redeem.

Overt and sustained pressure on Britain, by the government of the United States, to join the Common Market, constituted—perhaps paradoxically—a second aspect of the Kennedy administration’s negative contribution to European integration. (In this, of course, Kennedy was only carrying on his unfortunate inheritance from Eisenhower.) On the merits of Britain’s adherence to the Common Market, there are significant differences among well-informed and well-disposed people. Personally, had I been British, I believe that—like Mr. Lichtheim—I would have favored Britain’s adherence to the European Community, on political grounds—though, on the terms offered in 1962, I do not believe Britain would have gained economically, on balance, from joining the Common Market. But adherence or non-adherence was, par excellence, the kind of decision Britain should have been allowed to make for herself. British status in Europe could only be prejudiced—as, in the end, it was fatally—by the fact that British entry was being pushed by the government of the United States.

The Nassau conference, then, came only as the crowning incident of American (and British) diplomatic ineptitude. The “Anglo-Saxons” were again intimately making policy, and presenting France with the conclusions of their deliberations. But President de Gaulle did not have to tolerate from Kennedy and Macmillan in 1963 what General de Gaulle had suffered from Roosevelt and Churchill in 1944. It did not matter that informed and authoritative British opinion, in the Labor and Liberal parties, soon rejected the Polaris offer to Britain as expensive and pointless. What did matter was that the American offer to France was discourteous in procedure and derisory in content. The cup ran over.

In its relations with Western Europe—integrated or not integrated—the United States needs a better considered and more skillful diplomacy than has been practiced by the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. The United States is not a proper member of any form of Atlantic Community unless a state can belong to several overlapping communities. The United States is a world power, with obligations in the Americas and Asia which Europe refuses to share (and obligations in Africa which the U.S. interprets differently from some of its European allies). Western Europe is not a first-class power even in Europe. These words may give pain. But they need to be said clearly.

Since power is so discrepant, American diplomacy should be the more committed to restraint in European action, wherever possible. The United States should always accord first place to Europeans where distinctively European matters are concerned.2 If collaboration were a matter of all or none, it would have to be none. The United States cannot refrain from action in the Americas or in Asia (probably not even in Africa) because the action may have impact on Europe. But international collaboration is not-a matter of all or none.

The movement toward greater European political integration is now arrested. Probably it will make no further major advance until Adenauer, Macmillan, and de Gaulle have completed their public life. Perhaps by then the United States may have unlearned its posturing, in every region of the earth and in every class of question, as the one militant “Leader of The Free World.”




1 A review of The New Europe by George Lichtheim (Praeger, 232 pp., $5.50).

2 I would, of course, argue for a similar policy also in other regions of the world, as I have done for East Asia in my essay on “China and the United States” in COMMENTARY (November 1962).

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