As the EU tries to abolish the nation state, a Hobbesian concept of national sovereignty is the basis of the US President’s emerging doctrine
It was a trivial incident at a Prom concert in September that brought home to me just how fatal the European project has become — not so much for Britain, as for Europe.
Part I: Europe
The concert in question was a very European affair, performed by a small German band, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, under a young Spanish conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado. The programme was all-Mendelssohn, and it too evoked aspects of European geography and history: from the miraculous Hebrides Overture to the turbulent Reformation Symphony. Felix Mendelssohn himself felt no less at home in Britain than he did in Germany or Italy. The high point of this Sunday lunchtime Prom (so relaxed that someone unwisely decided to bring their baby) was the great Violin Concerto, performed here by the eminent German violinist Isabelle Faust. It was a fine performance, warmly received.
Donald Trump: The new Leviathan? (Illustration by Michael Daley)
Yet when Ms Faust stilled the applause to announce an encore, I could hardly believe my ears. “Richard Wagner: ‘Träume’,” she said. It wasn’t the music: she played this adaptation for violin and orchestra of the most sensual of Wagner’s songs for his lover Mathilde Wesendonck to perfection. What kind of historical amnesia did it require, though, to insert a work by the most notorious anti-Semite in the history of music into a concert in memory of perhaps the greatest of all Jewish composers? Felix, the grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, the apostle of Enlightenment and pioneer of religious toleration; Felix, who like his friend, the virtuoso Ferdinand David for whom he wrote the Violin Concerto, had been baptised to gain acceptance in a hostile gentile society, and who did so much to revive the Christian musical tradition, starting with Johann Sebastian Bach; Felix, the man whom the young Wagner idolised but whose posthumous reputation he later did his utmost to destroy, despite having plagiarised his music — the rhythms of the Hebrides Overture inspired the Ride of the Valkyries, the Reformation Symphony was imitated in Parsifal, the very idea of The Ring was borrowed from Mendelssohn, including the depiction of the Rhine with which the cycle begins. Isabelle Faust is 45, old enough to know better. What could she have been thinking?
Reflecting on how a cultured standard-bearer of the European Union could strike such a false note, I realised that this was the inevitable consequence of the ideology that has been imposed on the Continent for some 60 years. “Europe” — as in the “more Europe” of which Jean-Claude Juncker, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and virtually every other mainstream politician speaks — is a denial of history, of responsibility, of the collective memory of a civilisation. It implies that the truth about our past is too terrible a burden for the successor generations to bear. Instead, they must be fed a narrative in which the slate is wiped clean, the wishful thinking of the present cancels the guilt of the past, and recrimination becomes a crime. In this Europe without a pre-history, there can be no objection to the intrusion of a hostile presence into a commemoration of a composer whose memory the Nazis sought to eradicate. Mendelssohn and Wagner were both great Europeans, so their symbolic reconciliation must be effected retrospectively. The myth of the German-Jewish symbiosis is given a new lease of life; the fact that it ended in genocide need not detain us. Wagner, author of the toxic tract The Jews in Music that demanded the purging of Jewish influence in German culture, is handed down a posthumous pardon.
An outside observer of Europe today would surely be struck by the failure of this ideology to gain popular acceptance. There is much talk of the ghosts of the past returning to haunt Europe, from German nationalism to Catalonian separatism. This irruption of a repressed historical memory is as striking as it is alarming. What gives it such elemental force, however, is the fact that three generations have been nurtured on a narrative of European historical inevitability so pervasive as to be unchallenged. Now, though, the ideology of Europe is not merely being challenged — it is swaying like a hollow tree in a storm.
The idea that the nation state is the root of all evil gained traction in the aftermath of the Second World War — which, despite the culpability of the global ideologies of National Socialism, Fascism and Communism, was blamed on nationalism. The Cold War, in which the nation state ceased to dominate the stage except as part of larger alliances, added to the prestige of the European idea. Yet as the ideal of a federal Europe began to take shape, citizens became aware of the fact that their control over their destiny was ebbing away. There was a price to pay for “pooling” — that is, undermining — national sovereignty. The nation state had provided the essential basis for parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, civil liberties and the market economy. Over time, the ever weaker nation states of Europe became incapable of inspiring loyalty and allegiance. Far from becoming one European superstate, the Continent began fragmenting into a “Europe of the regions”, encouraged by subsidies and structures designed to dismantle the nation state. Local loyalties resumed their ancient primacy over ties to an often remote capital and an unpopular political establishment. Despite the ruling elites’ attempt to deny a place for God in the European constitution, religion resumed its role as a supranational gravitational force, with the power to pull nations apart. Islam, indifferent to national allegiances, became a growing presence in Europe. Nation states that had emerged only in the 19th century — the case with the great majority of European countries — were assumed to be capable of withstanding the passions unleashed by economic crises, but in a borderless Europe where everyone was assumed to be interchangeable, peoples felt robbed of their birthright. Because its absence was felt so acutely, identity became the most important value in European minds. Identity depends on history. And politics based on identity has always had the greatest potential for conflict.
Take the conflict in Catalonia, which has astonished Europe by escalating so rapidly and seemingly out of the blue. In fact, the present crisis has a long history, beginning in 1714 when Felipe V, the founder of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty — the ancestor of the present King, Felipe VI — abolished the medieval Generalitat (local government, with considerable autonomy) and privileges of Catalonia. It amounted to an annexation by the Castilian monarchy, in imitation of the centralised absolutism of Felipe’s French cousins. In the 19th century, Catalonia was the first part of Spain to industrialise and has been the richest region ever since. The educated bourgeoisie of rapidly growing Barcelona resented the tutelage of Madrid, in their eyes a backwater, anarchism took root and by 1900 the Catalan capital became known as the “city of bombs”. In 1909, the civil governor wrote: “In Barcelona, a revolution does not have to be prepared, since it is always prepared.”
The emergence of the Spanish Republic was a blessing for Catalonia: the 1932 referendum voted overwhelmingly for home rule and a devolved government was created under the medieval name of Generalitat, with autonomy in everything except defence, foreign affairs and border control. As the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Catalonia became virtually independent, its politics dominated by anarchists, Communists and the POUM, the anti-Stalinist far-left party that many of the foreign volunteers joined, immortalised by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia. Their social and economic experiments may have been exhilarating, but bloodshed was committed on all sides: half a million died in the civil war. “The short, tragic history of the Catalonian republic”, as the late Hugh Thomas called it, ended after just seven years, when General Franco’s nationalist forces conquered Barcelona in January 1939 — the beginning of the end of the civil war. Some 400,000 refugees were driven into France; many thousands were shot or sent to concentration camps. Franco not only abolished all vestiges of Catalonian autonomy, but also the official status of the Catalan language (referred to thereafter as a “dialect”). The Sardana, the national dance, was banned; even children could not be christened with Catalan names.
This suffocation of Catalonia’s identity endured until the death of Franco in 1975. The newly restored monarchy sought to draw a line under the dictatorship: Juan Carlos proclaimed himself “King of all Spaniards” and a new version of Catalonian autonomy was reinstituted in 1979, along with similar statutes for Galicians and Basques. However, the old tensions between Madrid and Barcelona could not be abolished at the stroke of a pen; the memories of the civil war, buried for 40 years, could be suppressed no longer. Spain’s ability to regenerate itself as a modern nation state has been hindered by the quest for a European identity. The Spanish political elites convinced themselves that joining the EU would guarantee democracy and prevent a return to dictatorship, but the priority should have been to rebuild a sense of nationhood rather than handing over sovereignty to Brussels and Berlin. After the crash of 2008, disillusionment with Europe left only a weak nation state to pick up the pieces. Barcelona has continued to thrive, but Catalonian grievances have also multiplied. As austerity took its toll, Catalans increasingly resented bankrolling poorer regions of Spain. Disputes over autonomy culminated in the election of a pro-independence Catalonian government two years ago, with the centre-right government in Madrid resolutely opposed to a referendum.
The referendum was held nevertheless, in the face of police brutality on a scale that shocked the world. Now Spain is in the grip of a seemingly inevitable train of events, leading to revolution and the spectre of a new civil war. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has threatened to revoke Catalonia’s autonomy, if necessary by force. This would involve the arrest of its president, Carles Puigdemont, and his government. King Felipe has squandered any chance of acting as an umpire by siding with Rajoy. The latter in turn is under pressure from his predecessor José María Aznar, a much more formidable leader, to take more decisive action to protect Spain’s national integrity. Puigdemont in turn is carried away by his own rhetoric, and Catalans who do not support independence feel intimidated. Europe, meanwhile, has washed its hands of the mess for which it has been largely responsible. The illusion of “pooled sovereignty” is now confronted with reality: will a weak government in Madrid dare to protect the post-Franco constitution by using the methods of Franco?
Spain’s Catalonian crisis is a microcosm of the general European crisis. Almost every country in the EU is now embroiled in struggles over identity, authority and sovereignty. Border anxiety grips the Continent; the establishment lacks respect, while the populists who denounce it lack respectability. Respect and respectability are different things, but both are important to the stability of a nation state. The truth is dawning on Europeans that they can have a continental union with ultimate sovereignty over its members — that is, a United States (or more likely Federal Republic) of Europe — or they can have a Europe des patries, a confederation of fully sovereign nation states, but they cannot have both. They must choose, just as Britain chose. Soon, they will be presented with fully worked-out proposals from the Commission for much more extensive integration than anything seen before. The mainstream parties may decide to go along with these proposals, as they have usually done before, but in doing so they will forfeit the respect of those who still value their independence. The populist movements will resist, but thereby confirm their lack of respectability in the eyes of the establishment. Once, however, the populists take power in one European country after another, they will seek to transform the respect their defiance has gained them among the people into the respectability they lack.
In The Remains of the Day, the novel that probably won Kazuo Ishiguro the Nobel Prize for Literature, the narrator is Mr Stevens, a “gentleman’s gentleman” and sometime butler to the late Lord Darlington. Looking back to the 1930s, he recalls a certain young man, John Cardinal, warning him against his former master’s role as a mediator between Nazi Germany and Britain, “the single most useful pawn Herr Hitler has had in this country for his propaganda tricks”. The butler bridles at the suggestion that his master is a bungling amateur, hopelessly out of his depth: “I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot see that his lordship is doing anything other than that which is highest and noblest. He is doing what he can, after all, to ensure that peace will continue to prevail in Europe.” When The Remains of the Day was published in 1989, readers would have enjoyed its irony, realising that the pursuit of peace at any price would end badly. Yet Robert Harris has just published another novel, Munich, in which Neville Chamberlain emerges as the hero. Appeasement is again the order of the day in Europe. From Moscow to Tehran, from Beijing to Damascus, autocrats crave appeasement. They have allies among populists and elites, nationalists and federalists. Peace is the imperative, with or more likely without honour.
Once again, the victims are the Jews. The anti-Semites too seek respectability and they are achieving it by hook or by crook. The decline of national sovereignty in Europe has allowed Israel, the only Jewish nation state, to be portrayed as a threat to peace. Europe as such is doing little or nothing to resist the return of anti-Semitism, but its member states are little better and in some cases worse. Fear of Islam, at home and abroad, plays a large part in the betrayal of Israel and the Diaspora. But so too does the loss of any confidence in Western civilisation and the values on which it is based. Israel is the front line of that civilisation, but Europeans are no longer willing to die for the sake of ideas in which they no longer believe. Hence, for the fifth time in a century — after two world wars, the Cold War and the War on Terror — Europe must turn to the United States for leadership on the question of national sovereignty. It is anathema to Europeans — and indeed many Americans — to look for any kind of leadership from the Trump administration. Indeed, when a senior Republican senator can openly refer to the White House as “an adult day care centre” and accuse the President of setting the nation “on the path to World War III”, it is clear that the prestige of this presidency has been severely undermined. Yet there is only one leader in the world today who is setting out the case for national sovereignty: Donald Trump.
Part II: America
It sounds like the title of a movie — “Mr Trump goes to Turtle Bay” — and the event certainly lived up to its billing. In September we heard the most uncompromising speech ever given at the UN General Assembly. In 1960 Nikita Khrushchev grabbed the world’s attention by banging his shoe on the desk. Donald Trump didn’t do that. When he wants to send a message, the President has a simple oratorical technique: if they don’t get it the first time, he repeats it. Again — and again.
The fundamental idea of what is already being called the Trump doctrine is sovereignty. In one fairly short speech, he used the word “sovereign” or “sovereignty” no fewer than 21 times. “In America, the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign . . . In foreign affairs, we are renewing this principle of sovereignty.” Mr Trump’s other key concept is closely related to sovereignty: “The nation state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.”
The Trump doctrine is based on the idea that sovereign nation states, acting together, can and should solve many of the world’s problems. But the multilateral institutions that these sovereign nation states create, such as the UN, are always their servants and never their masters. He quoted Truman: “The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members.” Sovereign nation states can and do form permanent alliances, such as Nato, and temporary coalitions of the willing, which can and should promote ideas such as democracy, the rule of law and free markets. “But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the sovereign interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”
The only nations that place themselves beyond the pale are the “small group of rogue regimes” that respect “neither their own citizens nor the sovereign rights of their countries”. When such rogue regimes refuse to respect the sovereignty of other nations, there is a clear case for intervention — but in the name of sovereignty rather than democracy or human rights. The President did not echo his predecessors’ vocabulary by speaking of an “evil empire” or an “axis of evil”, but he went further than they did in vowing retribution. If the United States were ever forced to defend itself or its allies against attack, Mr Trump declared, it would be entitled to “totally destroy” North Korea. He threatened to force not only North Korea but also Iran to give up nuclear weapons, if necessary by tearing up the Iran deal signed by his predecessor. He also threatened to force Iran to “stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people, and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbours” — though he was not specific about the means. In dealing with cross-border issues, the sovereignty principle also applies: the rights of sovereign nations not to suffer terrorist attacks or the costs of uncontrolled migration must be respected. The President singled out Venezuela’s “socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro” for having “destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried”. He declared that “we cannot stand by and watch” as Venezuelans starve. Here, the sovereignty principle is invoked against a regime that denies its own people’s sovereign rights. A state that denies such rights is therefore no longer entitled to sovereignty. On this basis, the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were justified, as was the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.
So the Trump Doctrine differs from the Bush Doctrine more in theory than in practice. President George W. Bush did not need to invoke sovereignty to justify his pre-emptive wars and regime change. But President Trump uses the sovereignty principle to justify intervention in much the same way as neoconservatives use freedom and democracy. In his classic 2004 work The Case for Democracy, the former Soviet dissident and Israeli politician Nathan Sharansky argues that regimes based on fear should have no veto on their own reform: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform.” In the case of North Korea, Mr Trump cited the case of Otto Warmbier to argue that the regime refuses to respect the sovereign rights of US citizens. In the case of Iran, the regime’s repeated threats of annihilation deny the sovereignty of Israel. Like President Bush, President Trump does not believe that the United Nations has a monopoly of international force. He does not seek permission from the Security Council to take military action. The United States has the sovereign right not only of self-defence but also of intervention, based on “a policy of principled realism”. This implies strong continuity between Reagan, Bush and Trump. The odd man out is Obama, with his fatal “leadership from behind”.
Like his predecessors, Donald Trump says he does not seek to “impose our way of life on others”. Unlike Mr Obama, however, he denounces “threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea” — implying that even nuclear powers, such as Russia and China, must respect the sovereignty principle, at least as long as he is in charge. Presidents Putin and Xi know that, unlike Mr Obama, Mr Trump does not allow red lines to be crossed with impunity. His sovereignty principle places Syria, which uses chemical weapons against its own people, among the rogue regimes. After its chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun, the Assad regime lost up to 10 per cent of its air force to Tomahawk missiles from US warships. Teddy Roosevelt advised presidents to speak softly and carry a big stick. Though Mr Trump seldom speaks softly, he not only carries a big stick, but is prepared to use it.
Donald Trump’s UN speech should be seen alongside his Warsaw speech last July. There, he called into question the very survival of the West: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” One does not have to admire Mr Trump in the least to concede that these are good questions.
The sovereignty principle and the nation state are a good basis from which to answer these questions. Only the nation state has shown the ability to protect borders and thereby reassure its citizens. The European Union, by contrast, has failed lamentably to control the influx of migrants from North Africa, the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. Until two years ago, when numbers grew overwhelming, some European politicians weren’t even trying to control them. In her New Year’s message for 2015, Angela Merkel denounced the “prejudice, coldness and hatred” of anti-immigrant movements and instead explained to Germans that their ageing population required new young migrants who would be “a gain for all of us”. We all know what happened next: Chancellor Merkel signalled that refugees were welcome in Germany and tried to force other European countries to follow suit. Today, huge numbers of asylum-seekers — including more than half of Syria’s graduate population — are living in Germany, most of them living on welfare handouts and held in temporary accommodation, with no rights, no jobs or any prospect of ever being integrated. One of these young men is quoted in Douglas Murray’s brilliant new book The Strange Death of Europe addressing his German hosts: “We refugees . . . do not want to live in the same country with you. You can, and I think you should, leave Germany . . . Look for a new home.” Despite this, Mrs Merkel still insists: “No one in Germany is any worse off because of the refugees.”
The danger comes not only from the migrants themselves but from their effect on others. The backlash is apparent: a nationalist party now has 94 seats in the German parliament, in which six major parties are represented — as many as at the end of the Weimar Republic. The pride that many Germans feel in their Wilkommenskultur (“welcome culture”) may explain why Angela Merkel has nevertheless been re-elected. Yet when the Israeli journalist Tuvia Tenenbom interviewed these impeccably liberal Germans, he discovered that many of them now feel morally superior to Israel, which they see as a racist state. The Nazi past no longer hangs over them. Germany’s uncontrolled migration has thus inadvertently fuelled anti-Semitism.
Given the threat that uncontrolled migration poses to the West, it should be obvious that the nation state is the best safeguard not only of borders but of security in general. The only effective forces in the fight against IS and other terrorist organisations belong to nation states, although co-operation between them is essential. The same applies to the threat of rogue states, such as North Korea: it is not the United Nations, but the United States that is deterring Kim Jong-un from even more outrageous provocations. The sovereignty principle dovetails well with the defence of democracy not only in the case of the Pacific theatre, but in eastern Europe and the Middle East as well. The nation state is important in upholding values, too. Think of Israel, the only country in its region which upholds religious freedom, liberal democracy, free enterprise, a free press and an open society. Yet Israel, so successful in integrating Jews from all over the world, is also a true nation state, with a substantial proportion of non-Jewish citizens who are equal before the law — including several of the security forces who have died recently at the hands of terrorists.
In mainland Europe, however, the political and intellectual elites are reluctant to accept that the nation state remains a cornerstone of Western civilisation. Indeed, many Europeans have despaired of civilisation itself. There, not only the enemies of the open society, but even those who should be its defenders, are trapped in a pessimistic mindset. Social, cultural and demographic problems are seen, not as soluble, but as harbingers of the long-awaited decline of the West. Yet European intellectuals underestimate the resilience of the Judaeo-Christian values on which our laws, liberties and living standards depend.
Why was President Trump’s speech to the UN seen so differently on either side of the Atlantic? The principle of national sovereignty on which it is based no longer has traction on the continent of Europe. Only in Great Britain, where the fires of patriotism have not been wholly extinguished by 40 years of European immersion, are ideas about sovereignty still taken seriously. Nearly 15 years have passed since Robert Kagan’s seminal essay Of Paradise and Power contrasted the Hobbesian world of American policy and the Kantian dream of universal republic and perpetual peace inhabited by Europeans. The violent reaction against the Trump administration in Western Europe shows that there has been little convergence since Kagan wrote, though America moved closer to the European view during the Obama years and the UK may be moving closer to the American view since the Brexit referendum. The emergence of the Trump doctrine may indeed signal a new transatlantic polarisation.
Projecting power to the world: President Trump would deny any notion of shared sovereignty (©MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The origins of the political theory that underpins national sovereignty lie, of course, in Europe: more specifically, among the lawyers and academics of the middle ages, such as Marsiglio of Padua, whose Defender of the Peace argued for the separation of church and state, claiming that sovereignty lay neither with pope nor emperor, but with the people. Larry Siedentop has located the origins of liberalism among the medieval canon lawyers. Likewise, the universalism of the Enlightenment has its origins in the early Renaissance humanists. At the court of Henry VIII, there was Thomas More, whose Utopia represents an ideal state in which humanity no longer fears war or has any use for sovereignty. But there was also Thomas Starkey, whose Dialogue between Reginald Pole and Thomas Lupset of 1530 limits the sovereign powers of the monarch by a council of nobles, judges and bishops who must be consulted in between parliaments — an early form of cabinet government. A few decades later the concept of sovereignty was elaborated by Jean Bodin, but it was in the works of Thomas Hobbes around the middle of the 17th century that the theory of sovereignty was stated in its sharpest form. In his Leviathan, he set out in unprecedented detail the rights of the sovereign power in his Commonwealth. Because the people authorise the sovereign to act on their behalf, he can do them no wrong. For the same reason sovereignty is indivisible and inalienable. It is the central idea that animates Hobbesian political philosophy: “For by Art is created that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or state (in latin civitas) which is but an Artificial Man . . . in which the Sovereignty is an Artificial Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body . . .”
The Trump doctrine is pure Hobbes. The President follows the philosopher in insisting that his own exercise of sovereignty, at home and abroad, is identical with that of the people: “I was elected, not to take power, but to give power to the American people, where it belongs.” By projecting power in the world, he is carrying out his sovereign duty to the American people. To delegate any of that power, for example to international institutions, would be a dereliction of duty. America under Trump will defend the West, but will do so on its own terms, subject to no constraints other than self-imposed ones. President Trump sees his own election as a sacred covenant, not between himself and the electorate, but between all Americans, to authorise him and his actions for his term of office. Hobbes would have approved: “This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather (to speak more reverently) that Mortal God, to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence.”
How alien to European ears all this sounds! In unconscious imitation of the defunct mysteries of the Holy Roman Empire, the EU institutions have not so much divided as diffused sovereignty among their councils and commissions, courts and parliament, their presidents and high representatives, with their laws so numerous that leaving the Union is testing the ingenuity and patience of the oldest legislature in the world, the British Parliament. Where sovereignty lies, on which side of the dividing line in Europe between national and supranational, where indeed that line is to be drawn, depends on whom you ask, but the guiding principle is clear enough: sovereignty is located as far as possible from the democratic will of the people. Hence the shock of being confronted with undivided sovereignty, all too palpably personified in Donald Trump. He might as well be a Leviathan, a monster from the deep. For the nation state in its purest form, that he represents, is the antithesis of the “shared sovereignty” of the European Union. Indeed, Mr Trump (following Hobbes) would deny the very possibility of shared sovereignty; to him the concept is simply incoherent. Without sovereignty, many Americans would agree, “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
If the mutual revulsion of Old World and New is natural, the inability to make common cause is potentially catastrophic. For that cause is what we mean by the defence of Western civilisation, to which all the efforts of Standpoint have been devoted for the past decade. The fact of the matter is that Europe is not prepared to defend its own borders, let alone a civilisation based on a set of Judaeo-Christian values in which its elites long since ceased to believe. Half a century ago, the German legal theorist Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde posed the key question: “Does the free, secularised state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee?” The easy assumption that Europe will carry on living in a post-Christian paradise has already been rudely interrupted. It was recently reported that for the first time 53 per cent of British adults now say they have no religious affiliation. Demographic predictions are notoriously unreliable, but the Islamisation of Europe now seems more than likely to overtake the Europeanisation of Islam. Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel Submission has already painted a persuasive scenario of France as an Islamic republic in the very near future. Is it plausible that such a Europe will defend Western civilisation?
The most obvious test of Europe’s readiness to defend the West has been set by Vladimir Putin. Ukrainians have not forgotten that their government was persuaded by the United States and Britain to hand over its nuclear weapons to Russia in return for a pledge of territorial integrity under the 1993 Budapest Memorandum. After what happened in Crimea and the Donbass, no sovereign nation state will ever denuclearise again. Now Putin menaces several Nato members — yet only those directly threatened (the Baltic states and Poland) have increased military spending from historically low post-Cold War levels. In Germany, as in many other countries, Russia is meddling in domestic politics — yet the defence budget languishes at 1 per cent of GDP and public opinion opposes the use of force in almost any circumstances, even to support a Nato ally under attack. Both the crypto-communist Left Party and the nationalist Alternative for Germany party are pro-Russian. The EU is committed to creating supranational European armed forces, but it is unclear how this fits with Nato, which is based on the sovereign nation state. One does not need to be a Putin to realise that any likely EU army would be less than the sum of its parts.
The West can certainly defend itself. Morally, if not militarily, it is more dominant than ever. But the English-speaking nations, and above all the United States, are still the only likely, or even possible, leaders of the free world. They alone have the ambition and the confidence for such an arduous and thankless task. We may well be on the eve of a transatlantic resurgence that will usher in a new phase of Western civilisation, more prosperous and creative than ever before. We may not like Donald Trump. We may not like much of what he has to say. But he is right that the nation state is the foundation on which that resurgence must be based.