There is a great deal of nonsense talked about European unity. Even more nonsense is talked about Europeans. In this book Luigi Barzini contributes hugely to the former, but goes on to write with great sense and perception about the latter.
Why should he assume, as he does in the first paragraph, that there are “so many simple and obvious reasons” why Europeans should unite into one political unit? Why should he refer to “this Europe of the Dream” as if it were self-explanatory and self-evident? He lists a team of European front-runners of whom “we could all be equally proud,” starting with Dante and ending with “de Chirico, and thousands of others,” although why should imagine that this culture-vulture list has any relevance to anything (it includes Tolstoy, but does not mention Giotto, Leonardo, Racine, Voltaire, Marx, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Picasso, or Eliot) is bewildering.
He goes on to talk about wine as the essence of the European continent. It is, he says, a rebellious product, although what that means he does not explain. To make it, he tells us, man must submit to ancient and unvarying disciplines, trust his instinct, follow nature, and preserve ancient arts. Could not the same be said about whiskey distilling, wood carving, or bread making? Why pick upon wine as having some particular significance when many European countries do not make it, when the drinking of wine is not confined to Europe, and when vast quantities of the European wines that are sold around the world are sold under labels that are known to be bogus?
It would be puzzling to understand why a distinguished Italian journalist should indulge in such arguments if one were not familiar with the procedure. A specter has been haunting us, that of the United States of Europe. Dating back to the interwar period, but gaining strength after 1945, it has been claimed that the greatest goal to which Europeans can aspire is that of a European federation. This, it is said, would put an end to the nation-states as the main instrument for political and economic action and would avoid the dangers of future wars or the complications of excessive economic competition. A United States of Europe could resist Soviet Russia and its communist allies, could exert a wise influence on the United States, and could play a civilizing role in the jungle of the third world. Such aims were set out in the Treaty of Rome which, in 1958, formed the basis for today’s European Community. It was there stated that its aim was to lay the foundation for an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, and when Britain, Ireland, and Denmark later joined the Community, the nine governments committed themselves “to transform the whole complex of their relations into a European Union by the year 1980.”
This has not happened. People like Mr. Barzini are irritated that it should not have happened, and when two or three bureaucrats are gathered together in the …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.