<< The Body Politic

Citizenship abroad…and the economic crisis?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

We hope you’re paying attention to citizenship lessons and goings-on abroad. Last time, we highlighted citizenship in the Arab world and Russia; this time, we turn toward Europe. The tensions produced there between the rule of law, democratic ideals, and the need to seriously address the economic situation have raised some important questions.

Writing for the Washington Times, former U.S. ambassador John Bolton introduces the point well:

The crisis of the euro, the common currency of 17 European Union members, continues unabated. Because of massive, sustained budget deficits by several eurozone countries, some could default on their sovereign debt obligations, or the euro itself might disintegrate, profoundly affecting the EU’s political and economic future.

Very little media attention, however, is focused on a very different, but even more important, EU problem, namely its “democratic deficit.”

Ross Douthat, writing a week earlier for the New York Times, argues:

[F]or the inhabitants of Italy and Greece, who have just watched democratically elected governments toppled by pressure from financiers, European Union bureaucrats and foreign heads of state, [this anti-democratic scenario] evokes the cold reality of 21st-century politics. Democracy may be nice in theory, but in a time of crisis it’s the technocrats who really get to call the shots. National sovereignty is a pretty concept, but the survival of the European common currency comes first. […]

From the American perspective, a more centralized and undemocratic Europe is clearly preferable to the risk of another recession. For the staggering world economy, it would be disastrous if a burst of nationalism somehow broke Europe’s common currency.

But that’s easy for us to say: it isn’t our self-government that’s at stake.

And so it isn’t. According to AEI’s Michael Greve in an article on Alexander Hamilton appearing in National Review, though, the problems run even a bit more practical as well: a government over governments (such as the EU, in contradistinction to American style federalism) is, to quote Hamilton, “subversive of the order and ends of civil polity.” As Greve clarifies, “A now-we-mean it confederacy with teeth was not Hamilton’s project. It was then, as it is now in Europe, the project of braindead state elites.  Far from embracing it, Hamilton fought it with all his resolve and skill. What he fought for instead was a Constitution beyond Europe’s reach and imagination–an actual fiscal union, with a federal government that directly taxes and regulates citizens but leaves state governments to their own fate. That is what we inherited. American federalism has its problems, but the prospect of installing trusted federal bureaucrats or governments of unity in Sacramento or Springfield is not among them.”

AEI