Sunday, May 07, 2006

An Unholy Union?

\Ralph Luker forwarded this post by Jeff Weintraub, wherein he discusses Brad DeLong's reflection about war and peace in Europe: no one has crossed the Rhine River "with fire and sword" for more than sixty years, the longest such period since antiquity (meaning in all written history.) It led Prof. Weintraub to write:
On the other hand, it's also true that we now live in a world where the prospect of a major war between, say, France and Germany really is inconceivable. Why is that?

I didn't worry about fact-checking DeLong's assertion. There were always enough German lords on the east side of the Rhine who had to suppressed revolts in small territories (or wanted to annex them) on the left side that, at least since 1000, this statement is bound to be true. The notion of hereditary Franco-German antagonism, however, was rather new to the 19th century, something German nationalists conjured up in the 1810s and 20s, and the French adopted after the disastrous war in 1870.

Furthermore, between 1818 and 1870, the most significant Rhine crossing by an army was 1849: the Prussian army into Bavaria's Palatinate to suppress the revolutionary democratic uprising, and crossing would not be the best description because they used steam ships from the Prussian Rhine Province to get there. And in the 1880s, French politicians did want an entente with Germany because their hereditary conflict with England was heating up again. At least until Boulanger hit the scene. But I ramble.

The more interesting point that DeLong makes is about the durability of integration, particularly between France and Germany. As I recently notes, French and German scholars collaborated, without much conflict, on a textbook on the two countries common history--that's history in the singular. The two nations have worked well together at least since the mid-1960s, and probably since the Saar question was resolved. And I would not be the first to opine that at the heart of the EU is Franco-German cooperation.

Going back to Weintraub's question: is a Franco-German war unimaginable? If Norman Angell was wrong in 1911 that economic integration made European war 'inconceivable,' why should it be now? If Angell had read the political tea leaves, he might have concluded differently, especially given the German military classes disregard for economic necessities. There is no social class or intellectual movement that sees war as right, revenge or renewal. Were Adenauer, Monnet and Schuman farsighted in making this once unholy union? Monnet might have to be removed from the formula, since Adenauer and Schuman's Catholicism may have been the most significant element in overcoming hesitation to cooperation.

[ETA] Given the nature of most incursions across the Rhine--to suppress the independence of cities and communities--this era of peace might say something more about how European nations are patient with democracy and less rash in their use of military force.


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