The first Europe, postwar Europe, is failing because memory of the war is fading and because it has contributed to a Europe incapable of defending itself. The second Europe, post-1968 Europe, is failing because it was the Europe of minorities; it’s still trying to find a way to address majorities’ demand that their cultural rights should be protected, too, without turning democracy into instruments of exclusion. Post-1989 Europe is failing because Eastern Europeans no longer want to imitate the West and be judged by the West but rather want to build a counter-model.
Do Europe’s failures mean that Europe is irrevocably falling apart? Fatalism would be a mistake. It does mean that Europe should invest in its military capabilities and stop taking America’s security guarantees for granted. It also means that, in the same way European liberal democracies in 1970s and 1980s succeed at deradicalizing the far-left and integrating some of its legitimate demands in the mainstream, it should do the same with the far-right. People who today are scared by some of the radical ideas coming from the far-right should remember that many centrists of the 1970s regarded Germany’s anti-establishment leftists such as Joschka Fischer — later to become Germany’s foreign minister — as a threat to the capitalist, democratic West. And when it comes to West-East relations in Europe, the challenge is to find a way to strongly criticize the authoritarian turn in the East without insisting that imitating the West is the only meaning of democracy or naively imagining that a commitment to democracy can be bought with cohesion funds from Brussels.