Thursday, July 5, 2012

American history lessons for the eurozone

by Michael Lind

Financial Times

July 5, 2012

Can European leaders learn from the example of Alexander Hamilton? The nation-building efforts of America’s first Treasury secretary are frequently held up as a model for European integration more than two centuries later. The crisis of the eurozone has led many to argue that Europe can learn from Hamilton and other 18th-century American founders about how to structure a continental union. However, this line of reasoning is based on a mistaken analogy and attempts to base policy on it are likely to fail.

The US is a federal nation state, not a federation of nations like the EU. A nation state is a country in which the majority shares, if not necessarily common ancestry and religion, at least a common language and culture. Unlike the EU, and like modern Germany and modern Italy, the US is a federal nation state whose political unification and preservation in the civil war was enabled by a pre-existing, extra-political national identity.

Proponents of deeper European integration sometimes seek a precedent in the Federalist Papers, written in 1787-8 by Hamilton, John Day and James Madison to encourage the adoption of the US federal constitution. But Federalist number two, written by Jay, in effect begins the series by claiming Americans for the most part were “one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs ... ”. It never occurred to the founders to propose a merger of the former British colonies with the Spanish and French colonies of the Americas to form a polyglot United States of the Western Hemisphere.


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