Experience shows that the following is an oft-recurring situation in diplomacy: a highly debated question is at stake, the two parties facing each other are both experienced and intelligent, their approach is unquestionable; their respective positions, however, cannot be reconciled, despite the fact that they understand the common language – usually English – well and they express themselves accurately, with an adequate vocabulary. The problem is they use the language of differing political ideals that are rarely if ever interlinked. As if their ideals were products of two separate worlds. These days, the unsolved debate on migration serves as a good example, as the debate and controversy sparked by the Hungarian constitution, the new Fundamental Law, did before it. One has the impression sometimes that there are two Europes standing in opposition to each other, a dispute between left-wingers and conservatives that is more substantial, more serious, and different from a mere political disagreement.
One tends to look for ideological differences to explain the phenomenon, although other causes are quite plausible. However, we should not try to understand the peculiarities of politics by looking at the past, tradition or culture, but rather from the other way round: historical processes become more easily understood if we approach them from the politics of today and its mesh of conflicting views. So much so that they can adjust, or shed a new light on our views of the past. On the following pages we will carry out an experiment: by examining past perspectives of the here and now, we can get a glimpse of what constitutes the two Europes of our political present.
A few months ago, when Greek ferry boat crews went on strike, the number of refugees coming from Turkey through the Balkans with the aim of getting to Germany declined dramatically for several days. It was a model demonstration not missed by us Hungarians, far inland, of what should be done. Ferry boats should be permanently stopped. Instead, the strike ended quickly and the huge ferry boats were soon back on sea, pouring out masses of people toward the heart of Europe.
This incident is the epitome of the nowadays palpable opposition between the two Europes, and this requires some explanation. In a book titled History in Geographic Perspective, published in 1972, Edward Whiting Fox explained the dual nature of today’s Europe in a novel way, basing his arguments on geographical and historical factors. Fox taught at Princeton and later at Cornell University, but his theory went largely unnoticed, even in the US. Right now its explanatory force is strikingly potent, even though we cannot agree with some of its interpretations.
Firstly, the accusation of geographical determinism must be dispelled, as it is usually soon brought up in the argument. The essential thing is not to confuse man-made environment with geographical conditions. This is the core of the deterministic conception of the past. On the one hand, human beings and the environment created by them, although interdependent, are not to be confused. On the other hand, although human beings sometimes transform geographical circumstances into environmental ones when shaping their milieu, geographical conditions still fundamentally determine the environment which is created. In Iceland it is impossible to produce good wine. It was Hegel who put it most concisely. Refuting geographical determinism, he said, “Where the Greeks [i.e. antique civilisation] once lived, the Turks now live”. That is to say, they have adopted and maintain the ancient heritage of the Mediterranean littoral.
The core of Fox’s theory is that there is a connection between geographical conditions and the political system of a given society. This is most obvious where “communication” by water – seas or rivers – in the broad sense plays an important role. In England for instance, there are hardly any settlements more than twenty kilometres away from the sea or a waterway leading to it. This situation prompted the majority of the population to activities partaking in this particular communication. As a counterexample, Fox mentions the inner parts of France, but an even better example would be ours. On the European continent, the countries which are the farthest away from sea-shores are precisely Hungary, Slovakia, Bohemia, little Poland, Austria and Bavaria; moreover, the Danube plays a negligible role as a waterway in traffic.
The essence of the geographical particularity is that from classical antiquity on, there have been major differences between societies based on long-distance commerce and communication via water-ways and navigation, and rural- type inland societies practising short-distance overland trade. The latter are characterised by an administration dependent on political centres and resources controlled by them. From Fox’s theory it arises that regions of waterside countries saw the birth of liberal movements, while more inland countries were characterised by different kinds of formations, resulting in polities or states.
Some explanation would be necessary to this rather simplistic summary. It is true that conditions of travelling and transportation were largely determined by whether they were done on land or water, because on water, large quantities could be shipped in a relatively short time. Towns connected to the traffic formed a network which organised its nodes into trading societies. Goods and information were being exchanged in these centres and a considerable territorial division of labour came into being. There were nodes and centres in the inner, continental regions as well, but they procured what they needed from their immediate neighbourhood, from short distance. Towns belonging to this second group, which were more or less self-sufficient and practising market trade, formed a concentric system and their economic spheres of influence were in hierarchical relationships with the smaller and greater centres of power and economy. Therefore two markedly different systems have developed, distinguished not by the type of their towns but by the essential difference between long-distance commerce and market exchange of commodities. Before the transition took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, commerce-based societies functioned in clear-cut types from the Aegean Sea through the Mediterranean network to the Hanseatic towns, the Netherlands and England.
Towns belonging to networks of long-distance commerce defined their common interests through negotiations and consensus, i.e. through political means. Mutual interdependence was difficult to uphold by military hegemony. To think that they were the cradles of democracy is illusory and false, since they were essentially ruled by oligarchs who solved their problems with money and influence. They thought that substantial social differences and a deep social divide were natural, giving no cause for concern. The peasant communities of the rural world, on the other hand, were part of a system organised on a military basis in which obedience and discipline were more important than consensus. They were characterised by military and administrative hierarchies, and later by a unificatory bureaucratic organisation. The concentric territorial organisations of some countries and empires formed networks only on occasion and were rather very keen on preserving their independence and differing identities. In the peasant population, which made up the vast majority of these societies, differences between individuals were negligible.
The two systems functioned and developed separately and more or less independently of each other, but they were naturally connected in many ways and instances, sometimes running into conflicts. Their essence however was so different that traditional historiography was rather moderately interested in their dichotomy. The reasons behind the abundant resources of money of the Florentine Medici Bank and the chronic shortage of money of the French kings, as well as the concurrence of the two, began to interest historians only in the 1970s. Was not the whole Renaissance the result of the unspendable money of merchants and bankers? The emerging society of traders – harbingers of capitalism –, which organised itself into networks, and the old continental, administrative monarchy clashed with each other during the English Revolution for the first time. Similar collisions took place later in North America and Europe; what was at stake was invariably how to gain importance for the one and how to preserve old positions for the other.
Since the time of the transition (often referred to as the “Industrial Revolution”), the complete change of market conditions, transportation and communication, the constant transformation of modern societies, revolutions in technology, banking, finance, communication and other areas has made Fox’s historico- geographic reasoning based on the difference between commerce and trade seemingly outdated. In truth, differences did not disappear but continued to exist strongly intertwined; opposing schools of thought have survived despite the complete change of conditions. We need not look for examples in the remote past; even after 1945, important political changes took place that prove this deep-rooted difference still exists and works under the surface, shaping antinomies of thinking more decisively than one would suppose.
It has to be emphasised again that while we all see this duality appear intertwined these days, moreover, through the catchword “globalisation” many of its aspects have become part of the common discourse, coexistence has always been present in history, although to a much lesser extent. Many long-distance trade routes went over Hungary too, and our towns were integral parts of the international networks since the early Middle Ages. On the other hand, there is no doubt that since the reign of King Saint Stephen society organised itself into centres forming territorial hierarchies, and that later, during the Early and Late Modern Age, within the framework of a new type of administrative monarchy – indeed, in opposition to it – the national feeling that developed from the national consciousness of the nobility unified the society in a specifically Hungarian way. This identity could be mainly experienced through the national feeling and the common culture, as well as through the awareness of a statehood organised on a territorial basis and the extension of the territory possessed by Hungarians – irrespective of the sometimes rude changes that took place in the state and the territory occupied by it.
Since the peasantry constituted the great majority of the Hungarian population, the feelings about the nation were embraced, shaped and passed down through the mentality of peasant family households, where authority played an important role. It was this mentality that came later into contact, and then formed a symbiosis with, modern capitalism. In the meantime, the politics of the changing and modernising state remained territorial all along, even in the Communist period.
The duality of European society is natural, irrespective of how it is felt in practice, how important it is or what consequences it has during times of conflict. One last example, from a more distant past: the city of Bordeaux was a connecting link in the Atlantic trade, its society being shaped by its belonging to this network. But the army of the king of France occupied it again and again after the end of the Hundred Years War. Later a fort was built in the heart of the city as a symbol of the French monarchy, called Château Trompette, from the tower of which a trumpet was blared forth each night signalling that the sovereign’s army was there. It did not prevent Bordeaux, however, from trading slaves, importing sugar and selling its cognac in the Atlantic region, up to the Baltic. The close connection of these two different worlds was characterised not by competition, but on the contrary, by interdependence.
We could mention innumerable similar cases where this duality manifested itself quite clearly. And which – and our analysis boils down to this – appears also in today’s duality, the problem of the two Europes. After 1945, such a case was the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as it roughly corresponded with the geographical expanse of the old Atlantic trade. The creation of the European Union is also instructive in this regard.
The original six member states had constituted the “Rhenish Europe” – a Europe whose axis was the Rhineland and northern Italy. It was the main route of long- distance commerce since the Carolingian Empire. The founding fathers too came from these regions, with the exception of Jean Monnet who was a businessman from Cognac, near Bordeaux, and as part of the family tradition, he actually traded cognac as well, through the city of Bordeaux. Between the Schuman Declaration (1950) and the Treaty of Rome (1957), the core of a unified Europe was created, based on commercial and economic relations. In a sense the foundations were laid: from the free movement of goods and people to the common market, and the creation of a federal – i.e. transnational – organisation of Europe, with the aim of preserving peace. This was a networked Europe, created not by accident in the territory of the oldest European commerce society.
The spectacular appearance of this other Europe in the 1960s can be connected to de Gaulle. His veto on the entry of Great Britain into the EEC (1963) was part of a series of clear political considerations, and it duly shocked the world. Dante, Goethe and Chateaubriand are part of European culture, said de Gaulle in 1962 in public, inasmuch as they were primarily Italian, German or French. They “would not have served Europe very well if they had been homeless thinkers writing in some form of integrated Esperanto or Volapük”, he added. In his famous “Volapük” press conference de Gaulle concisely summarised what he expressed elsewhere: the “Europe of states” is the only possibility. This was the voice of a continental Europe based on the principle of territoriality, and the veto against the British was aimed at the leading power of the other Europe. When de Gaulle’s political role ended, the general view was that a new chapter might open in the European construction process since the world he represented disappeared with him. In France it was after his presidency – i.e. since the 1970s – that the right-wing, “mainstream” parties became predominantly liberal.
It would be time-consuming to discuss where chapters start and end in this story. But behind the present social and political tensions and fluctuations lies the dualism of Europe, organised on the one hand as a network, on the other on a territorial basis. Our present is therefore not independent of historical regularities spanning over periods, and of inalterable geographical conditions. That is why it can be concluded that the long-standing debate on a federal or confederative Europe cannot be solved by the victory of one camp over the other.
If we look back from the present into the past, we see that these two different traditions support two markedly different ways of political thinking; to use popular political terms, they can underlie either liberal or national-conservative views, respectively. But this is not the point. Nowadays it is particularly apparent that in times of crisis, political action is motivated not by ideologies or political views but by realities, including the historical heritage and the geographical environment.
Today we see that a growing number of countries – including all the countries of the Danubian region – are opposing the central will which first encouraged the admission of huge masses of migrants, and now wants to distribute these same masses among the member states.
Despite all appearances, there is no centre. At the heart of the conception we consider as central we find the heritage of a culture which, since the seventeenth and eighteenth century, views people in an individualistic way. These individuals live in a so-called global society that is primarily a market, and secondly, a civil society in which relationships are contractual. The state of the global society is a state founded on the rule of law which seeks essentially to ensure the free movement of goods and the adherence to contracts. It does not attempt to regulate anything more.
As opposed to this, the conception according to which the individual is a communal being considers that keeping the nation unified is essential, and the role of the state is to ensure that. This view holds the defence of the territory occupied by society to be especially important, which is clearly indicated by the great tension around the recent wave of migration. The nation-state concept is antagonistic towards the global society concept because the latter is indifferent to the problem of social division, it is not concerned about social fragmentation and the dangers of communitarianism, and it generates growing financial and cultural differences.
The recent dispute in connection with the migration crisis has not been resolved yet. The question arises whether the crisis will deepen enough so that the conflict between the ideals of a globalised world and those of national sovereignty lead to the emergence of two Europes instead of the present dual one in an ever- deepening political conflict of interests.
Seen from here, the physical protection of the external borders was the natural response of a mentality based on the concepts of nation-state and territoriality, the correctness of which is incidentally being recognised by more and more countries. It is also natural that in Hungary there is no serious opposition to this policy. We have to point out in this regard that the opposing arguments are not in the same league, because those who criticise Viktor Orbán put forward ideological objections whereas the Prime Minister made his decision on the protection of borders on the basis of geographical-historical considerations. The history of the Falklands War (1982) reminds us that there might come a moment for the other Europe when a new Margaret Thatcher will take a decisive step based on similar deliberation.
Today the barbed wire fences at the borders are still protecting a common Europe. But let us remind that knowledge of the historical record and the geographical conditions supports critical thinking. On the one hand, it puts violent reactions to today’s crises into perspective and helps us become more sober, on the other hand it makes us understand that a correct political decision is based much more on weighing historico-geographical circumstances than on reiterating ideological assumptions.
Translation by Orsolya Németh