In 1923, the release of the Pan-Europa manifesto shocked intellectual life in Europe. It was an instant best-seller and was translated into all major European languages. Its chief success was the establishment of a European federalist movement. Three years later, the first pan-European congress was held in Austria. For the attendees, Vienna—which had lost its Habsburg empire just a few years before—became the capital of Europe again. The event was a personal triumph for the manifesto’s mysterious author: Richard Nikolaus Eijiro, Count of Coudenhove-Kalergi.
Kalergi had roots on several continents. He was born in Japan, the son of an Austrian diplomat and a Japanese mother. Among the many bloodlines in his father’s ancestry were Greek, Flemish, and Venetian nobles, as well as Byzantine emperors. He didn’t set foot in Europe until he was ten, arriving in Vienna just a few years before the First World War, which would destroy the multi-ethnic Habsburg empire. As the expatriate son of an aristocratic family with estates across Europe, he never had a strong national identity. After 1918, he held a Czechoslovak passport; after 1939, a French one that he retained until he died. He felt European because he couldn’t be anything else. Having seen Europe pitted against itself in mechanized trench warfare, a continent at peace was the only cause he could naturally support.
The manifesto made immediate enemies in a time of rising nationalism. Kalergi’s origins didn’t go unnoticed: Adolf Hitler singled him out as a “cosmopolitan bastard” in Mein Kampf, a title which later served to name Martyn Bond’s biography of the Bohemian diplomat. Beyond a dislike of Kalergi’s ethnic origins, his opposition to antisemitism, and his conciliatory views with America, Hitler saw him as a rival in creating a new European order.
Modern political divides color today’s perceptions of Kalergi. Both contemporary supporters and detractors like to portray him as the equivalent of today’s Davos man, an early theorist of globalism. Any online search of Kalergi’s name immediately brings up the conspiracy theory of the Kalergi Plan: based on a fragment of text from his twenties, he becomes the central figure in an intergenerational plan to replace Europe’s population with Africans. But it is difficult to believe that someone who feared decolonization and wrote in a letter to De Gaulle that the “UN represents for Europe, indeed for the whole of the white race, the worst danger since the days of Genghis Khan” is simultaneously the mind behind the Europe of the banlieues.
Opposed to both the domination of a single European power as well as Europe’s subjugation by either Soviet Russia or the United States, he proposed a political order founded on the spiritual rebirth of the continent’s elites. Nonetheless, his story is ultimately one of failure. Kalergi cannot be singularly blamed for Europe’s problems today, but he is not entirely innocent either. The count reflected many of the strategic missteps of twentieth-century Europe’s post-aristocratic elites. Like them, he longed for a lost empire, but ultimately lacked the ability and will to change Europe’s course in history.
The Roots of Pan-Europa
As he began to write in the aftermath of the First World War, Kalergi found himself in agreement with the narrative of civilizational decline promoted by thinkers like Oswald Spengler. In Pan-Europa, he explained that the era of European national empires had reached its twilight. Technological developments, as well as the human and material loss caused by the Great War, called for a new European political organization. Being a European born in Japan, he had seen how little the differences between European nations mattered in the eyes of non-Europeans: as he later explained in his 1959 autobiography: “we were conscious of the fact that Europe represented, above all national dissensions, a single branch of humanity.” From the geographical point of view alone, “the European continent does not exist. There only exists a European peninsula of the Eurasian continent.” What made Europe a separate entity from greater Eurasia was not a geographic separation, but its position as a distinct civilization.
Looking ahead, Kalergi divided the world into five large spaces: a Pan-American hemisphere led by the United States, the continuing British Empire, the Soviet Union, a Pan-Asian space led by Japan, and Pan-Europa—which, despite its name, also included the vast European colonial territories in Africa. In a world where continental power superseded national power, Kalergi thought Europeans should come together and share their resources and colonies to ensure Europe’s survival. Moreover, Kalergi considered that a United States of Europe could not only protect the independence of European peoples but thrive as one of Earth’s five ruling empires.
The young count initially sympathized with the pacifist movement of the 1920s and with Wilsonian ideas. He supported the League of Nations—a forum in which he would work to promote his Pan-European vision—and the idea of an international order based on the application of international law to enforce peace. The topic of global peace remained one of his enduring philosophical and political interests; already in Pan-Europa, a central point of his argument for European unification was that “if peace is assured in the continent, the path will be open for the world peace.”
However, his views differed in their essence from liberal internationalism. In his descriptions of the inner workings of international politics, there are traces of early-twentieth-century geopolitical thinkers like Halford Mackinder or Karl Haushofer—a friend of the Coudenhove-Kalergi family. He believed that international peace was only possible through a balance of hard power. For Kalergi, the United States of Europe was founded first on geopolitical self-interest, even if it might have beneficial effects for the whole world. As Pan-Europa warned its readers, the alternative to European unity was that “as occurred yesterday with China and Turkey…England, Russia, and America will divide [Europe] in different zones of influence.”
But despite Kalergi’s interest in post-war liberal democratic projects, his motivating worldview was quite distinct from that of Wilson and his European collaborators. Despite his reputation as a forward-thinking cosmopolitan, an imperial heritage informed Kalergi’s fears for Europe’s future.
For the aristocracy to which Kalergi belonged, the external threat of the rising powers—Soviet Russia and liberal America—corresponded to the internal threat of socialist revolt. To make things worse, victory during the war meant that Britain and France still had their eyes closed to the reality that their position was only possible thanks to the borrowed might of the U.S. But Kalergi’s noble lineage came from the now-defeated Central European empires. The abdication of Emperor Karl in 1918 was a massive psychological blow, but one that Kalergi believed let Europe see itself more clearly. The humiliation of Austria would be the future of all of Europe.
Despite his openness to Bismarck-style social democratic policies, Kalergi retained an aristocratic view of society. He did not believe that the project of European renewal could happen unless Europe’s elite classes recognized their position and began to renew themselves, specifically. That required a new vision for both Europe and European elites to rally around. This vision, the core of Kalergi’s project, was one built on the assumptions of the now-vanishing Hapsburg world.
The nostalgic portrait that Kalergi draws in An Idea Conquers the World mimics his vision of what Pan-Europa should be:
[W]hile all other great cities of the Continent were national centers, Vienna alone was international, capital of the only international empire. This vast empire had a population of fifty-five millions, split into nineteen different nationalities. But together they formed a natural geographic and economic unit.
Austria-Hungary had balanced tradition and progress in ways Kalergi found superior to the upheavals further west. It had been a scientifically modern state that had experienced no significant revolutions; a common market with no homogenizing national identity; a hub of new ideas in science and politics in which the Church’s traditional power remained immense. At its heart was Vienna, a deeply traditional imperial capital that was simultaneously home to Europe’s leading intellectuals.
The United States of Europe that Kalergi proposed reflected his Austrian environs. In The Totalitarian State Against Man, he supported corporatist economic structures based on “the agricultural co-operatives, which combine all the advantages of private property with the spirit of brotherhood and reciprocal aid.” Here, Kalergi was also inspired by the organic federalist tradition of Switzerland—a country born out of opposition to the Habsburgs—and its concentric circles of authority. These would lead from families to communes, communes to cantons, and eventually to a continental federation. Undergirding these experimental concepts was an aristocratic ideal with imperial roots: “neither democracy nor dictatorship, but only chivalry and brotherhood of the spirit and respect for the individual, can protect the rights of national and religious minorities.”
The Habsburgs had seen themselves as Catholic rulers, heirs of the Roman Empire and of Charlemagne; Kalergi believed that these same sources should inform a common European soul which was “Christian in-depth, Hellenic in width, Germanic in height.” Despite his friendliness to Wilsonian ideas, the ultimate political form was widely adaptable. By recovering this cosmopolitan ideal of a “dynasty of international origin and an aristocracy which merged all branches of blood and civilization,” Kalergi believed that the ethnic and class conflicts of his era could end in reconciliation instead of war.
Not surprisingly, it was among Austrian elites that Kalergi found his first backers for the Pan-European Union, an organization dedicated to popularizing his ideas. The inter-war Austrian government would become a major backer, extending support to the group until the assassination of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss at the hands of the Nazis.
Aristocracy of the Spirit
However, Kalergi’s influence did not remain confined only to Austria. During the 1920s and early 1930s, he built a continental network with him at its center. The young count understood the importance of propaganda and the need to convince influential leaders in political and intellectual life to join his movement. Those who bought his book received a prepaid letter to join the Pan-European Movement. These tactics helped the movement to grow at a fast pace, capitalizing on the success of Kalergi’s best-seller.
Kalergi was accustomed to Vienna’s aristocratic society, and soon married the successful actress Ida Roland. Marrying an actress was class treason in those days, particularly from the perspective of his Japanese mother, who temporarily disowned him for the offense. The power couple had excellent networking skills, often meeting with politicians and intellectuals like the writer Thomas Mann, the German industrialist Robert Bosch, and the banker Max Warburg, who ended up funding the Pan-European Movement. At the pinnacle of his interwar fame, Kalergi enjoyed a direct line to the prominent French statesman Aristide Briand and the Weimar-era Foreign Minister for Germany, Gustav Stresemann.
In July 1929, Aristide Briand announced that he would present a plan to launch a “European Union” in the League of Nations the following year. Briand’s plan included the idea of a pan-European security alliance and the opening of a common market. He stated the need for Europeans to cooperate against common threats and build an enduring peace. Outside France, however, many saw this as a French maneuver to take over Europe. Supporters in the press welcomed Briand’s proposal, reflecting a pro-European attitude Kalergi had invested years of proselytism into promoting. In the League of Nations that September, Stresemann responded in cautious but positive terms to Briand’s proposal. He presented the long-time German position on the topic: the importance of economic discipline in a united Europe and the need to remove trade barriers to alleviate Europe’s economic hardships. That was followed by a discussion among various national representatives, where Italy also showed sympathy for the idea of a united Europe. Only Britain would maintain an uncompromising opposition to the idea.
The next year, as promised, Briand presented a clearer plan in the League of Nations. It was obvious that any tangible results would need a long path, yet it seemed that the current state of opinion among European elites might bring Kalergi’s dream into a reality. But by then, the tide had already begun to turn. The 1929 global economic meltdown would accelerate the decay of an already-unstable social balance across Europe, and become the beginning of the end of Kalergi’s momentum.
Until 1929, Kalergi’s movement had kept gaining steam. It was ideologically eclectic in this era, including a range of ideologies from social democracy to fascism. His book gained positive reviews among a spectrum that included French socialists, German social democrats, Austrian conservatives, and Spanish Francoists. Kalergi’s own position on this spectrum is hard to pin down, in part because he made sure to present a politically ecumenical face to his audience. He liked to present himself on the side of the ideas of science and progress, sharing many sympathies with the achievements of enlightened liberalism. But socially, he felt far more comfortable with conservatives than with socialists. Despite his personal friendships on the French left, for example, he was unhappy with the victory of the socialist Prime Minister Leon Blum in 1936.
The count remained an uncompromising opponent of Nazism from the outset but supported authoritarian leaders in other countries. He was an early enthusiast of Mussolini, whom he met several times and in whom he claimed to see a new “European Napoleon.” Shortly after Mussolini came to power, the count wrote him a letter—reproduced in his 1953 autobiography—in which he declared that “Europe must proclaim its own Monroe Doctrine: Europe for the Europeans.” He also called Mussolini the “heir of Marius and Caesar,” and exhorted him to “save Europe.”
At his core, Kalergi was an aristocratic elitist, open to certain progressive ideas but most comfortable in his own class. His product was addressed to those responsible for Europe’s political future and his European revolution was a revolution from above.
Kalergi’s vision did include a form of democracy, but it was democracy valued as a means, not an end. He expressed his concern that “democracy believes more in number than in value, more in luck than in greatness.” Despite this, democracy could play a role by ensuring turnover among failed nominal elites: “political democracy can only be fruitful and creative when it has smashed the pseudo-aristocracy of birth and gold to replace it with a new aristocracy of spirit and mind.” In Nobility, published in 1922, he argued that democracy was a transitory moment, “an interlude between the old feudal aristocracy, based on birth, and the aristocracy of the future, based, as it will be, on mental and moral superiority.”
His Hapsburg cultural sympathies ideologically translated into something like political Platonism, informed by anti-materialist sentiments about history and society. Although he had no problem courting financially well-established donors, Kalergi was not fond of the “pseudo-aristocracy of money.” As he explained in Practical Idealism “the consummate aristocrat is an aristocrat of both the will and the mind, but is neither Junker [the conservative Prussian landed nobility, whose ranks included Bismarck and von Hindenburg] nor literati. He combines vision with willpower.”
Kalergi was not fascinated by the rule of the expert but of the great statesman. For Kalergi, the quality of a civilization wasn’t dependent on race or political system, but on the quality of its elites, and on the ideas and thoughts that moved their leaders. Kalergi’s “aristocracy of the spirit” is both educated and eager to lead. Speaking about his father, Heinrich von Coudenhove-Kalergi, he recounted in his autobiography that “[t]here was no doubt that my father, although a private citizen, was the first man of his region…He was aware of his responsibilities, and he exercised his authority in the most human and patriarchal way. Everybody in need came to him to ask for help; and where he could, he gave.”
In focusing on an aristocracy of the spirit, Kalergi attempted to reconcile the European aristocratic tradition with meritocratic institutions “like the Chinese Mandarins or the Catholic Church.” The heroic ideals of his pan-European elite would not be the gain of privileges, but of responsibilities.
The Fall of Europe
Despite his newfound fame, Kalergi was neither the inventor of European unification nor its only advocate. The most important of his competitors was Prinz Rohan—another Austrian aristocrat—and his Europäischer Kulturbund. Rohan was more traditionalist than Kalergi, but equally politically eclectic in his alliances. Rohan’s approach was less oriented towards building the United States of Europe and more towards promoting a shared European culture. Thanks to his manifesto, Kalergi was much more successful than Rohan, who would end up joining the NSDAP and having his movement co-opted by the Third Reich.
However, the fate of Kalergi’s rival highlights how the surge of ideologically diverse pro-European activism and the developmental imperialism of fascism and Nazism were two responses to the same question. All were projects supported by sections of the European elite to solve the social question of class conflict—brought to the fore by returning veterans and the Great Depression—and to secure their portion of global power from the advance of Russia and America. Despite Hitler’s repeated attacks on Kalergi, the Third Reich itself would implement its own “New Order” in Europe under military conquest, seeing German hegemony as the only way to resist American and British influence. Distinct in its racial ideology, its geopolitical logic ended up being very similar to that of progressive advocates of a united Europe.
In the political turmoil of the inter-war era, Kalergi would come to sit somewhere in between the tradition of enlightened European liberalism and the Conservative Revolution of the 1920s and ‘30s. His advocacy of peace and scientific progress, and his lionization of figures like Bonaparte, existed side by side with a fear of civilizational decline and a sense of elitism that can be found in rightist authors like Oswald Spengler, Eugeni d’Ors, Ortega y Gasset, or Ernst Jünger.
Ultimately, this instinct against populism and mass mobilization may have been the Pan-European movement’s barrier to greater political power. Pan-Europa’s propaganda mostly targeted Europe’s intellectual and political elites. In the beginning, this helped Kalergi’s voice reach the most prestigious circles of continental Europe. Kalergi was never the populist type, like Mussolini. But in the midst of a social crisis, it was his populist opponents that were able to pressure establishment leaders into opening the institutions of power to them. Many elites might have been intellectually sympathetic to the idea of a united Europe, but saw a better candidate to protect their position in mass parties with street power than Kalergi’s toothless Pan-European Union. Pan-Europa also suffered from a second weakness: the institutions targeted by nationalist and socialist movements were those of existing states, whereas the political project of a united Europe required institutions that had not yet been built.
This mix of disadvantages proved fatal for the European movement. With the rise of communist agitation and rising violence as rival movements brawled in the streets, European elites weren’t willing to take their chances.
One of those authoritarian regimes was the one led by Engelbert Dollfuss, who seized power in Austria in 1932. Kalergi became his close collaborator. Despite their differences, Kalergi and Dollfuss agreed that German Nazism had become as much a threat to Austria as communism. Kalergi, no instinctual democrat himself, believed that a coalition of authoritarian regimes could still work together in a Pan-European project.
However, Pan-Europa faced an even deeper problem. For all his writing about an “aristocracy of the spirit,” it seemed increasingly clear that no such force was going to constitute itself—and so, by his own model, there was no vehicle for the project to be achieved. The nation-state remained unchallenged as the real seed of power. Neither France nor Germany were yielding their interests in favor of the European cause. A European spiritual elite might have existed in the cafes of writers like Stefan Zweig, but their influence was limited in the realm of politics. Many intellectuals and even European statesmen had declared that Pan-Europa was a beautiful idea. It was not enough.
In 1933, Hitler rose to power and took control of Germany, one of the countries where Kalergi had a large network. The Pan-European idea began to crumble. Soon after, in 1934, Austria suffered a pro-Nazi coup and a group of Austrian Nazis assassinated Dollfuss himself. Kalergi would go on to call him a “martyr of Europe.” Austria was soon incorporated into the Third Reich. Kalergi, married to a Jewish woman, knew that staying in Austria was not an option.
Luckily for him, Dolfuss’s killing had set off alarm bells in Rome. Hearing of the events, Mussolini pondered retaliating against Hitler. He had considered an independent Austria a vital part of guaranteeing Italian independence. Enraged by the killing, Mussolini promised to aid Austria in the event of German invasion and even erected a statue of the ancient Roman general Drusus, who had led conquests of German territory. Kalergi took advantage of the moment. When Anschluss began in 1938, the count’s family, along with Dollfuss’s own widow, were escorted by a roundabout route to Switzerland by Italian soldiers. With the German annexation of Austria complete, the last state friendly to the Pan-European movement had fallen.
The Rise of the Anglosphere
After fleeing Austria, Kalergi anticipated another world war and decided not to take any chances. Kalergi had visited the U.S. in 1925 intending to set up a branch of the Pan-European movement but had not been successful. Now he settled in New York, teaching at New York University and Columbia. This time, his activism found better soil.
Apart from internal destruction by inter-European wars and the growth of the Soviet Union, Kalergi believed that Europe was threatened by the economic and political domination of the United States and, to a lesser degree, Great Britain. Relative to Russian expansionism—whether Tsarist or Soviet—the dependence on America and Britain was of secondary concern. After all, he still considered the U.S. part of a greater European cultural area that also included Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. But ultimately, such domination was something the United States of Europe ought to prevent.
In the past, London had made its top foreign policy priority to prevent any power in the continent from achieving unity among its major states, which is precisely what Kalergi wanted. To prevent continuing British interference, the count used his diplomatic skills to find supporters in the UK. These attempts bore fruit: Kalergi gained the ear of Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill. Kalergi would go on to help Churchill lobby in favor of U.S. intervention in the war. Later, his advice even inspired Churchill’s speech in Zurich in 1946 about European unity and was an essential boost for the post-war European movement.
Despite his growing Anglosphere ties, the count was always unsure if the UK should be part of Pan-Europa. Britain still had the largest colonial empire on Earth, and Kalergi believed that Britain’s natural role was to be the leader of an Indo-Pacific federation that grew out of this body—a concept popular among a number of British thinkers at the time, such as Lord Milner. Even if Britain lost its empire, it would still have much stronger ties with the U.S. than with continental Europe. For Kalergi, the natural role of the UK seemed to be fixed outside Europe, but as a neighbor close to Europe—an entente that should be sustained from both sides.
The U.S., however, was a more serious concern. The Hapsburg dynasty that Kalergi’s family had served for centuries was now lost, in part a result of U.S. intervention in European affairs during World War I. In his manifesto, Kalergi hoped that both would focus on what he saw as their natural spheres of influence: “If Pan-Europa starts from the same pacific and democratic principles as Pan-America, [there] will not be in the future any rivalry between these two sister unions, but only solidarity.”
It seems that Kalergi saw the Monroe Doctrine as a purely defensive policy for the U.S. However, even by this time, the U.S. was reaching far beyond the Pan-American sphere, directly involving itself in both Europe and Asia. As with many Europeans of the early twentieth century, Kalergi’s view of America seems to try and sweeten a bitter reality that he himself acknowledged more explicitly by 1953: “by reason of its wealth and power, the United States was in a position not only to delay the unification of Europe but, if it so wished, even to prevent it altogether.”
During the war, Hitler’s unification of Europe under his own New Order served to alienate many Americans from the possibility of European unity entirely. Kalergi believed that he had to convince U.S. politicians that a future pan-European Union was in Washington’s own long-term interest. In 1940, in a lecture given at the Council on Foreign Relations, he stated his case in more analytical terms: “technical progress makes it imperative for Europe to unite.” Thus, he explained, the U.S. had to decide if it would be under the leadership of “Fascism, Bolshevism or Democracy.” Kalergi put his networking skills to work, meeting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on several occasions, and later convincing Harry Truman that the U.S. should support European integration. Indeed, Kalergi attributed to himself the fact that the Marshall Plan set up the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation.
After the end of the Second World War, Europe was more materially devastated and more morally broken even than the Great War. The continent was to be divided between the U.S. and Russia. The European integration process that followed was built as part of the international liberal order that would secure U.S. global influence against its new Soviet enemy. As a deal for European unity, it was closer to the Western European equivalent of the Warsaw Pact than the start of a European superpower.
The Exhaustion of a Continent
After the war, Kalergi came back to Europe imagining a new moment of triumph. However, he would progressively be relegated to a symbolic position. In 1948, the Hague gathered the first Congress of Europe. It was a triumph for the future of European integration, becoming the first step for the foundation of the Council of Europe. But it was a clear defeat for Kalergi, who saw his moment stolen by Duncan Sandy, Winston Churchill’s son-in-law, who soon became leader of the much more influential European Movement. The spoils of victory, not ideological continuity, determined who reconstituted the European project.
Kalergi was a good propagandist, networker, and lobbyist. But he had little success when he attempted to directly involve himself in governmental politics. Once European integration was no longer a debate among socialites in Viennese coffee houses, but a discussion among bureaucrats in closed offices, his influence dwindled. He was from an older world.
More politically astute rivals like the French official Jean Monnet took his place. Monnet had advised Aristide Briand in his unsuccessful plan for European unity before the war and had realized that the compelling, visionary ideas promoted by men like Kalergi would always fail when they became mistrusted by national governments, which would never just happily merge into a European confederation. Kalergi saw the core questions of sovereign power, such as those of foreign relations and the nature of European political union, as the most important ones.
What Monnet desired was an accumulative process in which European states would learn to cooperate on specific issues first, ceding their sovereignty to bureaucratic European institutions with a limited scope. Monnet’s method was the one that would end up giving tangible results, like the European Coal and Steel Community and the design of the institutional architecture of the early European Union. As Kalergi biographer Martyn Bond put it, Monnet would become the father of Europe, while Kalergi was relegated to being its grandfather.
Despite his marginalization, Kalergi still retained his prestige and many contacts. The Pan-European Union was, in theory, a movement with different national branches. In practical terms, it was a one-man show. So Kalergi continued lobbying for the support of the great statesmen of Europe.
The rivalry with Sandy affected Kalergi’s relationship with Winston Churchill, who he stopped depending on. Konrad Adenauer, the Federal Republic of Germany’s first chancellor, was one of the leaders most interested in European integration, but the weakened West German state was fearful of French ambitions. Moreover, Adenauer would never attempt to defy U.S. interests in Europe. In Paris, it was a different story: De Gaulle was willing to keep his own counsel, and became the last great friend of Kalergi’s career.
Kalergi and De Gaulle shared that Europe should be a politically driven entity. A union based solely on economic interest would always be fragile. And both agreed that a directorate of its larger countries should rule Europe and prioritize recovering global ambitions.
Kalergi, like De Gaulle, seems to have begun to realize what it really meant for Europe to be under the United States security umbrella. As Kalergi would write in 1959, the Suez Crisis was a moment of reckoning. The Anglo-French attempt to overthrow Nasser had been stopped “not by the United Nations but by the combined vetoes of Washington and Moscow: Europe’s two greatest powers were unable to resist this double pressure.”
De Gaulle was interested in keeping Kalergi afloat and put him under the tab of the French government. The count, for his part, saw in De Gaulle a new European great man that could lead Europe’s renaissance. Kalergi would write to De Gaulle in a similar tone as he had done to Mussolini years before, assuring him that European youth would “march towards the United States of Europe—if only they had a Leader. They would follow [De Gaulle] with enthusiasm if you would only place yourself at the head of this glorious revolution.”
But despite these ideals, Europe was taking a very different path. As Quinn Slobodian narrates in Globalists, the younger generation behind the scenes—those designing the institutional bodies of the future European Union—saw it as part of a global assemblage of the liberal order. For people like Ernst-Joachim Mestmäcker, member of the Mont Pelerin Society and special adviser to the European Commission from the 1960s to the ‘70s, Europe’s grandeur was irrelevant in the face of the economic ideal of a common global market.
Mestmäcker framed the Treaty of Rome as the inauguration of the institutional architecture of the international liberal order in Europe. The newborn European community limited the capacity of the state to introduce controls on international trade within their national economic policy. The goal was never to give birth to a European great power. For Mestmäcker, the virtue of the EEC was that it was taking away the autonomy of European states without generating a new sovereign entity.
After two world wars, the progressive loss of their colonial empires, and the menace of communism, European elites seemed to lose their steam. As the Cold War got underway, they were happy to abdicate their power in favor of the U.S. They had been unsuccessful in rebuilding a stable European order, and it was clear that Europeans were more willing to accept the external authority of Washington than of a near neighbor like Germany or France. The U.S. offered a controlled political decay while avoiding the loss of material prosperity.
As U.S. hegemony in Europe continued through the decades, the amount of people who can even remember a different state of affairs has grown increasingly small. In Kalergi’s lifetime, the rising generation of thinkers had been educated under still-dominant European cultures and thus could think from a European position. Today any American blockbuster, political commentary, or bestseller has had a much more direct influence on the average European than all the great literature of European nations combined. There is no longer a European intellectual sphere, but a Western one with its center in America.
By the 1950s, Kalergi had become wise as to what the growing power of America meant for European sovereignty. In the aftermath of the Great War, he had sought to prevent a single country from gaining hegemony in Europe and forcing the rest of the continent back into disunity. In a sense, he had succeeded—hegemony from across the ocean now maintained the peace. Monnet’s vision of piecemeal integration could win out because this was the scope of questions that most of Western Europe were now confined to addressing. Barring defection to a Soviet alliance, it had settled on the system of liberal-democratic capitalism. Military questions were mostly beyond its scope; Europe instead saw the rise of an aristocracy of entitlement.
Kalergi’s enemies perhaps rightly saw him as a threat to national interests. But in his opposition to chauvinistic nationalism, Kalergi had overlooked the geopolitical reality that political order relies on a powerful state to undergird it, not a coalition. Europe’s Cold War alignment was defined by conquest, not diplomacy. He had romanticized the possibility of a European great man, but could never have gotten the one he wanted. It remains an open question whether any European great power might have been able to bring about European unity if things had gone differently. What if De Gaulle had won over more allies to his cause? What if the Central Powers had dominated Europe after a Great War victory? What if political coalitions in inter-war Germany had gone a different way? Europe needed a large, rich, and secure power to conquer it and guarantee peace. It was obtained in the end, but not from Europe. The lynchpin of the postwar order was the economic, military, and political power of the U.S.
De Gaulle would remain among the last defenders of a sovereign Europe, unable to accept that the moment of his country had passed. With the death of De Gaulle, Kalergi lost his last great backer. Like Europe itself, Kalergi was still dignified, but would never be close to power again. In post-war Europe, there was no trace of Kalergi’s “aristocracy of the spirit.” The age of the technocrats had begun.