In the 1860s, one of the established columnists working for the New York Tribune, a certain Karl Marx, wrote that Japan was "the only truly feudal state, with all of its irrationalities and divisions" (of power). Today the European Union is reminiscent of this Japan, with Angela Merkel in the role of shogun.
At the time, Japan was a patchwork of feudal provinces controlled by local lords, the daimyos, who were only subordinate to the supreme commander of the armed forces, the shogun. The administration of the shogunate, or bakufu, had an emperor in the city of Kyoto, although his powers were even more limited than those of the current EU President, Herman Van Rompuy.
The local daimyos governed their territories as they saw fit, with their own currencies, their own tax systems and their own armies. They often defied decrees issued by the bakufu (Brussels) and when the bakufu sent inspectors, the daimyos (the Greeks) fooled them. For example, the province of Satsuma set up phoney villages with samourais disguised as peasants.
A European version of the Meiji Restoration
The Japanese elite spent a lot time at Edo (Tokyo/Brussels), spending the bulk of tax revenues on their expenses. The man in the street had absolutely no interest in the Emperor or the shogun (the leaders in Brussels). So in his column for the New York Tribune, Karl Marx expressed what was, at the time, a widespread disdain for Japan: a backward country whose political organisation was too fragmented to enable it to resolve its problems.
However, a few decades later, Japan became one of the most centralised nation states in the world, with the capacity to found companies like Mitsubishi and to score a crushing victory over the Russians in 1905 – a rare feat in the history of warfare. What had happened? The answer is a crisis engendered by the globalisation brought about by America’s Commodore Perry and his gunboats, which forced Japan to open up to Western trade [in 1854].
Today Europe is in the throes of a similar crisis. Southern European countries have yet to adapt their economies to the reality of an industrialised China. Worse still, they have been caught in the trap of a currency that has enabled them to borrow cheaply, but which has also pushed up the price of the goods they produce.
At a time when political union appears to be the only option that can save the euro, the think tanks and bureaucrats in Brussels have to contend with a sense of frustration and powerlessness that also marked the central administration in 19th century Japan, which no one took seriously.
The situation calls for a European version of the Meiji Restoration, which will centralise power and take control of financial decisions from member states. One possible scenario would be a significant strengthening of Brussel’s (the Emperor’s) official powers with a clique of technocrats and politicians pulling the strings from behind the scenes — in other words a sham democracy.
Brussels will have to punish the provinces
Thereafter, Brussels will have to punish the provinces, which are still caught in the noose of the euro. Blinded by its fixation on the most recent cataclysm in living memory, that is to say on WWII, the EU sells the European project as a peace plan. However, in so doing it conveniently ignores a significant number of conflicts that began as protests against the decrees of a central power, for example the Thirty Years’ War [1618-1648].
The Japanese elite had a sense of nationhood and had lived under the same imperial family for 1,000 years. But it took a civil war, an international war and the institution of a nationalist education system for the Japanese people to become truly Japanese (heralding an era that only came to a close with the bombardment of Hiroshima).
In our part of the world, you have to go back as far as the Roman Empire to find the last instance of a united Europe. In short, the euro crisis may well imply the “solution” of a united European state, but such a state will have hardly any chance of survival. And perhaps more importantly, there is no guarantee that this political entity will contribute to peace. It may well do precisely the opposite.