So I rarely share my opinions on contemporary international relations. Let me throw caution to wind and say something about the significance about what’s going on in Ukraine. The real issue is whether Ukraine gets to be part of Europe or the “Eurasian” coalition being built by Russia’s tough and astute Putin. I don’t want to demonize Putin, who is acting effectively as a Russian nationalist to build an “authoritarian” coalition as an alternative to the European Union. That coalition, we notice first off, includes Iran!
The argument for Putin’s coalition is that Europe has become so decadent that it’s unsustainable. And astute European thinkers, such as the French political philosopher Pierre Manent, have written about the post-political, post-familial, and post-religious fantasies that have distorted European thought and action. Europe does, in fact, have sustainability “issues,” and they are displayed in its “birth dearth” and its inability to act confidently as a political unit or units. Manent’s astuteness is seeing in Western Europe a kind of generalized hatred of bodies–of anything that reminds the particular person of his limitations, of his “particularity” as a being born to love and die in a particular time and place. European cosmopolitanism has morphed into a kind of emptiness because it’s going too way too far in detaching “being personal” with “being relational.”
Having said all that, we have to be for Ukraine’s courageous choice for Europe over Eurasia. The choice is for free and democratic political life and for the cherishing of the dignified rights of the human person. European thinkers as diverse as Josef Ratzinger and Jurgen Habermas have written on the impossibility of detaching that devotion to the person from Europe’s Christian roots. And that’s why, in my opinion, Europe today is ennobled by the examples of Poland and Hungary and, we can anticipate, Ukraine not detaching the spirit of modern liberty from the spirit of religion. Countries that are able to do that, as Alexis de Tocqueville explains, are best able to reconcile a devotion to personal liberty and even a free economy with a common morality and active citizenship.
Although there are many differences between the United States and the members of the European Union today (and I’ve already explained, contrary to the nerve of President Obama’s policies, why Americans should hold on to those seemingly atrophying political, religious, and economic differences), we are Europeans insofar as we’re about the primacy of civilized personal freedom. We can’t “buy into” the thought that Ukraine somehow “belongs” to Russia for historical or geostrategic reasons. We’re for the rule of law, for civilization, for free political institutions, and for the limitation of political rule by the transpolitical and relational origin and destiny we all share. We’re for those for everyone, including, of course, the people of Ukraine.
Obviously I’m not saying we should intervene militarily (with what army, someone might say?), but neither we nor the European Union should be intimated into not choosing publicly and in not doing what we can in appropriately prudent and so very modest ways to facilitate Ukraine’s attempt to choose for Europe. I have to add, to be clear, that Ukraine could certainly choose for Europe without choosing for the EU, as there is a growing awareness among European thinkers that Europe might do better in finding its identity in either the absence of or a radical reconfiguration of that ambiguous (because not clearly political) and administratively intrusive attempt at union.
Let me repeat that these thoughts are tentative. They also, I think, have something to offend everyone. So feel free to tell me how wrong I am. You may even be right.