“The Old Ills Are Forgotten”: Must the European Union’s Success Be Its Undoing?

It is true that some problems can be solved, some ills cured, in both individual and social life . . . but any study of society shows that every solution creates a new situation which breeds its own new needs and problems, new demands. The children have obtained what their parents and grandparents longed for—greater freedom, greater material welfare, a juster society; but the old ills are forgotten, and the children face new problems, brought about by the very solutions of the old ones, and these, even if they can in turn be solved, generate new situations, and with them new requirements—and so on, forever—and unpredictably.

–Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas, ed. Henry Hardy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 14.

In the autumn of 1945, Konrad Adenauer, the future Chancellor of West Germany, found himself brooding on the fate of his country and of Europe. The Second World War had just drawn to a bloody close. Germany, having nearly torn the Continent apart, was a shattered wreck, occupied by foreign powers, universally despised and feared. Something had gone horribly wrong—of that, Adenauer was certain. His countrymen, infatuated with power and blinded by raison d’état, were partly to blame. Yet he also sensed that some grander and more terrible process was at play. As a Great Power, the German state had terrified its neighbors for a hundred years. Now it lay prostrate before them, they held its fate in their hands, and this was still not enough to make them feel secure. And why should they? After all, “[p]olitical history has shown that nothing ever stands still and that political circumstances can change very rapidly.”[1] Continue reading ““The Old Ills Are Forgotten”: Must the European Union’s Success Be Its Undoing?”