The designs of the paper euros, introduced in 2002, proclaim a utopian aspiration. Gone are the colorful bills of particular nations, featuring pictures of national heroes of statecraft, culture and the arts, pictures celebrating unique national narratives. With the euro, 16 nations have said goodbye to all that. The bills depict nonexistent windows, gateways and bridges. They are from ... nowhere, which is what "utopia" means.
Since European integration began in 1951 with creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, the question has been: Will there be a Europe of states or a state of Europe? The euro is part of the attempt to create the latter, a Leviathan constructed from the surrendered sovereignties of Europe's nations.
If money represents, as Emerson said, the prose of life, the euro reflects a determination to make European life prosaic. It is an attempt to erase nationalities and subsume politics in economics in order to escape from European history. The euro pleases dispirited people for whom European history is not Chartres and Shakespeare but the Holocaust and the Somme. The euro expresses cultural despair.
It also presupposes something else nonexistent. The word "democracy" incorporates the Greek demos -- people. As the recent rampages of Greece's demos, and the reciprocated disdain of Germany's demos, demonstrate, Europe remains a continent of distinct and unaffectionate peoples. There is no "European people" united by common mores. Henry James wrote to William Dean Howells: "Man isn't at all one, after all -- it takes so much of him to be American, to be French, etc." Still true; still perilous to ignore.
It is said that, two decades after the end of Europe's East-West political division, there is a North-South cultural division. But Ireland's and, even more, Britain's debt problems refute that distinction. Britain's debt, Europe's worst, is the result of increasing government spending from 37 percent of GDP to 53 percent in a decade. The London Spectator says no other European nation "has expanded its government as quickly -- over this or any other decade in postwar history."
The U in the EU -- the unifying thread -- is indiscipline. Increasingly, it also is the unifying characteristic of the USA.