WASHINGTON--To see the banknotes of Europe's new common currency is to see Europe's future. They are not pretty.
Their design is studiously, indeed ideologically abstract. Gone are the colorful, celebratory currencies of the 12 participating European Union nations (Britain, Denmark and Sweden are not adopting the euro) with their pictures of national heroes of statecraft and culture, and of arts that express national narratives. With the euro, Europe says goodbye to all that.
The windows, gateways and bridges depicted on euro banknotes have one thing in common: They do not exist. The currency could come from anywhere. Or nowhere, which is what ``utopia'' means.
Tuesday's introduction of the euro marks a momentous milestone on the march to turn ``Europe'' from a geographical into a political denotation. Enthusiasts say the march leads to a sunny upland of a perpetual peace produced by the subordination of politics to economics. And they say it will put an end to attempts to forge continental unity by beating plowshares into swords for Roman legions, Napoleonic marshals or the German armies.
Critics say that even if the common currency ``works'' economically, the unjustifiable cost will be cultural blandness and the attenuation of democracy. That, they say, is an unavoidable consequence of subordinating politics to economics--reversing the five-century fight to give representative national parliaments control over public finance.
It will not ``work,'' even understanding that narrowly as producing economic efficiency. America's continental monetary policy works because when Michigan slumps, Texas may beckon. There will be no such labor mobility between, say, Greece and Ireland. But economic efficiency is not really the point of subordinating politics to economics. Politics is the point.
The common currency serves the political objective of changing Europe's civic discourse by supplanting political reasoning with economic calculation. The euro is an instrument for producing a European superstate, which requires erasing from the nations' populations their national identities, which means their distinctive memories. Here we go again, yet another European campaign against ``false consciousness,'' this time meaning patriotism.
Under the euro, nations cede fundamental attributes of sovereignty--control of monetary (and hence, effectively, fiscal) policy to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. This advances the integration of Europe's nations into a continental federation, under which nations will be as ``sovereign'' as Louisiana and Idaho are.
In addition to a currency, the EU has a parliament, a supreme court, a passport, and is working toward a military and a criminal justice system. It has a flag no one salutes and an anthem no one knows.
Three weeks ago the 15 heads of the EU members' governments agreed to a convention, modeled on the one that met in Philadelphia in 1787, to draft a constitution. However, Europe lacks some things that America had then, including a common language and a shared political culture embodied in common political institutions. And a James Madison and a George Washington.
As London's Daily Telegraph says, the question of ``a Europe of states versus a state of Europe" is rapidly being resolved in favor of the latter. But ``European democracy implies a European demos, which does not exist.'' And the EU's cultural--hence political--incoherence will increase when it adds 13 more nations, some of which will have as much in common with other members as Minnesota has with Paraguay.
Who wants the euro and the superstate it implies? The EU's disparate publics do not, but two elites do. One is a commercial elite that believes the business of Europe is business--never mind freedom, democracy, justice, culture, different national characters--and that a common currency will expedite it a bit. The other elite consists of the sort of intellectuals Europe always has a surplus of--those eager to remake mankind in order to make it worthy of the shimmering future the intellectuals are dreaming up.
What can justify Europe turning its future over to economic calculators? Europe's past does, say euro enthusiasts--the Somme, the Holocaust and the blood-soaked centuries that preceded those defining events of the last century. So their enthusiasm is cultural despair in drag.
The euro is part of the EU's campaign for the dissolution of nations and the dilution of particular cultures. ``To attempt to be religious without practicing a specific religion,'' said Santayana, ``is as possible as attempting to speak without a specific language.'' The euro is part of Europe's attempt to be great without being anything in particular. Call it euro-utopianism.