One of the most influential books I’ve read in the past couple years was Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature.
In it, he attempts first to build the case that over all timescales of human history – from the first civilizations through the Middle Ages and into the modern world – war and violence have been in decline. He goes to great lengths, invoking numerous studies measuring in various ways that you face less chance of dying today from violence than ever in human history. It naturally attracted criticism but I think his thesis holds.
In the second part, he tries to provide several reasons for this decline, with arguments from across the humanities: sociological, psychological, political, and even economic reasons.
He notes that since the end of the Second World War there has not been an all-out war between any two major powers. Plenty of skirmishes and civil wars continue and the Cold War was largely fought through intermediaries but it has been decades since troops marched into battle across Europe.
He argues that the rise of global trade and increasingly strong intergovernmental organizations, like the United Nations and European Union may be part of the reason behind this long peace.
Which forms the basis of one reason that I have always had a soft spot for the EU. If Pinker’s analysis holds, then the EU, despite its flaws, is a key ingredient to maintaining peace against the nationalistic attitudes that led to the near perpetual state of war that plagued much of Europe through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
All of this leads me to be wary of arguments from both the right and left that nations ought to be returning to their nationalistic roots rather than reinvesting in the EU.
I do recognize that there are a lot of issues operating a parliament of over half a billion people. The complexity of the job means that it’s incredibly tough for representatives to explain their work to their constituents who have centuries of mistrust for many other members of the EU. Further, when faced with troubling economies at home, many are left worrying more about their own nation than about building a stronger continent. Add to that the inequality between nations, with varying levels of corruption, poverty, and crime, and it can be hard to make the case that the Germans should be bailing out the Italians and Greeks once again.
Nevertheless, I maintain my hope for the EU project, even it’s just naive optimism.