The U.S. Declaration Of Independence: Its Foundations As Key For Better U.S.-European Understanding


By Alejandro Chafuen

At most programs I attend in Western Europe there is a lack of diversity. There is adequate country representation but scant ideological differences among speakers. Conspicuously absent are views from most free-market think tanks of the United Kingdom or the United States. An important exception to this takes place at the Estoril Political Forum, which is currently the largest political studies meeting in Portugal.

The EPF has been taking place since 1993, and created incentives for the creation of the Instituto de Estudos Políticos, IEP. IEP is a very active university-based think tank founded by Professor João Carlos Espada at the Portuguese Catholic University UCP, a 50-year-old institution. One of IEP’s goals is to capture and expand some of the human capital discovered during different iterations of this forum, which also serves as the conclusion of a summer university also hosted by UCP.

This year the EPF’s theme was “Patriotism, Cosmopolitanism, and Democracy.” In his opening speech, Dr. Espada used the U.S. Declaration of Independence to describe the interplay of universal versus national principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I highlight all men to stress the universality of the claim. But as other key speakers in the program, such as Bill Galston from the Brookings Institution, and Marc Plattner of the Journal of Democracy correctly pointed out, these universal principles were presented as a foundation for a particular act of national separation of the United States of America from England. The first sentence of the Declaration mentions the existence of “one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth,” and further recognizes that this “separate and equal station” was based on “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Paradoxically, Patriots are more prone than Cosmopolitans to use the laws of nature and God as foundations for their policy positions.

The topics addressed at the forum ranged from national security to faith and liberty. Few issues were left uncovered. The true intellectual diversity was accurately described by Dr. Espada: “Conservatives, Christian-democrats, Liberals, Libertarians, Social-democrats and Democratic socialists . . .”.  From Europe, he added, “We have federalists and anti-federalists, europhiles and eurosceptics, ‘Remainers’ and ‘Brexiteers.’” The meeting had no speakers from members of trade associations or grassroots organizations, but it had several presenters who, like David Goodhart, of Policy Exchange (U.K.) and José Manuel Fernandes of Observador Portugal, have made an honest effort to go beyond the academy and political circles to understand the motivations behind many of today’s disruptions.

On the Cosmopolitan side, there were a few voices attempting to depict George Soros as a great champion of democracy and their supranationalist views. One was Thomas Melia, a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute and former Obama official. Even the most controversial presentations (like his?) are met with civility at this forum.

At one of the best-attended sessions – convened with the title “Illiberal liberalism and Conservatism in the 21st century” – most speakers focused on the weak foundations of liberalism in continental Europe. Quoting Hanna Arendt and Pope Benedict, the International Republican Institute’s Miriam Lexmann placed relativism at the core of European weakness and insecurities. Many of the students attending the forum let the organizers know that these alternative views, founded on natural law rather than in the typical reason of state (raison d’état), are seldom presented at European universities.

Now at Goldman Sachs, José Manuel Durão Barroso, former Prime Minister of Portugal and former president of the European Commission, has spoken many times at this forum. He therefore knows the audience well and was able to navigate the topics with extreme diplomatic skills and understanding. He presented the concerns that exist with “nationalisms.” On one side, he noted, exists the ogre of supranationalism allegedly pushed by Brussels and, on the other, the threat of extreme nationalism rears its ugly head. As in the past it was rooted on aggression and expansion, extreme nationalism is feared by all freedom lovers. The European project, stressed José Manuel Durão Barroso, has peace as one of its main goals, making war among its members unthinkable. But there needs to be a place in Europe for patriots and for those who, while preserving the goal of a more united and cosmopolitan Europe, cherish their national cultures and traditions. Achieving balance between these two principles would go a long way toward building longer lasting institutional frameworks conducive to free and prosperous societies. It was a big mistake, said Durão Barroso, to drop mentions of Christianity as key to European identity.

The Portuguese are fond of the Atlantic Alliance. Their vision of “Atlantic” is rather limited, however. For their U.S. partners, it seems they only consider as part of the Atlantic what goes on in the corridor that unites Washington, New York and Boston. But the Atlantic Alliance members are genuine U.S. friends. This meeting honored the late Frank Charles Carlucci III, who passed away in early June. I never met him, but enjoyed meeting some of his allies at the Carlyle group, which he founded, as well as playing tennis with his old buddy, Art Reinhardt, a former OSS pioneer. OSS was a precursor to the CIA, where Carlucci was deputy director from 1978 to 1981, before becoming national security advisor and secretary of defense during President Ronald Reagan’s second term. Carlucci was American Ambassador to Portugal just after the 1974 revolution, and was appointed, according to Dr. Espada “with the mission of providing support to some sort of counter-coup against the real threat of Communist revolution.” Carlucci is seen as a great contributor to Portuguese democracy and some of his former partners are loyal supporters of the EPF as they see it as key to help bring Europe and the United States closer together.

Differences between Europe and the United States exist. But in measurements of freedom and rule of law they are not so far apart. Excluding the United Kingdom, there are eight European countries that score ahead of the United States in the Heritage Foundation-Wall Street JournalEconomic Freedom Index. With a score of 75.7 the United States is not dramatically ahead of Germany, the European powerhouse, which scores 74.2. In the Fraser Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom, the United States also is ahead of Germany, but also not by much, 7.94 vs.7.69 (out of 10).

In the index of the World Justice Project, 11 countries, including Germany and France, score better than the United States. The main difference, especially in what is relevant for their relationship, lies on the sovereign power of European nations. Nations have more independence and power than states in the United States.

If I divide the group of speakers in Cosmopolitans and Patriots, I noticed much more uncertainty among the former. The Cosmopolitans seemed much more insecure than the Patriots. I was thinking to myself what some of the leaders who threaten the Cosmopolitan reign would say if they would have witnessed these multi-day discussions. Russian Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Victor Orban would have left more reassured to continue with their course. The enemy is too weak. President Donald Trump, if at all caring, would say “get a grip! Put the interests of your citizens ahead first, then after you achieve a position of strength return to the effort to build a more united Europe.”

The Western world would profit from more events and efforts as those conducted by IEP. If European elites embrace or begin to understand patriotism better, it would provide opportunities for better understanding among themselves about what is essential for European survival. It would also be helpful to build bridges with those who represent the voting base that brought Donald Trump to power.

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