Europe, and, by extension, the Western world, has only ever come close to unity by virtue of a common creed. Benedict roots the idea of Europe in the Christianized Roman Empire which, “in connection with the book of Daniel, the Roman Empire – renewed and transformed by the Christian faith – was considered to be the final and permanent kingdom in the history of the world.”
A union without genuine cultural unity, shared mission, and a rooted sense of value will not penetrate to the lowest levels of the community as a felt phenomenon of familial relation. Both the arguments for and against the British exit — focused as they were on the relative economic benefits of remaining or leaving the European Union — showed that whoever won, Europe had already lost. A unity of self-interested nation-states is about as stable as a family of self-interested brothers and sisters. Without an ethical and spiritual unity, it is only a question of time before a person, a community, or a nation asks, “And what is this communion doing for me?”
Again, Benedict noted this rather incisively: “Over the last fifty years, this [monetary] aspect of European unification has become ever more dominant, indeed, almost exclusively influential. The common European currency is the clearest expression of this in the work of European unification: Europe appears as an economic and monetary union, which as such participates in the formation of history and lays claim to a space of its own.” (Reflections on Europe, 2001)
The continued effort of the European Union to achieve unity through money and national self-interest has kept it far from Benedict’s healing advice: “Europe, as a political idea, must finally replace the model of the nation state with a generous concept of cultural fellowship, with a solidarity that embraces all of mankind.”
Benedict’s basic thesis — that true unity depends on the pre-economic and even pre-political foundations of value, morality, mission, and creed — has a lesson for those ex-Europeans on the other side of the Atlantic. Populism, and even racist populism, is not simply the result of poverty or economic crisis. It is very often an evil reaction against a feigned togetherness. For while we seldom hate a person simply for their differences, we are very often tempted to hate a person when we are pushed together, told that we are neighbours and friends when there is no tangible bond of unity between us — some shared truth, history, or creed.