A Parable for Europe: The Tower of Babel1st April 2013
And behold, a united humanity of the generations of six nations, following two terrible wars, resolved to build a continent of trade and common market that they named the European Coal & Steel Community. And men were elected by their nations to the High Authority. And the High Authority did command that the Community should prosper as the wrongs of the past were put right, and they raised a tax that was proclaimed to be for the common benefit of the multitude.
But through the frailty of those in High Authority, the Coal and Steel industries fell into bad ways of price-fixing, subsidy and disrepair, and welfare was necessarily provided to the labour and then to other labour. But in this way apparent prosperity did spread to the benefit of both capital and labour, who no longer had to strive in a free market between willing buyer and willing seller, through innovation and competition, and there was much rejoicing at the apparent miracle of the Community.
So the Community resolved by Treaty to build themselves a City, and to make a new name, and they called themselves the European Economic Community, but could not agree on a single city. So they travelled between Brussels and Luxembourg and Strasbourg at greater cost to the multitude, who were nevertheless sorely grateful, and by this other nations were greatly encouraged and did join with the Community.
But men of the Community were too eager to count their future prosperity and importance, and resolved to build a Tower of many Promises that they may be remembered by, and that in time they called the European Union. And as they began to build, for bricks they created a Council, Commission, Parliament and Court, which they cemented with Directorates, Secretariats, Observatories, Central Banks and many other materials. And for over 50 years they were in the building of it; its breadth did encompass 27 nations and 23 official languages and 150 regional and minority languages.
And it came to pass that the Tower needed to reach a greater height to accommodate all the bureaucrats, so they proclaimed that more resources must be furnished by the multitude. But the Tower was built on sandy soil, and as the Tower rose in height the bureaucrats feared they may be scattered upon the face of the Earth, and so they created regulations by which the building was able to reach ever higher, and each regulation begat a new regulation.
Soon the Tower was high enough to watch over all the land, and the bureaucrats, seeing that the people were still free to engage in trade on their own account, issued decrees on the length and curvature of bananas. And they did encourage special interest and cronyism to favour the larger groups of producers and favoured regions to the detriment of others, and through protectionism pushed up the price of foodstuffs and clothing and other essentials of the multitude, and did make those outside the Union suffer greatly for the lack of free trade. But the multitude having no understanding of this remained sorely grateful.
Such was the confidence of those within the Tower that they set out to pierce the sky, and they said “We must be one people with one currency, and nothing that is sought will be out of reach”. And so they created the Euro, and many nations joined in with the Euro. And as the new Euro spread, with great infrastructure and many promises, the multitude were pleased.
And lo the great experiments of those in the Tower did distort certain trades with money that they borrowed in the name of the multitude, and had the interest upon it charged to the expense of the multitude. And the bureaucrats did govern the free movement of people, goods, services and capital by ruling on justice and regulating the fruits of the land, and the sea, and even unto the nations’ home regions. And those in the Tower did win the Nobel Peace prize.
And when some leaders of the nations sought to cap the size of the Tower the occupants of the Tower were sorely afraid and threatened secret ballots to vote against this. And nations that held ballots which were against the opinion of those in the Tower were told to hold them again. And so the Tower became a Tyranny, applying regulations that the multitude could never understand. And yet the multitude, not realizing this was a great experimentation at their expense, continued in their gratitude.
And the leaders of the nations, seeing the power of those in the Tower, sought power also for themselves. And so the democracy of both left and right became consumed in the one way of the Tyranny of the Tower, and they joined in with the Tower, and seeing no other way, set about removing the liberty of the multitude by imposing upon them a method of education and proscribing the speech of the press. By these means the multitude were brought into a constant dependence upon the ways of the Tower. And so it came to pass that what the Tower said was fair was seen by the meek and unquestioning multitude to be fair. Now the multitude were ready to follow the every determination of the Tower.
And the Tower did oversee credit by the banks and credit to the people and credit to itself, and once that had been exhausted regulated that more credit should be created by the banks and to the people and to itself. And the multitude were sorely grateful, even as the price of their warmth and the price of their shelter increased, for they were told that this was good.
But when some of the host saw finally that the Tower was reaching too high that caused a tumult amongst them, and so the Tyranny of the Tower did forcefully compel the nations to receive their credit and be grateful. But through the multitude of languages and cultures they found they could no longer understand one another. And they found that certainties between them were no longer certainties, and that promises were no longer promises, and the possessions of the multitude were seized away without their agreement to secure the Tyranny of the Tower.
And now the multitude were sorely confused, and some blamed the free market of capitalism and not the Tower, for that is what they were told to blame, not knowing that they had never lived amongst a free market. But the hubris of the builders of the Tower was now shown as wanton folly, and the earth of the interior was scattered in heaps. And the multitude did run to store their Euros under mattresses through fear of the banks that the Tower blamed for all their ills. And it was determined that one nation should not appear on the Euro and its name was Cyprus.
And the Tower did command that Cyprus was rent asunder by thunderbolts, decreeing that they had brought this upon themselves. Yet as the Tower proclaimed its power ever louder the storm extended across many nations and much damage was caused, and the multitude found they had little to feed off but the land, which was all that was left to them.
And so the Tower of many promises that was so glorious to the vain men became meaningless to the multitude. The multitude finally rose up against their oppressive conditions, and the Tower was destroyed. And the bureaucrats were banished and crushed beneath their own dead weight. And the multitude did taste liberty, and the taste was good.
I do hope you enjoyed this little foray into Europe, which uses the translations of old writings as its base, with of course plentiful additions and adaptations of my own to reflect the evolution and impact (and maybe the future) of European institutions since WW2.
The Tower of Babel is a story that appears across many ancient sources, folklores and religions, but at its centre is the sharing of a common language, and the disorder created when those languages become confused. The painting is by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, from 1563, just a year before the outbreak of the Eighty Years War when Europe was riven by rebellion against heavy taxation and centralisation (sound familiar?) and religious differences.
The European Banana regulation really does exist, see here.
The map that is printed on the Euro note really does exclude two Eurozone members, Cyprus and Malta.