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The Idea of Europe

Catriona Seth
Rotraud von Kulessa

3. Europe: A Project for Peace

Texte intégral

1Political essayist Castel de Saint-Pierre (1658–1743),i who was a member of the French Academy and a friend of Fontenelle, composed his Project for Perpetual Peace in Europe (1713) just as the belligerent parties of the War of Spanish Succession were negotiating the terms of peace that would culminate in the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt. He published the piece in 1713; it presented the most complete draft of his project to sustain lasting peace throughout the continent. He appealed for a federation of the states of Europe, sustained by the efficiency of a model of balance of power. He envisioned that the European sovereign states (France, Spain, England, Holland, Portugal, Switzerland, Florence, Genoa and its associates, the Papal States, Venice, Savoy, Lorraine, Denmark, the Holy Roman Emperor and Empire, Poland, Sweden, Muscovy) would sign a unifying treaty and hold a perennial congress in order to form one enduring society together. To resolve conflicts, a tribunal would sit in arbitration. This innovative composition earned him, alongside a certain celebrity, a reputation as a persistent believer in utopia. Having proposed to lay out the means of achieving lasting peace between the Christian states, he continues as follows:

2Thus I think it necessary to begin with a few reflections: first, on the need for the sovereigns of Europe, like any other men, to live in peaceful, unified, and everlasting society in order to find happiness; next, on the needs that bring them to have these wars between them, for either the possession or the partition of a few goods; lastly, I will consider the means they have employed thus far either to avoid war or to stand fast against war when it bears upon them.

3I have found that these means are usually reduced to the exchange of mutual promises, found either in treaties of trade, truce, or peace, which specify territorial limits and other pretentions of reciprocity, or in agreements that offer guarantees or conceive offensive and permanent leagues that establish, maintain, or re-establish the balance of power of mighty houses. This system has until now seemed the most prudent from which the sovereigns of Europe and their ministers have drawn their policies. […]

  1. The current constitution of Europe can never produce anything but almost perpetual War, because it can never ensure sufficient security for the enforcement of Treaties.
  2. The balance of power between the House of France and the House of Austria will never ensure the security required to prevent either foreign Wars or civil Wars, and thus will never ensure the security required for either the conservation of the States or the conservation of Trade.
  • ii The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and the Confederacy of the Thirteen Canons were the u (...)

4[…] I next tried to discover if the sovereigns could not then find enough security for the enforcement of mutual promises by establishing continuous arbitration between them. I found that if the eighteen main powers of Europe, in order to conserve the present governance, avoid internecine wars, and ensure the advantages of continual commerce from nation to nation, wanted to make a unifying treaty and hold a perennial congress—based on a similar model to that used by the seven sovereignties of Holland, the thirteen sovereignties of Switzerland,ii or the sovereignties of Germany—and form a European Union with the best parts of those unions (especially the German union, which composes more than two hundred powers), I found that, as I was saying, the weakest would have enough security that the most powerful of the great powers would be unable to harm them. Each would diligently keep mutual promises, commerce could continue uninterrupted, and all future conflicts would end through arbitration and without war. We will never come to such mutual safety without this. […]

  1. The same grounds and means that managed in the past to shape a permanent Society between the sovereignties of Germany are available to the Rulers of today, and could serve to form a permanent association of all the Christian sovereignties of Europe.
  2. The endorsements that the majority of the Sovereigns of Europe gave to the project for a European Society proposed by Henry the Greatiii prove that there is hope that a similar Project would be approved by their successors.

5[…] In its second draft, the project embraced all the States of the world; my friends pointed out that in the coming centuries most sovereigns of Asia and Africa will request a reception into the Union. This vision seemed so very distant, and encumbered with so many difficulties, that it overshadowed the whole project with an air, an appearance of impossibility that repelled every reader, with the result that some came to believe that even limited to a Christian Europe, the project would be impossible to achieve. I have thus found myself more willingly convinced of their perspective, that the European Union is enough for Europe, sufficient to conserve her perpetual peace, and will be powerful enough to preserve its borders and its trade despite those who would try to impede them. The general council that it could establish in the Indies might easily become the arbiter of sovereigns in that country, and by its authority prevent them from taking arms. The credit of the Union will consequently be so much greater amongst them that they know with certainty that it seeks only security for their commerce, and that trade will be nothing but advantageous to them, so that they will not think to attempt any kind of conquest, and they will see as enemies only the enemies of peace.

6Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre,
Project for Perpetual Peace in Europe (1713).

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ii The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and the Confederacy of the Thirteen Canons were the usual designations for Holland and Switzerland at the time, and express the political organization of these states.

iii Henry IV of France, who is mentioned by Sully in the previous extract.

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