The Iroquois confederacy was a political union of Native American tribes near the great lakes. Many in the world do not know the story of the Iroquois, yet it penetrates all of modern society from Beijing to Moscow, and from Berlin to Washington. Now, as I quickly guide you through a very brief overview of their fascinating story, I want you to keep in mind how the state, continent and planet you grew up in has developed or sought to develop.
Long before the pilgrims sailed the ocean blue to set the groundworks for a new country of liberty, religious fanaticism and witch-burning, the warring tribes of the Haudenesanaue were ending their conflicts once and for all. The great peacemaker, Dekanawida, along with Hiawatha and the Mother of Nations, Jigonhsasee, brought the peacemaker’s message of the Great Law of Peace to the five Iroquois nations. For hundreds of years to come, the nations of Iroquois decided to unite and exist in peace within a political system where each tribe maintained its distinct cultural identity, yet cultivated an efficient political unity.
The Iroquois lived in longhouses as families, sharing communal fires and building close bonds. Each wide family would be led by a clan mother, whose role it was to pick chiefs, including a sachem. The sachem acted like a senator, who would travel to represent his nation at the Iroquois council, a central longhouse in which all nations would meet to make political decisions. There, the five nations would sit around the eternal fire, and each would be treated as a member of a family. One nation was a firekeeper, two nations represented the older sibling in the senior moiety and two nations represented the younger sibling in the junior moiety. One nation would make a proposal, reach a consensus and then debate and reach a consensus with the other nation in its moiety. Then, the other moiety would debate the issue until it reached a consensus, and when it did, the firekeeper nation acted as a tiebreaker if there was a disagreement between the moieties.
The nations coexisted in an unparalleled peace for hundreds of years under this system based around a familial bond, respect for the sacredness of human life, and respect for each tribe. Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, and Cayuga alike, each protected its cultural identity while working within a single political unit.
That peace would, unfortunately, end when Europe’s 18th-century silk glove-wearing hand came knocking at the door, and behind it peeked the pompously silver wigged, moustachioed, gun-powdered, beaver skin-loving face of mother civilization herself! And promptly mother civilization brought culture to these ‘savages’ by tearing down hundreds of years of cultivated peace within an intricate political structure. The invaders divided the union for conquest by instilling it with the tribal rivalries which seemed common at the time between mother-civilizations children in Europe, especially as her children were again embroiled in a little explosion of fury called the seven years war, which followed the record-holding zero years peace in which the children angered each other through little pranks like conquering Silesia and installing inbred cousins to each others’ thrones.
Nevertheless, the Iroquois political system is said to have inspired American federalism, with the US constitution’s drafters considering Iroquois governance and institutions in creating the sacred document. Their story of peaceful, culturally diverse but politically united prosperity, represents the idealistic image of unity which post-WW2 idealists, including Churchill, staunchly defended for Europe. However, considering the idealistic yet evidently realistic image of political unity the Iroquois represent, I would ask these idealists a few questions. In the peaceful unity they had foreseen for Europe, would they have envisaged angry faces screaming socialism at the smirking self-entitled visages of the creators of democracy? Would they have envisaged smug and punchable faces waving union jacks as the country they represent crumbled into the soap operas of a pretentious political party? Would they have expected nations pretending the laws they helped create do not exist whilst the body which enforces those laws looks the other way? Would they have expected democratic nations cleaning out their judiciaries from the impracticalities of impartiality whilst blatantly claiming that doing so is part of their national identity?
What does Europe need to do to reach this Iroquois ideal? What can Europe learn from its rich and fascinating history to reach that ideal? Does Europe want to reach that ideal? Does it matter whether Europe wants to reach that ideal? These are the questions I, a Bulgarian who is passionate about this continent’s history, will answer.
Europe has unmatched cultural diversity, and from Columbus’ explorations to Vasco De Gama’s voyages to the global reach of the Dutch and British East India Companies, for better or worse, the European mentality has spread to every corner of the world. It was the rivalries between France and Britain, Spain and Portugal, Venice and Genoa, Russia and Sweden, which drove Europe’s supremacy. But the world was smaller then. For the European, the world was the kingdoms left behind in the wake of a collapsing Rome, the world was the rivalries between France and the Plantagenets of England. Back then, for the European the global rivalries were between the secular authority of the Holy Roman Emperor and the divine authority of the Pope, the rivalries were for control of the Baltic sea between Peter the Great and Charles XII.
Since then the world has grown bigger. Yet Europe has not? For the smaller worlds of ancient Greece and the Middle Ages, the city-state seemed the perfect political unit. However, since the Peace of Westphalia ended the religiously fuelled German bloodbath of the 30 years war in 1648, and to this day, do we still maintain that the nation-state is the greatest political unit? Has the world not grown?
Before the World Wars, the world was drawn into the conflicts of Europe. There are many examples of this, from the Native Americans and Indians being drawn into the global seven years war between the Bourbons and Britain, or France using the 13 colonies to spite the victorious UK, or China being thrown to the crocodiles of illegal drug trade because of a European lust for tea, or Ozzies and Kiwis being used as blood bags under the shelter of the Union Jack whilst invading Gallipoli.
But that changed after World War II. As the ultimate savagery was found lurking at the heart of Europe, and as pillaging, eradication, rubble and extinction twisted through the Rococo, Gothic and Baroque which symbolised the cultural soul of Europe, finally, the tables turned.
From 1945 onwards, it was Europe which would be drawn into the conflicts of others. Yes, there were embarrassing posturings of might in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but it was all over. The world no longer trusted the nations of Europe with power, no longer exalted them, but looked at Europe with scepticism. Europe was little more than a tourist destination, a museum to the world’s old rulers. No matter how strong Germany’s manufacturing becomes, no matter how powerful France’s economic grip over its neo-colonial empire and no matter how desperately Britain attempts to become an international hub, that is the image which persists of the European continent to this day. Hence, even the Russian Federation, whose economy is smaller than that of Italy, seems a more intimidating and globally influential force than the bureaucratic ragtag of bickering EU nation-states.
Europe’s tiny nation-states nevertheless still claim a certain romanticised misconception of themselves. They still maintain their minuscule separate militaries, still claim to influence the world stage and still define themselves as the bedrock of human civilisation and ideals like democracy and liberty. However, in their division, time and time again these nation-states sell themselves and their principles out.
The empire on which the sun never set succumbed to US pressure to not build their 5G network with Huawei after years of investment, the Greek cradle of democracy sold its largest port to communist authoritarians, and the economic leader of the union, Germany, was to build a pipeline in cooperation with those they spite as illegal invaders of Eastern Europe.
The entire union of diversity and secularism would bend to the political demands of the religiously fanatical Erdogan, who tears away at the secularism and democracy of his state whilst converting iconic European monuments into mosques. Why? Simply out of fear of a wave of migrants that the Turkish President had clogged up and turned into a weapon. Why is this happening?
This is a taster of what happens when the Union does not act as a union. When the union does not finance ports, of course the state with the money and wish to extend its authoritarian principles would sweep in and take those ports. Of course, if the union does not enforce strict green energy laws its nations would look to cheap oil. Of course, if the union’s members do not cooperate in distributing migrants they will bunch up at the shores and turn into a ticking time-bomb with a fanatic holding the detonator, and an entire continent ransom.
Of course, if the nations are alone they cannot face those who would conquer them. History has certainly taught Europe that much. When the Ancient Greeks unified, they defeated the vast Persian Empire and then when they bickered between each other, they collapsed under the might of a small northern kingdom. When the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, Vienna, was besieged by the Ottomans, the Polish winged Hussars charged to the rescue. But when the Bulgarian, Serbian and Byzantine Empires fought between each other for a non-existent imperial title, they were all conquered one by one by the Ottomans.
The Political Question
Europe’s nations must understand that their values, their cultures and their ways of life all count on political unity. They have to understand that, alone, all they have for leverage is the good faith of larger empires which, make no mistake, will always care for their goals first. Relying on the abstract concepts of good faith or respect for heritage and fraternal cultural bonds cultivated under colonial oppression is not enough. Good faith is earned- by having authority, by having power.
An economy of two trillion cannot earn the best for its people when negotiating an economy of twenty one trillion. A state of sixty eight million cannot earn the best for its cultural heritage against a state of three hundred million. An economy of two hundred billion cannot say no to an economy of fourteen trillion coming to buy its ports for strategic purposes. The large empires do not have good faith because they don’t need to. They can get what they want, so why should they settle for less? Why should they consider what a state of eleven million people thinks? But is that so for a state of four hundred million? An economy of fifteen trillion? The largest single market in the world? If that union acts with a unified voice, will it have the leverage to stop the conquest?
Would a union in which all of its member states collaborate on deciding policy and laws for the collective, which rotates its presidency between nations, and whose elected officials appoint commissioners, be better than an empire situated a hemisphere away dictating what Europe should do to be thrown a lifeline? Is the latter democracy? Is it democracy to be molded by the global ambitions of the great powers?
In our modern global world there is only democracy where there is political power.
The Cultural Question
But there is another intangible which must be considered: cultural individuality. Yugoslavia collapsed into bloody ethnic cleansing once a single national identity attempted to take precedence over the others. The Austrian Empire’s nail in the coffin arguably came long before Franz Ferdinand was shot- it came in the 19th century as Austria attempted to maintain its unitary conservative order in suppressing national uprisings with the barrels of Tsar Nicholas I’s guns. These great states collapsed into nothingness because of cultural suppression and the EU knows this.
The notion that the union wishes to impose a certain “EU national identity”, or that one large EU nation overpowers the identities of the others, is so misinformed to the point where its repetition is always used by populist politicians to manipulate their way to power. The EU is built on cultural diversity, on a plurality of national voices, ideas and perceptions, all sharing a common love for respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.
The union cannot impose its own unitary identity; that is impossible in a continent so culturally diverse. However, the continent must evolve past the archaic concept of directly tying its culture to politics. No modern power is a unitary nation-state, no great power has ever been a unitary nation-state, and no modern nation has been at its peak of power as a unitary nation-state. But likewise, no state without power has the authority to unilaterally assert and protect its cultural identity and values.
In order to protect one’s cultural identity and values, a state must be respected globally and must project itself globally. Otherwise, the values it represents would disappear in a sea of neighbouring influence, as happened to the Iroquois, whose centuries of peace were swallowed by the prevailing warmongering of the encroaching colonizers. The nations of Europe must thus ask themselves whether the illiberty, immorality, and oppressive authoritarianism that surrounds them reflect their ideals. Or whether those ideals are better reflected within a union which can unilaterally assert values of freedom, liberty, and peace globally.
The true powers are those which have evolved to separating their culture and national identity from the political realm. Culturally and nationally, the EU must, and always will, remain 27, or however many more nations join. As the rest of the world devolves to illiberalism, oppression and poverty, the European nations should ask themselves whether they would be a beacon for democracy. Whether they will at the very least protect their own liberty from the economic and political incursions of the growing authoritarian powers.
The EU is not a question of cultural harmonisation, but political harmonisation. Culturally, Europe will always be a continent of many national cultures, national identities and national borders. However. Politically, Europe must be one. Because if Politically Europe is not one, Culturally it will be none.
However, it is no understatement to say that the EU has been a PR disaster. The EU has built a reputation for a faceless bureaucratic mess, imposing itself as a clumsy great beast upon the poor nations of Europe, which are being buried under pointless regulations crushing their national sovereignty. You know things are bad when a member state, Hungary, (cough cough) Poland, (cough- I promise my coughing is not COVID), calls itself a freedom fighter against the EU for destroying its own judicial independence and democracy, with the excuse that doing so is a part of its national constitutional identity.
The cliche that the EU is plagued by a democratic deficit has been beaten to death, yet the EU never successfully retaliates by reminding Europe’s peoples that they directly elect the EU parliament, that the EU council is made up of the ministers of the national democratically elected governments, and that the EU commission is appointed by directly elected democratic bodies.
Everyone talks of mountains and mountains of regulations destroying national sovereignty, but do they take a look at these regulations? Do they not reflect your national values? Do the people complaining of ominous EU laws realise that these laws protect their digital privacy through the GDPR? Do they realise they eat safe foods through high EU food standards? Do they understand that their core freedoms are cemented in the European Convention of Rights? Do they realise that the EU combats digital misinformation and the monopolistic power of BigTech through laws like those found in the incoming EU Digital Services Package? Do they realise they are richer by freely selling domestic products to a wider network of people than ever before? Do they realise that their national governments created these regulations?
Yet, at the heart of Europe the German Federal Constitutional Court still feels free to make decisions contrary to EU law, emboldening the sceptics in the east to abandon their peoples’ ideals. Even Europe’s highest judges are yet to comprehend that EU law is not some foreign law they must consider in conjunction with national law. EU law is created by national governments and national MEP’s in consideration of principles the nation states collectively agreed to and drafted into a treaty they each accepted.
However, though Richard III may have been a good king who wished the best for England, since Shakespeare appeased his Tudor lords by painting him as a hunchback child-murdering villain, that is the image we still have of him.
If Europe does not seem democratic, it does not matter if it is democratic. If Europe doesn’t remind the people that EU laws, which some national governments claim to be threatening national sovereignty, were passed by those very nations and governments of the diverse peoples of Europe, and embody the principles of all liberty loving Europeans, then those laws have no legitimacy. If the EU does not bite back at being the scapegoat for national politicians’ failures, promising one thing to appease Brussels and another in their national parliaments, then the EU will be a hunchbacked Richard III.
So what should the EU do? What are the next steps to the Iroquois ideal?
Firstly, with one fell swoop, the EU can eliminate any notion of democratic deficit by making the Commission President directly elected. Likewise, the council and parliament should have the authority to introduce EU legislation, so as to become true parliamentary chambers. These two reforms are crucial if the EU is to stop sheepishly turning its back to the treachery of authoritarian despots within its frontiers. It would give the commission the confidence to use Article 258 infringement proceedings when the national leaders of member states turn their backs on the laws they created, consented to and agreed to. It would give the EU the confidence to confront the authoritarian forces which seek to swallow Europe’s nations and their values. It would allow the union to confidently protect member states from predatory lending, unfair competition laws, and imperialistic foreign investment.
Of course, electing such an authority may backfire. Paraphrasing Plato, both the pastry chef and the doctor seek to please children. However, the sick children prefer the baker who gives them unhealthy sweets, and not the doctor who gives them disgusting medicine which would cure their sickness.
Populists can grow and take over by promising sweets. The beauty of the current EU system is that the diversity in the parliament cancels out the extremes of either side to create a compromise, and thus, the appointed commission president reflects a broad European consensus. However, if Europe is to evolve, it must trust its people in order to protect its people more effectively.
Secondly, the EU should assert its principles. As illiberty grows within the union’s borders, behind manipulative flag-waving, lying, thieving, corruption and selfish, careless immorality, the EU should assert morality. An assertive EU anti-corruption office should save the peoples of member states where national authorities are too corrupt, and/or too beaten down to do anything.
This is what the EU was meant to be for the desperation found in post-communist Eastern Europe. It was a beacon of hope. As liberty destroyed communist authoritarianism, the liberators did not rebuild but revelled in the fruit of their victory by running west. They thus left the liberated to be enslaved again by the populist authoritarians of today. The EU should succeed where the liberators failed; the EU should assert democracy where the liberated were failed. The EU should not shy away from enforcing the common values which people living on the continent from west to east all share: respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. These values are only as good as they are enforced.
Thirdly, the EU’s foreign policy authority should expand. Peace and pacifism are at the core of the EU’s existence after centuries of European war, and should be at the forefront of the EU’s agenda today. But peace does not simply appear and is not something which simply exists. Peace is allowed to exist by those with power, as exemplified by the post-Napoleonic Vienna Conference, in which the powers of Europe allowed peace to exist through an artificial balance of power.
In the face of authoritarian bullying, in the face of immoral forces banging at Europe’s doors, the culturally distinct 27 nations need to ask themselves the key political question of today, are they settled with the idea of the world’s greatest power being authoritarian? Is that the final step on the ladder of human evolution? They must ask themselves whether peace can coexist with liberty or must exist within authoritarian order. When the nations of Europe ask themselves that question, and if they would rather the world power be one which shares their values, they must ask themselves why they cannot be that power, as only a politically united EU can get up and ask the authoritarians the key political question of today.
Each member state may fear a world of global warming, but only a politically united EU can demand and lead in this area. Only a united Europe can lead the world in data protection and the use of ethical AI. From the Bronze Age Mycenaean Greeks travelling to West Britain for copper, to Vikings travelling to the Americas, now Europe can once again explore the unknown by bringing humanity deep into space. The EU must have the unified voice in the UN to hold the warmongers responsible for destitution. The EU must have a unified stake in the World Bank and IMF so as to steer their operations away from US market expansion, and towards peaceful goals of mutual human prosperity.
The EU must also have a unified voice in NATO. The 27 nations of the EU must separate from the brainwashing propaganda of World War 1, which manipulated thousands to an early grave by tying cultural identity so closely to a military. A military’s purpose is to protect when threatened and to posture assertively in the modern world where giants no longer directly clash but bark behind fences. Europe’s 27 nations must realize that its ragtag, disunited militaries are meaningless on the modern stage, and that its cultural identity is not tied to the blood-shedders of the past.
But why should Europe do this? Why should Europe’s nations work to project their values of respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law? I will not sit here and tell you that this is payment for the atrocities of ancestral colonists. I will not lecture you on the evils of the past. I will simply say that Europe’s nations must do this because they can. Because we are empathetic creatures which will strive to ensure peace for all, and that all share the prosperity found in this beautifully diverse continent. But at the moment, only Europe’s nations truly have the golden opportunity to ensure that this prosperity overpowers the evils of resurgent malicious imperialism.
The Iroquois ideal is an ideal of peace, cooperation and mutual respect, and it is an ideal Europe desperately needs to learn from. No longer should Europe’s leaders run away from the people’s problems. No longer should national leaders attempt remaining in national power by placating the peoples of Europe with the conservative comfort of national governance. The peoples of Europe want to maintain their cultural diversity, want to protect their freedoms, want to protect their economic prosperity and want to protect their peace whilst growing and eventually shooting for the stars. Europe is a place where people are meant to be able to express themselves at their best, and humanity is meant to be seen at its best. The Europe of this very moment does not ensure this. The Iroquois ideal is the extra step that must be taken if Europe’s nations are to survive.