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From Hubris to Nemesis in the EU

The ancient Greeks, who gave the word “hubris” to the western world, saw it as a portent of tragedy leading to downfall, or “nemesis.” Perhaps the same trajectory can be seen in the fate of the EU's Lisbon treaty.

Paris – The European Union’s Lisbon treaty was initially greeted with enthusiasm, pride, and even hubris. It promised a more realistic and reasonable way forward than the ill-fated constitutional treaty that it replaced, and many of its supporters also hoped that a central feature of its predecessor – the notion of “constitutional patriotism” – was still alive. But the Lisbon treaty has instead brought chaos to the Union. What went wrong?

Constitutional patriotism, a concept developed by two German philosophers, Dolf Sternberger and Karl Jaspers, was intended to replace the nationalism that had been discredited in Germany by the country’s Nazi past. Similarly, as the EU evolved into a federal state, its loyal citizens would reject nationalism based on ethnic affinities and instead identify with the democratic principles of the federation’s constitution.

This fantasy was unambiguously rejected by Irish voters, so it seems fitting to remind ourselves that the ancient Greeks, who gave the word “hubris” to the western world, saw it as a portent of tragedy leading to downfall, or “nemesis.”

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