Why History Made Britain’s Exit from the EU an Inevitable Outcome
Brexit is unquestionably the stuff that headlines are made of, although most focus on politicians, the economy, and travel. Yes, there is the occasional word on how a younger generation of Europeans has had the wind taken out of their collective sails but both the personal and historical angles are missing.
Let’s fill in these missing pieces of the puzzle.
I am American, I am Austrian, I am European, and I am Jewish. I’m the one who, conveniently, always seems to have the right passport to enter a country and who, thanks to the emergence of the European Union, would have a choice of taking residence in any of 28 countries (soon to be 27), should the need arise. I am also the one whose family fled Vienna after the Anschluß and the rise of Adolf Hitler.
I was born in New York City, grew up largely there and in Vienna, spending many a summer on the banks of the Alte Donau, or the Old Danube. I attended university in Philadelphia and Munich, and feel more at home in the Bavarian capital than almost anywhere else, despite having eventually moved back to New York City, where I now live.
My studies at university were largely focused on Central Europe, the Habsburgs, and religious freedom. My two areas of study were the origins of the First World War and later, for my dissertation, religious freedom in the Habsburg hereditary lands during the Enlightenment.
Especially after moving to Munich to attend the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, I began to feel far more European than Austrian, a change not lost on my parents, especially my father, who was afraid I might adopt a more German way of speaking as opposed to speaking the German of the Austrian Burgtheater, or court theater.
The idea of a Europe united against its enemies is not a late 20th century construct. It has its roots in a proposal to unify Europe after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, although this was more based on religious ideology than a common geographic location. Europe was largely united under the Holy Roman Empire, although as Voltaire famously noted, it was in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
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