Courtesy Reuters

The Myth of the Continents

IN earlier writings as well as in his latest book Charles A. Beard reads from (or into?) American history the lesson that "continentalism" represents the predestined course of our foreign policy. Jerome Frank, writing a chapter on "Disintegrated Europe and Integrated America," argues that the basic issue in Europe, and the cause of unfortunate developments in Germany and Italy, has been "the absence of continental integration." In America, he continues, we have continental integration, "and therefore the possibility of relative self-sufficiency." Stuart Chase embroiders still further Frank's theme of "disintegrated Europe, integrated America," collects figures to explore the possibilities of various "continental economic units," and, in the last sentence of his book, urges the United States to avoid economic and political entanglements in the affairs of other nations which, "in the nature of their geographical deficiencies, must quarrel, until some day they too achieve continental unity."[i]

The Western Hemisphere complex, so conspicuous in discussions of American foreign policy, has often been associated with ideas of "continental" unity and "continental" solidarity. A noteworthy instance occurred in a symposium at the meeting of the American Political Science Association a year ago where Clarence Streit's plan for Interdemocracy Federal Union was up for discussion. A distinguished political scientist -- a student of municipal government -- based his criticism on the view that the natural political and economic grouping is the "continental" one. He therefore favored solidarity with Latin American countries as against overseas countries.

There is, of course, a tremendous literature on the theme that "Europe" must unite. Coudenhove-Kalergi's Pan Europe; the efforts of practical statesmen like Briand, Herriot and others to promote European union; and more recently a new flood of books, articles, plans and speeches advocating a "United States of Europe" or some sort of European federation all carry a continental emphasis. Sometimes there is an explicit argument to explain why continents, as such, must be united. Thus, H. N. Brailsford writes, "Air power has made inevitable the unification of continents."[ii] More

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