Following promptings from friends, I've been trying to educate myself.
Tony Judt, a British historian who taught at NYU, first dragged an awareness of central and eastern Europe into my consciousness; like many in the U.S. who came up during the Iron Curtain era, that Europe was a blank in my mind. Then I read his epic Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 and felt as if I'd had blinders removed.
In 1996 Judt focused his sharp gaze on the European Union, offering A Grand Illusion?: An Essay on Europe. He very much wanted to see this venture succeed:
He worried about the "losers" -- people and regions who would be hurt by unmediated application of free markets' "creative destruction" to old economic modes, by what would feel like a tsunami of cultural changes and unfamiliar people, by seeing some of their local democratic autonomy subsumed into the larger whole. Had he lived until 2016, he would have foreseen Brexit and the xenophobia it has unleashed:
He worried in 1996 that
Apparently for a majority of English people, he was prescient.
To this way of looking at things, the English majority in Britain has opted for democracy and sovereignty over integration. This was a vote about where people's values were located; they chose smaller, but for their own known kind.
What all these authors agree on is that current European (and U.S.) elites are not finding ways to lead their populations through these strains. Quite possibly preserving inward-looking values, democracy, and a globalized capitalist economy is not possible. This is not good for the world. The Europe of the last few decades has been synonymous with civilized society; for it to revert to even petty barbarism would threaten human survival.