Theodore Dalrymple

Why borders matter

The muddle and mendacity of the EU elite rests on one fundamental misunderstanding

Why borders matter
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There is no better way of discrediting an opinion than by attributing it to a psychological quirk or peculiarity. The task is then not to refute it, but to explain it away by reference to its murky psychic origins. For a number of years, doubt about the wisdom of a European project (whose end can only be seen as through a glass, darkly) was attributed by its enthusiasts to precisely such a quirk: one that combined some of the features of mental debility, arachnophobia and borderline personality disorder. One would not be altogether surprised to learn that the European Union had sent lobbyists to Washington to have Euroscepticism included in the forthcoming revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association as a new diagnostic category.

By now, even the most convinced European projectors (to use a Swiftian term) must have noticed that their project is not going swimmingly. But every economic and political phenomenon is capable of more than one interpretation and explanation, and the projectors suggest that the solution to the current difficulties is the granting of even more powers to themselves or to people very like them, that is to say those who conjured up these difficulties in the first place.

For example, an article in Le Monde for 27 August, by Peter Bofinger, Jürgen Habermas and Julian Nida-Rümelin, translated from the German, is headed ‘More than ever, Europe’. It is every bit as stilted as the thought behind it, as if almost every sentence concealed a guilty secret:

There exist only two coherent strategies to overcome the crisis: the return to national currencies in the EU, which will leave each country on its own to face the unpredictable fluctuations of the highly speculative foreign exchange markets, or the institutionalised protection of a common fiscal, economic and social policy, having for its more ambitious goal the recovery of the capacity for influencing the markets that has been lost at national level. To which is also appended, over and above the crisis, the promise of a ‘Social Europe’.

In order to recover that sovereignty ‘of which the markets have robbed them’ Europeans must form a large bloc and mutualise their debts, in the process strengthening European institutions:

The most suitable way for Europe to strengthen its institutions would, perhaps, be to let itself be guided by the idea that the democratic European core must represent the totality of the citizens of the member states of the monetary union, but in such a way that each citizen is represented in his double character as citizen of the reformed Union and citizen of a people associated with the Union – which, under the first aspect, would involve him individually in a direct manner, and under the second, in an indirect way.

With ‘thinkers’ like this (one of them an ex-minister), who needs markets to bring about ruination? Leonid Brezhnev himself could hardly have expressed it better.

Morbid conditions are never equally distributed geographically, and Euroscepticism was originally a predominantly British disease, an amusing consequence of our insularity; but it is spreading throughout Europe. The debacle of the common currency, which will no doubt have a denouement but not necessarily a solution, has lowered the estimate of the union in the eyes of practically all member populations of it. This seems largely to have escaped our ‘thinkers’, who concede:

At this stage, the peoples have their word to say. If referenda [presumably on the abandonment of national sovereignty, though the authors do not specify which referenda] turn out out favourably, then the peoples of the Union will recover their sovereignty at the European level...

But what if the results of the referenda turn out unfavourably? The history of the union suggests that they will either be ignored or that there will be more referenda until the population gets the answer right: the European variant of African post-colonial democracy, that is to say one man, one vote, once. And it must be remembered that people like Habermas, Van Rompuy, Barroso et al. are eminently capable of boring the people of Europe into submission.

You can bamboozle people with this kind of verbiage so long as politics does not really interest them because their own lives are going along quietly and smoothly, and therefore they do not pay it much attention; but once their attention is caught by such things as the prospect of unemployment, the evaporation of the value of their savings, constantly increasing taxes and collapsing living standards, more precision will be needed. Words that connote human solidarity, but actually denote bureaucratically administered and enforced transfer payments on a scale that make Marshall Aid look like pocket money,  will no longer suffice. And clarity of thought and expression are all on the other side of the question of European ‘integration’.

One has only to compare the tortured language of the article by Habermas et al., in every phrase of which a falsehood is suggested and an evident truth suppressed, with that of Daniel Hannan’s recently published little book, A Doomed Marriage: Britain and Europe, to grasp this. I quote at random:

Which brings me to the gravamen of the case again the EU. It is contemptuous of public opinion, not by some oversight, but as an ineluctable consequence of its supra-national nature. There is an old joke in Brussels to the effect that, if the EU were a country applying to join itself, it would be rejected on grounds of being insufficiently democratic. The joke understates the magnitude of the problem.

The meaning is clear, it does not have to be grasped through some kind of sifting of the syntactical and semantic entrails. Even where the author is mistaken or exaggerates, it would not take an entire essay first to interpret what he is trying to say or to avoid saying, then to uncover his evasions, equivocations and downright untruths. A simple contradiction would suffice.

Clarity of thought is not confined to the citizens of our shores, however. Recently I attended the public defence of a PhD dissertation at Leiden University by a young Dutch legal philosopher, Thierry Baudet, published in English as The Significance of Borders: Why Representative Government and the Rule of Law Require Nation States. What was striking to me as an observer was the extreme emotional antagonism of some of the professors to the candidate argument. It was not merely that they thought him in error, or even thought him wicked: it was their entire Weltanschauung that he challenged and threatened, and upon which they had based their lives and careers. At least one was quite literally shaking as he spoke.

Baudet does not argue that this or that European arrangement is suboptimal and might be rectified with a little goodwill and administrative tinkering. Instead, he argues that two forces — supranationalism and multiculturalism — fatally undermine both representative government and the rule of law.

These are not the arguments of the Dutch equivalent of the Little Englander, a boy with his finger in the dyke trying to keep out the ocean of foreign influence. No Dutchman could possibly wish to isolate his country, which for hundreds of years has prospered by its openness to foreign trade, even if such a thing were possible. But openness is not the same thing as the incontinent abandonment of character, any more than hospitality is the indiscriminate welcoming, without any exclusion whatsoever, of all and sundry into one’s home.

Multiculturalism as an official doctrine, complete with enforcing bureaucracies, undermines the rule of law because it seeks to divide people, formalise their cultural differences and enclose them in moral and intellectual ghettoes. As a result, as Bhiku Parekh puts it, ‘The idea of national culture makes little sense.’ But the rule of law requires a common cultural understanding, not -merely the means of repression to enforce a legal code. Once that basic cultural understanding is lost, all that remains is repression, effective or ineffective as the case may be, and experienced by many as alien and unjust. Nothing remains but conflict or surrender.

Supranational courts cannot supply the want of a national understanding, for two reasons. First, they are expressly designed to escape any particular national tradition, rather as Rousseau knew Man, but not men. And just as the European Central Bank could set interest rates adapted to none of the member countries’ economic needs, so a supranational court or organisation can produce rulings that correspond to no one’s traditions, principles, requirements or interests.

Second, supranational organisations, unlike international ones, escape the kind of checks and balances that operate, or at least can operate, on a national scale. What strikes me most when I read the overwhelmingly Europhile French press is that the need for such checks and balances is not even mentioned, probably because it is not thought to exist. In true Napoleonic tradition, every problem is conceived as being merely an administrative one; and even as the scant legitimacy among the French population of Europe seeps away, so it is proposed that the powers of a supposedly wise European administrative class be increased.

As it happens, the article by Habermas et al. explained why legitimacy is not a problem for Europhiles by hinting at the problem that the European Union is supposed to solve:

If Europeans want still to carry any weight in the world order and influence the solutions that must be found to planetary problems, they must unite their forces. To renounce European integration would be to be absent from world history.

Within living memory, even small European nations such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal ruled immense areas of the globe with very large populations, thus flattering the self-importance of all Europeans (who shared an informal identity vis-à-vis the rest of the world). Now the whole of Europe, having plumped for butter rather than guns, is almost powerless; the French air force has half the number of operational aircraft as its former territory, Syria. But this is a matter for regret only if the exercise of power over others is important to you, and its loss is a wound. As Mussolini so presciently put it (he expressed himself more vividly than Habermas), ‘Europe may once again seize the helm of world civilisation if it can develop a modicum of political unity.’