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Inventing European Identity

I doubt whether there is anyone who has never resorted to the ancient rhetorical tricks of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi. Some do it knowingly, others unknowingly. The omission of relevant facts and the insinuation of falsehoods are dual and often inseparable techniques that are the stock-in-trade of most practising politicians. Arguments have often to be schematic and if in theory it is possible to tell no falsehoods, it is virtually impossible not to suppress, or at least omit, some truths if a discussion of complex matters is not to be interminable.

Nevertheless, universal resort to error, whether honest or not, is no defence for those who utilise it. This is particularly so of intellectuals, whose metier above all is, or ought to be, honest argumentation. I was therefore intrigued to read an open letter published in the Guardian newspaper by what were described as “30 top intellectuals.”

The letter began with a ringing suggestio falsi: “The idea of Europe is in peril.” What the authors meant was that the idea of the European Union is in danger. They implied, in effect, that Europe and the European Union were synonyms, which is clearly false. If a country ceases to be a member of the European Union, or has never been a part of it, it does not cease to be European, neither geographically nor culturally.

The opening salvo sets the tone for the rest. Any opposition to the ever-closer union that is the aim of the European Union is characterized as purely irrational, nostalgic and even fascistic. It cannot by definition be founded on any rational considerations whatever. It success would be, as the authors put it, the triumph of “a politics of disdain for intelligence and culture”—which is in effect to say that anybody who opposes the proposed ever-closer union is either a demagogue or uncouth and stupid. Thus the top intellectuals, including five winners of the Nobel Prize and many world-famous writers, appear to have learned nothing from the single most disastrous phrase used in any recent election, Mrs. Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables.” Who is more stupid than whom?

The top intellectuals say of opponents of the drive towards a large federal state something like, “Let’s reconnect with our ‘national soul!’ Let’s rediscover out ‘lost identity’!” They go on to say, “Never mind that abstractions such as ‘soul’ and ‘identity’ often exist only in the imagination of demagogues.”

I overlook the fact that any British politician, however fervent a supporter of Brexit would never use a term such as “the British soul” for justified fear of being laughed out of court, but notice only that a few lines further on the top intellectuals say “We count ourselves among the European patriots.”

One can, of course, be a patriot only of a country that has an identity. But identities, we have just been told, are often abstractions that exist only in the imagination of demagogues. Common sense surely tells us that a person in Portugal or in Estonia feels more Portuguese or Estonian than he feels European, if for no other reason than that a feeling of identity usually requires an ability to communicate. It is true that identities can change and even sometimes be built: in Massimo d’Azeglio put it, “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.” The deliberate forging of identities, however, is difficult, far from always successful and often necessitates policies that are far from liberal or democratic, two qualities on which the top intellectuals pride themselves. As I write this, Greece has just demanded reparations of 377 billion Euros from Germany and Poland 700 billion. Not much sign there, then, of pan-European identity and solidarity taking precedence over national identity, at least not yet. Be it remembered, furthermore, that Greece has a government of the left, Poland of the right.

A European identity, moreover, can exist only if there are non-European identities. This means one of two things. Either—to be consistent—the European identity, once achieved, will have to dissolve itself in a pan-United Nations identity or be accused of a nationalist nostalgia of its own; or it must admit that the forging of a European identity is actually not in the service of peace, democracy or human rights, but in that of the search for power in a world in which there are states many times larger than any individual European state. Pan-Europeanism is at heart no more liberal or democratic than was pan-Germanism or pan-Slavism.

The top intellectuals are themselves by no means free of the demagoguery of which they accuse those with whom the disagree. “Urgently,” they write, “we need to sound the alarm against these arsonists of soul and spirit . . . want to make a bonfire of our freedoms.” This is scarcely temperate language to describe all opposition to the ever-closer union, even if it is true that there are some very nasty people about. In mentioning a reviving antisemitism, however, the top intellectuals might have mentioned that, in Britain at least, the main source or threat of antisemitism (in what was traditionally the least antisemitic large country of western Europe) comes first from Moslems and second from socialists who believe that economic success in a capitalist society must derive from exploitation and that, because the Jews are the most successful economic group as broken down by religion, they must be exploiters. No Jew in England lives in mortal fear of being attacked by Nigel Farage. Talk about suppressio veri!

The top intellectuals end with a rhetorical flourish. They say that those who oppose Europe (in le tout Paris sense of the word) promise “to tear down everything that made our societies great, honourable and prosperous . . . a challenge to liberal democracy and its values.” Gosh, without the European Union, no greatness, honour, or prosperity! This is remarkable historiography, to put it mildly. It rather overlooks the fact that the founders of Europe (in the top intellectuals’ sense of the word) wanted to by-pass all politics—let alone democracy—altogether, as being beyond the ken of the hoi-polloi. And indeed, this is what we now have, more or less: administration. The nearest we come to politics as formerly understood is bureaucratic in-fighting.

Of course, there is demagoguery on the other side of the question too. Living in the European Union is not some kind of living hell in which every freedom is extinguished. It is not true that all or most of the problems of a country like Britain derive from its membership of the European Union, or that its own bureaucracy is not as much to be feared as—or is less to be feared—than that of Brussels. Inscribed over the portals of every national parliament or assembly should be inscribed the words One must not exaggerate.

However, having read the open letter in the Guardian, with all its resort to suppressio veri and suggestio falsi, my main thought was that if these were top intellectuals, what must the rest be like?

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on June 28, 2019 at 12:49:06 pm

Good blows on behalf of a good cause! Indeed, what must the rest be like? We all know, but words fail us. Keep up the good work.

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Don Forbes
on June 28, 2019 at 14:53:28 pm

Splendid, as usual from Anthony Daniels!

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Edward Carter
on June 28, 2019 at 15:13:36 pm

These '30 top intellectuals' were described by the Bishop of Autun: "They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing."

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aelfheld
on June 28, 2019 at 17:24:56 pm

"Pan-Europeanism is at heart no more liberal or democratic than was pan-Germanism or pan-Slavism. "

indeed, one may argue that they share the same objective - EMPIRE, POWER and HEGEMONY!

I would add that "identity", in particular NATIONAL identity arises out of shared experiences, language, culture and religious understandings.

What we observe is the belated assertion of (presumed and putative) superiority of all those who in their youth were not picked for the baseball or football teams, but whose dearth of physical prowess is, to their mind, more than offset by a (presumed) superiority of intellect, morals and vision.

Thank you but NO! Now can someone hand me my baseball bat.

BTW: And would these 30, (notice it is not "The 300"), kindly list all those great cultural / political / philosophical accomplishments that the EU has given birth to, especially those that occurred prior to the emergence of Brussels as the Capital city of the Continent.

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on June 28, 2019 at 18:03:16 pm

Europe has many cultural heroes, but they all lived and created before the EU. indeed, they flourished under monarchal rule.

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Uncle Dan
on June 28, 2019 at 19:21:48 pm

Good article. Some European countries are coming to their senses. Now we need to apply the same argument to the fiasco that is the United Nations.

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Don
on June 28, 2019 at 22:25:22 pm

I suspect European identity will at the end of the day boil down to the preservation of each countries language, nothing more.

Just be sure to pronounce it right!

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doug brockman
on August 01, 2019 at 09:55:06 am

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LATE THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.