Since the vote for Brexit on 23rd June, even my wife has joked with me about what would happen if I had to return to England or whether that troublesome country shouldn’t have the plug pulled out so that it sinks into the North Atlantic. The French have been going on at us Brits for centuries over the Hundred Years War, St Joan of Arc and the way the Perfide Albion thrashed Napoleon in 1815.
Humour apart, I have been reading different ideas about the profile of those who voted for Brexit, and I tried to see through the caricatures of the butcher selling meat in pounds and ounces and the Romantic Ladies. The thing about England in the past is that we had an Empire, but the reality of that empire involved cruelty and atrocities that sometimes rivalled those of the Axis during World War II. Englishmen hunted aborigines for sport and blew Indian rebels away from cannon. The reality of the arrogance of our forebears is quite sickening.
I have been very mixed up about this whole thing, and I am glad that I didn’t have the vote having been an expatriate for more than fifteen years. In the early 2000’s I still had to have a Carte de Séjour, quickly abolished when Europeans acquired the right to live and work anywhere in Europe without visas or residence permits with restrictions on work. That is about to come to an end if the referendum result is ever implemented. I will have to apply for dual nationality (French-British) or a succession of residence permits. Of the two, it would be better to be naturalised in order to participate in the country’s political life at the level of the State, the region and the local municipality. If we have rights, we also have duties!
I have few ideas of what will happen. There has been a lot of hype and hot air on Facebook over the past few days, about how England can go back to the glorious days of Victorian Empire to the strains of Elgar or how the reign of hatred has won. I have even seen a video of a “Remain” woman crying and getting emotionally upset about how the extreme right was coming. Such extreme outcomes are rare in history, in spite of our “conspiracy” thinking and desire for an explanation and an end to incertitude, a conclusion that marks the end of history.
I have Union Jack mugs and enjoy the music of Elgar. I wax nostalgic during my visits to England, seeing the graceful Georgian town houses with their six-over-six sash windows. An Englishman’s home is his castle. English is my language, and speaking French is simply an expedient to live with those people in whose country I reside. I am writing it now in my blog – plutôt qu’écrire en français pour des gens qui n’ont rien à foutre. I abhor the French revolutionary ideology and its republican “religion”, but I am also sickened by French nationalism and the dominant Cartesian philosophy. French religion is à vomir! I am as uprooted here as I was in England in the elitist system I knew in the 1970’s (I came to France in 1982, during the Thatcher era). I warm to the idea of belonging to something greater than my native country or the parochial and small-minded culture I left years ago. Since my teens, I felt I needed something new, new air to breathe and give a wider view of human life and a better world. I found Europe exciting and my visits to the USA between 1998 and 2003 confirmed this high and flying view of life in the United States of Europe. I saw the possibility of an American notion of religious freedom and a spiritual vision in the EU flag in spite of those who said that Christianity had no place now, in the past or ever, in the EU.
My attention has been drawn to the site of Europa Nova. I haven’t gone into this very much, and we are all concerned about the Islamisation of Europe, the death of humanism and Christian culture and the integration of countries like Turkey. We have seen the way Greece was treated, though it can be said that the problem of socialism is running out of other people’s money as Mrs Thatcher said in an inspired moment. We read about croneyism, the corruption of the European ideal and institutions by big business and vested interests. Is there not an exaggeration with regulation and standards down to the size and shape of carrots?
Could Europe be reinvented to allow us to keep our traditional national and cultural identities? Can the idea of a federation adapt to the differences between we “stuffy” English and the flamboyant Italians and Spanish? Can there not be more transparency about how the Islam question will be dealt with, since those people are coming in from outside? The Europa Nova bunch seems to be endeavouring for an innovative point of view. Reforms are needed in Brussels and Strasbourg, in Berlin and Paris. It needs to integrate the great achievements of Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment and the way that Christianity can assimilate these values of human rights and the dignity of the person. If there is a movement for that and not yet more money for the plutocrats and the billionaires of this world, there is hope and something we should support for the sake of our species and the planet that gives us life.
Democracy can often be a mere slogan, and rights are often given to those who do not have the education or rational thought needed to exercise them. I have often said it. Genius resides in individual persons, not in the vox populi. Plato spoke of rule by the wise, by philosopher-kings known for their prudence. We need to rediscover the heritage of humanism and our local cultures, rather than be stifled by them.
The immigration and Islamisation questions need to be addressed. For the question of religion and non-humanist ideology, the original French and American notions of secularism would serve as a guarantee of peace and respect for all. There’s nothing wrong with Muslims having mosques and practising their religion, as long as they respect us and our laws founded on justice and humanism. If I seek to immigrate into a country like the USA, I have to prove that I won’t be a burden on their social system – that I have an income and am able to live independently. Not so with millions of economic migrants who are not refugees fleeing for their lives from war zones. There need to be clear policies for helping genuine refugees and getting back to their own countries and cultures after the end of what drove them to England in the first place.
The gut reaction of England is understandable: the grottiest houses are too expensive for ordinary people to buy or rent with the money they earn from their jobs. The NHS is cash-strapped and the waiting lists are endless. The American system is cruel and cynical making sick people wonder if they would be better off dead!
There seems to be no problem with Europeanising the police and the armed forces, like in Switzerland and the USA. We need security and civil protection. Equally, the social security and health systems need to be streamlined, made cheaper to favour employment of local people and their being paid what they need to live in the financial reality of our time. The present tendency is to roll back workers’ rights as were conquered in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by the Trade Union movement.
I know just about zilch about economics, but something needs to be done about the banks and the criminal elements in them.
Again, the essential is the spiritual and cultural elements of those of us living in or near our native lands. Certainly, we need the achievements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but also the wealth of art and culture fostered by the Christian Church over centuries of influence and usage. The role of Christianity has been deliberately marginalised for ideological reasons, yet radical Islam goes uncriticised for the very abuses for which blame is heaped upon Christianity.
European institutions need to be accountable as surely the Swiss and American federations are in regard to their member States. We need a sense of proximity and the human touch, not being faced with anonymity, the Infernal Machine and Promethean arrogance. We won’t find those qualities in our nation states either, nor even in our towns and villages.
Yes, we need a new Europe, one that is spiritual, human and made for humanity.
“I warm to the idea of belonging to something greater than my native country or the parochial and small-minded culture I left years ago.”
Surely, father, that ideal is served by belonging to the Church, which is greater than any nation or political union in this world?
That idea is probably what brought me to go back on my early teenage atheism / agnosticism and seek a world beyond school, family, routine, the northern English mentality. A bird is made to fly, not sit on a perch in a cage! As a natural anarchist I am sceptical about nations and federations, but there has to be something to stop dominant human beings from killing each other! That’s what it seems to come down to.
I have the experience of leaving home at 17 years and being an expatriate at 23 years. It could be argued that I should have stayed in Kendal. Perhaps my life would have been better and more stable. On the other hand, perhaps I think as I do because of what I have experienced. You can’t put the gini back in the bottle once you have rubbed it and made your wish.
One of the interesting issues is what is actually happening within the EU as a result of the Brexit vote. My sense is that Mr. Juncker and Co. are still in their ivory towers yet powerful figures like Angela Merckel have a far more pragmatic view.
I suspect that actually sums up the matter. There are ideals to which we all aspire and then there are the realities of how these are funded and the pragmatics of their achievement.
The sad reality is that in the case of the UK we do not have the resources of the past and and do not earn our living from selling goods anymore but of services.. That is why I believe it is vital that London seeks some form of exemption/exception from Brexit.
Not yet attempting to enter this substantial conversation (or Banquet? – Shelley’s title for his Symposium translation!), I note (without being able to evaluate the matter) that President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland is reported as welcoming the ‘Brexit’, and saying, “It is now obvious that here in the North Atlantic will be a triangle of nations that all stand outside of the European Union: Greenland, Iceland, Great Britain, Faroe Islands and Norway” and inviting each and all to “consider, with regards to trade and international affairs between the United States and Europe, and Asia and Europe, the key position this area will enjoy in the 21st century.” And Bjarni Benediktsson, their Finance Minister (and leader of Iceland’s Independence Party) – who announced in November 2014 that their accession talks with the EU had come to an end – has been saying similar things: “This began as a peace and customs agreement and many believe that should be the core of the cooperation, and that interference in people’s daily lives should stop.”
Interesting, too, are the reported remarks I’ve seen by the Italian Finance Minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, and Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni. The former is quoted as saying, “We have to change our major priorities and we will see if the European Council [meeting next week] sends a far-reaching signal in that sense, as it should do. We have had proposals on the table for months that say employment, growth, well-being and equality have to be the priorities. Europe cannot only take care of the banks. We are stabilising them and will continue to do so, but we also have to look after our citizens.” And the latter as saying, “we need to send a strong and clear message revamping the European project.”
Following on Rubricarius’s observation, it seems that on the national level, there is (new) attention to matters as such, while on the EU level, Our New Masters obtusely think arrogantly ‘doubling down’ is the response called for.
Radical Orthodoxy (John Milbank) has its word to say, and I am glad to see some philosophical opinions coming through – http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2016/06/24/4488874.htm.
Father Anthony, have you read Pierre Manent? I don’t think I’d even heard of him, until I just now ran into an interesting article about his 2006 book, La Raison des nations : Réflexions sur la démocratie en Europe (Gallimard, collection “l’esprit de la cité”, 2006), translated into English as Democracy Without Nations: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe. It quotes him: “For a long time our nations and Europe developed together. But at some point, not easy to indicate exactly, but which is plausible to designate as the ‘Maastricht moment,’ the European enterprise underwent a decisive change. At this point the European contrivance detached itself from the national political bodies. The artifice took on a life of its own. ‘Europe’ crystalized as an Idea endowed with a legitimacy surpassing all others, and it was equipped and fortified with institutional mechanisms capable of reconstructing all aspects of European life. Europeans found themselves caught in an ‘endeavor without end,’ one that no longer had any political meaning. Its sole prospect was an indefinite extension that no one knew where nor how to stop. That is where we are now.”
And, “After the Second World War the European idea and its accompanying institutions facilitated the reconstruction on solid foundations of the European nation-state, while also making plausible, imaginable, and even desirable the withering away of this supposedly antiquated political form. But does ‘Europe’ mean today the depoliticization of the life of peoples—that is, the increasingly methodical reduction of their collective existence to the activities of ‘civil society’ and the mechanisms of ‘civilization’? Or does it instead entail the construction of a new political body, a great, enormous European nation? The construction of Europe, from the Common Market established in 1957 to the European Union today, has made progress only because of this ambiguity, and as a result of combining these two contradictory projects it has taken on its character as an imperious, indefinite, and opaque movement. Thus, this initially happy ambiguity has become paralyzing, and threatens soon to become fatal. The sleepwalker’s assurance with which ‘Europe’ pursues its indefinite extension is the result of its obstinate refusal to think about itself comprehensively—that is, to define itself politically.”
The author of the post reported, “I emailed a friend who is close to Manent to see whether he knew of Manent’s specific thoughts on Brexit. He sent back this: ‘He was for the Brexit and was quite delighted by the results of the referendum. He believes the vote breaks the claims of historical inexorability that allegedly made national loyalty and self-government outmoded in Europe.’ ”
(He has French, English, and German Wikipedia articles, with different samples of his work via External Links, etc.)