do Europeans want? And would they like it if they got it? Do they
sometimes say no when they mean yes, fake pleasure at things that
really can't be desperately good for them, and maybe even have
a pronounced tendency not actually to know what it is the silly
moos want? Truth to tell, I haven't a clue what Europeans want,
but in this I must admit that I'm not as other Eurosceptics are.
For central to Sceptic discourse is complete certainty as to what
continentals want, and (who'd have guessed?) it's never very nice.
specifically, they are said to want is united only by its generalised
ickiness, but mixed in you'll usually find at least some of the
following: a desire to abolish sovereign nation states; an intention,
where applicable, to replace the common law with the tyrannical
Napoleonic Code; to foist socialism on vigorous capitalists; to
suppress representative democracy in favour bureaucratic elitism;
to tax the bejeezus out of us; to engage in cultural homogenisation;
and, well, to be just a little bit crooked in next to everything
they get up to. It's not pointed out anywhere near as often as
it might be, but most of them are Roman Catholics too, but that's
by the by.
the charges per se don't particularly matter. What's interesting
is the way in which the indictment is framed. There are three
basic models on offer. First of all, we have the 'elitist conspiracy'
version. Before I go on, though, I should point out that by 'we',
and indeed, by Eurosceptic, I mean right wing British opponents
of the European Union not, of course, that most of this
crowd are bold enough publicly to favour leaving the EU, but that's
another matter rather than the EU's continental opponents,
most of whom have either authentically disgusting or internally
coherent arguments, and are therefore beyond our interest at the
moment. Anyway, the elitist conspiracy: the alleged conspirators
are the men, faceless or otherwise, in Brussels, and it may, if
you're feeling patriotic, include some of our own. Basically,
'the EU wants to do one/some/all of the horrible things from the
preceding paragraph, but they won't admit to this in public'
is the spiel.
second model of Eurosceptic critique runs as follows: 'well we
all know what Brussels, and their British lapdogs, want: just
look at my Eurosceptic factsheet for all the details! And isn't
it just typical that they'll pursue these anti-democratic policies
in their evil fascistoid way, without an ounce of popular support?'
Which leads us on to the third, and most particularist, or nationalist,
variant: 'they [the Commission, or whoever] may have support amongst
the cheese-eating surrender monkeys©, no surprise there
but they've no support here in Britain!' Cue national anthem,
problem with devastating argument number three is that, if you
it take it very seriously, it's jolly difficult to have sympathy
for the wretched British, since all it can amount to is the following:
we're having one put over us, some of us spend our lives telling
everyone else in Britain, you're having one put over you, you,
in turn, tell every opinion pollster who asks you that, yes, you
are having one put over you and you don't much like it, but then
what do you do? Uh, you go on voting for the people self-evidently
shafting you. Inexplicable, unless, obviously, you don't much
care about this issue one way or the other or even mildly
like it, but that's more Mencken than Hoppe territory, and can
wait till another day. What's undeniable, though, is that if a
sovereign people show no inclination to react to appeals made
to them qua their sovereignty, well, they've silently spoken,
and it's not an answer from which British souveraintistes
can take much comfort.
minor problem with the first two arguments is that they cancel
each other out either it's a conspiracy which, um, we all
know about, or, we all ought to get ants in ours pants about what
these yahoos are getting up to coz they keep telling us what they're
up to but more important is that the fact that both analyses
rest upon what the other lot are up to. What the sinister, secretive,
in full public view Eurocrats, together with their catspaws in
the Council of Ministers, are up to is taken for granted. We know
what they're up to that's surely beyond all doubt.
more serious problem is this: could these charges described above
really be the aims of any systematic, well-organised group,
let alone of some fearsome nation-abolishing agency? The latter,
I think, can be dispensed with in an instant, since after all,
if this really existed (e.g. in the form of the European Commission),
then surely it would have abolished those pesky members' states
ages ago. Moving on from conspiracies, both public and private,
do these alleged goals roughly represent the sum of European
opinion, or at least of those men in dominant political positions
in each individual country, and throughout the EU as a whole?
No, they do not.
try and explain this, using Britain as an example, in an effort
to see why the habit of attributing a common weltanschaung
to the Europeans is so wrong-headed. The easiest way into this,
in Tory circles, is to notice the way the hackles rise when, oh,
our American friends make the mistake of casually referring to
'Europeans' (as in, 'why are European politicians all anti-semitic
foes of Israel?' etc.) and including us. That never pleases.
However, that's merely the symptom. The causal error itself is
holding that you know what a country or a people or a class knows
or thinks or wants. A British conservative would easily mouth
some statement alluding to what 'Europeans think', and qualify
it, in prose, or in response to questioning, to some more defensible
position along the lines of 'this is what those currently in power
over the rest of that group think/want/do'. Yet there is no escaping
the awareness that Sceptics have diagnosed goals for their opponents
and that they see them, relentlessly, dishonestly or incoherently
pursuing those goals. But what are Britain's goals? What are her
aims? Does she have a weltanschaung too? Of course not,
that's what other people do.
ourselves we know that it is, at best, impossible meaningfully
to attribute collective opinions or shared goals to an entire,
multi-faceted society. Everything is too complex, too random,
too obscure to say, 'that is the British position on Europe'.
Which British position? supported by whom? and why? and for how
long? And this doesn't even touch upon the question of whether
the British position on Europe – whatever it is held to be – is
'right' or 'successful'. This may seem like a fairly basic seminar
in linguistics, but the point is a simple one: we can't, in all
fairness, accuse others of things while at the same time thinking
it impossible that we could be guilty of the same thing ourselves.
In other words, it is patently obvious that there is not a unitary
'British' position on Europe, but rather a multiplicity of competing
and interacting tendencies. Tory Eurosceptics should acknowledge
that not only is there no such thing as the 'European agenda',
but more importantly, to posit one is fundamentally to weaken
our defence of our own case.
practical terms, let's just briefly think this through. If the
entire (or momentarily dominant faction in the) European body-politic
truly did want to build a federal superstate, and yet still hadn't
managed to do so, you'd have to wonder what was wrong with these
people. What has stopped them? The Campaign for an Independent
Britain (lovely people one and all, incidentally)? A natural disinclination
to do things in the absence of a popular mandate? (Although .
. . on the other side of the Channel, over the last half century,
'European unity', whatever that means, has usually been a very
popular cause, but let's not go there.) And yet these people are
supposed to be united, determined, and working to a ruthless,
inflexible programme. But in truth, as you might expect me to
argue, they don't advance any unified project because there is
no such 'they'.
you can listen to or read vapourings from any number of politicians
from EU countries, going back to the foundation of the EEC, making
the case for things which are arguments for, or could so easily
lead to, a federal superstate. Now, we're all grown-up enough
to realise that when politicians have said these things, in a
great many instances, it hasn't been with a view to their realisation
on earth, here and now, world without end, but because the incanting
of these phrases has suited some immediate political purpose.
In the Council of ministers perhaps, or maybe in front of their
domestic audience the determinant factor for each and every
European politician still being his or her home electorate and
not some fictive European demos a trick was being scored
thereby. Substantial evidence in this direction is the fact that
the superstate hasn't been achieved yet, despite, as previously
mentioned, the evident lack of credible opposition.
not to say that the language in which politics, or European diplomacy,
is conducted doesn't matter. Maurice Cowling, in Mill
and Liberalism, observed that
politicians, except the greatest, are free to choose the slogans
in which they speak: most have to be content with slogans that
come to hand. To use slogans that happen to be current is not
necessarily bad . . . Nor, so long as political objectives are
achieved, do politicians need to recognise their slogans when
they use them. To know that a slogan is being used, and use it
as though it were something more, requires a fine combination
of political instincts.
And although it's impressive (and the only way genuinely transformative
doctrines take off) when a politician does do that slightly mad
thing, and steps aside from the language all his peers use, this
is more often a prelude to being ignored. What we should note
is that the slogans are invariably only to use a military
metaphor makes of gun, not, thanks to some immanent quality
some may happen to possess, qualitatively different weapons. What's
at stake, what's being fought over, is politics. Nothing more
and nothing less.
doesn't deny the existence of concrete aims, far from it
what it does do is set the context in which the many actors involved
are likely to achieve their aggregate ends, and also, to provide
us with the most useful intellectual tool by which we can perceive
a snapshot of this perpetual process, necessarily artificial and
self-defeating as that snapshot is.
take a very real example of policy, and what to bring it
right down to earth right wing Tories ought to think
in relation to matters European, consider the chimera of the European
superstate. Don't think about the failure to achieve it, but think
what a lovely thing it would be if it came into existence. Now,
before you whistle and shout, it went without saying there that
it shouldn't involve the UK. This is something they should
do. If we can get them to do it, that is. A Foreign Secretary
who followed the course I'm about to quickly sketch out would
more than likely shoot the Sceptic fox. That is to say, if a British
Foreign Secretary went to Brussels and laid down actual-factual
proposals showing how the individual EU member states could be
abolished and superseded by a Federal European state, by far the
most probable outcome is that his continental peers would have
to stare down at their tasseled loafers and mumble something quiet
about how they didn't really want that thing they had squealed
in favour of for so long.
end with a dose of fantasy. Let us imagine that Britain had a
brilliant, and lucky, Foreign Secretary, who went off to Brussels
and convinced the other EU states that they did want to set up
a superstate, and this was how, and, by some fortuitous combination
of events and personalities, this came to pass, and off the Europeans
went and set up without us their federal leviathan.
Disaster or deliverance? madness or miracle? tragedy or triumph?
It's the best thing possible, in terms of British independence,
that could conceivably happen.
a reason why the cleverer people in Foggy Bottom are, and always
have been, in favour of a European superstate, for what's the
most probable shape one will take? An armed Hitlerian monster?
Hardly. It is more likely to be a flabby, docile, timid, easily
led, illegitimate behemoth. Would such a thing prove a danger
to Britain? No, not if we can resist the temptation, as we have
not done with the far less intrusive EU/EEC, of acceding to it.
A continental superstate would make explicit, in a way that the
EU doesn't, what we would have to give up to be part of it. Moreover,
for all its agreeable weaknesses, it, perversely, would provide
us with a diplomatic counterweight to the force that has consistently
pushed us into European political structures: US foreign policy.
we need is something to play off against the US that doesn't provide
the risk of reducing us to the same client status as we have allowed
America to. In so doing, we will gain the immense, nay, crucial
domestic political advantage of removing from the backsliders,
whether they slither towards Brussels or Washington, their excuse
that, 'there is no alternative, not one better than our preferred
compromise anyway'. The first goal of British foreign policy should
now, as it were, be to summon into being the old world to redress
the balance against the new.