To talk of scepticism about the European Union, that political and economic project, as being an anti-European phenomenon is (often) a complete misunderstanding of that position. Of course, there may be a minority of Euro-sceptics who genuinely loathe their European kin, but what really fires mainstream Euro-Scepticism is opposition not only to loss of democracy, but more fundamentally opposition to the standardisation of Europe. That standardisation is the destruction of European culture in all its various national manifestations.
T S Eliot, in a radio lecture to a German audience in the Post-War years, stated:
“For the health of the culture of Europe two conditions are required: that the culture of each country should be unique, and that the different cultures should recognise their relationship, so that each should be susceptible of influence from others.”
What is relevant here in terms of the political project in Europe today is that it is based upon standardising and making all Europeans the same. If we believe in a European culture however, we must understand that it is strengthened by the different local expressions of that heritage. If everything is forced from above by a political and legal authority to be the same, there can no longer be the cross fertilisation necessary to sustain European culture.
This blogger does believe in European culture and that there is something unique and special that Europe has to offer the world. It is from the interaction between Christianity and the heritage of Greece and Rome. These two societies, which valued humanity, were fertile ground for this new Semitic faith from Galilee. Greek was the language of Scripture and Rome the ecclesiastical centre of the new religion. Today we are all still shaped by that interaction between these forces. All Europeans have this in common, including Eastern Europe with its Christian Orthodox and Byzantine heritage, which can trace its genesis to the same three roots.
However, that cultural unity is achieved through the diversity of local sub-cultures, from the Anglo-Saxon to the Italian. Our strength lies in our difference and our culture is not the same as politics. The trouble with the European Union is that it is trying to replace European culture with European politics.
The two forces are in complete antithesis, because the predominant political ideology is anti-cultural. The dominant political outlook, to the exclusion of all others, is secularist, liberal and materialist. To value Europe’s cultural heritage is to destroy your career in the European Union. One only has to call to mind the debacle of Rocco Buttiglione’s candidacy for the European Commission to understand that the Commission is instinctively opposed to European values. It was precisely because Buttiglione as a Roman Catholic held to a moral and spiritual code that sustained our culture since the Holy Roman Empire that his candidacy was undermined.
So the European Union is more about secularism and liberalism than sustaining European culture. It would rather see a Europe in which the only value was the legitimacy of personal choice – a moral code described by American Distributists as similar to that of “the psychopath”, in which one choice is no more morally valid than another. This is in contrast with a European culture based upon real values.
Furthermore by its aggressive project of standardisation the strength of Europe’s different cultures is being eroded. A key example is weights and measures. This may seem a mundane subject, but weights and measures are part of everyday life, they become part of our unique colloquialisms and our sayings. They reflect an outlook on life and are therefore part of popular culture. Thus imperial measurements in England do not adhere to an abstract theory of measurement, but rather commemorate specific events or individuals – the foot for example, mythically being based upon the size of King Edward’s foot. This uniqueness is of course anathema to the anti-cultural European Union and so selling goods in imperial measurements in England has become a criminal offence!
So the argument of this blog is that the true European loves what makes Europeans different and what makes them the same. The English, with our common law, adversarial politics and law, our foxhunting, pubs and yes selling our goods in pounds and ounces, and of course with William Shakespeare and our poets. The French: with their painters, their strong secular state, sustained rural way of life, their gentler form of capitalism, their wine and cuisine. The Germans: with Goethe, with their music, their philosophy, their consensual industrial relations and yes their beer festivals. The Italians: with Dante, their opera, strong family-values, their Catholicism. It is sad when these traditions diminish and standardisation undermines tradition. Politics undermine culture.
In the same way, what holds Europe together is inheriting the universal and cultural values of Christendom, expressed differently throughout Europe, from the severe Calvinism of some parts of the North to the sumptuous Catholicism of the South. Whatever the local manifestation, that common culture holds us together and a political system so averse to that inheritance also undermines what Europeans share.
The European political class must realise that Europe’s spiritual and cultural survival does not depend on political unification, but local diversity. We saw in the last century the danger of that impetus to unite politically when Germany became a political unit and standardised, it went on to try and create a standardised, political unit of the whole Continent and its archipelagos.
John Major, during his more beleaguered years as Prime Minister, trying to gain acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty emphasised the Catholic concept of subsidiarity - a principle that was championed by that English Catholic and Distributist G K Chesterton. The Roman Catholic Church has learnt from history what a dangerous path it is to ignore local conditions. It had to face the Reformation as Northern Europe began to express its Christianity in its simpler, more democratic way. The European Union should learn from the Church and in that way Europe will become stronger through its diversity of Protestantism, Catholicism, different languages, customs and different national traits. The best way to achieve that European diversity is through that tried and tested political institution – the nation state.
The nation state is large enough to unite, without being too large to gain popular engagement and acceptance. It is of the same size as a nation of people by definition. It is the nuclear family, with those special ties, as opposed to the extended family of a whole Continent. It holds together a people who have specific things the same in common: language, race, history, religion. Of course all European nations are part of something bigger, but they are the local manifestation of that culture and because they are of the same size as a people they command the political legitimacy a super state could never command. Men will die for their country and thereby save democracy from threat; they would not die for an international bureaucracy. So Europe should not vest an international bureaucracy with law-making powers and all the trappings of a nation state. No one will come to save it when it falls under threat.