Selling EU Serfdom to the Masses

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I haven’t looked at Newsweek since its disgraceful number commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11, but at an airport the other day I spied the December 12 issue, its cover advertising a piece titled  “Why We Need Europe” by Simon Schama, and I couldn’t resist.

Schama – the British-born, Cambridge-educated historian who’s lived in the U.S. since 1980 and now teaches at Columbia – proved to have written an ardent defense of the European Union.

Now, I’m not an EU fan, and I view with pleasure the fact that it now appears to have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel.  The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the EU is a sentence I’ve seen several times on a poster in the Copenhagen airport: “The European Union has created a set of rights to ensure air passengers are treated fairly.”

The first time I glimpsed that sentence, as I breezed past the poster, I stopped and went back to make sure I’d read it correctly.  Yep, I had.  “The European Union has created a set of rights…”

The word that threw me for a loop, of course, was created.  The idea of the EU “creating” rights seemed – well, somehow wrong, and more than a little unsettling.  As an American, I grew up with a different notion of rights, to wit:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

“Unalienable rights” – innate rights, natural rights, rights that can’t be created or uncreated by any man or woman.  The distinction between Thomas Jefferson’s and the EU’s way of thinking about rights may seem like a distinction without a difference, but the difference is real, and meaningful.  It’s all about the way in which the people conceive of their relationship to those who govern them, and vice-versa.  In the American view, governments don’t exist to create rights but to secure them.

I don’t think it’s insignificant that while the opening and closing passages of the Declaration of Independence rise to the level of poetry, the many different, and quite long, founding documents of the EU are, from beginning to end, exemplary specimens of technocratic prose.  Consider, for example, the first sentence of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights: “The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values.”

Ouch.  But not to worry!  Check out this, from a news story that ran early last year but that I only became aware of the other day:

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) wants the EU’s human rights charter recast as an 80-minute-long epic poem, accompanied by music, dance and “multi-media elements.”

“The FRA intends to launch a negotiated procedure for the creation and implementation of an artistic concept for the presentation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in Poems,” reads the agency tender issued this month.

Has an invitation to write a poem ever been written in such unpoetic prose?  Alas, there actually turned out to be an EU official who actually recognized these plans as “a frivolous waste of time and money” and put the kibosh on the whole ridiculous endeavor.

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  • Alvaro

    That is the EU in a nutshell: Top politicians and unelected autocrats who are all out of touch with the real world and have nothing but contempt for the peoples of Europe. We can't even throw out the EU commission, who are the ones who have the real power, because they weren't elected by the people in the first place. And they are racing for all symbols of statehood, to turn everything onto a United Stated of Europe. Don't bother asking what the people want. And if you have to give them a referendum, let them vote over and over again until they get it right.

  • waterwillows

    They are the bully boys of dictatorship. Little is of interest to this group except immense greed and unbridled power.

    Bunch of godless rebels.

  • StephenD

    Mr. Bawer, you have done a great work here. You would be a marked man in another time. You have the potential of stirring up “the great unwashed” and that doesn’t bode well for the Lords and Ladies that know better and plainly want what is best for the little people. HA!

    “plainly out to bowl over the great unwashed with this litany of big names – look, for centuries your betters have wanted this; how can you dare to be against it?”

    This is so well said that it ought to be on billboards throughout Europe. Let the people see how they’ve been ridden roughshod over by the elites and perhaps the end of the EU will be swift and ultimately less painful.

  • Eric G

    "…and statesmen through the ages who dreamed of a united Europe (Erasmus, Kant, Victor Hugo)"

    You forgot to include Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. They, too, desired a unified Europe against the wishes of the subordinate masses of Europeans.

  • intrcptr2

    It did not really surprise me when I was teaching Revolutionary America this fall and the great number of students failed to properly articulate Jefferson's formula, or simply misremembered it.

    But it does trouble me when they continue to even after we've studied it. I often wonder if teaching such things in school actually renders the point moot simply because so many children are so disinvested in their own schooling that anything they are taught is just so much bloviating, which they are perfectly free to ignore.

    It is odd arguing these points with atheists, of course. But 16-year olders in American schools should. not. graduate. until they have gotten it irretrivably sunk into their skulls that government DOES NOT grant anything to citizens.

    Thanks for the insight, Bruce.

    • hsabin

      Kevin – you MUST make your points perfectly clear to these young idiots by speaking firmly ad not apologizing for anything in American History. Give them scenarios to discuss and act out – make them take both sides of issue and it will quickly penetrate their minds and black heads that America is the great country in the world. Show them what is going on in Washington on both sides and how our Constitution, if we demand it, has a means for dealing with the greed, corruption that is going on. And back during revolutionary America it wasn't much different! GOOD LUCK and keep on teaching!

  • logdon

    No man is an island unless you're called Benjamin Britain.

    And on that hilarious note, following PM Cameron's decision to veto the latest treaty which would transfer national economic policy to an unelected cadre in Brussels, the Tories have surged in the polls, first time in around a year to beat Labour.

    Considering that we are in the midst of swingeing cuts in Government and local council spending that is a small miracle in itself.

    Who says that the general public is incapable of grasping the fundamentals?

    Why, an out of control EU who when losing in referenda simply re-jig the verbiage, throw in a few false promises and re-conduct the whole shebang.

    That's EU democracy, folks.

    To mangle Robert the Bruce, If at first they don't succeed, lie, cajole, harry and as a final option, dictate.

  • mrbean

    If you were to hold a poll with Europeans, 90% plus would actually think this a basic right. Article 25.
    (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    Ahhhh….errrrr…hmmmm.. And just who is going to provide all this?

    • Eric G

      Exactly mrbean. Historically, American thought has been you have the right to all of those things by providing it for yourself.

  • Ghostwriter

    Maybe Mr. Schama believes that America should become more like Europe. Most likely,if Europeans could have a few words with their American cousins,they'd probably say "Don't follow our example. It's not worth it."

  • WilliamJamesWard

    The pity is that many Americans because of the fallen educations they are receiving
    at the hands of leftists expect government to wet nurse them forever. Working for
    a living just isn't in the mind set of todays youth and not so young. Socialistic
    ideation drowns out the successful approach of self reliance and personal
    responsibility. Europe is now a circus where the balancing act may fall to the
    floor of the big tent and the results will be unpleasant. One thing is sure and that
    the elites will still be there telling the great unwashed it is their fault for not following
    properly and not knowing their place in the scheme of things. America is this what
    you want, the proscription is for disaster and we are almost there………….William

  • Alraunie

    I will believe the EU is viable when it has a single seat at the UN and a single soccer team in FIFA. Until then, as long as it constituent subject polities pretend independence, it does not exist.