Selling EU Serfdom to the Masses

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But the members of the FRA weren’t the first or last to think that the EU needed poetry –  or something – to help cajole the masses into warming up to the EU, which is, needless to say, not a project “of the people, by the people, and for the people” but the creature of political and cultural elites.  The British historian Timothy Garton Ash, for instance, has expressed the desire for a singable EU anthem and other such tokens of European nationhood, the goal being to nudge the rabble into thinking of themselves not as Spaniards or Germans or Dutchmen but as Europeans.  The late Tony Judt, in his 2005 book Postwar, about the history of Europe since World War II, articulated the same hope that Europeans would develop a kind of patriotism for the EU – even though, as I wrote in a review of that book, “given how the EU works, with key decisions made not by the European Parliament but by unelected technocrats, the ‘patriotism’ he longs for would have to be founded not (like American patriotism) on a devotion to liberty but on a deference not unlike that of a serf toward his feudal lord.”

Indeed, Judt admitted that “if a clearly articulated ‘European project,’ describing the goals and institutions of the Union as they later evolved, had ever been put to the separate voters of the states of western Europe it would surely have been rejected.” For Judt, the lesson of this is that the highly undemocratic way in which EU technocrats gradually transferred to themselves powers which had previously been vested in the citizens of member countries was a good thing.

Which brings us back to Simon Schama, whose Newsweek piece turned out to be yet another effort by an intellectual to explain to the riffraff why they should stop worrying and love the EU – and try to save it before it’s too late.  Schama’s piece was essentially a survey of the illustrious writers, philosophers, and statesmen through the ages who dreamed of a united Europe (Erasmus, Kant, Victor Hugo) and, more recently, the men who made this dream a reality: Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, Aristide Briande, Gustav Stresemann, Norman Angell.

Schama was 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?  He dismissed the patriotism that keeps many Europeans from warming up to the EU as a “tribal instinct,” a set of “fetishes of ancestral community” that led to the “warrior dictatorships” of the twentieth century and that “still exert an almost mystical hold on peoples wanting to blame the detested foreigner or the invading immigrant for their misfortunes.” Once again, an academic who is privileged enough not to have to live every day amidst the very real and often terrible consequences of misguided European immigration policies dismissed as mere bigotry the concerns of ordinary people who do live amidst those consequences – and who were never asked by their governments what they thought of those policies.

Schama closed by addressing his readers as if they were schoolchildren, explaining to them condescendingly that “we are all – across the oceans and continents – entangled in a common destiny,” and even quoting the “No man is an island” bit from John Donne.  Nowhere in his entire piece, which was full of lofty rhetoric about the glorious triumph of European unity over “[r]ace, blood, soil, the markers of exclusiveness,” was there even a passing acknowledgment that the EU is profoundly undemocratic, any mention of how EU officials (in flagrant disregard of the desires of the electorate)  effectively nullified French and Dutch votes against the EU constitution, or any recognition that perhaps – just perhaps – one reason why so many Europeans look forward to a post-EU Europe is that they’re sick unto death of being lectured at by patronizing, superior types who view them, indeed, in much the way that medieval lords viewed their serfs.

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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.