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Geert Wilders on the morning after the Dutch election last month: His populist Party for Freedom came second (©ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images)

In a now largely forgotten book published in 1982, Redemption by War: The Intellectuals and 1914, the American historian Roland Stromberg detailed how European intellectuals, almost to a man, welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. Things did not improve in the following decades, when scores of Europe’s thinkers fell under the spell of one extreme ideology or the other.

Is it different this time? Intellectuals across the continent seem almost unanimous in their defence of European liberalism which is threatened — as they see it — by Brexit and populism. Support for Leave in British universities ranged from the non-existent to the minuscule; and hardly a day goes by without some prominent intellectual warning of a return to the politics of the 1930s, to which the Saturday Guardian recently devoted a special supplement. Are Europe’s intellectuals on the right side of history at last?

Speaking of warnings, a small platoon of European thinkers did sound the alarm about the process of European integration in articles and books published at the turn of the century. Among them was Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde. Jurist, historian, and former judge on Germany’s Constitutional Court, he is little known in Britain although hopefully not for much longer now that a collection of his essays is available in English (Constitutional and Political Theory: Selected Writings, edited by Mirjam Künkler and Tine Stein, OUP, £70).

In 1997 Böckenförde argued that the path to integration chosen by the EU would delegitimise both the EU and member states. The transfer of extensive legislative and regulatory powers to the EU — he predicted — would lead to “a fragmentation of the care for the common good”. Böckenförde did not accept that the “administrative-technocratic structure” of the EU, manifesting itself “as a mere legal community” and “governance of experts”, could ever provide democratic legitimacy: its “chain of legitimation” is “too indirect . . . too abstract to create closeness”. He concluded with the sobering assessment that the “market-economic approach” — and the then impending monetary union — “will not lead to greater unity, but to greater separation”.

Böckenförde was not alone in these concerns. Sir Larry Siedentop’s Democracy in Europe (2000) warned that democratic legitimacy was at risk in Europe. The “economic model of democracy” — the idea that European democratic citizenship would be the natural outgrowth of the single market and monetary union — undermines “the classic liberal alliance of state and market” by minimising the claims of politics and maximising those of the market. “European elites,” he continued, “are in danger of creating a profound moral and institutional crisis in Europe — a crisis of democracy.” In a Europe of consumers and debased national citizenship, “the way will be open for more extreme movements of the Right and Left to seize the label ‘democratic’ and use it for their own purposes”. For Pierre Manent the separation of democracy from the nation state was the “great illusion” behind the European project, a point he made in A World Beyond Politics? A Defence of the Nation State, published in French in 2001, and in English in 2006.

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April 19th, 2017
11:04 AM
Fantastic piece, very thought provoking. It is extraordinary that nowadays, national pride's chain of inference becomes descent into fascism. "Liberals" have been peddling this canard unopposed. As a result it has become generally accepted. Ironically, if legitimate concerns continue to go unaddressed, it will eventually come true. But so far there has been demonstrably very little appetite for it despite the best efforts of the police and their lobbyists (see Hate Crime statistics and how they are gathered and then used to peddle a false narrative). Finally here this author is highlighting the fact that the establishment has been so often on the wrong side of history. Does education immunize against common sense? is is used as a substitute for independent thinking? Is group-think unduly rewarded by the system? Clearly there is a problem there.

April 2nd, 2017
11:04 PM
The alternative model to both neoliberalism and collectivism is emerging called cooperative liberalism or coliberalism. This development not only affirms that Brexit was the right decision, it also provides the economic pathway for doing so. This development, while exposing the EU as a well-intentioned but flawed experiment, offers a practical pathway to achieving the original goals of the EU. "Coliberalism affirms the long-standing belief that human progress is the result of cooperative effort based on trust and underpinned by an attitude of selflessness, grounded in empathy. It is a rejection of the neoliberal concept of trying to organize society on the principle of self-interest and enforced through the market by its monopoly on defining value, which it defines solely in terms of financial profit and loss. Coliberalism works by relegating the market to being a subset of society rather than being its central institution, as it is under neoliberalism. This has the effect of quarantining the broader community from the withering impact of self-interest while freeing the market to deliver economic benefits with minimum regulation and minimum taxation. Under coliberalism the traditional process of sharing wealth through salary, wages, taxation and redistribution is expanded to include human creativity and social capital as recognized by direct feedback through Trruster. Coliberalism frees the market to automate to improve efficiency while sharing the gains more equitably and more broadly on a global basis by rewarding human creativity, ingenuity and social capital building. While coliberalism is a rejection of the dominion of the market over the individual, it is also a rejection of collectivism in all its forms, which can be broadly defined as the dominion of the state over the individual. Coliberalism can be broadly defined as a system of social, economic and political organization based on individuals cooperating freely for mutual benefit, guided by online feedback and within the bounds of common law."

April 1st, 2017
8:04 AM
Adolf Hitler was the biggest threat to democracy in the 20th Century The EU is the biggest threat to democracy in the 21st Century World War 1 was in the early 20th Century, and its now 2017 I hope that the 21st Century does not have to fight the great wars again to regain or maintain democracy

Democracy lover
March 30th, 2017
7:03 AM
Excellent piece. Thank you for this wake-up call article.

March 29th, 2017
7:03 PM
If colonization and it's inherant threat to indigenous culture by military force is wrong then the same result through political peer pressure is just as wrong. If America or any other country wants to participate in the melting pot culture, let them. However those who desire to truly preserve indigenous cultural identity of a country by maintaining autonomy, that is their right as many of the countries have fought, loved, died and worked hard over centuries to create the country and the unique culture. Long live Brittain! Vive Francais! And for all those liberals giving lip service to diversity it is exactly that which you threaten in your demands to integrate. Especially when the demand is against the will of those experiencing forced integration. Trade cooperation should not require a loss of cultural autonomy.

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