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Had the EU been faced with sustained intellectual scrutiny and widespread criticism, some errors might have been avoided. Now European intellectual elites too often find comfort in politics of fear. The humdrum refrains linking Brexit to the rise of fascism and the 1930s provide welcome moral legitimacy to institutions whose political legitimacy is faltering. What better way of banishing the ghost of the EU’s failures — the unemployed and the underemployed, the hopelessness of a whole generation of southern Europeans, the humiliation of Greece, the antidemocratic institutions — than to think that only you stand between Europe and a new Machtergreifung? Or, as Guy Verhofstadt implied in an interview on Radio 4 recently, that EU citizenship is necessary to be part of “European civilisation”? He was echoing Donald Tusk’s comment that Brexit would threaten “Western political civilisation”.

Fixing the EU’s original constitutional errors was never going to be easy. But in this intellectual climate of irrationality and fear, it would be difficult to embark upon ordinary reform, let alone re-found the project on different premises. Alarmingly, the gap between public opinion and intellectual opinion is widening. According to the Pew Research Centre, in all major European countries there is a clear majority supporting the repatriation of powers from Brussels. Yet, in the latest high-profile initiative — the appeal for a “March for Europe” in Rome to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome — 300 European intellectuals and academics are demanding the exact opposite: the transformation of the European Commission “into a fully-fledged government”.

Make no mistake: undemocratic and illiberal politicians are taking advantage of this crisis. Even after Geert Wilders’s unimpressive election results they should not be dismissed lightly. Their support is growing because, as Manent wrote 15 years ago, with the opinion of the media and respectable political parties “nearly unanimously in favour of Europe, almost without reservation”, the other alternative — the defence of democratic nationhood — has been “left to extreme parties that are not quite as respectable”.

Support for European integration almost without reservation has been the default position for most intellectuals and academics — a consensus which has helped to create the conditions for the rise of extreme parties. Too many failed to appreciate that by scorning the nation they were holding democracy in contempt too; that they were allowing the EU to exist in an intellectual space virtually free from serious criticism; that they were bringing democracy into disrepute  with their indifference to the anti-democratic vote in the French Assembly approving the Lisbon Treaty, to the UK Labour government’s betrayal of its manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on that treaty, or to the Greek bailout referendum of 2015.

By putting all the blame for Brexit on the people and none on the EU, they are instrumental in the EU’s perseverance with error. And, in what may be a last-ditch attempt to hold the EU together — through fear rather than consent and hope — they are now enabling a supranational millennialist demagoguery which risks being met only by its national equivalent. 

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Anonymous
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.

geomat33
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." http://bit.ly/2nMgSvT

Anonymous
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.

anonymous
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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