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For Macron is, indeed, a fine orator in the florid, allusive, declamatory manner to which French statesmen, alone among those of the great powers, still adhere. It is a long speech, delivered in bad weather, and Donald Trump, to whom some of his most pointed remarks seem to be directed, looks as if he would probably rather be enduring the torments of Tartarus — which is after all the destination to which he believes Europe is headed. Macron, for his part, sees those who summon up Europe’s nationalist past as diabolical: “The old demons are resurgent, ready to accomplish their work of chaos and death.” The Great War, fought largely on French soil and from which France has never fully recovered, is deployed to maximum effect in support of Macron’s argument that the grand project of European Union must be protected at all costs against the demonic forces now ranged against it. For Macron, there is no contradiction between the destiny of France and that of Europe: “For patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of it.” Here he echoes his hero de Gaulle, who famously distinguished patriotism (“when love of your own people comes first”) from nationalism (“when hatred for people other than your own comes first”).

Our predecessors a century ago, Macron insists with only slight exaggeration, “already dreamed of a political Europe . . . the European Union, a union of free consent, never seen before in history, delivering us from our civil wars.” Alluding to Julien Benda’s 1927 polemic against the anti-Semitic and ultranationalist intellectuals of the Action Francaise, Macron declares war on “the new ‘trahison des clercs’ [treason of the intellectuals] which is at work”, accusing these latter-day traitors of feeding lies, injustice and obscurantism. His target here may include the American “alt-Right”, but perhaps also conservative French intellectuals such as Michel Houellebecq, Pascal Bruckner and Alain Finkielkraut, who have been less than enthusiastic about the European Union and indeed Macron himself. Invoking the prospect of a “new epoch”, he denounces those who “ruin this hope by their fascination with withdrawal (“le repli”), violence and domination”. This is his only allusion to Brexit, but the implicit hostility towards an ally to whom the French perhaps owe more than to any other is quite shocking. The president concludes his speech in the traditional way: “Vive la France!” For him there is no contradiction between a revival of French patriotism, expressed in a new form of conscription, and his vision of a new European civilisation that will exorcise the “demons” of nationalism once and for all.

Yet what are the chances of Macron’s vision coming to pass? Let us turn to Simon Jenkins, one of our most distinguished public intellectuals, who reiterates his rejection of a hard Brexit at every opportunity. For the launch of his excellent new book, A Short History of Europe:  From Pericles to Putin (Viking, £25), Sir Simon chose the Locarno Room of the Foreign Office, a grandiose hall so named after the 1925 treaties that marked the high water mark of European reconciliation after the Great War. By his count, Sir Simon observed, Britain had “left” Europe nine times over the last 2,000 years; but it had rejoined the Continent eight times. So the chances of this ninth Brexit being permanent were small.
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Lawrence James
January 1st, 2019
10:01 AM
Canada and Australia have managed successful federal states and so has South Africa with its racial and linguistic differences. There is no reason to believe that the EU can surmount its current difficulties.Incidentally, you mention the 'resistance to freedom' by the EU: my freedom has never been curtailed by EU membership; has yours ?

Michael Layden
December 15th, 2018
3:12 PM
Macron's apparent adoption of the notion of Europe defending itself against the United States was perhaps the most bizarre remark I can recall in a long life of trying to keep up with world events. But the model the EU is trying to emulate is not the United States, but something more like India; a federal, democratic polity of multiple language groups and ethnicities. India thus far makes it more or less work. But it does so perhaps because its "Roman" (Mughal) period was superseded by another successful imperium, and the whole (aside from the bloody excision of Pakistan), passed on to a populace possessed of a living sense of common identity within diversity of language and culture. Europe can no more be India than it can be a United States, despite the best efforts of its bureaucracy; it has not the requisite history. The difficulties within its nation states are just that, and the idea that establishing a common currency would cause Greeks to acquiesce to German notions of fiscal prudence has always been a pipe-dream. The current shambles in which the UK finds itself in the attempt to extricate itself from the EU will not be the last such. And the vulnerability of the EU to those who really wish it harm will be vastly increased in proportion to its institutional resistance to freedom among its members.

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