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Macron has described nationalism as the “leprosy” of Europe. The French president believes that we are recapitulating the errors of the post-World War l era, ignoring the lessons that were learned after World War II. The more that opponents of the European Union voice their opposition to its authority in the traditional idiom of national identity, the more angrily its defenders dismiss these objections as a mere smokescreen for regression to the evils of a barbaric past: populism, fascism, Nazism. Demagogues on both sides resort to biological metaphors to express their revulsion: immigrants are compared to vermin, elites to parasites, nationalists to diseases.

Am I a nationalist? I never even knew that I was a patriot until Britain found itself at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982. But the anguish of seeing young men (nowadays it would be women too) sacrificing their lives for their country was both shattering and sobering for me. Dying for a cause is not invariably noble: witness the jihadis who delude themselves that they are dying for Islam. The British servicemen who laid down their lives in that and subsequent wars, however, were under no illusions. They were my contemporaries; they could have been me. They died, like countless others before and after them, for Queen and country.

So why is it inconceivable that they would die for Europe?  Not because the cause is ignoble: many of my nearest and dearest feel passionately about the European cause. I wish I could share their passion. But human beings do not give up their lives lightly. Ideas, even good ideas, are not worth dying for. The European Union, to be sure, is far more than an idea: it is a vast political structure, so vast indeed that escaping from its gravitational attraction is proving to be as difficult for the UK as it would be for Earth to leave her orbit round the Sun. Yet what the European Union does not and will never provide is something we could call home. A homeland, a motherland, a fatherland: these are more than ideas. People will die for the country in which they have grown up, or which has given them home, in much the same way that they would sacrifice everything for their family. Yet they will not die for Europe. For this reason alone, Macron’s talk of a European army is destined to remain just that — talk. Russia and its allies aside, Nato, and Nato alone, has a monopoly of force on our continent. Nato is a multinational alliance, not a supranational federation that claims to be more than the sum of its parts. Nato soldiers serve alongside their allies, but they fight for their homelands, not for a latter-day Grande Armée. Indeed, for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the Grande Armée counted 20 different nationalities in its ranks, more than half its total complement. This formidable host was perhaps the only precursor of Macron’s European army.

Yet Napoleon’s was an imperial army, united only by loyalty to the Emperor. Hence, at a subliminal level, the French alone still like to think of Europe as an empire. This emerged in remarks made by Macron’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire. In an interview last month, he explained why a European army and other manifestations of a federal government were necessary: “It’s about Europe having to become a kind of empire, as China is. And how the US is.” He added: “Do not get me wrong. I’m talking about a peaceful empire that’s a constitutional state. I use the term to raise awareness that the world of tomorrow will be about power.”
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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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