Friday, 10 May 2019

Why Timothy Garton Ash is wrong about Europe

Things become much clearer as years go by. I read Timothy Garton Ash all my adult life but only now, after the Brexit referendum forced us all to think hard about the EU, do I see how misguided and dangerous his ideas are.

He has contributed a 'Long Read' to the Guardian about the EU and it is tosh. It says nothing interesting or original - or even interesting and unoriginal.

He co-opts the fire in Notre Dame as a symbol of the danger Europe faces but by this he means the dangers to the EU and Eurofederalism. 

The danger to European civilisation in his eyes comes from people who are attached to nation states, from politicians who want to staunch the unprecedented flood of refugees and immigrants from Africa and Asia, not from the tidal waves themselves. 

This is Alice in Wonderland logic. Words like civilisation mean whatever Humpty Dumpty Ash wants them to mean.

He points to the True Finns party as an example of an extr
eme right party entering government but neglects to say that they were partners in the coalition that accepted, for the first time in Finnish history, large numbers of non-European refugees. Finland, Malta and Luxembourg had hitherto been the three almost all white countries in Western Europe.

Actually, I am being a bit unfair. Professor Ash strays into good writing in this one paragraph which deals with Europe's sharp decline, but he does not enlarge on the theme though it is the issue he should be discussing.
“With the European civil war that raged on and off from 1914 to 1945, once described by Winston Churchill as a second thirty years war, Europe deposed itself from its global throne. In act five of Europe’s self-destruction, the US and the Soviet Union strode on to the stage like Fortinbras at the end of Hamlet. Yet, Europe was at least still the central stage of world politics throughout the cold war that followed. Europeans made history once again for a brief shining moment in 1989, but then Hegel’s Weltgeist, the “world spirit”, moved rapidly on from Berlin to Beijing.”

The truth is that the World Wars do not explain why Europe thinks it needs the USA to defend it or from whom. I am not sure what the explanation is but I know that it is subjective, not objective, and relates to decadence and civilisational exhaustion. 

So do low birth rates and accepting unprecedented numbers of migrants. 

And yet while Europe is in unprecedented relative decline the continent has never been nearly so rich, so peaceful, so technically advanced or so comfortable and easy a place in which to live.

Perhaps rich, peaceful and comfortable are clues. 

Liberalism is a symptom, not the cause of this decline. Whatever the cause, the EU has certainly not helped. It has seen Europe steadily lose its political and economic importance. The customs union did not make the European economies surge forward, nor did the Single Market. The euro is a fire in a building without a fire escape, in William Hague's pithy observation.

Professor Ash says support for the EU rests on three generations – the 1914ers and 1939ers who remember the First and Second World Wars and the 1968ers, the people who share the ideals of the student revolutionaries of 1968. 

With the first two groups I have no quarrel, but the 1968ers were always a small and foolish left-wing minority, as malign in their way as the fascists or communists. Often they were communists, though most were what Lenin called useful idiots. They are symbolised by the students in West Berlin who marched against America and capitalism while protected from real existing socialism by GIs.

Their ideas did not conquer in the field of economics, thankfully, but have conquered European culture. The populists are best seen as genuinely conservative parties, whose views on immigration are less right-wing than those of Churchill or De Gaulle. They are engaged in trying to overturn as much as they can of 1968.

What Professor Ash might have mentioned is the generation of people who were young in 1989 in Eastern Europe - except that their only idea was wanting to enjoy the pr
osperity and freedom of the West. The East German protesters who wanted a third way between Eastern communism and Western capitalism in October 1989 were swept away by November 1989. 

Instead of Eastern European ideas, the wars in the former Yugoslavia put Western Europe into a terrible and understandable funk about nationalism. This is what has made nationalism seem a danger signal in the eyes of many reasonable people, even though modern nationalists in the EU want to defend Europe as a whole and are not going to start wars.
“The events of 1989 opened the door to an unprecedented era of globalised, financialised capitalism. While this facilitated great material progress for a new middle class in Asia, in the west it generated levels of economic inequality not seen since the early 20th century."
The end of communism was not the reason for globalisation and our author fails to say why economic inequality is in itself a bad thing. He is right, though, that a chasm has opened up in Europe between a hugely inflated graduate class – a sort of academic proletariat, as someone called it – which have tickets for good jobs and have imbibed the prejudices of progressive academics – and the rest who are largely shut out. 

I should add a third and growing class: the immigrants who work cheaply for the graduate class.
“For everyone who is a citizen of an EU member state, this is a continent where you can wake up on a Friday morning, decide to take a budget airline flight to the other end of the continent, meet someone you like, settle down to study, work and live there, all the time enjoying the rights of a European citizen in one and the same legal, economic and political community."
This is the reason you hear over and over again in Romania. The EU is good because it spends money on Romania and provides free and easy movement across Europe. 

The former is a good point, though attempts to stimulate economies by government spending rarely work. Britain got the lion’s share of Marshall Aid after 1945 but it was Germany not Britain that saw the dramatic economic ascension. 

The point about free movement is very understandable, but emigration is destroying Romania and Eastern Europe, while it does immeasurable harm to the sense of identity and cohesion of Western European countries.

The most important point to make is that the European Union and its earlier incarnation the EEC did not save Europe from war. 

The Cold War and Nato arguably did so, though I do not think Communist Russia would have invaded the West in any case.  

The most important event in European or world history since the fall of Rome is the economic miracle that changed the West and didn't happen in the Communist world.  The reasons for it have not, so far as I know, been explained.

This and the Communist threat meant Western European countries did not go to war with each other.

I used to buy the much repeated idea you heard from Eurosceptics in the 1980s and 1990s that democratic, prosperous countries did not go to war, even though rich countries with universal manhood suffrage did in 1914. After the bloody liberal wars of George W Bush, Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, Sarkozy and Cameron this is alas clearly not true, when the wars are against small, relatively weak countries. 

But democratic, prosperous countries are unlikely to fight each other.

However, this certainly does not mean that the threat of war has gone away. 

We have wars now in Ukraine caused by a country, Russia, which is neither democratic nor prosperous. We may have wars in the Caucasus, though I don't expect them and I do not think that the Caucasus is in Europe. We have the danger of more liberal wars in the Middle East, which will agitate ethnic minorities in Europe. 

Even without such wars, which I hope the USA and UK will finally give up, we can certainly expect wars waged in Western Europe by non-state actors, to use that clunking phrase, caused indirectly by mass immigration. 

In fact, such a low-level war has already begun. 

If the terrorists succeed in their long-term aim to get large numbers of people in their communities on their side we really shall be in trouble. I hope that never happens, but Timothy Garton Ash's policy of accepting more migrants and refugees into Europe would make the danger greater.


  1. The truth is that the World Wars do not explain why Europe thinks it needs the USA to defend it or from whom. I am not sure what the explanation is but I know that it is subjective, not objective, and relates to decadence and civilisational exhaustion. So do low birth rates and accepting unprecedented numbers of migrants.

    I agree completely.

    That's why Britain should distance itself from the United States. The main exports of the U.S. these days are decadence and degeneracy. The Europeans are bad enough in that respect but the U.S. is aggressively pushing decadence and degeneracy globally.

    A large part of the modern European decadence is home-grown but much of it is the result of American influence. American influence is not only harmful but demoralising - it encourages dependency.

    1. It was good to end desegregation in the American South and give black people the vote, but the Civil Rights Act 1964 has been the template for a huge amount of anti-discrimination laws worldwide which enlarged the power of the state and restricted freedom. Here is the genesis of today's identity politics.
      Many very bad things come from America but many good ones too. They are still Christians, they are patriots, they are for good or ill idealists. And they are the one rich country which has free speech and is truly democratic. Donald Trump's unlikely victory (albeit, paradoxically, with less than a majority in the popular vote)proved this.

      The Brexit referendum by contrast does not prove that the UK is democratic. Referendums are devices foreign to the British constitution (which is why MPs will not honour the result of the referendum)and we are unlikely, alas, to see more.

      Yes, America is egalitarian and has no history, no tradition, no hierarchy, no upper class. Yes American progressive ideas have done very much harm but so have the ideas of the Paris riots of 1968.

    2. So it was good to kill Whites’ freedom of Association by forcing blacks into their communities ... but this has been the template for enlarging the power of the state and restricting freedom.


    3. Many very bad things come from America but many good ones too. They are still Christians,

      The U.S. is not a Christian country though. They do have a much larger Christian minority than other western countries but American Christianity is often kinda weird. Like Evangelicals who support Israel because they think it will bring about a massive war that will usher in the Rapture. A lot of American Christianity is frighteningly heretical.

      they are patriots

      Most are enthusiasts for American imperialism. I don't think that's the same as being a patriot. That's like saying Napoleon was a French patriot. Or that the Romans were patriots.

      they are for good or ill idealists.

      That's a large part of the problem. The enthusiasm for idealism is in my view one of those disastrous Enlightenment notions that have done so much to destroy the West. And Americans cannot separate idealism from liberalism. American conservatives are liberals.

      And they are the one rich country which has free speech

      Only in theory. When all political debate takes place in the media (or social media) hen whoever controls the media/social media controls the debate. In practice that is not free speech.

      Lots of Americans are very decent people, but the entire basis on which the United States was constructed was a web of dangerous, stupid and evil ideas. Like Manifest Destiny.

      Of course the ultimate source of most of these appalling ideas was France. If you examine the history of any truly bad idea you'll generally find its origin in France.

    4. I made a typo. I meant it was good to end segregation not desegregation by which I meant segregation on trams and buses and in restaurants etc. The bus companies in the South had tried to resist segregation and it was forced on them by state laws. As decades passed segregation was less and less acceptable to opinion in the North.

      The USA a few years back ceased to be have a Protestant majority. It is still very much a Christian country. Its religion is often most absurd and that is true not just of Evangelicals but of some left wing Catholics and Episcopalians. Much in America is absurd.

      I agree completely that American conservatives are liberals and have said so repeatedly on this blog.

      Yes Americans' idealism creates huge problems. Read 'The Quiet American'.

      Yes the Whiggery of the Founding Fathers is objectionable but they do have freedom of speech whatever you say and they do as they wish, not as they are told by the ECHR and UN.

    5. but they do have freedom of speech whatever you say and they do as they wish, not as they are told by the ECHR and UN.

      I'll make a prediction here. Within ten years, or twenty at the most, the First Amendment will have been effectively dismantled. The Supreme Court will reinterpret the First Amendment to exclude hate speech. After all the First Amendment was never intended to protect Nazis was it? Hate speech of course will in practice include any form of political dissent whatsoever.

      "Conservative" judges on the Supreme Court will offer no objections. The Republican Party establishment will welcome the changes. Church leaders will also welcome the changes.

  2. Romania has benefited from Romanians going to other nations, seeing that things can be done better there, and bringing the skills back. That goes for everything from making tastier food to demanding cleaner elections.

    It is satisfying to some (usually older) people to predict savage wars and bloodbaths, in this case in Europe in the wake of immigration. Like most of these dire predictions, it probably won't come to pass. As ever, there will be discontent, friction and disappointment. Muddling along, in other words -- less dramatic.

    1. I agree that Romanians returning from working abroad add a lot to the country. Romanians studying arts subjects in the UK and other Western countries are going to spread the killer bacillus of progressive ideas. But huge numbers will go for good.

      As for war no-one knows but it is the task of statesmen to foresee and try to prevent calamities not thoughtlessly to make them likely. Even if no wars take place we are looking at the end of all Western European countries - the end of them at least as mostly ethnic states.

  3. Willis McBriar was completely right when he corrected me on Facebook:

    '"I used to buy the much repeated idea you heard from Eurosceptics in the 1980s and 1990s that democratic, prosperous countries did not go to war, even though rich countries with universal manhood suffrage did in 1914"
    The argument is that countries with liberal democracy and liberal economics do not go to war with each other.'

  4. Economic inequality in itself is not a bad thing, but grotesque economic inequality is -- when a tiny group owns massive wealth, everyone else eats shedded sausage skins fished out of the garbage, and structural supports divert huge amounts of money to those who already have a ton of it. The US economy right now is as good as it gets, but doesn't work for massive numbers of people who hold multiple jobs and can't save. US capitalism functioned relatively well in the 1990s, not that long ago. Perhaps we can restore some balance.

  5. Everyone else in the USA save a tiny group does not eat shedded sausage skins fished out of the garbage.