The Paris statement – A Europe We Can Believe In – was drafted last summer, in the Hotel Regina on the Place des Pyramides, where Emmanuel Frémiet’s gilded statue of Jeanne d’Arc stands as a symbol of Christian service and patriotic duty. Those who assembled to draft the statement had been meeting for twenty years through the Vanenburg Society, founded as a Europe-wide forum of discussion among centre-right intellectuals and politicians.
Some of us, myself included, had come to know each other prior to 1989, in the long battle to affirm the shared civilisation of Europe against the obliterating tyranny of communism. Others, much younger, had been drawn to our circle in search of another philosophy than the empty cosmopolitanism of the new European elite. Over the years we have tried in our various ways to define what Europe really stands for, and to reaffirm our links with the European diaspora and with Western civilisation as a whole.
The statement is a response to a deep crisis in the culture and self-image of European society. No thinking person can doubt the existence of this crisis, or its connection to the dominant liberal orthodoxies of the EU institutions. Europe is defined by its inheritance. This inheritance includes the Christian religion, secular jurisdiction, and the idea of citizenship. Thanks to those inheritances Europe has enjoyed a distinctive political culture: one of mutual responsibility among people who define their identity in national terms and who make their laws by a process of democratic consultation. To defend that inheritance, however, is to invite the charge of populism, nationalism, racism and xenophobia: terms of abuse that are thrown thoughtlessly at all who believe that national identity and customary loyalties are the sine qua non of peaceful settlement.
Our statement is in part an attempt to define the areas where the true idea of Europe is in conflict with the false idea that is being imposed upon us. According to the false idea Europe is a ‘multicultural’ society, with no special allegiance to the religious inheritance or national identities of the European people. It is a society without borders, in which national sovereignty is to be eroded or discarded in favour of government by a bureaucratic elite. The false Europe extends a welcome to globalism in all its forms. It is to open its borders to immigrants without concern for their culture, their values or their capacity for the kind of territorial loyalty that has defined the history of our nation states. And it is to install an abstract conception of ‘human rights’ at every place where custom and loyalty have shaped our way of life. This false Europe is conceived as a background to the rootless and self-indulgent lifestyle of the sixties. And in order to advance that lifestyle, for which no positive argument has ever been given, its advocates hurl insults at the ordinary law-abiding citizens for whom marriage and the family, neighbourhood, custom and an inherited sense of belonging are the foundations of their way of life.
For many years I have been struck by the way in which those on whom the future of society most depends – the ‘marrying classes’ as Lytton Strachey contemptuously described them, or les salauds as Sartre put it, yet more contemptuously – are also first to be singled out as targets by the apostles of liberation. But freedom of the kind that we all enjoy is made possible by social trust, and social trust depends on a shared sense of belonging, and a shared national culture. To dismiss those things as ‘racism and xenophobia’, as is the norm among opinionated Europeans today, is to undermine the social stability on which the elites depend for their freedoms. Equally destructive has been the habit – in France especially – of dividing political postures into the ‘progressive’ and the ‘reactionary’, and thereby preparing a welcome for every innovation, however destructive, and a contemptuous dismissal for all attempts, however nuanced and reasonable, to defend what we have.
One of the most important assets that we have is the protection of free speech. In European countries differences of opinion have been not only permitted but encouraged. We are heirs to a tradition of public debate in which rational argument prevails over crowd emotions. Our opponents who defend the false Europe are entitled to do so and we expect them to work by peaceful means for their goals, opposed by our arguments but free from our abuse. But in drafting the Paris statement we were acutely aware that this tradition of public debate is no longer respected on the left. Those who defend the European inheritance are regularly sneered at or silenced, and while legitimate criticisms of Islam and its adherents are vilified as ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘hate speech’, no equivalent punishment is meted out to the critics of Christianity. The disappearance of free speech from our universities has gone hand in hand with draconian legislation enforcing invented ‘human rights’ in areas where Europeans are by no means of one mind – areas such as abortion, gay marriage, adoption, and the maintenance of religious symbols and festivals. In all these matters the culture of repudiation has seized the advantage, imposing multicultural orthodoxies in advance of the discussion and reflection of which our continent stands so greatly in need.
It is my firm belief that young people can be made aware not only that our spiritual and cultural inheritance is worth preserving but that it is the source of all the freedoms that they enjoy – including the freedom publicly to repudiate it, a freedom that Islamic civilisation has never extended to its adherents. It is my hope too that young people will begin to think clearly about the likely outcome of the repudiation to which they are being encouraged, and will come to see that the result will not be a tolerant and open society, but, in all likelihood, a condition of social fragmentation and ethnic strife. But our statement is not addressed only to the young; it is addressed also to politicians, writers, intellectuals and cultural figures who have the opportunity to give voice to the ideals that have shaped our continent, and to begin the defence of what is most precious to us all.