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Can the EU survive the death of liberalism? The bloc was designed for a philosophy that no longer exists

European military personnel carry the coffin of late German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, one of the great figures of European unification. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images

European military personnel carry the coffin of late German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, one of the great figures of European unification. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images


February 24, 2021   8 mins

How will the European Union develop after Britain’s exit? It is a question seldom asked, yet one of huge importance for our future. Indeed, it is an updated version of the question which has shaped British foreign policy since the reign of William III — how to foster a balance of power on the continent and avoid the UK facing a continent dominated by a single, overweening power. Didn’t that motive play some part in Britain’s decision to join the EU? And have we now, rather carelessly, lost sight of that goal?

For many on the continent “Building Europe” is still a stirring appeal, but it is also dangerously ambiguous, avoiding the fundamental question – the difficult, yet crucial question — of the ultimate legal structure of the new creation, its constitutional character. A number of decisions by the German Constitutional Court have, by implication, raised this question, but it cannot be said that EU member states as yet speak with one voice. Do France and Germany share the same vision? Smaller member states may fear the day they do.

Despite the EU Commission constantly invoking “European Unity”, the question of what rights and duties are intrinsic to EU membership is very far from being uncontested. Recent examples of fundamental discord come all too readily to mind. The question of how responsibility for dealing with immigrants into Europe should be shared, as well as the question of what duties the richer member states have to support poorer member states, are two obvious ones. But even the most fundamental question — the EU’s identity as an association of liberal democracies — has been fudged in the face of growing authoritarianism in Hungary and Poland.

The European Union has failed to achieve a clear constitutional identity — a failure which can make even its commitment to liberal democracy equivocal.

The EU’s evasiveness about its purpose raises important questions about its future, and Brexit ought to be a wake-up call. Paradoxically, the only member state with an unwritten constitution has decided that membership of the EU is incompatible with national sovereignty. The very simplicity of the British constitution (“the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament”) has focussed public attention on the question of where sovereignty is located in a way that nations with elaborate, codified constitutions have mostly avoided.

Does national sovereignty remain fundamental in the EU? Should it? Discontents behind those questions can be found both in the original member states and in more recent entrants. Portugal complains about the lack of EU “solidarity”, while the Dutch oppose large financial transfers. Further east, Poland scarcely conceals its determination to defend the “sovereignty” only recently regained. With such a mixture of views in European governments, can the EU now even be classified as a “confederation”?

What does Europe aspire to? If we are to answer that fundamental question, we must first look beyond particular controversies in Brussels and national capitals. We must look at the beliefs appealed to in arguments about European integration, that is, beliefs about its “proper” goals. In order to do that, we must first look at the crisis in liberalism today.

Liberal thinking underlay the original project to “build a new Europe”. The writings of the greatest liberal thinkers — Locke, Montesquieu, Madison, Constant and Tocqueville — were dominated by constitutional concerns. For it was by constitutional means that they proposed to disperse power and protect individual liberty. The primacy of this classical’ liberalism was more or less taken for granted in the West at the end of the Second World War. But liberalism has changed since then, and these changes have become a threat to the moral and political challenge laid down by classical liberalism: the challenge of how to combine the ancient idea of citizenship with the scale of the modern nation-state.

But if that project — the project of “self-government” — was daunting on a national scale, how much more formidable it becomes when now applied to political integration on a European scale!

In the early post-war decades there were few reservations about integration. After the horrors of the Second World War, the weakening of national identities seemed more an advantage than a threat. In 1945 liberalism was triumphant. It seemed to have freed the best of human nature and opened the way to unprecedented peace and prosperity. The newly created United Nations was committed to promoting human rights, and free institutions were the norm.

These post-war decades seemed to confirm liberalism’s promise, and with American aid, Western European economies developed rapidly and flourished. But the very prosperity liberalism helped create had unintended consequences.

It was a consequence that was made especially important because of the threat posed by the Soviet Union and its Marxist ideology. In response to that threat from the east, liberalism in Western Europe and the United States began to redefine itself. Competition with the Soviet Union increasingly led liberals to contrast the prosperity brought by “free” markets in the West with the halting progress of Eastern Europe’s “command” economies. Thus, liberalism began to identify itself increasingly in terms of the marketplace — of private property, free exchange and competition.

The result was the emergence of what can be called “neoliberalism”. Neoliberalism takes far less interest in the form of the state, and increasingly, its call for “freedom” is identified in terms drawn from the marketplace. It ceases to be a challenge to the human spirit and the imagination – to ourselves – to create something new, a fairer and better world. Rather, it emphasises the disciplines required by “success” in the marketplace. This new emphasis replaces what has, since liberalism’s emergence in the 18th century, been at the heart of liberal thinking — constitutional guarantees of freedom.

While the writings of the great liberal thinkers are dominated by constitutional concerns, since it was by constitutional means that they proposed to disperse power and protect individual liberty, the most striking thing about neoliberalism is its neglect of constitutional questions in favour of “market solutions”.

This, in turn, has involved increasing reliance on a philosophical tradition which is only equivocally “liberal” — utilitarianism. The core of utilitarianism emerges in its emphasis on “maximising” individual satisfactions (or “happiness”) rather than protecting individual rights and freedom by means of constitutional safeguards. Instead, utilitarianism fosters the centralisation of power, its “rational” use rather than favouring its dispersal. “Checks and balances” give way to “efficiency”.

Neoliberalism, with its utilitarian underpinning, does not merely draw attention away from the importance of constitutions. It also draws attention away from the national identities and cultures reflected in those constitutions. In that way, unintentionally, it has contributed to what is by far the most striking development in public opinion across the European continent in recent years: the resurgence of a kind of nationalism, a nationalism which is not aggressive but defensive. It is a defence of inherited identities.

The early stages of post-war European integration were relatively painless, but by the mid-1990’s mounting ambitions — shaped by the French reaction to German reunification — led to projects such as the Euro, threatening national identities.

A wise response would have been “to make haste slowly”, for the risk was that any acceleration of integration in Europe would create a backlash in public opinion, the growth of a new populism — a risk aggravated by growing fears about mass immigration. That risk is real — appeals to national unity and identity have indeed been growing in recent decades.

No doubt forms of liberal idealism survive in demonstrations favouring women’s rights and racial equality. Yet such “semi-populist” outbursts can, unintentionally, become threats to constitutional liberties. When divorced from a context of careful argument, they can even threaten freedom by appearing to sanction and enforce new types of conformity.

Recent demonstrations in defence of “black rights” may, for example, have an unintended consequence — by bringing the discredited concept of “race” back into wider public use. Another example of liberalism almost unwittingly contributing to populism can be seen in conformist pressures released by unregulated development of the internet and in particular social media sites like Twitter. These can become a new type of threat to individual autonomy. For, as J.J. Rousseau long ago observed, “the vice of civilised man is that he compares”.

Yet how little critical public discussion of the issues raised by these developments can be found! What public institutions are now best suited to protect freedom of thought, speech and association — to foster the better parts of our nature — in the face of the conformist pressures exerted by the media giants and the internet? At the heart of classical liberalism was the desire to promote and protect those values constitutionally — to shape wants rather than merely satisfy them — through privileging local autonomy, voluntary association and public debate. Classical liberalism put a premium on public conversations, preferring vigorous argument to mass demonstrations.

Sadly, with the development of neoliberalism, the excitement which in the 18th and the 19th century accompanied the challenge to create a new representative form of government and the rule of law – “free institutions” – has faded away. Recent changes in the teaching of history have reinforced that development. We are now embarrassed by any attempt to tell “the story of liberty”, not because we are now more sophisticated and sceptical, but because we are more ignorant.

Classical liberal values were long transmitted by learning about the problems encountered during the 18th and 19th centuries when creating liberal and democratic institutions. Historical knowledge then played an important part in transmitting constitutional values from one generation to another. Today the decline of that historical understanding is reflected in political classes who seem to feel more comfortable discussing economic problems than constitutional issues. The political education of the public has suffered.

As a result, government is now too often seen as simply a remote instrument to satisfy our demands. That its form and policies might rightly have a role in shaping those demands is seldom emphasised or explored. Alexis de Tocqueville’s argument that local government and the jury system should be understood as “schools for citizens” — as indispensable means of popular education — is seldom voiced. Rather, “efficiency” in the distribution of benefits is the goal appealed to. Altogether, the impact of neoliberalism means that political classes in the West are now less concerned with the dispersal and balancing of power than its uses. But this amounts to a longer-term threat to the very survival of constitutional government and individual liberty.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union neoliberalism has lost some of its appeal. It certainly does not capture the imagination of the young, having deprived liberalism of its moral aspiration through its emphasis on market relations.

So idealism — a concern with the formation of wants rather than merely their satisfaction — has had to find other outlets than constitutional ones. Idealism survives among the young, but it is no longer disciplined by a firm constitutional education. The risk is that new forms of populism may become less tolerant of the diversity of public argument that classical liberalism sought to create.

The decline of classical liberalism helps to explain why EU public opinion has not demanded of its political leaders greater clarity about the constitutional implications of building the EU. Nor, sadly, has Britain’s exit from the EU generated as much soul-searching on the continent as might have been expected (though there has been some in the Netherlands and Denmark).

I am not suggesting that the EU should attempt once again to adopt a constitution. That would be a mistake, and there is no constitutional consensus lurking in Europe. Yet EU member states should be far more careful defenders of the dispersal of power in Europe. For, as a recent President of the EU Commission has admitted, the Commission’s instinct, until it meets resistance, is always to push for more centralisation.

Awareness of that danger has been the most admirable feature of the Brexit movement in the UK (although it has not been accompanied by self-awareness about the excessive centralisation of UK government itself!) But what about other EU member states? Germany, with a political system that carefully disperses power domestically, ought to be especially alert and resistant to this danger in Europe. However, thus far it has been content to delegate that role to the Dutch and the Danes. How long will that remain the case? There is no immediate danger. Yet the truth remains that French intuitions about what is desirable for Europe differ markedly from German intuitions. How will this contrast play out in the long term?

Even now — after Brexit — losing interest in questions about the EU’s future would be a dangerous mistake for Britain. Leaving the European Union should not become an excuse for the UK failing to follow closely, and even trying to influence, the development of institutions on the other side of the Channel. Such failures in the past have had serious consequences, and may well do so once again.

 


Sir Larry Siedentop is a political philosopher. His most recent book is Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (Penguin, 2014)


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G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

All best summed up by the pithy phrase, ‘baubles for sovereignty’.

The populations of Europe are being sleepwalked into ‘ever closer integration’ by simple virtue of the fact that the EU is like a bike. It has to keep moving forward regardless or it’ll just fall over.

Despite the glorious, hyper-idealised rhetoric, there is no higher ideal that informs the EU. It is a self-serving political construct driven by a desire to cement and centralise its own legal powers and control .

Every country found itself in it for its own complex reasons be they a combination of economic, political or, in some cases geographical and recent historical.

In fact now, thanks to monetary union, many are now in it because the idea of leaving it successfully is all but an impossibility. Their very own Hotel Californias.

The UK always saw the EU primarily as of a transactional benefit with political costs and, crucially, whether by luck or design, managed to keep out the Euro straitjacket, but eventually those political costs began to far outweigh said economic benefits, so we are where we are, as they say.

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Succinct. Nice.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Any country using the euro that wants out will need to have a replacement currency lined up, with reserves, a central bank, and so on. You can use someone else’s without asking them, like Mexico and the US dollar, but it’s the Joxit problem, basically.
I feel very sorry for any such EU country. Within or without the euro, they’re stuck with a currency whose interest and exchange rates are determined by someone else’s priorities, and that they can’t influence.

Sidney Falco
Sidney Falco
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

We should let them (except Scotland) use Sterling as a form of monetary methadone so they can wean themselves off the Euro when they leave.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Sidney Falco

Love the alliteration ………. monetary methadone.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Thumbs up.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Second that!

Terry M
Terry M
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Or fiscal fentanyl.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Sidney Falco

Perhaps, but a country using another country’s currency in that way can pick and choose which other country, and it needn’t be the UK. It could be China. It could even be the EU till it thinks of something better, or gets its gold reserves back.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jon Redman
kennethjamesmoore
kennethjamesmoore
3 years ago
Reply to  Sidney Falco

Last time I checked Scotland was still part of the UK. Why single this out? Ignorant ‘little Englander’ perhaps!

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

someone else’s priorities

Actually ECB takes into account the interest of all EZ countries. And ECB’s policies are no different (QE, Low rates) than any other Central Bank.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

You wish! That would be why there’s one interest rate for Greece, Spain, and Germany, would it? They all have precisely aligned interests?
Pull the other one. It’s all about Germany and perhaps France.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

For a country like Greece (and Spain) it would the global market not Central bank of Greece setting the interest rates. Think of Argentina. Its own bank, its own currency and bankrupt 7/8 times. It just went bankrupt again in May 2020.
For a country like Greece (and Spain) it would the global market not Central bank of Greece setting the interest rates. Think of Argentina. Its own bank, its own currency and bankrupt 7/8 times (last 100 years). It just went bankrupt again in May 2020.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

It seems like a cultural issue. The people don’t mind being defrauded by their government, or at least they tolerate it. Maybe it’s a kind of national sport.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

True, but no one forced Greece to join EZ. In case of Spain we have the fact that the 2007/8 crash has not produced a anti-EU party (happy to be corrected) and (anecdotal evidence) all the Spaniards I know blame their government(s) for the corruption and waste of EU funds.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The simply saw the opportunity of a Euro credit card and could not believe their luck

mike stappard
mike stappard
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

You can say that again.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The Rothchild central bank system is coming down,, and most probably by April this year.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Russ Littler

I have been buying uranium mine stock, silver, Dollar Tree (chain of shops where everything is one dollar)(where anyone poor shops) stock, and such disaster bets with my pension fund! Maybe need to add Colt and Remington.

Peter Hollander
Peter Hollander
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

South American countries managed and Greece has gone bust a couple of times over a 100 years ago. Leaving the Euro is possible.. it just leaves a trail of debris in its wake, which the other Eurozone members will have to deal with. The EU has no sanctions it can impose that will hurt an already hurting country much more. Like South American countries that walked away from international debts, being the pariah state lasts only for a while, and then all is forgotten… until perhaps some lucky day when those worthless bonds are repaid with a few cents on each euro. Hey, better than nothing?!

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

Argentina defaulted in May 2020 again. It is – depending how you measure it – the 7/8th bankruptcy in 100 years.
What a success!

willy Daglish
willy Daglish
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The Euro just serves Germany at the expense of the Club Med countries.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  willy Daglish

True. But the Club Med countries chose to become part of the eurozone even though economists had been warning since 1970 that a common currency would destroy their economies. Read Ashoka Modi’s “EuroTragedy: A Disaster in Nine Acts’.
It was a rare example of economists getting something right.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

An issue which Britons ignore which causes people to support the EU is the trauma of war; the murder, the rapes, the pillaging and the burning which counties have experienced since 1931. The economy may be bad but it is not as bad as neighbours murdering and raping each other.
In Spain there are still memories of which side adjacent villages supported in the Civil War.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The memories of similar events in the Balkans are much fresher than that. I didn’t notice the EU doing much to prevent it.
The notion that it’s only the presence of a few thousand chair-polishers in the Berlaymont that prevents the Bundeswehr panzers once more rolling down the Champs-ÉlysĂ©es is a bizarre one.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

It’s not that, it is the lack of trust of the people in the politicians and civil servants and politicians/civil servants in the people such that they know the EU will prevent the conflicts of the 1930s which led to war Spanish Civil War, WW2 and Greek Civil War of 1944 to 1947.
Britain does not have the trauma of invasion and betrayal and has been able to navigate political change with very little cruelty and blood lust.
The Balkan War combined with corruption and organised crime are reasons why countries want to join the EU. The EU enforces certain minimum standards of behaviour.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The EU did not enforce minimum standards of behaviour in Ukraine. Instead, it encouraged a pointless uprising in which many people died for no good reason.

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

And the EU helped to start the Balkan War, a fact which is usually conveniently forgotten.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Within it’s borders. I remember listening to the fear in the voice of a Spanish lady recounting how her Father, a liberal jounalist, was on a list of the leader of the Civil Guardia during the 1981 attempted coup. What saved Spanish democracy was the Juan Carlos ordering the army back to barracks. You are looking at the EU from the life of a Briton. Look at European History from 1931 and ask how would you would feel if you had witnessed some of the events?

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I agree your point but from a different perspective and one more aligned with the article in a way.

The EU appealed to the UK and USA and the original six because of the exhaustion after WW2 and the then very large threat of the Warsaw Pact, ie USSR, just rolling the few miles to the Atlantic coast.
NATO obviously spoke to this fear as well.

The next tranche of accession countries were primarily right wing repressive dictatorships like Portugal, Greece and Spain where *anything IS better than that*.

Then the next, and largest number were all those countries that came out of the collapsed Soviet empire where *anything IS DEFINITELY better than that* and with the last few looking only at what they still see as a rich country club.

But as those generations who knew those totatalitarian states pass away (ie my generation and only slightly younger) then being better than some historical time when things were really bad is not enough to sustain support.

And with Monetary union a fact, it’s inevitable failure without fiscal union is already being used to argue for fiscal union.

Because fiscal and monetary union then means political union has occurred whether it’s acknowledged or not, the closer this approaches the more and more the tensions will either grow, or require direct action.

Just as *leaving* is clearly a massive upheaval even when like the UK you do not use the Euro, then also for countries who don’t like Sweden or Denmark, and Poland, Hungary etc, remaining in a monetary union and iscal union becomes increasingly difficult that logically would increase the chances of those countries leaving, unless they joined the *high speed* EU using the Euro.

That might happen but with tensions rising it may be that the problems mean one or more of these electing to leave the EU at that future stage when the big step demands what would be clearly difficult decisions?

And like so many empires, *projects* or whatever in History, once ‘momentum’, forward travel ceases, then entropy can often set in.

The *chaos* of the UK in 2016 -19 was often cited as a contrast to EU *calm*. I feel the opposite is the case, the UK engaged in a VERY deep and lively debate over Brexit and refreshed our political life (we also held a referendum in Scotland very recently which shows the committment to democracy).

The EU on the contrary seems to have tried to present Brexit (this was mentioned in the article) entirely in terms of British attitudes with very little sign of any proper discussions inside the bloc.

Right now the discussion around the EU remains largely couched in economic terms but it is not , in reality, simply about that.

The easy stuff, and the simple stuff has been done by the EU, from here on it just keeps getting more difficult.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ted Ditchburn
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

Excellent summary of the situation.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Britain does not have the trauma of invasion and betrayal
Are you sure about that. I feel I have been consistently lied to and betrayed by the British Government for many years

Terence Raggett
Terence Raggett
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them
J.R.R Tolkien speaking about the Euro.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Warren Mosler has suggested a program for nations in the Euro zone which wish to abandon the Euro by issuing its own parallel currency (effectively tax credits).

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yup, it’s always been the Deutschmark by another name.

Having the poorer countries in it has essentially helped to keep its value down and German exports consistently competitive.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

LOL
During the early days (up to 2007) of the EUR the currency was overvalued of the German economy. German exports did fine, just like the days of DMark.
Since the end of WW2 ÂŁ has only gone down – surely by now UK should be Germany on steroids?

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Not really sure what your comment there means to be honest, but Germany has been consistently criticized for beggaring its neighbours and running an abnormally high trade surplus for many years that even the IMF, not exactly well-known for its cuddliness or charitable nature, has seen fit to regularly question the wisdom of.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I suggest you examine all aspects of German and British industrial policy and training since 1850.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Excellent. Thumbs up. “…a self-serving political construct driven by a desire to cement and centralise its own legal powers and control.”. brilliant.

kevin austin
kevin austin
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  kevin austin

Joplin, Ball and Chain

And I say oh, whoa whoa, now baby
This can’t be, no this can’t be in vain,
And I say no no no no no no no no, whoa!
And I say whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa
Now now now now now now now now now no no not in vain
Hey, hope there is someone that could tell me
Hon’, tell me why,
Hon’, tell me why love is like
Just like a ball
Just like a ball
Baaaaaaalllll
Oh daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy
And a chain.
Yeah!

Vikram Sharma
Vikram Sharma
3 years ago

Beyond the political arguments of sovereignty is a more fundamental flaw in EU thinking – a belief that human beings are willing to trade identity for financial convenience. 
Our relationship with our family, community and land is primeval, and the basis of our identity. Human beings have fought and died for it, as do animals, and we will continue to so do. 
By insisting that national identity is subsumed under ever closer integration, EU is risking the very peace it loudly proclaims to have created post WWII. That peace was anyway kept by NATO and US, so Europeans could live in lavishly funded welfare states because someone else picked the bill. 
By insisting on the supremacy of a European identity, EU is on the way to self-inflicted harm as national and cultural identities reassert and self-interest outweighs phoney claims to solidarity. Vanity projects rarely end well.

Last edited 3 years ago by Vikram Sharma
stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

Thumbs up.

Mike K
Mike K
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

Quite so Vikram.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

Right on all points.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

Another sound response Vikram

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

By insisting on the supremacy of a European identity

It doesn’t. Germany is still German and Italy is still Italy. First and foremost (no matter how Europhile they are) people say “I am German/French/Italian/etc”. I have yet to meet anyone that says I am European. And there is a sense of European Identity.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I have yet to meet anyone that says I am European. And there is a sense of European Identity.

OK.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

The way language works, one would say ‘I am European’ only if the universe of discourse were identification with one continent or another. Once a continent or other large area is assumed, one would not say ‘I am European’ or ‘I am South Asian’ but rather ‘I am Italian’ or ‘I am Gujarati’, as the case may be.
The notion that people will not give up community, ancestry, and tradition just to get stuff is belied by the United States, where a huge stream of immigrants did exactly that and created, for awhile anyway, the richest and most powerful nation on earth. There are many similar if smaller counterexamples. Mourning for lost community in the US is a popular hobby, but you’ll notice that very, very few of those who practice it actually bother to return to the old country even when they could easily do so.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

Thank you. I note what you say.

I do understand that an individual’s choice of self-description often depends on the context, or the identity of the interlocutor. But I still think it is odd to state emphatically that a sense of a particular identity exists, at the same time as stating that an expression of that identity has never been heard.

Also, I take your point about about the (fascinating) question of the transition from an old to a new identity, such as in your example of the immigrants to the US.

A distinction that occurs to me, however, is that in the case of the immigrants, they positively chose to abandon their homeland and make the journey to a new, different life as citizens of the US. I’m unconvinced as to how close the parallel is with someone who does not leave his home nation (either physically or in sense of identity) but finds a new identity – EU citizenship – imposed from above, as it were.

(Plus, I’m not sure the immigrants would say they were going through that upheaval simply in search of stuff.)

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

I spent 3 years as a young child in the USA, and went to the local school. 70 years later, and I can still remember the patriotic songs and the US flag, and there is still a trace of the patriotic emotion.
This clearly doesn’t apply in the EU, but surely all the signs are there that is an ambition; flag, anthem, the Erasmus scheme, and irritation that UK is not being respectful enough of its ‘ambassador’.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

There are more ‘Irish’ in New York than there are Irish in Ireland; none of them have been back to ‘the old country’ in generations and likely never will

rod tobin
rod tobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

funny enough, it is remainers in the \uk who say this

Neil Papadeli
Neil Papadeli
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Ironically, plenty of Brits have the ‘Still European’ sticker on their FB profiles, to demonstrate a loyalty to the EU project I guess. But I agree, the Europeans I deal with don’t regard themselves as ‘European’, but very distinctly and proudly Dutch, French, Polish etc.. It’s almost as if they could deal with the contradiction – unlike many Brits, maybe we take things too literally.
I remember during the poisonous Brexit ‘debates’ Michael Heseltine on R4, to illustrate how Brexiters misunderstood the nature of the EU, remarking that Italy would never have stood for any EU intervention in their industrial policy, as if the UK sticking to the EU rules was somehow a naive, dim and irrelevant thing to do.
Maybe, there is a flexibility of thought and acceptance of duality that Continentals have and we don’t…

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Papadeli

I couldn’t agree more Neil.

I’m afraid Unherd is increasingly becoming an outlet for narrow minded Brexiters rather than a forum for balanced, rational debate on the merits and de-merits of absolute national sovereignty versus sharing sovereignty in order to tackle problems that are common to each state. Most citizens in Europe realise that they need the institutions of the EU to compete against the Chinese and US economic hegemons in trade negotiations. They also realise that shared approaches to climate change, consumer protection, workers rights and product standards make sense.
None of this in any way takes away their sense of being French or German
I’m a Dubliner, I’m Irish AND a European. I see no conflict whatever involved in those 3 identities.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Branagan

I’m British AND a European, and see no conflict in that. Nevertheless, I don’t think membership of the EU is a good thing for the country.

Last edited 3 years ago by Colin Elliott
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Papadeli

I knew a Spanish banker in London married to a German banker. They were Spanish/German and European at the same time. And their children spoke fluently 3 languages.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

And there is an enormous gulf between them, and the average citizen in, say, Sunderland, but probably also in, say, Budapest.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

What were their backgrounds? Catholic aristocracy have inter married since Charlemagne: rank was more important than anything hence Almanach de Gotha. The trading families of Barcelona to Genoa and Hanseatic League have intermarried for centuries.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Have you ever spoken to one of our infamous remaniacs here in the UK? Every single one of them say they are Europeans with rock solid European identities…..

Jayne Lago
Jayne Lago
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

That’s not what he means……national identity is something you feel inside, same as patriotism, real patriotism, a feeling that very few in the uk seem to understand now.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jayne Lago
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

No, don’t see it, they won, Patriotism is dead, everyone has been conditioned to despise their National past, culture, history, flag, and people. The next national anthum will be Rap on how much ‘The Man’ owes you and how unjust Europe always has been, and why it needs to be burnt down and the doors open for the World’s oppressed to come in and re-justice Europe.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

I agree this is a problem, but there is a complication in the sense that national identities are also constructed. A nation-state, certainly one like the UK or Canada or the USA, is not a natural locus of identity like a language grouping or ethnicity or tribal group. So we already know that it is possible to extend the sense of the community and identity beyond the natural to the abstract.
It’s not at all clear why “Europe” couldn’t be an identity in the same way Germany is. Do people want that, and would it be advantageous? There is a lot of reason to think most people don’t. But I can’t see an inherent reason that the creation of a European identity would be impossible in a way that the creation of an English identity was not, albeit that was also a multi-generational project.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago

The English identity is not a construct. It is described this way so you can deny delegitimise it

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

100% Vikram

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

With dispiriting inevitability, we read:
‘But even the most fundamental question — the EU’s identity as an association of liberal democracies — has been fudged in the face of growing authoritarianism in Hungary and Poland.’
The governments of both Hungary and Poland were democratically elected. I don’t like some aspects of the Law & Justice programme in Poland, but it is those in Brussels who are the true authoritarians; unelected, unaccountable and now with a 30-year track record of demonstrable and monstrous incompetence. Ironically, had they built some democratic accountability into the upper reaches of the various Brussels politburos we might have better governance there. The Pirate Party in the Czech Republic (currently leading the polls there) has some plans in this regard.
Then this:
‘Leaving the European Union should not become an excuse for the UK failing to follow closely, and even trying to influence, the development of institutions on the other side of the Channel.’
The last thing Britain should do is try to ‘influence the development of institutions’ on the other side of the channel. It has enough to do with trying to reform its own, largely useless and often corrupt, institutions.

Last edited 3 years ago by Fraser Bailey
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Law & Justice came to power in the back of a conspiracy about Katyn plane crash.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Yes, to some extent. But they have subsequently been re-elected.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes, they barely won the Presidential election. Let’s not pretend that they are winning elections by a landslide.
What does it tell you about a political party/movement that is foundation is an insane conspiracy theory?
And it is no just Katyn Conspiracy, during the last presidential election Duda (the current president) and state television accused his opponent (Tzarkowski) of trying to sell Poland to Germany and ALSO serving Jewish interests. They also accused him of planning to replace Independence Day with Gay Pride Day.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

“The governments of both Hungary and Poland were democratically elected. I don’t like some aspects of the Law & Justice programme in Poland, but it is those in Brussels who are the true authoritarians; unelected, unaccountable and now with a 30-year track record of demonstrable and monstrous incompetence.”
This mixes up the concepts of ‘power’ and ‘authority’. The EU has power. It is however uncertain which ‘source of ‘authority’ it has. Merely to have a central politburo does not establish meaningful authority (who chooses them? To whom are they responsible? On what basis?) There is no monarch. And to try and derive ‘authority’ from the people brings up the question: ‘How is the ‘people’ composed? Why should they have authority? (if authority is,as it needs to be, universal, how can a minority of the population of any large political realm have ‘authority’ (e.g. a mere (changeable) majority of electors)?
Authority can only be superhuman (e.g. in old terms ‘divine’, though I prefer ‘ideal’), otherwise it boils down to the strong arbitrarily compelling the weak, as in the animal kingdom.
‘Authority’ is the only moral source of political power, but it cannot be sourced from any human being. The Queen is the ultimate temporal authority in the UK, but her ‘authority’ is itself derived from her being subject to the authority of ‘God’ (the only unchallegeable, coercive authority that can exist). As soon as such an arrangement collapses we are in for civil war (either of ideas or actions), because the first question anyone in a secular political system asks about authority is ‘Why him/her/them rather than me?’. And there is no rational answer to this question.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

Authority could come about through common agreement. God or gods seem optional in this case. Indeed, rather dubious, since so many people have so many different views of him/her/it/them.

David Jory
David Jory
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Well said. I would add that Hungary is asking its population their views about exiting lockdown. Just imagine such a ‘horrendous’ idea in Germany, France or even ‘free’ Britain!
Good article otherwise, but the reflexive tic against voters in Poland, Hungary and the last government of the US needs to be dropped.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

 I don’t like some aspects of the Law & Justice programme in Poland

May be the government concluded that elements of the judiciary were so opposed to them that they would use every means at their disposal, got up in legal drag, to frustrate them

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago

Cynically, the so-called weaker states or the parts of the old Russian Empire joined Europe for two reasons: to get away from the dominance of Russia and to get the goodies or hand-outs from the EU. When they have to give something back to the EU their ideas will change suddenly and maybe they have already.
Isn’t this what we all see from the shores of the UK? We spent most of our time giving and not a lot of time taking. Any area which manages to secede from a larger country (Scotland comes to mind) will be seeing Europe as a source of hand-outs and certainly won’t expect to pay in to the EU for a very long time.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

With regard to your last point, this could lead to a country like the Netherlands being more likely to leave the EU than, for instance, Italy. To be fair, I think Italy is a net contributor, but I believe the Netherlands will soon be paying in more per head of population than any other EU country. And they will be paying in even more if Scotland joins.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Wasn’t Nexit supposed to happen after Brexit. Or was Frexit then Nexit?

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

A lot of people in the Netherlands are unhappy with the EU. I was working there when the Euro was introduced. It basically slashed my income by half. Many Dutch also voted against a European constitution in the mid-noughties.

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Nexit next?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I don’t see how it can happen while they’re on the euro.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

One reason I suggest that a more properly functioning country like the Netherlands might be more likely to leave is that they probably would be able to do so without too much pain. Indeed, their main problem might be that the guilder would appreciate in value relative to the euro.
Now that Salvini has caved to Draghi and the powerful business interests behind Lega Nord, there is no chance of Italy leaving any time soon.

Simon Forde
Simon Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The Dutch contribute a lot, but – like Germany – gain huge benefits in return: an artificially low currency, a huge market to buy their products (which is closed to competition from the rest of the world), while they ensure that they only apply those EU laws that are to their advantage and ignore all those that don’t. So, lo and behold, they have a massive trade surplus, far more than their contributions to Brussels.
It’s the old guild system: have a high entry fee to become a member and then spend all your time reducing internal competition and banning competition from outside.
Anyone who thinks the EU owes anything to free trade of the Adam Smith type hasn’t been paying attention.
I’ve lived in the Netherlands for almost 20 years: at the margins and in populist circles (SP, PVV, FvD party supporters) Euroscepticism exists. But in the six parties that form the coalition governments, the elites see which side their bread is buttered. Can’t see it ever changing.
I’ve never met a well-educated Dutch person who understands or sympathises with Brexit. But I have done so with normal working people. But their views are not reflected in the parties who form governments.

Last edited 3 years ago by Simon Forde
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Now that Salvini has caved to Draghi and the powerful business interests behind Lega Nord,

Those business interest in the North are the cash cow of Italy. they are the export champs of Italy. Those people remember the days of ever devaluing lira that is why – from day 1 – they supported EZ. The same way that Draghi’s Gov. is so strongly supported by the Italian citizens/people. They know the other options are terrible.

William Murphy
William Murphy
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Scotland will be let into the EU over Spain’s dead body. The last thing Madrid wants is to encourage the Basques and Catalans.

David Boulding
David Boulding
3 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

That goes out the window when there’s a chance for Germany and France to smack the UK down.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  David Boulding

That would mean seriously p*ssing off the Spanish just to get in a dig at the UK, while taking on the fiscal basket-case that is Scotland. I don’t think so, somehow.

gamer liv
gamer liv
3 years ago

Since the doctrine of ‘material change’ allowed the SNP to stave off defeat post 2014, their whole policy has doubled down on European membership. It had to.
But where there ought to be discussion about what that actually means, there is none. Where there ought to be pause for thought because the EU has now shown a hardened determination to put existing members and European unity first, there is none. If we Scots learned nothing about the EU just prior to 2014, we have learned even less from Brexit.
Scotland is now like a character in a thriller backing towards a cliff. Any encouragement to look behind is dismissed as ‘project fear’.
The EU has expressed to Greece, Ireland etc that there is no alternative to austerity. Scotland will need austerity with bells on and cannot be made an exception here without the EU jeopardizing the stability of the technocratic pact.
And then we get to borders. The EU will need to state that what was necessary for the single market re NI is necessary here. Exceptions for Scotland will make the EU look particularly cynical with regard to NI. So the England Scotland border will be very hard indeed.
The EU might will want to construct a reason as to why Scotland can’t accede that can be pinned on the rest of the UK. Keeping an increasingly dysfunctional independent Scotland at bay while saying to London ‘Look what you did’ will suit them better than owning the mess themselves. Scotland might eventually drag the whole UK down and allow the whole lot of us to serve as a morality tale for Europeans if they get restive.
I’m sorry if this sounds terribly cynical. I was slightly sceptical in 2016 but voted remain to give the EU the benefit of the doubt. I wish now I had not. It is an empire and behaves as an empire. The cost of keeping internal cohesion demands harshness on the periphery as the trade off between the gains of the single market and the loss of autonomy gets thinner. Brussels needs to be able to point a finger outwards, Roman style and tell EU citizens how much worse it is on the outside.
Perhaps state building, like volcanic eruption is an event better experienced as an historical one. There are eventually dividends in both cases after a long passage of time, but no-one in their right mind would choose to live in the formative period of either landscape. I think this is really the ultimate challenge for liberalism. It is not compatible with forging.

Neil Papadeli
Neil Papadeli
3 years ago
Reply to  gamer liv

Can you imagine the disaster the England/Scotland border will be? I am all for independence if that is what the Scottish people truly want, but holy smoke, what a price to be paid by Scotland. Brexit will be proved to be a walk in the park by comparison.
And this is a good point:

The EU might will want to construct a reason as to why Scotland can’t accede that can be pinned on the rest of the UK

Cynical, maybe, but this is the political reality the EU inhabits. One would hope, after NI, the UK govt would not allow itself to be hoodwinked again.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Papadeli

Can you imagine the disaster the England/Scotland border will be?

We fortify Hadrians’ Wall.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago

Agree. Add Belgium to the mix, as to endorse Scottish independence would inflame the Flemish / Walloon split. It might even give Bavaria ideas.

Even with the opportunity to take the stick to the U.K. again, Scotland’s cascade to the lowest tier of emerging markets, massive fiscal imbalances and likely worse than junk credit rating as an independent country would disqualify it from accession or Eurozone membership.

All of which doubtless the transparent, honest SNP will explain prior to any vote…not!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  David Boulding

France too has its nascent independence movements. I think we should contact and support them in the interests of peace

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Italy is extremely important to the EU because it deals with the immigrants from North Africa. If Italy left their first landfall could be France and the truck drivers would have something to say about that.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

“Nor, sadly, has Britain’s exit from the EU generated as much soul-searching on the continent as might have been expected (though there has been some in the Netherlands and Denmark).”
Quite. The lack of self-reflection about why Britain left has been startling. They see the UK rather like a lot of Britons see Harry and Meghan, just in the EU / monarchy for what they can get for themselves rather than surrendering themselves to something higher and (as they see it) more worthy. Since Harry and Meghan’s antics infuriate me, so I can understand the attitude in Europe to Brexit. However, just because the square pegs have gone and are no longer causing stress by trying to fit in a round hole (or, rather, trying to making the round hole square), that’s no reason not to ask what the point of the overall institution is. Just as the UK should continue to ask “what is the monarchy? What is it for? Does it still have a raison d’etre in the 21st century?”, in Europe, the same questions need to be asked of the EU. And it just isn’t happening…I suspect out of fear of finding out that most citizens want a single market and free movement goodies but less (or none of) the political stuff.
Whither liberalism…oh Lord knows. Discussions on liberalism always tend to be quite woolly and hard to grasp. But my pensĂ©e du jour after having read this article is that fear is playing a large role in its demise. Traditional liberalism, demanding that the individual enjoy constitutional protections from an interfering state, suggests a view of the individual as small, worthy of protection from a powerful state, yet spirited and yearning for the freedom to express himself and take risks. That seems at odds with the climate today where more and more people seem to look to the state to protect them from the big, bad world. That many wish to hand over their freedoms for a security that can never be guaranteed indicates a quite different view of the individual to that I mentioned above: defeated, fearful. Also lazy: not asking “what can I do for myself?” but “what can the state do for me?”
To be honest I think the EU has tapped right into this and is riding the wave. Promising to be a “Europe that protects”, it enacts more and more rules which, it says, protect the citizen from harm. Its status and clout as a regulatory superpower is all based on that: cutting into people’s freedom in exchange for perceived security. This is the exact opposite of traditional liberalism. I think it’s a con – but many go for it…and tacitly cooperate in the conversion by the EU of mollycoddling by regulation into hard economic power.
There are pitfalls to this, however. As we’ve seen during the Brexit negotiations as well as the vaccine procurement fiasco – the rules have become so sacrosanct and central to the EU’s identity and power in the minds of Brussels bureaucrats that they cannot see beyond them. There is no acknowledgment that there are situations where the existing rules have to be thrown out the window in the name of acting quickly (in a pandemic emergency for example) or because there are more important, countervailing interests (peace in NI). As we have seen, the rules and the political aims that are bound up with them have been given a higher priority than public health or peace. Europeans might not have been touched by the absurdity and vindictiveness of the EU in the course of Brexit – but they might feel differently when they’re on the rough end of it.

Last edited 3 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The most likely phrase to be heard from any modern soi-disant liberal is “You can’t say that!” I doubt many of them have heard of Mill, let alone read him.

Angela Frith
Angela Frith
3 years ago
Reply to  Quentin Vole

They heard of Locke – they cancelled him.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
3 years ago

This was an excellent article Mr. Siedentop, and one more people should read. I have been frustrated over the last few years with politicians and pundits pretending Neoliberalism is the same as Classical Liberalism. I am worried for America. â€œFreedom” is talked about as an empty buzzword while civil liberties are constantly violated because “smart people know better.” 
It is strange. Recently I have noticed a lot of old-fashioned Liberals and Traditional Conservatives agreeing with each other on issue after issue. All these people are what you would call Classical Liberals and they hardly recognize this country anymore. The neo in Neoconservative and Neoliberal basically means they are no longer concerned with Classical Liberal values. 
One of the most important parts of Classical Liberalism right after individual liberty is the idea that no matter how moral or how smart someone thinks they are; they are always fallible and therefore checks and balances need to be in place to keep them from going too far. This has been discarded. Now norms and liberties can be violated without a second thought. â€œYou may not appreciate it, but we know better than you” and “your rights are not as important now because we are more enlightened and smarter,” are the beliefs of this new trash calling itself Liberalism. Locke and Paine are rolling in their graves.
P.S. Does anyone know how to get your screen name back? The site changed mine for some reason.

Last edited 3 years ago by Matt Hindman
stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

No one knows yet how to break through the opaque curtain that the site has drawn between itself and the commenters.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I believe the recent change means that your name now derives from the email address you registered.
it’s clear that many people have contacted Unherd to ask them to reinstate the functionality that was removed, and we have been told that they are working on it now.

Tim Diggle
Tim Diggle
3 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

How true. The EU arose from the wreckage of WW2 ostensibly as an economic project (The ECSC) but in reality to prevent the rise of another authoritarian régime in Europe (German National Socialists) and to hold at bay an equally unpleasant authoritarian force in Russia (Stalinism).
Few now are those who remember the immediate post-WW2 situation and would be alarmed by the supra-National authoritarianism developing within the upper echelons of the EU Ă©lite. Where the EU has a major problem is now eastward. Western memories may have faded but central Europe still has a vivid and living recollection of supra-national authoritarianism in the form of the Russian dominated USSR and a continuing desire for the Liberal Democracy that represented freedom.
So long as the cash continues to flow eastwards the problem can be contained but once it stops the Visegrad nations may start to rock the boat rather more violently.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I feel that somehow the desire to embrace Classical Liberalism faded with the collapse of its original enemies — first the landed aristocracy, and then the spectre of Communism.
Neoliberalism seems to me nothing but a project to erect a new aristocracy: one of the educated technocrat. Perhaps its success in this regard is reviving interest in the Classical Liberal project once more?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Surely the purpose of the EU remains what it has always been. It’s to save France the trauma, and Germany the effort, of yet another Franco-German war that Germany handily wins. The means to this purpose is the wholesale adoption of the (failed) structures of the pre-war League of Nations.
That’s all.
There have been wobbles away from that goal but overall that’s still the purpose. It’s decades out of date but it’s the purpose so it must be pursued. It’s why the EU is fundamentally unreformable and it’s why many other of its weird features exist – the parliament with no opposition that can’t propose laws, for example.
To suggest it might be past its use-by date is simply heresy.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Someone once suggested that after WWII we should have allowed the Germans to occupy France indefinitely, to punish them both. Surely that would have been a more elegant solution than the EU.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

May be the “new” country would be a Frankish hybrid. German competence + French style.
And the English would feel EVEN more inferior.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

An alternative analysis of the German-French-British triangle in the EU – suggested to me many years ago – is this. Germany is a powerful horse; the French jockey wishes to ride it, but is not strong enough to mount; so the French jockey hopes the British groom will make himself useful by holding the horse’s head.

nick woods
nick woods
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Both Jean Monnet and Arthur Salter were League of Nations apparatchiks.One must assume that much of what they did then persisted in the EEC/EU structures.Most of all the shadow of Walter Hallstein the EECs first president and founder of the ECJ,.not to mention IG Farbens managers made the EU what it is today.BTW the much neglected German Bundeswehr would scarcely get passed Sedan these days.France has loads of real shooting servicement.

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
3 years ago

Some excellent comments below. My tuppence is that we often talk about the EU as if it’s different from its member countries. But the reality is that it isn’t. In particular, Germany – sometimes with the support of France, and often without – has ensured that the EU moves in a direction it wants, or at least that it approves of. This policy has been spectacularly successful for Germany, at least economically. But Germany’s decision to ‘live with Russia’ and move away from the US and the UK could cost them a lot in the medium and long term.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

“…move away from the US and the UK..”
It reminds me of Enver Hoxha’s saying “Albania and China have together 25% of the world’s population”.
Ever since the end of WW2 (from German re-armament, NATO membership, German unification) US has always backed Germany over the opposition of UK.
Germany (everybody) has to live with Russia. It is what it is. The only change (for better) in Russia has to come from Russians.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

By 2050 Russia and some East Europe will be the only countries where Mohammad is not the most common name of young men. Times are changing so fast predicting outcomes is impossible.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

It is up to Europeans to have another Reconquesta.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

It has been successful for Germany – so far. Who can tell the future? TARGET2 grows steadily.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago

An interesting read with some nice historical references but overall a very confused article that raises a lot of questions and answers none.
It starts by questioning if Britain has lost sight of maintaining equilibrium on the continent, then ends with a confused jumble of ideas, all of which lean towards the EU having more power.

I am not suggesting that the EU should attempt once again to adopt a constitution. That would be a mistake […] For, as a recent President of the EU Commission has admitted, the Commission’s instinct, until it meets resistance, is always to push for more centralisation.

That paragraph in particular, and the following ones read a bit like: “The EU shouldn’t have a constitution, but needs a sort of constitution to centralise its power. But it shouldn’t centralise as that’s what it always does and is bad. Brexiters were right to criticise the EU for this but the EU should be doing this. Anyway Britain should influence the EU more.”

avoid the UK facing a continent dominated by a single, overweening power […] And have we now, rather carelessly, lost sight of that goal?

The simple answer to that is not that Brexit meant we didn’t care, it was that it was patently obvious that the EU was not going to fix itself from within without some serious change. The EU refused to even entertain any change whilst the UK was a member. Britain leaving may well provide that catalyst for change or even be the EU’s ultimate undoing.

Last edited 3 years ago by A Spetzari
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I found the article un-understandable, a sort of stream of conscious telling of words and meanings with thoughts and opinions crammed into paragraphs.

Then as always is the article nu-Liberalism underpinning, I was surprised there was no mention of Trump as a disaster to learn from. The line referencing how fast pace is causing problems,

“A wise response would have been “to make haste slowly”, for the risk was that any acceleration of integration in Europe would create a backlash in public opinion, the growth of a new populism”

Is pure – heat the water slowly and the frogs will not even know they are being cooked – which has always been the path of the hard left/Liberals. Slowly, slowly, get the teachers conditioned, then the teachers get the children, then the adults vote correctly in their time.

G Matthews
G Matthews
3 years ago

Nice article, thank you to the author. Liberty and self-reliance is barely talked about these days. The only pundit I know who focuses on these topics is Mark Levin in the US. A study of the history of the US and the discussions around the constitutional convention are highly illuminating to people who have, as the author says, never thought much about liberty, as Madison and the others were obsessed with it. Undoubtedly though, as expressed by Guy Verhofstedt, the EU is driven by a self-serving fear/ambition that the future belongs to “empires”. It has built a centralised bureucracy and social democracy to the point that innovation and entrepreneurship – which are both reflections of the degree of individual liberty enjoyed by the individual – have been snuffed out. This is why Europe finds itself with no vaccine for Covid, no big tech, no AI, no space industry, no Tesla, etc. The Euro has exacerbated this problem of people feeling helpless to change their future (not self-reliant, in fact reliant on the state) due to stultifying political systems that never seem to give them the change they want. The EU itself and the nullification of various Lisbon treaty votes is the embodification of this process. Now large swathes of the EU are made of up of people who are simply on the take due to being deprived of liberty and power over their own decisions, and the core of Germany – which is dependent upon the fossil-fuel car industry which is barrelling towards extinction – grows ever more tired of transfers of “its” wealth. The EU has shown no ability to face up to this existential crisis of the lack of innovation – innovation that requires liberty as its foundation – and is sliding into global irrelevance.

Last edited 3 years ago by G Matthews
Peter Hollander
Peter Hollander
3 years ago

The UK’s remain supporters have always emphasised the economic benefits of being in the EU and have skated over the issue of sovereignty. No proper cost benefit analysis of membership has been made by Remain supporters, so the Leave supporters’ figures were not questioned – they were just laughed at and denigrated without actually pointing out the errors. As a net contributing country, the UK has put more into the EU than it has got out of it. In the long run, every contributing country will get fed up being a net contributor as the purpose to help the weaker countries (like foreign aid) is never achieved… they always lag behind and demand ever more money.
Sovereignty of all the little German states was lost in 1870. As a single language area which was within the older Holy Roman Empire, the Germans (apart from the Bavarians possibly) accepted unification. Unification of 28 countries with 28 languages and cultural histories is the aim of the EU – the United States of Europe – and for the British, and perhaps many other countries, that is a step too far, especially for countries under Soviet domination. We forget that most Southern and Eastern European countries have been ruled by totalitarian regimes in the recent past and that liberal democracies with freedoms that the British take for granted still do not exist. State interference in the lives of citizens is resented in the UK, but is more or less accepted by many in Europe. Britons don’t have to have ID, and no state official can demand to see ID – whether an policeman or at the polling booth or in the law courts. You only need a birth certificate to get a passport!
The British who voted Leave mainly did not want to be ruled by Brussels. Sovereignty was the key issue, not economics or no hold ups at border checks in Europe.
The set-up of the EU is anti-democratic, and the Commission’s policy of divide and rule is just the same as the British in India before 1947, and the Romans 2,000 years ago. However without an army, police force, courts which can imprison rather than fine only, the EU is still a toothless tiger… but the Commission wants these things as it seeks to centralise its power in its own hands and chip away at the sovereignty of member states. Loss of the member state veto and majority voting eat away at sovereignty, all for the common good. But who defines the common good? Corrupt politicians voted out by their own electorates and self righteous greedy overpaid unaccountable bureaucrats populate the Commission. A recipe for tears, disappointments, more states leaving and perhaps wars in the years to come.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

 will get fed up being a net contributor as the purpose to help the weaker countries (like foreign aid) is never achieved

Spain is much richer now than in 1980. And the amount of money (net) they receive has declined. Poland’s GDP since joining EU has doubled. Some countries (Greece) are always going to be net receivers. Others (Ireland) are going to break even.
ï»ż

Caroline Galwey
Caroline Galwey
3 years ago

‘the Commission’s instinct, until it meets resistance, is always to push for more centralisation.
Awareness of that danger has been the most admirable feature of the Brexit movement in the UK (although it has not been accompanied by self-awareness about the excessive centralisation of UK government itself!)…’
It has, actually! But it’s hard to fight more than one major battle at a time.
From its beginnings, the EU has been first and foremost a duel, disguised as a dance, between France and Germany, each trying to keep a close enough hold on the other to prevent it from exercising its full strength. It will certainly be interesting to see how that plays out now that the UK left: the UK’s role was clearly to be a whipping boy that France and Germany could round on, blame and humiliate when they needed a distraction from their fundamental battle with each other.

Last edited 3 years ago by Caroline Galwey
T R
T R
3 years ago

Disaster after disaster after disaster and the answer is ALWAYS THE SAME
We need more Europe!
Like an alcoholic needs a drink

Mike Hursthouse
Mike Hursthouse
3 years ago

The author concentrates on the philosophical issues around political integration but actually the dynamics are more prosaic.
My job involve studying how organisations think, behave and act and I discovered some years ago to my surprise that (this is very simplified) organisations at different stages in their development have more in common with other organisations at the same stage in their development than they do with themselves at an earlier or later stage in their own development. New organisations, for example (I call them “movements”) are often creative, intuitive and disruptive but lacking in sound processes and systems. As they grow they change and over time they become institutionalised, schlerotic, wedded to their rituals and norms and they lose sight of their stakeholders and original purposes. This is partly because of the change in the type of people they attract at all levels.
Essentially, the EU is incapable of evaluating whether it, itself is a “good thing” or of asking how it can best serve the interests of its member states, because the EU to its insiders is itself an article of faith.
I voted leave in 2016 principally because I decided that the EU was already a dead man walking. Some huge fright might just wake it from its imperial slumbers but I think that unlikely. I give it 15 years.

Jeff Mason
Jeff Mason
3 years ago

Expecting EU members with so many different histories, languages, and cultures to speak with one voice is naive to say the least. Learn from America’s mistakes. Trying to force one vision on everyone, under threat of law for the dissenters, is foolish and will only lead to conflict. It is better to pursue a loose federalist approach based on trade and defense – and the looser the better. In the US we used to have this. States largely decided their own policies based on what their citizens wanted. This wasn’t perfect and the federal government had to step in on occasion like with the Civil Rights laws but by and large, California didn’t tell Texas ‘how to suck eggs.’ Now that is gone. Now we have the President canceling pipelines in South Dakota because the liberal coasts don’t like it. This is both stupid and short sighted. We had it right and then screwed it up. Don’t blindly follow us into that minefield.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeff Mason
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Mason

‘Now we have the President canceling pipelines in South Dakota because the liberal coasts don’t like it.’
Yes, the (neo)liberal coasts would prefer to see the US fighting for oil in the ME than piping it in from Canada. They are very, very sick people.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

I wrote a comment two hours ago that is still ‘Awaiting for approval’, to use the illiterate terminology of this comments system. I cannot, for the life of me, see anything wrong with m comment. Yes, it is critical of the article, but it makes similar points to the comments that have been published.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Length or hyperlinks usually.
Old posts of mine have been auto-edited to replace extremely naughty words like xǝs with “s*x”, including at the beginning of sentences where there should be an S rather than an s.
I can only imagine this commenting system is a cheaper add-on than Disqus was, because it’s rubbish. You can’t actually discuss anything in the comments any more without remembering and re-reading the entire comment thread you posted in.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jon Redman
Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Was it always like this? I had heard from friends that it had the best comments page in England, but it does seem rather censorious to say the least.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Thumbs up. I am losing patience with this truly inferior system.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I’m still waiting for something to be approved from yesterday on Tom Chiver’s piece..

It’s hardly straightforward prospect going back to it either.

‘Pomme d’amour’ as the French would say.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I have had several comments “awaited”, then disappear with no explanation. Thumbs up.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

Same here. Censorship or capacity issue?

G Matthews
G Matthews
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I have served as a moderator on another site, there is no incentive for moderators to approve anything that anyone could possibly conceive as being offensive. Its far easier just to delete the comment. And to be fair, most moderators are just volunteers and it can consume lots of time to approve a single person’s opinion, time you are not being paid for. Several of mine have also failed to make it through. I guess we might need another site called Unherd on Unherd exclusively for topics too hot to handle here!

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

The biggest issue in the Eu is the massive democratic deficit which exists at it’s heart. The commission is fully appointed and the commission effectively is the EU. There was a half hearted attempt to make the president of the commission the leader of the biggest party in the EU Parliament, but that was dumped as soon as the German’s didn’t like the candidate. As an institution the Eu has no liberal underpinning because it derives it’s power from automatism.

Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
3 years ago

The headline “Can the EU Survive the Death of Liberalism” is ironic since the the EU is largely responsible for liberalism’s plight. A liberalism which is illiberal cannot claim to be liberal. Brussels objects to what it sees as growing authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary but is blind to its own authoritarianism.
Pre-communism, the central Europeans were not liberal in the way that the UK and France were liberal. This difference and its consequences are now showing up in the EU. Liberalism and democracy aren’t monoliths any more than communism and fascism were. Each country is liberal and democratic in its own way; a citizen of democracy X could well be uncomfortable living under the democracy of country Y even while acknowledging the legitimacy of its democracy.
The fundamental flaw of a now 27 nation EU is the incompatible diversity of its components. In fact it’s an example of the limits of diversity which faux liberals on the left believe is the summa of social virtue. It’s no longer just north versus south but of east versus west all tenuously held together by a remote and autocratic centre in Brussels. This is what happens when technocrats deliberately set out to “build Europe” without the participation of the peoples of Europe because it would have taken too long to achieve by consent.. It lacks the legitimacy on which true liberalism depends.
The fact that Europeans share a landmass does not mean that they have enough in common to shed their regional cultural differences and be governed by faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats whose record, from intervention in the Yugoslav war to the single currency has been one of incompetence. Poles and Hungarians among others and most notably the British chafe temperamentally against the one-size-fits-allism of a centralised bureacracy that is remote and dictatorial.
The EU as it is and wants to become will founder at some point on the rock of economic and political union which it must pursue because it is its raison d’ĂȘtre but which national peoples will never accept. It will fail within each member country as electorates turn on their pro-EU leaders. The question is what can be salvaged from the wreckage of doomed federalisation in the form of an EU with reduced ambitions that works for its peoples, not despite them.

willy Daglish
willy Daglish
3 years ago

The bloc was “designed” by France’s Énarques to recreate Bonapart’s Empire without fighting his endless wars.
You call that “Liberalism”?

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  willy Daglish

Ironically it was the Germans who ended up running the place having failed to grab it all for themselves a couple of times in the last Century.

Charles Reed
Charles Reed
3 years ago
Reply to  willy Daglish

Not so, from watching it happen, more that the French were fed up with constantly losing wars to the Germans.
1803-1820, 1870,1940
and then losing the following economics of peace
“If you can’t beat them join them”.
Peronally I think it to be greatest contribution to his country of probably her greatest patriot.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Does liberalism even exist anymore? Not in the classical sense, and certainly not practiced by those who still call themselves liberal. It is amazing to see societies blessed with freedom steadily retreating from it, ever supporting increasing govt encroachment into areas of their lives where govt has no business.

Terry M
Terry M
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The price of freedom is constant vigilance.

Calum Button
Calum Button
3 years ago

Point of order, Britain does have a written constitution. Britain does not have a codified constitution, i.e. it’s not written in one document. This means our constitution can change and adapt to the modern world much better than the codified one – look at the 2nd Amendment in the US.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Calum Button

In UK constitution Parliament is supreme. It can literally do whatever it wants.
In other countries (including ones shaped by the British political culture – USA, Can, Aus, etc.) you have written constitution with clear rules so the Parliament can not do whatever it wants.

Joffre Woods
Joffre Woods
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The individual is sovereign. Parliament is ultimately shaped by this, but the voting system distorts the process.

Earl King
Earl King
3 years ago

As an American I view Europe and its history probably very differently that others in Europe. It seems to me that integration was in response to horrific wars that had defined Europe for centuries. Certainly integration with Germany being the central European economic powerhouse was desired by less efficient capitalist countries. Italy and Spain come to mind. They were looking for anything that might boost their economies. For an America visiting Europe we saw desperate countries that were different. Language, architecture, culture. Charming canals and charming homes and windmills vs. big grand broadways leading to a visually spectacular tower. It was that difference that Americans could feel a touch. What does a untied Europe look like? Do all Europeans think the same? Are all economies equal? When money is involved just relatives there will be arguments. Britain needs to chart its own path….it has for centuries and should continue to do so….IF the EU is simply going larder on more regulations that inhibit production and force conformity I do not see how that ends well.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Earl King

It begins to resemble the part of the US system in which people want to dismantle the Electoral College. California and South Dakota are no more identical than Italy and Sweden, yet central authorities do not trouble themselves with such distinctions. They know what is best for you.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Earl King

Oktoberfest till Oktoberfest despite the fact that large groups of white people (not from Germany) from all over the world visit Munich and get wasted.
It is still Oktoberfest and is still Bavaria and is still Germany.
Italy with its weather, light, food, architecture, sense of fashion will still be Italy.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Terry M
Terry M
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Those things aren’t as permanent as you think. Wait until the woke discover that slaves built and fought in the colosseum, the Arc de Triomphe is a war monument, and British were slavers….oh wait they started on that last one.

Mark St Giles
Mark St Giles
3 years ago

Can the EU be more than a free trade zone, which is what a lot of Brits thought it was when they originally voted for membership? If so, that has been very successful as anyone involved in importing or exporting post Brexit has discovered painfully. Whether the EU, as Europe, can achieve global political clout is much less certain. The other great political entities, the US, China and Russia have a more or less clear vision of their political aims, their standing in the world and foreign polices based on those. Whether you agree with them and consider them either harmful or benign is immaterial. Much though the EU would wish to promote the same kind of vision of itself, it simply doesn’t have a consensus to be able to form one. Witness the laughable attempts to create an EU foreign policy led by a series of nonentities.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark St Giles

I think your definition of success for the EU as a free trade zone is different from mine, otherwise one wouldn’t have one country with a truly massive favourable balance of trade, and a number of other members with extreme problems.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago

The attack on the democratic governments of Hungary and Poland and the support the article shows for the Corporatist (and “Woke”) European Union bureaucracy, shows that the author supports a form of “liberalism” that such people as Prime Minister Gladstone or President Calvin Coolidge (and President Coolidge was very much a Classical Liberal – as was President Harding, the most smeared President in American history, who was dedicated to both reducing the economic size and scope of government and to Civil Liberties) would not have recognised to be liberalism.
The author appears to support a form of “New Liberalism” (as in Chancellor “we are all socialists now” Harcourt who helped force out Gladstone), or President Woodrow Wilson whose “New Freedom” amounted to unelected academics and officials controlling every aspect of human life (because they, supposedly, push “Progressive” values) – such books as “Philip Dru: Administrator” (by President Wilson’s “Other Self” Colonel House), or “Stakeholder Capitalism” and “The Great Reset” by (Corporate State) Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, sum up what a Classical Liberal is AGAINST.
For example, to the Classical Liberal the most liberal State of the United States is South Dakota, because its government spending is lower, in proportion to its economy, than any other State AND because it has shown itself to be the most respectful of Civil Liberties by not imposing a Covid “lockdown” or a mask mandate. And the least liberal States are New York, New Jersey and California – where government spending and regulations most dominate Civil Society. I suspect the author of the article might have a rather different opinion.
Last point – the distinction made by J.S. Mill and others between economic liberty and civil liberties does not really stand up. It is not just “lockdowns” and mask mandates (and so on) that are clearly violations of both economic liberty and civil liberties – essentially everything that is a violation of one is also a violation of the other. For example, the endemic “Occupation Licensing” that one sees in California (where virtually every trade is “licensed”) is clearly not just a violation of economic liberty, it crushes Civil Liberties as well. Indeed the general economic policy (pushed by the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and-so-on) of Credit Money creating an economy dominated by an handful of vast corporations undermines Civil Liberties by giving a stranglehold on employment to a small number of employers – thus enabling them to practice “Cancel Culture” in relation to people peacefully expressing their political and cultural opinions.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago

A good article, with the “more haste, less speed” point being probably the best observation.
I agree that Britain should try and use soft power to encourage the EU not to make any avoidable mistakes, but should also prepare for the worst.

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

The EU never listened to Britain while she was a member, so why would they do so now Britain isn’t a member ? The UK made a fundamental mistake in joining in the first place. EFTA was a much better vehicle with much better and clearly defined aims. It is a pity it can’t be resurrected as a rival to the imperialist EU.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago

The EU has transferred power from elected governments to an unelected self-serving bureaucracy. In that it has been decades ahead of its time.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 years ago

That was always the plan. The aim was to have an organisation run by French civil servants or similar to prevent the strife of the 1920s and 1930s. The founders of the EEC did not trust the people.France was practically in a civil war in the 1930s. Britain’s political parties negotiated the 1920s and 1930s with minimal violence.
Liberalism in most catholic countries is against the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the Jesuits and in education. Also in Europe there is no tradition of the Non- Conformist anti class war patriotic types who steered the British Labour Party until the 1960s. Callaghan was a RN Chief Petty Officer and Officer and a Sunday School teacher while Ernie Bevin was Baptist preacher. It was people like Keir Hardie, Bevin and Callaghan who prevented left wing violence in the 1920s and 1930s while George V was happy to invite Labour leaders to Buckingham Palace. When some people criticised the strikers during the 1926 General strike , George V retorted ” You try living on their wages “.
If one reads histories of Europe from 1918 to 1945, then the EEC/EU makes more sense. It would help to understand the EU more if leaders were more honest about their fears based upon experience. The experience of Britain from 1918 to 1945 is different and therefore many Britons have different emotional responses.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
3 years ago

I would contest that liberal thinking was behind the EEC/EU. Jean Monnet was first and foremost a businessman. He got his ideas from his colleague, Arthur Salter. Both were civil servants in the first world war. Both believed firmly in the benefits of dirigisme. Salter wrote a book in 1931 proposing an upgrade of the League of nation, Commission, Council, Court etc. A blueprint of the EU. Monnet ran with the idea. Its political content was thein to say the least: nationalism equals war was one component; political fragmentation hinders economies of scale was another; Third Wayism was another. None of this began to scratch the surface of constitutional thinking, let alone come to grips with the very wide range of motivations involved in signing up to the EU. The simple reason why the UK voted Leave is there: it was indefensible on liberal constitutional grounds. And membership clearly did untold damage to the UK constitution.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
3 years ago

Having lost one member, and a very significant one, the power base will go to extreme lengths to make sure they do not lose anyone else. Only if the project is fundamentally flawed (and therefore structurally unsound) will it eventually fall apart. The relationship the UK forges with the EU going forward will take a decade to shape and will be very subject to evolving world events.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago

I also believe that, spoken or unspoken, the EU will now have the objective of recapturing the UK by fair means or foul, aided from within.

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago

Noticeable that the thinkers Sir Larry holds as essential kick starters of classical liberalism are all either UK, French or US origin. No Germans, Italian, Spanish and no-one east of the Elbe. This very much sums up the EU predicament. The USA was made of English and French speakers who conquered Spanish and Native Indian speaking lands. The USSR was made of Russian speakers who gave the Kamlyks and Tarters the same option – submit to Russia or perish. Unless they want to use force the EU are in uncharted territory: how to create a Union of states with differing language and cultural history without using force. Its taken the USA 220 years and its still a work in progress.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  mike otter

USA – did you miss the Dutch?

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago

The European Union, once the European Economic Community, is NOT based on liberalism – it is based on Corporatism, economic interests (formal Corporations and less formal interests) working with officials and politicians to create regulations and control the economy – that is not liberalism as Gladstone or Calvin Coolidge would have understood the term. It is more like Klaus Schwab and his Corporate State “Stakeholder Capitalism”.
Nor is Classical Liberalism necessarily anything to do with utilitarianism (although Ludwig Von Mises, the leading liberal economist of the 20th century, was a utilitarian).- after all Jeremy Bentham, the arch utilitarian, came to radically ANTI liberal policy conclusion, believing that 13 Departments of State should control most aspects of life. A Classical Liberal is just as likely to be a supporter of natural rights (natural law) as they are to be a utilitarian.

Last edited 3 years ago by Paul Marks
Adrian Grant
Adrian Grant
3 years ago

The mistake made by the do-gooders at the heart of this was a blithe misunderstanding of Aristotle. They appear to have thought that if they (the EU) proceeded on the basis that everything was wonderful then it would become so.
Constitutions are – or should be – unnecessary in good or even normal times. They are – or should be – designed to provide coping mechanisms for when situations go pear-shaped (which, inevitably, they will: the skill lies in covering as many bases as the most imaginative can imagine).
There is merit in the convoy system – which in this case should have implied not seeking “ever closer union” at a speed faster than the slowest could cope with. It is the persistent refusal to articulate with this reality which has proved their undoing. All very sad and all eminently avoidable.
Liberals have killed liberalism through becoming dogmatic/fascistic.

GEORGE DAVIDOVICI
GEORGE DAVIDOVICI
3 years ago

My impression is that Europe is in danger because of the leftist progressive liberalism.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

People (especially the British) have been declaring the death of EU ever since the Coal & Steel days.
EU is what the voter thinks it is. My favorite (very pretty) barista at Costa was Sicilian. She came to London for a job and to practice her English.
Sadly, 2/3 years ago she left for Berlin with her German boyfriend. That is EU for her.
In Poland and Hungary (assuming the polls are to be believed) EU is more popular than national governments. And in the last Polish Presidential elections the PiS barely won thanks to the votes of Old People. Young people overwhelmingly voted for the “Liberals”.
Nationalist parties real problem is not EU but non EU migration. AfD doesn’t care about Italians in Berlin, FN doesn’t care about Germans in Provence. Salvini says lots of crazy things, but his base (Northern Italian export based companies) do remember the days of ever devaluing lira.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Nationalist parties real problem is not EU but non EU migration

Quite possibly, but that’s only part of the story. If one country (Germany) decides to let in 1m non-Eu migrants – the rest of the EU has to just suck it up. And that is a fault of the EU

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

It is the fault of post WW2 refugee/asylum system. Every failed farmer from Pakistan can come to Austria and claim asylum. Good luck getting rid of him (and it is always him).
So countries (EU or not) have to change the post WW2 order – often nailed down in UN treaties. No EU country would dare walk away from UN Treaties. Salvini (God bless him) used all the tricks in the book to stop the boats. But that is not a solution – long term.
Merkel’s decision in 2015 was just insanity – but the problems of many EU countries (UK and grooming gangs in the midlands?) with 3rd world migration have very little to do with EU policies. Turks in Germany, Arabs in France, Pakistanis in UK…all national decision.
Blaming EU is easy.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

For once I have to agree with Jeremy Smith!

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Oh, I recall previous agreement…but I must rely on recollection, as this new system of theirs makes it impossible to navigate past posts.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Has JS suddenly seen the light and changed sides???

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

I state facts. Others rant.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes, me too, one of my rare upticks for Jezza and as no-one can see who likes or dislikes one’s comments, I thought I would fess up. 😉

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Thumbs up.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Hispanics in USA.

Angela Frith
Angela Frith
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The difference is that North America never colonised South America.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

“[The] EU is what the voter thinks it is.”
And that is exactly the problem. As long as the basic structure of the EU works, then it’s all fine. However, it is quite clear that the EU in its current form isn’t working and is in need of deep reform; a view which is shared by a large dollop of European citizens (https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-citizens-optimistic-poll-reform/).
If you are going to reform, you need a clear, unified vision of what the EU is now, what it should be in the future and how you are going to get there. There is no unified vision and the diversity of the EU means that any vision you get to (after years of shooting the breeze) is going to be an underwhelming lump of Brussels fudge.

Last edited 3 years ago by Katharine Eyre
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

And that is exactly the problem

No it is not – that is the beauty of it. England/GB is what English/British citizen thinks it is. Most people in daily life (99.9999%) don’t waste(!) time thinking about the Magna Carta, British Constitution and so on. They just go on living.
Some people want a Federal EU, others don’t. There is no clear path toward a clear goal in/for EU.
EU will just muddle through. And there is nothing wrong with that. We all muddle through. Some choices will work – others will not!

Last edited 3 years ago by Jeremy Smith
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Absolutely disagree. Muddling through has a clear sell-by date and that is the 2020s. The EU could muddle along nicely under the protection of the US and without any other great powers rubbing up against it from the east. Now, the USA has serious problems of its own, is rather in the descendant as a world power and its commitment to being the world’s policeman and Europe’s protector is questionable. Russia is unpredictable and China is more powerful and moving much faster and with greater ambition than anyone here can comprehend. Finding answers and responses to all of these challenges requires clear, unified, consistent plans – none of which the EU has so far come up with. Borrell’s humiliation at the hands of Lavrov a few weeks ago was the clearest expression of how other powers see the EU…as a bit of a nothing. To think that the EU will “somehow muddle through” these new challenges is tremendously, dangerously naive.

Last edited 3 years ago by Katharine Eyre
G Matthews
G Matthews
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Indeed, China is actively working in the Balkans to replace the EU, to wit the Danube – Axios canal project which passes through Serbia, Macedonia and Greece to bring more freight to China’s hub at Piraeus and sidesteps Turkey. The EU seems unable to even envisage such a project and has lost the initiative completely.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  G Matthews

Because the project makes no sense. That is why!

David Wrathall
David Wrathall
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I confess I know nothing about this. I suppose making no sense depends on the criteria. Does it make no sense economically or strategically? I’m interested in your take.

It feels to me the Chinese are doing many things that wouldn’t have an acceptable ROI to western eyes, but are aimed at a long term, and significant, tilting of every field we might want to play on. Again that is more of an impression than a properly researched view.

Charles Reed
Charles Reed
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

no economic sense, possibly – but lots of political sense!!

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I don’t think they think the EU is nothing – but as with the outrageous use of chemical weapons on British soil – they clearly send a message to us all ‘..so what are you going to do about it?’ – and the answer is clearly – nothing, they know it and we know it. The thing about Trump a lot of people didn’t get, or appreciate, is that his loose cannon persona made them unsure what he would do in the face of such provocation. In the West we seem to have forgotten that one of the reasons we had peace after WW2 because the US military machine was so overwhelmingly powerful it could keep the most megalomaniacal dictator in check – and frequently did (for better or worse is arguable). But that ‘strong man’ presence did fulfil a function. Someone has to do it. The Americans took over from the Pax Britannica and has, by and large, done its job. The fact that China, Iran, Turkey and Russia are gleefully emboldened by watching the USA implode and the EU and the UK toothlessly navel-gazing, is that it creates a power vacuum, and I am in no doubt they (whether alone or together) want to fill it. The question for the West is – whom would you rather have in charge? The imperfect Americans, and by extension, the West – or a Sino-Russian-Islamofascist regime? For me it is a no-brainer. It’s the Yanks and the West all day every day and that means the UK and the EU remembering we were partners and friends before the EU existed and should still continue to be. That is the choice as far as I am concerned and we had better start regaining our confidence. Soon.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Excellent points Cheryl. My concern with the EU is its apparent aim to be a neutral entity between Russia & China on the one hand and the Anglosphere on the other. This policy of refusing to take sides, in my view, won’t protect the EU or allow it to avoid aggression – it will simply result in it realising too late that it is caught between 2 millstones that are going to crush it. The UK does right to clearly pin its colours to the mast of Team USA. The USA on its own may not be the “strong man” figure you rightly point out is necessary as a kind of deterrent…but perhaps the combined Anglosphere can come together to form a strong, convincing union that the EU is welcome to join once it comes off its “neutral middle way” policy.

Last edited 3 years ago by Katharine Eyre
John Armstrong
John Armstrong
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I also disagree that ‘muddling through’ is a viable option. In fact, reading the above debate I am wondering why no-one is mentioning the elephant in the room: climate change. I’m not wishing to be alarmist, but there are already parts of Africa where living is becoming non-viable, and these parts can only increase, perhaps soon and perhaps massively. Then there won’t be just a few thousand displaced souls wanting to migrate to Europe, but millions or tens of millions. Then what happens to European union? Already the southern countries feel the strain and are the least resilient financially. Will they put up more barriers or try to accommodate the flow of people? Will the northern countries support them or, as seems likely, pretend it is not happening until they too feel the pressure? Why is no-one talking about this?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  John Armstrong

You can not have a solution (stop non existing millions of Africans) for a problem that doesn’t exit.
Housing in UK is a problem. GOV after GOV get elected by promising to fixt it…and what do you get in return. Muddling through and playing around with “taxes.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

AOC, the mad Lefty/Liberal in USA, has just stated USA must accept Climate Refugees! The mad EU cannot be far behind.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I am an American in London. One of my favorite president is Teddy! Why? He protected the environment. USA Is a very large rich country, it can afford to spend money to protect nature (wildlife, rivers, lakes, forests, etc.).
How best to do that should be a (hopefully) bipartisan political decision. But the Republicans answer to everything is NO! Start by raising the taxes on fuel – YES, fuel. No one need a F150 to travel from suburbs to the mall and back. I remember the days when a Ford Taurus was good enough for a family.

Terry M
Terry M
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Thank you for deciding what kind of car everyone needs, comrade.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago

No, it cannot, and will not survive.

Rezzi Ingemarsson
Rezzi Ingemarsson
3 years ago

What a superb article! As a strong believer in classical liberalism, it is wonderful to read such a succinct analysis of its modern decline.

Andy White
Andy White
3 years ago

It is hard to imagine an EU which doesn’t have economic coordination as its core activity and principal focus IMO. Yes Neoliberalism’s winners and losers have become too easy to spot, both within and between the EU nations. So the challenge for the EU is to develop a new economic consensus, which all their members can buy in to. There will be a lot more scrutiny, debate and public awareness this time too. It might well be a very bumpy ride.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago

Wasn’t the EU bureaucracy something of a barrier to liberalism well before the former Eastern Bloc nations joined? That’s the distinct impression I got.

Olaf de Kuyper
Olaf de Kuyper
3 years ago

I suppose it would be impossible for every EU inhabitant to have even remotely similar views about how European structures should evolve and how crucial the EU’s continued existence is. The basic common denominators for the generations that have grown up as EU citizens are that like US citizens they can go to work and do business across state borders as of right. Isn’t preserving these two rights worth the effort of voting in EU elections?

John Brown
John Brown
3 years ago

Beware Germans bearing coffins.

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago

 
The thinkers Sir Larry holds as essential kick starters of classical liberalism are all either UK, French or US origin. No Germans, Italian, Spanish and no-one east of the Elbe. This very much sums up the EU predicament. The USA was made of English and French speakers who conquered Spanish and Native Indian speaking lands. The USSR was made of Russian speakers who gave the others in thier way the same option – submit to Russia or perish. Unless they want to use force the EU are in uncharted territory: how to create a Union of states with differing language and cultural history without using force. Its taken the USA 220 years and its still a work in progress.

eugene power
eugene power
3 years ago

Enjoyed the Article, confused by the references. Was the liberal Madison the same one who helped with the Federalist papers then turned on Hamilton?

Zigurds Kronbergs
Zigurds Kronbergs
3 years ago

Liberalism is not dead, but its defenders need to make themselves heard more often and more loudly.
The sooner neoliberalism dies, on the other hand, so much the better.
As for the EU, of course it will survive. Not merely because the alternative would be so much worse, but chiefly because it remains fundamentally a noble idea. Its enemies, no matter how much they be encouraged and funded by illiberal autocrats such as Putin, have never managed to muster a majority in any EU member state, except one, the UK, for reasons wholly unconnected with EU membership. Brexit remains a tragedy, but, thankfully, a temporary one.