The EU’s defenders in the middle class and political/cultural elite love to believe that they are supporting a grand and noble project, but close their eyes to the economic and democratic damage wrought by this failing supranational union
An opinion piece in the New York Times provides a welcome antidote to that newspaper’s fatuous, instinctive pro-Europeanism.
Tim Parks writes:
Had I had the right to vote, which I have lost after 30 years living in Italy, I would have voted to remain in the European Union. But I do not think it a scandal that others think differently. If it was a scandal that people voted to leave, then surely it was a scandal to have held a referendum at all. And if it is a scandal to hold a referendum on an issue central to the destiny of a nation and about which its people feel deeply, then I have misunderstood the meaning of freedom and democracy in the West.
So why the extraordinary incredulity and indignation? Why the sense of betrayal? Why do so many people find this result unacceptable? It seems that over the last 30 or 40 years the idea has taken hold that there can be no peaceful or productive future for Europe without the European Union. As a result, anyone who voted to be outside it must be discredited as pernicious or ignorant, perpetrator or victim of some sinister populism. In the United States, this unhelpful reaction has taken the form of likening the leaders of the Leave campaign to Donald J. Trump. But Britain is not America and this was not a presidential election. Immigration played a role, but no one in the Leave campaign was suggesting Muslims be banned from Britain. On the contrary, some Muslims supported the Brexit vote. To see the debates of other countries in terms of one’s own internal politics is always a failure of imagination.
All this shock, horror and kneejerk denigration might be understandable if the European Union were notching up important successes and resolving its member states’ many problems, or if, at the very least, it had a figurehead with whom European citizens could identify, someone of whom one might say, “However badly things are going, I have faith in so and so, I believe he or she really does have the interests of my nation at heart, really is concerned about unemployment in my town,” be it Newcastle or Naples.
Obviously the EU has no such figureheads. Its vaunted “founding fathers” are unknown and unloved by all but the most starry-eyed euro federalists, its parliament a fraud, its stolen anthem a joke and its leaders held in widespread contempt. It cannot appeal to any sense of collective destiny because the loyalty of the vast majority of EU citizens lies first and foremost with their own nation state.
And Parks is quite right to note that the EU is failing across most of the metrics by which one might reasonably judge success. Economic growth, employment and social cohesion have all been thrown under the bus in the name of European political union, while the countries most let down by the EU project remain within the union only because they suffer from a national form of Stockholm Syndrome.
Parks points out:
But the Union’s greatest failing is that after decades of regulations of every possible kind it has not brought the nations of the Continent closer together. Day by day Italians are told whether their government’s economic policy has been accepted or rejected by Berlin, but about the Germans they know little or nothing. In each country, we follow our own national news media and are locked into the agendas of our own political systems. We are separate nations but not sovereign nations. We obey the dictates of Brussels and read Jonathan Franzen and “Harry Potter.” We watch American films and follow the American elections far more closely than those of any other country in the European Union. Is this a community?
But best of all is when Parks turns his gaze on the middle class and political elites who remain the EU’s strongest defenders:
The middle classes, the cultured elite, love the idea that they are taking part in a historic project that will bring peace and prosperity to the Continent, put an end to war, take steps to defend the environment, protect Europeans from superpower ambitions and multinational depredations, etc., etc. I love this idea, too. Like so many others, I take comfort in this noble enterprise.
But when the project does not bring prosperity, when it does not do enough to protect the environment, when its protectionist trading policies systematically damage the economies of the third world, I, like everyone else, don’t want to think about it; we prefer to close our eyes. This is not the narrative we like to believe we live in.
[..] With Brexit this decades-old spell is set to break. And how does the liberal elite on both sides of the Atlantic react to this deafening alarm? They scream foul and blame the dumb British working classes for spoiling the party. It might be wiser to examine our own attachment to a narrative that is going nowhere.
But the defiant liberal elite will not let go of their false narrative, preferring to nurture a sense of grievance and display to the world a shameful contempt for democracy.
Just this weekend, grieving metropolitan Remainers held a “Picnic against Brexit” in Green Park, in what was billed as an opportunity for people to “heal” and “comfort” one another. Disappointed Remainers are literally treating their defeat in the EU referendum as a kind of emotional trauma, an unendurable shock to the system for a group of people who have had their way since 1973, came to rely on the EU’s comfort blanket and who simply cannot conceive of life as a citizen of an independent country.
An emotional reaction of this strength is only possible when one genuinely believes that one is fighting on the side of righteousness and possesses a monopoly on the virtues of wisdom, compassion and truth. It is much like the arrogance of tearful Labour supporters who simply could not understand why the country rejected Ed Miliband and re-elected the Evil Tories in the 2015 general election. The strong overlap between these two groups of people is no coincidence.
For people who make up a supposed intellectual and moral elite, the Remainers-in-denial are extraordinarily unperceptive. Even now, they can not accept that the 52% of their fellow citizens – including many working class voters – who voted to leave the EU might have a point, that their beloved European Union might not be the wonderful and benevolent force for good that they insist it is. On the contrary, they stubbornly continue to insist that those who voted for Brexit did so either out of ignorance or malice, and work to prevent Brexit from happening.
This will not end well. Sneering contempt for the political opinions and values of ordinary people has not done the elites any good this electoral cycle, in Britain or America. If the elites are at all interested in bridging the divide and repairing their relationship with the rest of the country then they must start displaying the kind of introspection and empathy demonstrated by Tim Parks in his NYT article – and far fewer disdainful middle class picnics against democracy.
Top Image: CNN
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