What European Identity? Part 2 – Classical Music Edition

European Union Youth Orchestra

How can we possibly continue to enjoy Beethoven or watch touring European orchestras perform in evil, isolationist Brexit Britain?

Today’s Peak Guardian article is an account of an interview recently given by the legendary pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy to the Observer newspaper, in which Ashkenazy urges classical musicians to “keep up British links with Europe in the face of Brexit”.

A distilled summary of the Guardian’s breathless spin: Brexit gravely threatens Britain’s continued participation in the international arts and culture scene, but if enough brave musicians come together in a spirit of cooperation then it may be possible to ride out the gravest threat to Europe since World War 2 and the Cold War.

From the piece:

Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the most revered figures in classical music, has called on musicians to strive to keep up British links with Europe in the face of Brexit. The great Russian conductor and pianist, who made his name as a soloist in the 1960s and 70s, spoke passionately to the Observer about his continued faith in European culture.

“Music will win in the end,” he said, speaking publicly on the subject for the first time. “After all, music is not just an exercise in making sounds. It is a reflection of our joint spiritual endeavours.”

Comparing Britain’s impending split with Europe to other political schisms of the 20th century, such as the rise of fascism and the cold war, Ashkenazy, 79, said he was optimistic that those who love making music together will find a way to keep connections going across the Channel. “I am sorry about it, and I know it will be difficult to get used to a totally different situation, but for musicians many things will remain the same, simply because we will work to find a way to make agreements for the sake of music,” he said.

Many British classical musicians expect Brexit to set up new travel barriers and present fresh difficulties for orchestras receiving EU funding. The potential threat to free travel for working musicians has already prompted the European Union Baroque Orchestra to announce a move to Belgium this summer. It has been based in Oxfordshire since 1985. Meanwhile, the well-regarded European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) is considering a move to the continent after 40 years in Britain.

Of course, this feeds nicely into the Guardian’s (and the entire British metro-Left’s) little conceit that by extricating ourselves from a dysfunctional and failing supranational political union we are also somehow hacking away at the cultural and historical ties which bind us to the continent, and so naturally they seize on the Ashkenazy interview as a perfect example of how enlightened artists can help to save Britain from the brutish and self-destructive decision made by the Evil 52%.

Now, Vladimir Ashkenazy is not particularly to blame for any of this. If you want somebody to play a Rachmaninov prelude in such a dazzling way that it makes your hair stand on end and brings a lump to your throat then Ashkenazy is your very man. If, however, you want somebody to give you a good overview of geopolitics and assess the relative failings and merits of the European Union, then you are probably better off turning to someone else. So the point is not that Ashkenazy is wrong (and even he is generous enough to admit that Brexit is slightly less evil than Soviet communism, which is very kind) – that much is entirely forgivable, given that he is operating far from his natural competencies.

No, the problem is the entirely predictable way that the Guardian picks up this narrative and unquestioningly burnishes and amplifies it without stopping even for a moment to consider the validity of the point being made. Where they could take a step back and actually seek to educate their readers about a whole bunch of issues touching on this story, instead they strut and pose and play to the gallery, feeding them the self-affirming story that they expect rather than the hard dose of reality that they might actually benefit from hearing.

The Guardian could have dwelled for a moment on exactly why cross-border co-operation in classical music is supposedly imperilled by Brexit (giving more concrete examples than the unspoken and unprovable suggestion that Britain would deliberately make it harder for talented musicians to tour or work here). But instead, they uncritically write about how musicians will bravely “find a way to keep connections going across the Channel” without stopping for a moment to consider the fact that British orchestras and ensembles tour numerous non-EU countries in the world without the protective shelter of political union, while many non-European ensembles somehow make it to the BBC Proms and give numerous other performances in Britain despite their musicians lacking EU passports.

But the ulterior motive soon becomes clear when the article bemoans the relocation of the European Union Baroque Orchestra and the European Union Youth Orchestra, two EU propaganda outlets funded by taxpayers to instil in us a sense of European identity which still stubbornly fails to materialise. In London, with so many preeminent ensembles already located here, did we ever really need these two explicitly political additions to our cultural scene? No, of course not – and the Guardian’s duplicitous attempts to upgrade these obscure ensembles to “major orchestra” status is straining the boundary of journalistic integrity. Their sole purpose was to indoctrinate the young and cause us to associate the European Union with benevolent funding of the arts rather than their tawdry, relentless attacks the nation state.

(The EU Baroque Orchestra has a slightly more successful legacy of seeding other baroque ensembles with past alumni, work which can continue in their new Belgian home.)

None of this is to deny the value of youth orchestras – I was a member of one myself for several years, and greatly enjoyed the opportunities for performance and collaboration that it afforded me – but the EU’s propaganda outlets are neither central to the British classical music scene nor an essential bridge to Europe. Take them away and nothing really changes.

Compare the EU’s musical propaganda outlets with a far more worthy exercise in cross-cultural bridge-building, Daniel Barenboim’s West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, and I know which I would rather preserve – the one which seeks to promote peace and cross-cultural understanding in the turbulent Middle East, not the one which uses European taxpayer funds to shore up a creaking, failing 1950s regional super-bloc.

The United States, by contrast, does not need to keep itself together by funnelling federal money into youth orchestras in a desperate attempt to inculcate a sense of American-ness. And while many pertinent criticisms can be made about funding of the arts in America, it must also be acknowledged that many of the finest ensembles and artistic companies in the world – the Metropolitan Opera, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the New York City Ballet, as well as the feeder schools, companies and institutions which mould the next generation of artists – are based in the United States and do not have to suckle at the teat of taxpayer funding in order to survive.

When government does not try to do everything, private initiative and private philanthropy are often able to step in to do the job far more successfully and lavishly. They need only be given the space to do so – but the EU has no interest in getting out of the way and allowing the arts to flourish on their own, because then the results would not bear the imprimatur of Brussels and thus would have zero propaganda value.

Is the threat posed by Brexit to the European Union Youth Orchestra a good reason to scrap the whole endeavour and remain part of the EU? Of course not.

Has the European Union Youth Orchestra done anything to meaningfully shift the sense of European identity among those who are not directly involved, or the misty-eyed eurocrats who profaned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by co-opting the final movement as their anthem? No.

Does Britain’s departure from an explicitly political union necessarily or inevitably mean that artistic links between the United Kingdom and the continent must be weakened? No – or at least, the Guardian have given us no good cause to believe that there is a danger.

(Incidentally, Vladimir Ashkenazy himself lives in Switzerland, which is also famously not a member of the European Union, and yet seems to be able to maintain a fruitful international career including many concerts and residencies in Britain).

The whole Guardian article hangs together only if one is content to take the most superficial view of Brexit, skating around on the thin ice of metro-left shibboleths about how international cooperation and peace only exist thanks to the benevolent hand of Brussels. To take the threats spun from the Ashkenazy interview seriously, one must actually drink the Remainer Kool-Aid and believe that Brexit means isolationism, and in all its forms – economic, social, cultural. To be that cretinous, one must be an unapologetic bubble dweller, proud and stubborn in one’s ignorance of the opposing side.

But then that’s the Guardian for you: a newspaper tailor-made for poseurs who believe (or at least want to signal to their friends) that they already know and understand the nuances of every issue, and that the One True Way just conveniently happens to lean in the same stridently left-wing, pro-EU direction as their pre-existing beliefs.

Among Guardian journalists and readers alike there is zero intellectual appetite to actually get under the hood of any issue and talk about the meaning of democracy and self-determination, whether state funding or private philanthropy does a better job of funding the arts or any other substantial question that is ripe for debate. They just want to take a glib headline and serve it up as red meat to their metro-left, superficially culturally literate peer group (see last year’s uncritical, months-long homage to the NHS).

And so what could have been a useful jumping-off point for a real discussion about the future of the fine arts, the best way to foster cross-border co-operation and whether existing mechanisms of funding are a) effective, and b) a good use of taxpayer funds instead becomes just another wobbly-lipped ode to the Brave Artists Resisting Evil Brexit.

The only result of this “journalism” is that everyone is left slightly more attached to their pre-existing bias, while the opportunity to enrich the public discourse is squandered in favour of yet more left-wing, pro-EU virtue-signalling and alarmist Brexit catastrophisation.

Mission accomplished once again, Guardian. Great job.

 

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Sensing A British Vote To Leave The EU, European Politicians Reach For Insults

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When senior European politicians start reaching for the insults, it suggests that they believe the EU referendum is already lost and that Britain will vote to leave the union

And the latest inductee to the ranks of Foreigners Unwittingly Rooting for Brexit (FURP – it just sounds right) is French Economy Minister, Emmanuel Macron.

The Evening Standard duly reports Macron’s high-handed warning to us uppity Brits:

Britain will be no more significant than the island of Guernsey if it votes to leave the European Union next week, France’s economy minister has claimed.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Emmanuel Macron said the EU would also have to send “a very firm message and timetable” to Britain if its voters backed Brexit.

He said: “In the interests of the EU, we can’t leave any margin of ambiguity or let too much time go by. You’re either in or you’re out.

“Leaving the EU would mean the ‘Guernseyfication’ of the UK, which would then be a little country on the world scale.

“It would isolate itself and become a trading post and arbitration place at Europe’s border.”

A bit rich, one might think, coming from a minister who presides over one of the most defiantly sclerotic economies in Western Europe, and where the most timid labour market reforms suggested by President Hollande saw the country erupt in flames.

And yes – in the event of Brexit, Britain would of course immediately become just like Guernsey. At least, we would if Guernsey also possessed the fifth largest economy in the world, the second most projectable armed forces, a culture which is admired and consumed the world over, a language which doesn’t require constant governmental protection against decline, a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and…oh yes, Trident nuclear weapons.

It is difficult to know how to interpret “interventions” in the Brexit debate of this kind. Can they be explained away as foreign politicians simply blowing off steam and releasing frustration for the consumption of their domestic audience, or are they intended to be picked up and have an impact here? It is certainly difficult to see how Macron could make such forceful comments without expecting them to be picked up, so let’s assume that this was part of a Brexit comms strategy approved by Manuel Valls and Francois Hollande.

In that case, deliberately provoking the Brits at this late stage in the campaign can only be a sign of desperation, of having given up completely – otherwise the French government would be gritting their teeth and flattering us no end right up until the close of polling. Only if one believes that one’s opponent can not be persuaded and won over does resorting to comically wild insults make any kind of sense.

If we see a similarly belligerent tone when Jean-Claude Juncker makes his eagerly-awaiting appearance on our shores next week then we will know for sure that the EU has indeed already severed its mental ties to Britain, and is preparing itself for the next phase – the negotiation of the terms of our departure.

So, without succumbing to complacency, let us welcome every slight, insult and threat uttered by pro-EU European leaders as a sign that we are doing something right.

 

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The American Establishment, Having Lost Faith In Their Own Country, Naturally Oppose Brexit Too

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How quickly they forget

If there was one country in the world which you might think would understand the importance of democracy, the right to self determination and freedom from unaccountable government, it would be the United States of America.

And so it has been particularly depressing to watch politicians and commentators from the United States dutifully line up to support the European Union and condemn Brexit as some sort of frivolous and deliberate act of economic self-harm with no potential upsides whatsoever.

Latest to join the fray are the Washington Post (in a piece now being widely shared on social media by Remainers) and the New York Times, both of which condemn Brexit as an isolationist fantasy without showing any evidence of having researched the issue in any detail.

First, the Washington Post, which claims that advocating Brexit is to “flirt with economic insanity”:

Countries usually don’t knowingly commit economic suicide, but in Britain, millions seem ready to give it a try. On June 23, the United Kingdom will vote to decide whether to quit the European Union, the 28-nation economic bloc with a population of 508 million and a gross domestic product of almost $17 trillion. Let’s not be coy: Leaving the E.U. would be an act of national insanity.

[..] What this debate is really about is Britain’s place in the world and its self-identity. Britain has long been of Europe but also apart from it. The British Empire was once the world’s largest. To be simply another member of a continental confederation, albeit an important member, offends this heritage. The nostalgic yearning is understandable, but it is not a policy.

Ironically, leaving the E.U. would confirm the U.K.’s reduced status. The U.K. would have to renegotiate its trading agreements with the E.U. and dozens of other countries. A deal with the E.U. is essential. For the U.K., the best outcome would be to retain much of its preferential access, which — as a practical matter — would mean continuing contributions to the E.U. budget and abiding by most E.U. regulations. The status quo would survive, except that the U.K. would have no influence over E.U. policies. Anything less than this would have the E.U. putting its own members at a competitive disadvantage.

One could drive an entire convoy of trucks through the holes in this argument – like the implied assertion that maintaining EEA access would require “abiding by most EU regulations” when in fact it would only mean following those directives and regulations which pertain to the single market (well under half of the total).

Note, too, the dismissive attempt to make euroscepticism sound like a nostalgic hampering for empire. What is really outdated, though, is the WashPost’s antiquated belief that membership of “continental confederation[s]” or giant regional blocs is somehow necessary for national prosperity, despite the Cold War having ended a quarter of a century ago. The Post has made no effort to actually understand what motivates Brexiteers – be it the “liberal leavers” like this blog, or the more traditionalist types in UKIP – and instead falls back on a bed of platitudes and outdated assumptions.

This is the New York Times’ distilled view of Brexiteers:

The euroskepticism that has led to the British referendum, and that forms a strong component of the right-wing nationalist parties on the rise in many European countries, is not about efficiency or history. It is about ill-defined frustration with the complexities of a changing world and a changing Europe, a loss of faith in mainstream politicians and experts, a nostalgia for a past when nations decided their own fates and kept foreigners out. To those who hold these views, the European Union is the epitome of all that has gone wrong, an alien bureaucracy deaf to the traditions and values of its members. Not surprisingly, Mr. Trump and the French politician Marine Le Pen both favor Brexit.

What a condescending view of all Brexiteers, with an insidious Donald Trump comparison as a snobby garnish. The Times is utterly oblivious to the real world of global trade and regulation, and the slowly emerging global single market which is making the EU obsolete, as this blog pointed out yesterday while criticising the Economist’s unsurprising decision to support Remain:

The bloggers of The Leave Alliance in particular have exposed the fascinating world of international trade and regulation, and the slowly emerging global single market – comprised of the real global “top tables” – of which Britain could be a part, if only we had the national confidence to stop hiding behind the euro-parochialism of Brussels.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post concludes:

Viewed this way, Brexit is an absurdity. But it is a potentially destructive absurdity. It creates more uncertainty in a world awash in uncertainty. This would weaken an already sputtering global economy by giving firms and consumers another reason to pull back on spending.

It would be better for the U.K. to stay in the E.U. It would also be better for the E.U., because Britain provides political and intellectual balance. Finally, it would be better for the United States, which doesn’t need a major ally — Britain — to go delusional.

Ah, so that’s what this is really all about – stability and predictability for the United States. It would have been much more honest if the Post had simply admitted this upfront, rather than squandering credibility by feigning concern for Britain’s economic and geopolitical welfare – and then advancing the bizarre notion that America’s strongest and closest ally should continue to tolerate infringements on her democracy which the United States would never accept for itself.

But in one sense the Washington Post is quire right – Brexit would indeed cause some short term uncertainty. That is inevitable when we are dealing with such consequential matters of state. It’s just that some things matter more than the fear of precipitating a period of short term uncertainty. Why should Britain, like a frog placed in cold water, remain fearfully in situ as the temperature increases and the water starts to boil? Because jumping out of the water into dry land would be a “leap in the dark”? Because it would be a departure from the status quo? Well, yes, so it would. But the EU, a relentlessly integrating political union beset by crises of currency, mobility and democratic legitimacy is the proverbial vat of boiling water. “The devil we know” hardly seems to apply here.

The New York Times is no better, beginning with a most ludicrous proposition:

It was Queen Elizabeth’s official 90th birthday celebration last Sunday, and tables for 10,000 guests were set along the Mall in central London. Steadily the rain fell, dripping out of the tubas of the bands and softening the sandwiches, but Her Majesty’s subjects munched on with stoic British spirit, standing up to cheer as she passed.

In her fuchsia coat and matching hat, she waved and grinned as if nothing had changed and never would. But next week, a very great change may come.

On Thursday, Britons will vote in a referendum on whether their country should stay in the European Union or leave it. If a majority opts for “Brexit,” a long earthquake begins. It will topple the old facade of Britishness. It will disrupt, perhaps mortally, the foundations of European unity. The sense of a fateful moment suddenly peaked on Thursday, when, the police say, a young Labour member of Parliament named Jo Cox was shot to death in her West Yorkshire district by a man who is said to have shouted, “Put Britain first!” and to have been involved in the white-supremacist National Alliance in the United States.

All campaigning was suspended for a day of appalled mourning, amid fears that widespread anxiety about European immigration was being inflamed into violent racialism. Ms. Cox was a rising star, admired in and outside Parliament for her selfless energy on behalf of refugees and the poor. Her friends hope her death may cool referendum passions, reminding sullen voters that “not all politicians are in it for themselves.”

Royal ceremonies offer a brief, reassuring illusion of continuity, but at the back of many minds on the Mall was this thought: Could we be saying goodbye not just to this beloved old lady, but to a certain idea of nationhood? An outward-looking, world-involved Great Britain may soon shrink into a Little England.

It is frankly hilarious that the New York Times is trying to portray Brexit as some kind of grievous departure from the proper trajectory of history by referencing the Queen, when Queen Elizabeth II was on the throne several years before the European Coal and Steel Community was even formed, and decades before Britain finally joined the European Economic Community.

In other words, it is the European Union and its hateful, antidemocratic model of supranational governance which is the departure from historical norms, and Brexit the antidote which aims to restore the nation state as the proper guarantor of our basic rights and freedoms. That the New York Times is unable (or unwilling) to admit this only shows just how deeply they buy into the carefully cultivated “inevitability” of the EU.

The venerable Times tarnishes its reputation even further as it moves on to the topic of immigration:

Is it a baseless panic? Many European countries tolerate far higher levels of immigration. Scotland, with a new community of some 55,000 Poles, actively encourages it. In England, support for Brexit and for the xenophobic U.K. Independence Party is often in inverse proportion to the scale of the problem: The fewer immigrants there are in a town, the louder the outcry against foreigners. In contrast, polling in inner London, where about four out of 10 inhabitants are now foreign-born, shows a clear preference for staying in Europe.

This is just appalling journalism. Does UKIP attract a slightly higher proportion of xenophobes than other political parties. Yes, probably. But does that make the party “xenophobic”, as the New York Times casually claims? Absolutely not. One wants to ask Neal Ascherson (the author of the piece) how UKIP’s policy of a points-based immigration policy which stops discriminating against mostly white Europe in favour of a level playing field for immigrants from all countries can possibly be xenophobic. But of course, he would not be able to answer. It is received wisdom that UKIP is a borderline racist party, and so prestige publications like the New York Times are happy to print as much.

The New York Times then makes its own patronising reference to empire:

But there are deeper motives here than anxiety about the exchange rate or banks in London decamping to Frankfurt. Behind Brexit stalks the ghost of imperial exception, the feeling that Great Britain can never be just another nation to be outvoted by France or Slovakia. There’s still a providential feeling about Shakespeare’s “sceptred isle” as “this fortress built by Nature.” Or as an old Royal Marines veteran said to me, “God dug the bloody Channel for us, so why do we keep trying to fill it in?”

And swats away growing public dissatisfaction with political elites as an inconvenient nuisance:

English nationalism, though inchoate, is spreading. For older generations, it was cloaked in British patriotism. But now, having watched the Scots and the Welsh win their own parliaments, England — with no less than 84 percent of Britain’s population — feels aggrieved and unrepresented. And so the English have gone in search of their own identity politics, finding common cause with the general impatience with old political elites that is flaming up all over Europe.

For now, their angry sense of powerlessness is aimed at the European Union. But the truth is that it’s from bloated, privileged London, not Brussels, that the English need to take back control. The Brexit campaign orators, themselves members of that metropolitan elite, have carefully diverted English fury into empty foreigner-baiting. In France this month, English soccer hooligans’ chant was “We’re all voting Out!” as they beat up fans from other nations.

Presumably the New York Times supports the American system of government. One might think that this would lead them to reflexively support a strong and independent nation state organised on the federal model – or something like Brexit followed by constitutional reform to give equal powers and representation to the four home nations of the United Kingdom. And yet in this snivelling OpEd, they search instead for every reason imaginable, however slight, to criticise Brexit and overlook the manifold failings of the European Union. And they deny the independence and model of government which they themselves enjoy to the inhabitants of their strongest and closest ally.

And then comes the “convenience for the United States” argument, underlined with a threat:

It is certain that Brexit would do gross damage to both Europe and America. For the United States, it would mean the failure of many years of diplomacy. Britain would become at once less useful as an ally and less predictable. Washington would turn increasingly from London to Berlin.

Really, to Berlin?

Which is the nation with a blue water navy and armed forces capable of projecting global reach?

Which nation hosts the world’s capital city and leading city of finance?

Which nation is the declared nuclear power and UN Security Council P5 member?

Which nation shares a language and many elements of a culture with America?

There’s been a lot of bluster in this EU referendum campaign, but the notion that the United States would turn away from its only real dependable (and contributing) ally in the world to shack up instead with Germany is, frankly, laughable.

Both of these editorials – Washington Post and New York Times alike – seek above all to problematise the Brexit process, to burden it with what-ifs and doubts and problems while furiously overlooking the many problems with the status quo and the soon-to-be problems about to beset the European Union. They do not begin from a place of objectivity and a willingness to follow the facts. They do not even do justice to America’s own founding values, which would rightly balk at ever joining a democracy-sapping supranational government like the EU.

But most of all, they make it sound like Brexit is just too difficult. That whatever the merits, difficult things are now beyond our capabilities and that we must muddle through with the failing mid-century institutions bequeathed to us by our grandparents. This is fatalistic and depressing in the extreme, but it accurately represents the viewpoint of the establishment in both Britain and America, both world-leading countries which have markedly lost their way in recent years.

President Kennedy once entreated Americans to go to the moon and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard – and because the striving toward an ambitious but difficult goal would be the best way to organise and measure the capabilities of the nation. And before that decade was out, Americans had walked on the surface of the moon.

Now, the two most prestigious newspapers in America are frantically counselling Britain not to reach for the metaphorical moon, not to reach for independence from a suffocating and failing European political union, not to do anything which might in any way rock the boat or stem our slow decline into euro-parochialism and global irrelevance, because doing so would be difficult and would create (shock, horror) a period of uncertainty.

In other words, the American establishment is looking upon Britain as though we have taken leave of our senses even by having this referendum. They, having lost faith in the strength and capability of their own country, expect Brexiteers to similarly write off our own.

But it is not we Brexiteers who are flirting with insanity, as the Washington Post so arrogantly claims. It is America which has lost its way, and the American establishment and political class which could learn something from the scrappy, underdog campaign to free Britain from the EU.

 

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