BY JAMIE FOSTER
The Guardian was almost drunk with joy that ‘30 top intellectuals’ published their sentimental call to arms in which they claimed Europe was teetering on the brink of annihilation. You can imagine that these 30 top intellectuals have each other on speed dial just in case the moment presents itself to whine about the state of the world and warn of calamities to come. From Ian McEwan to Salman Rushdie the thirty worthies are particularly exercised about the rise of nationalism and populism across Europe. Rather than seeing it as a reaction to any failings that may legitimately be laid at Europe’s door they have cast themselves as ‘European Patriots’ standing to fight, albeit metaphorically, against this new attack on the European utopia they perceive. Brexit remains unspoken but is clearly in the minds of the 30 signatories as they speculate on the fate of Europe.
Not that our intellectuals have spelt out in any detail what they think is actually going to happen. It is a shapeless disaster that is to come if people fail to heed their call. It is something about the death of the idea of Europe, whatever that means. They claim that Europe is being attacked by false prophets drunk on resentment and delirious from the opportunity to seize the limelight. These false prophets remain nameless. We are expected to know who they are talking about. Whoever they are they are baddies intent on destroying a good thing.
For these intellectuals Europe is an unchallengeable good. Rising out of the dregs of fascism it is the natural second home to all right thinking people. The spiritual home of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe and Comenius, Europe is a natural civilising influence. Nowhere to be seen is the protectionism and self-serving elitism that Europe is confounded by. The 30 intellectual pairs of eyes are turned away from any failings that Europe may suffer from that might have helped to bring about the current threat. One may speculate that these same 30 intellectuals would find Britain to be a natural bad in the world, to be opposed in the same way that Europe is a natural good to be protected. It is sloppy intellectualism that views the nation state with horror while seeing a supra national identity as an unqualified good.
There is no indication given by the intellectuals as to what to do in the face of the threat they perceive. Joining them in a universal hand-wringing appears to be the only real option left open to anyone heeding the call to arms.
In the end it is tosh. The intellectuals haven’t given any thought to the problems that have manifested in people’s lives to bring them towards nationalism and populism. There is nothing tangible to fight because, in order to find something tangible they would have to admit that their glorious Europe has failed ordinary people. The intellectuals’ call to arms is a call to other intellectuals and is uttered over the heads of the still discordant wavering multitudes. It is an elitist call that is not aimed at ordinary men and women in the street. It is not a call to do anything more than self-identify as a member of the worrying class.
The answer to the problems faced by Europe is massive reform of the institutions of Europe. This is a task that can’t be undertaken if you are holding Europe out as a utopia. The intellectuals take away any chance they have to contribute to the solution by the way they glorify Europe. The call to arms is nothing more than an ‘end of the world is nigh’ placard waved by 30 worried intellectuals. Ultimately the answer to them is not to be so silly. The idea of Europe is not in peril. Europe is facing challenges to which it needs to stand up and overcome. Work needs to be done on ensuring that ordinary people’s lives are better affected by Europe and everywhere else. Nationalism and populism can only be challenged by ensuring that opportunities are made available to the widest cross section of people. Ordinary men and women need to feel their lives improving before things will get any better. No amount of nostalgia about a lost golden age of Europe will help towards that. It is time the intellectuals gave more serious thought to the problem of Europe and put their minds to helping to find a solution rather than the sort of tilting at windmills they are currently indulging in.