Don’t Believe Intellectuals When They Talk about Politics

I have recently bumped into Alan Johnson’s piece ‘The New Communism: Resurrecting the Utopian Delusion’, where he warns us about the growing threat of the resurrecting communism. Prof. Johnson strongly admonishes, ‘[W]e can’t afford to just shake our heads at the new communism and pass on by.’ But what steps should be taken and why such theories still exist despite the unspeakable tragedies they cause if implemented?

First of all, it will be useful to discover the profound roots of different totalitarian ideologies among the intellectual circles. It may seem surprising that the vast majority of widely known intellectuals are leftist, usually radical in their leftism: different types of anarchism, communism, militant feminism or environmentalism and so on and so forth. Habermas and Zizek, Badiou and Wallerstein are very different in their beliefs and have different attitudes to each other, but what allows me to lump them and many more thinkers together is their unconditional adherence to the two ideas: one of injustice of the existing world order and the other of urgent need to change it by rethinking the very principles of the world order.

While so many influential beautiful minds (plus many artists like Picasso, writers like Wells or Shaw, musicians like almost any rock group) are bearing the flags of Leftism, the Right side of the debate is represented by clerics, conservative liberal economists, traditionalist politicians, populists, and silly-looking rednecks accompanied by a little bunch of creative people. This brigade looks rather conventional or blatantly dull (or they are simply agents of the global capitalism as a variant). Usually it is an argument strong enough for the rebellious youth to not care about the content of their ideas and align with the smarter ones. But still why are the smartest ones so often the leftiest ones? And does that mean the Left is always more progressive and its ideas enjoy more serious theoretical support?

I would answer this question negatively.

The first my reservation is about the nature of humanities in general. Every normal science (at least I believe so) should have in the first place a proper method. When a scientist looks at a problem in certain field of knowledge, he (or she) uses the method solving the problem. In the end he may get any result including sometimes something absolutely unexpected at the beginning of the research. And on the contrary the results conjectured at first and driven by personal preference are rare and attributed mainly to flash of intuitional inspiration.

On the other hand, humanitarians before advancing a theory have, as a rule, certain bias. This is explained not only by the specifics of the field but also by the simple fact that humanities lack effective cognitive methods with proven efficiency. Thus every single theorist applies his own method to any problem or adjusts already existing methods to his liking. But none of them is really supposed to be effective in searching for the truth. The main aim they serve is to provide support for the political views of the author.

I have no intention to play down the explanatory role of humanitarian sciences. But their practical use has not proven to be helpful yet. That is why we can safely state that different political theories were created more to support some type of policy, not to find something new and really applicable and there is little reason to consider these theories a valid argument in favour of certain ideas (no matter which).

The second important detail is the personality of a typical intellectual. Such people are experts in their spheres; they know what is wrong with a particular social process or phenomenon. Intellectuals tend to be proud of their knowledge. They regard people not only as persons but as objects of their studies and this inevitably brings certain degree of arrogance and ‘I know better what you need’ stuff.

So intellectuals are sure about flaws of social system and think they know how to eliminate them. Besides they are creative people and this means they don’t want just to study: they want to change and improve.

But traditional conservative liberal way of progress through slow-going and spontaneous development is not that stunning. The role of intellectuals is radically diminished in this process. They are demoted to truth-seekers, to inspirers, to people whose constant work must facilitate the development. For many it is too humble role. Moreover if the humanity starts making conscious, concerted and planned efforts on the way to improvement, it is very probable that none other than intellectuals will be at the helm. Because they know how and they have detailed plans.

The support for the leftist agenda from the side of creative people may also be explained by the natural, genetic factors. Imaginative people are prone to be on the Left as Ed West argued. I have doubt that this may be a predominant factor but it certainly explains much.

So don’t be fooled by the authoritative opinions. Politics is more about practice than theory just because there is no comprehensive political theory and it is essential to remember this.

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One perverse Europhile argument

It would be false to call me a loony Eurosceptic even though for some people ‘Eurosceptic’ already means loony. I do not look at the EU as at the project of cannibals, paedophiles or communists. I can agree (at least partly) with a great number of Europhile arguments, although I believe the ones against the EU are stronger. But one argument about the economic benefits of the United Europe is really beyond my understanding.

There are claims that the British membership in the EU is hindering possible free-trade agreements with many prospective global players. Europhiles object that it is much easier to cut a mutually beneficial deal being into a powerful bloc rather than acting alone.

The only thing they forget to add is that such a deal will be mutually beneficial only for the EU as a whole rather than for Britain itself. Then the choice is not between achieving, say, 80% or 100% successful agreement for Britain but between 80% successful agreement for Britain or 100% success for the EU. So does British interest coincide with the European so much that we can equate them. I have great doubts.

The same logic is applied to political matters: ‘Oh, Britain is so small, it is relatively weak, it can’t be a superpower in the modern world. But as a part of the big and strong EU we will still be a superpower and influence the global affairs.’ Firstly superpowers are not made in such a parasitical fashion. And again the need to fight for the influence inside the EU is mysteriously forgotten.

The ideology of parasitism is not worth such country as Britain. It is not only disgraceful but also (and more important) unrealistic because nobody will solve British problems but Britain itself. And descriptions of the comfortable life in the EU without battles for national interest fail to admit that such battles will simply move from interstate global level to the intra-European one.

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The case against the United Europe is the case for the United Euroscepticism

For so many people it is a self-evident fact that the Eurofederalisation will some time prevail. This remains valid even despite some rebellious nations like Britain refuse to obey this rule.

The arguments are diverse and often quite meaningless: globalisation demands the United Europe (while indeed the creation of the federalised Europe will mean something called regionalisation – an entirely different word, which will signify the world’s division into rigid regional blocs that can only obstruct effective globalisation), Europe is in fact being reunified (here Charlemagne and the Roman Empire are often mentioned – so timely and suitable living memories, especially for Finland or Greece – and why do they ignore Hitler?), national state is doomed (why does the number of states consistently grow then?) and so on.

But one argument is really powerful. It points that in every member state of the Union one or all major political parties are solidly pro-European. One model is especially common: a moderate left-leaning, socially liberal, Europhile party (Socialist Party in France, Social Democrats in Germany and Denmark, Liberal Democrats and/or Labour in the UK). At the same time main Eurosceptic forces are too different in different members of the EU: from free-marketers to socialists, from nationalists to internationalists, from conservatives to liberals. This usually prevents them from taking control of national legislative assemblies: Europe is often regarded as a secondary issue while there is no consensus on the primary matters. Eurosceptics of different political affiliations attack each other on the grounds of different attitude to economy, migration, gay marriage etc. or play their favourite game. The game is called ‘Who is more damn Eurosceptic?’ It is very interesting and consumes a lot of energy and time. No wonder Eurosceptics have no time to lead a real fight for the interests of their countries.

At the same time Europhiles have not invented such games yet. Instead they are occupied with making alliances on the state and interstate levels pushing Europe further to the federation. Any attempt of Eurosceptic forces to gain power in a separate national state is suppressed by the overwhelming weight of 26 Europhile governments plus strong Europhile elements inside the country in question. This is the only reason why Europe is moving towards closer integration despite growing rejection of the current level of interdependence among the general public. And I dare say there is nothing ‘progressive’ in this reason and this movement.

The solution implies not only creation of strong Eurosceptic coalitions at home but also close co-operation between different Eurosceptic parties all over the continent. What may drive them to co-operation?

The federal Europe will make the already existing consensus on the top virtually unshakable. As national states lose more and more powers, their governments whatever they are – right, left, centrist or of any else identification – will be able to pursue a policy which will be left, right or centrist only in comparison with the European mainstream. This is why voting for quite Eurosceptic Tories in 2010 meant voting for the party reneging on cast-iron promises and whipping MPs against Eurosceptic bills. This is why voting for outspokenly left Hollande in 2012 meant voting for the continuation of austerity.

Thus only a deluded or deluding person may insist that ‘Europe is a third-rate’ issue. Actually, it is the most important issue in the modern European politics. Deciding issue. You can’t escape it.

The United Europe is inevitable as long as all European parties are divided into Europhile and ‘others’. Voting for something you didn’t mean to vote will be inevitable until the national governments are so powerless. And ‘more European democracy’ won’t solve this problem because there is only one truly mighty all-European political force, the coalition of Europhiles (who have more or less come to the consensus on every important issue), and it will undoubtedly achieve its goals against scattered troops of Eurosceptics. Thus only a broad Eurosceptic coalition based on the single desire to bring the EU down and regain control over the national fate can stop federalisation.

If we speak about the UK, one country can escape the United Europe. However for many European countries it is now absolutely impossible. If an all-European entity ever arises, it will certainly put pressure on the independent UK. People, who think that it is irrational to obstruct Britain and put trading links at risk, are welcomed to evaluate the general rationality of the behaviour of the European leadership during this crisis.

So the case against the United Europe is the case for the United Euroscepticism.

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The European Union and Peace in Europe: Part 8. Conclusions

The war and peace argument is, perhaps, the oldest basement of the dream about united Europe. It has been circulating in the discussion on the European future since the times of Victor Hugo. Nevertheless, the current series of posts has found that no point of the theory about the key peaceful mission of the EU can be regarded as an established one:

  1. The EU was a result of the all-European ceasefire but not its cause.
  2. The preservation of peace since 1951 is, of course, an achievement, but it would be rather strange if the EU had failed to keep in peace a set of democratic, prosperous countries, most of them being members of the same military alliance. Moreover, there is no reason to think that the EU alone deserves the credit for European peace; it is also about NATO, which possesses the real leverage to be the guardian of peace.
  3. The implications of the EU policy on the future of peace in Europe are two-fold. We cannot consider it as an unambiguously positive. The situation grows even more disturbing in the light of the current crisis, which is turning the advantages of co-operation into drawbacks.
  4. The downfall of the EU will not cause an imminent catastrophe. The fate of Europe depends on the ability of its leadership to trim the sails to the changing wind of reality and on sufficient number of lifeboats. If the ship goes down, the passengers will still have the chance to survive, but everything is the hands of the crew.
  5. The argument connecting peace in Europe and inevitability of further EU integration cannot be taken seriously. Not only it consists of weak assumptions as we can see above, but even the logical links between them are very weak.

As the EU is in the worst crisis in its history, its ‘fathers’ and developers are making emotional statements:

 

For those who didn’t live through this themselves and who especially now in the crisis are asking what benefits Europe’s unity brings, the answer despite the unprecedented European period of peace lasting more than 65 years and despite the problems and difficulties we must still overcome is: peace.

The evil spirits of the past have by no means been banished, they can always return. That means: Europe remains a question of war and peace and the desire for peace remains the driving force behind European integration.

Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of Germany (1982 – 1998),

February 27, 2012, Bild (in German)

 

Kohl’s frustration is perfectly understandable: he sees the work of his life reeling.

Yet the peace argument is void, and Europe is on the verge of the choice which will change its face forever. It is not a time to be guided by emotions, hope and despair. To survive the storm European politicians must rely on actual political and economic reasoning. And if it requires decisive actions, they must be taken.

 

This post ends a long assessment of the so called war and peace argument and its relevance for the discussion of the European future. If you, my readers, have any specific or general critical observations, wishes or simply interesting ideas and remarks, do not be shy and leave them here or below any post of this series:

Part 1. Why do Wars Happen?

Part 2. Europe in 1951

Part 3. Close interstate co-operation and the European peace

Part 4. The EU and Interethnic Relations

Part 5. The EU and democracy in Europe

Part 6. The Downfall of the EU: the End of Peace in Europe?

Part 7. The War and Peace Argument

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Peace in Europe and the European Union: Part 7. The War and Peace Argument

In the previous posts I made an attempt to estimate the EU’s real significance for the European peace. This was done not because I have nothing else to do, but because I am deeply concerned about the growing misuse of the war and peace argument in the debate about the future of Europe. In this post I will examine the most widespread usage patterns of this argument and assess its general validity and relevance to the economic sphere, where it has come to be used excessively.

It will be natural if we start our discussion with several examples of the typical war and peace argument:

 

We do not have the right to drop Europe, we do not have the right to let the euro be destroyed. The euro is the heart of Europe. If the euro is destroyed, it’s the whole of Europe that goes up in smoke. If Europe goes up in smoke it’s the peace of our continent that will be one day or another be called into question.

Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France (2007 – 2012),

January 6, 2012, Reuters

 

Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That’s why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails.

We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.

Angela Merkel, the current Chancellor of Germany,

October 26, 2011, EUobserver

 

I think we need to take stock that if the eurozone were to unravel in a way that destroyed the European project – and there is a risk that could happen – the consequences would be absolutely incalculable.

We tend to forget, until we were reminded last week of that Nobel Prize, the European project was constructed in order to rescue Europe from extreme nationalism and conflict. There is no automatic guarantee that won’t return.

Vince Cable, the UK Business Secretary,

October 14, 2012, The Telegraph

 

So we can easily observe two lines of reasoning drawing nearer. The first one looks like this: the European project was established chiefly for the sake of European peace → the existence of the EU saw no wars among its members → the EU is the guarantee of peace → abandonment of the course of integration will mean collapse of the EU and European peace. The second line of reasoning does not concern the present paper and connects possible damage to the Eurozone with the total reversal of any integration processes in Europe.

To complete the purpose of this series of posts we must analyse in detail the first part of this argument. One task is the estimation of all separate links in the chain of reasoning. We can deem it accomplished. The next step is the estimation of the connections between these links. Do they form an unbroken chain? Partly I have answered this question in introduction stating that we should consider each of the given claims separately. Now I shall ground my idea.

Let me assume that the EU was or has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining European peace. Does that mean that the EU is essential for European peace? Will its downfall mean the downfall of European peace?

First of all, we should admit that the EU (or its predecessors) in 1955, in 1985, and finally in 2012 are absolutely different organisations in terms of geography and competence, though they are bound by continuity and orientation at further integration. Europe in 1955 and 1985 also differed greatly from the Europe of today. They are bound by continuity too. But is today’s Europe aimed at the further integration? This remains a question.

The EU is not Europe. Once they were a perfect match, but since then both have changed. Today’s Europe is reluctant to go where the EU is going. If integration was able to cure some problems of 20th century Europe, it does not mean even more integration is the answer to the different problems of the different Europe, Europe of 21st century.

If we concede to the Norwegian Nobel Committee that ‘the union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’,we need not think that such positive influence will continue or continues today. The statements about unpredictable consequences of the failure of euro and the EU are so true, but who can foresee the results of the current EU policy aimed at saving euro?

To sum up, I believe that there is no reason to lump together the EU’s past achievements (previously I have shown these achievements are overstated) and its current dire record, problems of debt and war. There is no link between possible collapse of euro and wars in Europe.

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Peace in Europe and the European Union: Part 6. The Downfall of the EU: the End of Peace in Europe?

The last point of our discussion is the possible collapse of the EU. What would that mean for the peace in Europe? We have got enough of apocalyptic predictions to believe none of them and have an urgent need to form an independent opinion.

At the beginning of this post I should admit that my ability to deal with the future is much restricted than in the case with the past and present. The only tool we can more or less surely use is thus the power of analogy. However we will try to employ this treacherous instrument with a extreme caution.

Firstly I see no reason to believe that the EU is the only possible variant of the European integration. Secondly I do not think that the direction of the EU development (federalisation) is the only possible direction it can take. Therefore I do not share the opinion that the collapse of the current strategic direction would be the collapse of the EU, and the collapse of the EU would be the collapse of the European integration. The more we hear from the European leaders about the inevitability of their course on closer integration, the stronger is the suspicion that they do see alternatives and are afraid of them. However, we, as the whole Europe today, will accept their rules of the game and discuss the possible downfall of the EU.

Yugoslavia, the Kalmar Union, the Spanish Empire in America… The disruption of these unities was accompanied by bloodsheds. On the other hand, we have the Soviet Union and the British Empire. They fell rather quietly; not absolutely bloodlessly, but one would expect something more terrible about such large and powerful entities. There really were conflicts after their dismantling. After – not during. Thus they were caused by unravelling problems disguised by the ostensible strength of the old unity and not by the failure of the unity itself.

Of course, origin, level of integration, form, size, and historical conditions differ considerably in all given examples. They differ as well from the EU. But here is one interesting detail: most harm was done in cases when the leadership of a dying political entity tried to hold on the power. If the union is orderly dismantled or at least there are no barriers on its course to natural downfall, it is easier to avoid huge mistakes.

Is there any plan of the EU cardinal reformation in case the endeavours to save it fail? Eurocrats keep silent or decisively wave anything like that away. On the one hand, it is understandable. Any talk on the highest level about the EU collapsing will deal a deathly blow to its already reeling economic credibility. On the other hand, the firm belief of the EU leaders in the ultimate success of the project, the belief that verges on implicit faith, gives us no particular hope that they are prepared to change the course if it is necessary.

We agree that the EU is still strong and it can survive the crisis. But if it collapses, it may well collapse peacefully. The problem is that Europe has got no leaders willing and able to carry out this scenario. The current leadership is more prepared to supress rebels by all means rather than let them go. And it is quite disturbing.

We have already noted that once the EU disintegration comes, we should expect the rise of tensions between its former members. But at the current stage it is improbable that such tensions grow to an armed conflict. If such tensions grow inside the EU and then the EU leadership prefers forced marriage to civilised divorce, only then will apocalyptic predictions come true.

Now we shall take a brief look at both emergency scenarios:

The sovereign debt crisis escalates. New countries begin to suffer. Germany is no longer able to carry the burden. Discontent is growing all around the EU. Search for scapegoats is underway. Austerity, banks, euro, certain individuals, certain states fall victims of it. Populists enjoy rapidly growing public support. In some countries it results in disappointment with the EU. They try to claim back their sovereignty. Protests against austerity are gaining force. They make budget economy programs effectively stop. And then the moment of truth comes. The European leaders may choose:

a)      Adherence to their beliefs. They dismiss proposals for ‘less Europe’, try to ban troublemaking parties on the grounds of their radicalism and plot to replace out of favour national leaders with faithful ‘technocrats’. This backfires: rebellious leaders turn national anger on the chosen scapegoats, population of austerity-hit countries reject technocrats whereas citizens of creditor countries refuse to give any more money. At this point anything will be possible.

b)      Retreat. The most dissatisfied countries are allowed to take back some powers or even to leave the Union. The countries unable to complete austerity program are forced out of the Eurozone. The EU undergoes cardinal reformation creating the model which will respond that time’s challenges in the best way.

We probably should repeat that the above scenarios may become reality only if the economic crisis lasts for more time without improvement. Yet now such possibility does not seem unreal.

The ultimate overcoming of the crisis seems hardly possible without at least partial or tactical retreat of integration processes as more and more countries fail to meet the EU targets on austerity and budget discipline. Either way the total federalisation of the EU is currently improbable because of the lack of uniformity in economic and legal systems and different positions of member states on this issue.

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Peace in Europe and the European Union: Part 5. The EU and democracy in Europe

We will focus here on the processes of democratisation in Eastern Europe and the EU role in them.

The Copenhagen criteria, which are mandatory for any country willing to accede to the EU, put severe requirements in the field of democracy and human rights to the candidates. Naturally, potential members must meet the requirements in full. The role of the EU’s conditionality for rooting democracy in some Eastern European states is widely recognised. However the EU, apparently trying to hasten the enlargement to boast about the success of the project, has overlooked many unresolved problems. That is why, several years after the last enlargements, the new members appear to have serious drawbacks in democratic governance on the highest level. The notorious examples are Hungary and Romania. This is not a mere chance that these two particular countries are the main troublemakers when it comes to respect for the sovereignty of neighbouring states (not officially, of course). Romania has allegedly some plans for Moldova, while Hungary has been suspiciously actively interested in Zakarpattia Oblast of Ukraine. This are, of course, just rumours, but even the presence of such kind of rumours is very untypical to modern Europe.

Apart from this the EU is undermining democracy in its long-standing members. It is done, most probably, unintentionally, but may be seen as a result of direct as well as indirect influence. Direct activity of the EU is realised in two silent coups d’état: in Greece and then in Italy, where democratically elected leaders were replaced with the EU men, so called ‘technocrats’. Surely, Papandreou and Berlusconi were not the most efficient leaders and the way of their demise was perfectly legal, but it is a precedent, a dangerous example which shows how little influence separate nations of the EU can have on their own domestic affairs.

The indirect influence of the EU on the state of democracy in Europe was briefly discussed above; it among other things is realised in growing popularity of radical, often aggressive political forces from France to Greece. These movements exploit the EU failures in the fields of economy and immigration. Their strengthening will potentially become an important destabilising factor on the continent – and do not let yourself forget about radical Islam.

All in all, we can state that historically the EU has made a positive contribution to the maintenance of peace in Europe. But its role in this was not exclusive. Furthermore, now the EU is a source of at least equivocal influence and the unfolding crisis may reveal the most unpleasant details of this influence.

The next post will consider possible downfall of the EU.

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