Monday, 6 February 2023

The EU is Not Europe, Part II: The Liberal Paradox of Perpetual Conflict

'Where there is a human rights regime, especially if it is an international one as in Europe, the legal system is no longer rooted in social reality.' (Part One may be read here.)

From The European Conservative

By John Laughland

Where there is a human rights regime, especially if it is an international one as in Europe, the legal system is no longer rooted in social reality.It is no longer constitutive or protective of that reality; it becomes, on the contrary, an instrument for reforming or deforming it.

The European project is inspired by a desire to turn the page on the European past and to create a new political order, for Europe and the world, based on rational and universal principles. Durable peace, it is believed, comes from de-politicising and de-nationalising Europe, replacing politics, especially power politics, with the unpolitical mechanisms of the market and the law.

In essence, this has been the project of liberal contractarianism since Hobbes. Like the EU, Hobbes was obsessed with war and how to avoid it. In his mechanistic vision, also like that of the EU, human society was not a natural order but an invented one. The state was created to overcome the natural disorder of war. Society was not the defining characteristic of mankind, as Aristotle had held, but instead the result of a contract concluded outside it. The state was not an antechamber to heaven, a reflection on earth of the divine order that was cultivated to prepare men for eternity, but instead a machine or a system designed to overcome man’s essentially barbaric nature.

The project seems eminently reasonable and, centuries later, it continues to have a formidable appeal. However, despite appearances, liberalism is not a static system. It is not a Leibnizian perfect mechanism which, when put in place, like the universe wound up by the divine clockmaker, functions on its own. On the contrary, it is a process which requires permanent struggle if it is not to collapse. In the EU, Che Guevara’s bicycle metaphor for the Trotskyite permanent revolution is often used to show that supranational integration needs to keep moving forward in order not to fall over. Progress is the very essence of liberalism, well expressed by the names of political formations like the European Movement or La République en marche.

Thus, instead of governing—that is, instead of answering the great issues of the day and ensuring the continuity of society—liberalism devotes its efforts to preserving and strengthening itself in pursuit of progress. The programmatic nature of liberalism is well expressed in the title of one of its most famous texts: “The Open Society and its enemies.” Liberalism is defined and, above all, justified by those enemies. Having claimed to be able to dissolve politics (the friend-enemy distinction) away into neutrality, liberalism conjures up politics again in its (largely imaginary) foes and devotes itself to an endless struggle against them.

The paradox of liberalism is that because it claims to be all about progress out of war into a post-historical state of peace, it is locked in permanent combat against anything which seems to threaten that progress. Enlightenment is a verbal noun which suggests an ongoing process, a constant battle against the darkness which threatens to close in. In order to demonstrate and reinforce its supposed neutrality, liberalism has constantly to seek out and destroy obstacles to that neutrality. That is why it is always “on the move.” It has to keep pushing back the boundaries so that there are no longer any boundaries at all. 

Liberalism is thus not pluralist, as it pretends to be, but binary: us against them. Liberal progressivism feels itself to be constantly assailed by the massed ranks of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables.” Because the movement of history can go in only one rational direction, politics becomes an endless struggle against legion enemies who are either stupid or evil or both and who, very often, are believed to be acting in conspiracy with each other against the progressivist forces of good.

This is why, as Polish philosopher and politician Ryszard Legutko has shown, liberalism shares with communism the conviction that it must penetrate and submerge all aspects of human life, including—and above all—culture. Everyone knows about the gangrene of wokeism in universities and the workplace, forms of association that in fact ought to aim at their own specific goals—goals which are separate from politics. But video addresses by President Zelensky to the Frankfurt Book Fair or the Venice Biennale, or the sacking of Valery Gergiev from the Munich Philharmonic, are also examples of the same problem.

This explains why normal life comes under repeated attack. Who would have thought, years after the liberalisation of homosexuality and the introduction of civil partnerships, that ‘gay marriage’ would suddenly arrive on the agenda? Who saw transgenderism coming? Liberalism is never at rest because it aims to destroy all norms except its own, and therefore all sense of the normal. As it retreats into ever more extreme faddishness, the forces apparently ranged against it by definition grow larger and the antagonisms sharper. We have reached such heights of delirium that the brutal language of Communist totalitarianism has now become common in Europe: in 2021 the Dutch Greens called their fellow politician Thierry Baudet, “a danger to the state” for his opposition to COVID restrictions and vaccines, while the Interior Minister of North-Rhine Westphalia similarly said in August of this year that Germans protesting against energy price rises were “enemies of the state.”

The EU is in the vanguard of this process. The European project attracts support from liberals and leftists alike precisely because of its invented, universal quality. It is well known that there is no reference to Christian values anywhere in the EU’s founding texts; it is less well known that a quotation from Pericles’ funeral oration was expunged from the ill-fated European constitution in 2004 because someone realised that ancient Athens had slavery and did not give women the right to vote. The EU is therefore literally post-historical: it rejects all rootedness in actual European history and culture, precisely because it wants to turn its back on that history and culture in order only to look forwards to the tempting new horizons of infinite post-modernity. 

It is because of what Italian philosopher and politician Gianni Vattimo approvingly called its “radical anti-naturalism” that the EU seeks the dissolution of nation-states and of the family. Of course, the EU does not say it wants their destruction: that would be too brutal. Instead, it seeks to liquefy them. Solve et coagula has been the motto of political alchemists for centuries—but they generally only get as far as the ‘solve.’

The watchword for this fluidity is “trans”—transnational, transgender, transhuman, transgression. Fluidity is cultivated in social policies, in economics, in the law. According to this vision, nations are not ancient political communities, spanning centuries and providing a fixed point in changing circumstances, but instead transitory historical products destined to wither and die and give way to new forms. Governments no longer culminate in a clearly identifiable supreme fixed point but instead in an alphabet soup of international bodies. Families are decomposed and recomposed at will. 

The economy consists primarily of flows of information and people. Inheritance is destroyed by tax so that each individual has to reinvent himself anew as if he had come from nowhere, like President Emmanuel Macron who has refused to visit his hometown as president and who never mentions his parents. Migration is not an industrially organised process involving sophisticated criminal gangs acting in close coordination with NGOs, well-funded and well-equipped with ships, crew, and technology; rather, it is an impersonal and inevitable phenomenon, part of a planet on the move, which is in any case desirable because it dissolves the receiving societies into that indefinable “diversity” which has been raised to the level of a cult. 

Fluidity is cultivated in the law by the doctrine and practice of human rights. Where there is a human rights regime, especially if it is an international one as in Europe, the legal system is no longer rooted in social reality. It is no longer constitutive or protective of that reality; it becomes, on the contrary, an instrument for reforming or deforming it. Judges become activists of social change, not authoritative arbiters between competing claimants or embodiments of the majesty of the law. This is why human rights law is so dialectical. Things which were criminal when the various human rights conventions were drawn up (the Universal Declaration of 1948, the European Convention of 1950) have now become inalienable rights; things which were supposed to be protected by those conventions (freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of speech) have been summarily tossed aside in the name of a bogus health emergency. By a similar dialectic, the EU—supposedly created to promote peace—is in the vanguard of calling for war against Russia.

This cult of fluidity explains the obsession with LGBT+ rights in the EU. The EU regards these as the expression of the very essence of the European project. If the drag queen Thomas Neuwirth (“Conchita Wurst”) won the Eurovision song contest and was then invited to speak in the European Parliament, it was because he was held to embody not only the tolerance which the EU has raised to the level of a totem, but also that very fluidity of identity which the EU wants to embody. If EU (and U.S.) diplomats regularly walk at the head of pride marches in gay-sceptical candidate states in the Balkans, it is because they regard this as one of their most emblematic and existential campaigns, multi-culti and as multi-coloured as the rainbow flag.

It is noteworthy that the LGBT movement’s emblem is a flag. Other political formations tend not to have them (there are a couple of notorious exceptions). A flag represents a regime. Like all flags, the LGBT one, which is often flown from public buildings (including, on occasions, from British embassies abroad or the MI6 building in Vauxhall) is a sign of allegiance and therefore of power. In keeping with the cult of fluidity, it is often flown together with other signs of allegiance—the EU flag, the Ukrainian one, maybe a municipal flag, and so on. But it is the only one which is genuinely universal and, to this extent, it is the most important. It is a metaphysical flag, and therefore deeply political because it expresses a view of the nature of reality. 

The metaphysics it expresses is the same as that of Marxism, a kindred ideology also devoted to internationalism and peace. As Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto, “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away… all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…” Engels killed both Aristotle and the gospels with one stone when he ridiculed “the metaphysician” who “thinks in purely unmediated sentences: he says ‘Yes, yes, No, No.’” Engels insisted that such decisiveness was unscientific because nothing is what it is and everything is also another thing. “All nature has its existence in eternal coming into being and going out of being, in a ceaseless flux, in unresting motion and change.” Truth and falsehood, good and evil, necessary and accidental, are not antitheses but syntheses in a universe of permanent Heraclitean flux.

In other words, the dominant ideology of the EU today is that there are no fixed, knowable truths. Yet this was precisely what the great Soviet and East European dissidents identified as the most hateful aspect of communism. From Solzhenitsyn’s denunciation of the “arsenal of lies” on which Soviet ideology was based and which, he said, was worse than all the material privations and restrictions on liberty, to Vaclav Havel’s insistence on the need to “live in truth,” opponents of relativist totalitarianism have time and again re-discovered the extreme relevance of a sentence pronounced two thousand years ago when the dawn of European civilization burst into glorious sunlight: the truth will set you free.

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