Jackson Doughart
articles   |   poetry   |   music   |   officiating   |   c.v.
The EU's political earthquake is not about race

The National Post, 30 May 2014

Following last weekend’s elections, the U.K. Independence Party and the Front national will hold pluralities in Britain and France’s new delegations to the European Parliament. Each of these parties is staunchly anti-European Union and advances secessionism. Progressive-minded commentators, who favour the bureaucratic, centralizing, diversifying, and anti-nationalist character of the E.U., have been unsurprisingly dismayed by this development. I am perplexed, however, that North American conservatives have been so quick to attack these parties.

The mainstream opposition to the Eurosceptics is practically visceral in nature. Both the putative centre-left and centre-right denigrate these groups as "Far Right"—a label intended to invoke comparison with World War II’s Axis Powers—and insinuate an ideological affinity between the Eurosceptics and actual neo-Nazi groups such as Greece's Golden Dawn.

UKIP is effectively a dual-issue party, advocating Britain’s withdrawal from the E.U. and an end to mass immigration. The FN, while once animated by the ultra-ethnicism and anti-Semitism of Jean-Marie Le Pen, has essentially become a conservative party. Marine Le Pen is a perfectly reasonable politician whose party stands for sovereignty, significant immigration reductions, and social traditionalism.

Apart from misrepresenting these parties' raisons d'être, the mainstream’s clip job ignores the salient history of European war, whose future aversion is the supposed basis of E.U. integration. The Schengen Agreement dissolves the borders of Central Europe—the very borders that World War II was fought to restore after Hitler's aggressions. Considering that the E.U. progressively weakens borders and is significantly controlled by Germany, the accusation that the Eurosceptics represent a recrudescing fascism is quite inaccurate.

The European Union is an unmistakably leftist project. Its animating credo is political universalism: the replacement of national sovereignty with supranational authority, of indigenous legal tradition with European law, of locally-accountable government with centralized bureaucracy, of national identity with multiculturalism. Importantly, the common attribution of these developments to a respectful and liberal "politics of difference" is a deception: respect for difference is inherent in national sovereignty and the maintenance of borders, not their removal.

Furthermore, national sovereignty is compromised by the mass transfer of peoples from their own nations into others, especially when their citizenship in the new country is not conditioned upon adopting the native culture. Mass immigration makes the continuous cession of power to the Union ever-easier to justify. If states don't represent distinct peoples anymore, why not hand more authority to a central government that purports to represent all?

Few political programs could be more antithetical to conservatism, which teaches that states are not the mere relics of an obsolete feudal order, but the ultimate political expression of a modern people. Functioning institutions do not emanate from the ideals of a perfect society or an imagined "best regime" applicable to all human beings, but from the slow and iterative evolution of a nation’s historical customs. The explicit identification of political authority with a particular people is not an exercise in racism or xenophobia, but an instrument of institutional stability and preservation for distinct ways of life. There was a well-working system of multiculturalism beforehand: it was called countries.

Most importantly, the convention of national sovereignty is the best deterrent to armed conflict. States which violate the autonomy of others invite the violation of their own. By contrast, the mass integration of vastly different political cultures—those of France, Germany, and Britain with those of Spain, Italy, and Greece, for instance—invites hostility when such integration falters. And far from being a benign force, the E.U.'s project of territorial expansion has disrupted the West’s post-Cold War peace with Russia, and helped to instigate this year's crisis in Ukraine. All of this might be excusable if integration had prevented a conflict between the major European powers. But is there any evidence that this has been the case?

Why, then, do so many conservatives express antipathy toward the Eurosceptics? First, they may loosely identify with the British Tories or French Gaullists, which both support integration. Second, Anglo-American conservatism since the 1980s has been significantly animated by economic neo-liberalism, which some see as being advanced by an E.U. that is open to North American exports. (This point is moot, of course, as free-trade deals can be facilitated with sovereign European states.) Thirdly, conservatives seem to feel a constant need to prove that they are not racial bigots. Ganging up on the FN and UKIP—both unfairly derided as racist when they are in fact nationalist—is one way of placating their domestic opponents, who often presume the worst of conservative intentions and beliefs.

Whatever its motivation, the North American Right is castigating the only political force aiming to restore a conservative order to Europe. A less reflexive, and more reflective, attitude toward the Eurosceptics is in order, lest we resign ourselves to an unthinking endorsement of the European super state.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com