Guest Article: George Michael and Brexit A View from the Thames Valley

By Prof. Beatrice Heuser

Overnight, during the Christmas news doldrums, our village became the focus of world attention. For a month ago, Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, better known as George Michael, born in London to a British mother and a Cypriot father, ended his life in his country house on the Thames in the idyllic village of Goring. Following the example of the new ritual of mass mourning which Britain invented at the death of Princess Diana, the access to his house is now strewn with bouquets of flowers in their white plastic wrappers and many very odd donations from balloons and a guitar to T-shirts inscribed “Choose Life”, the motto of an anti-suicide campaign he sponsored. Even now, a month later, fans make their pilgrimage to Goring to pay homage. One wonders whether they cared or even knew as much about the decision they took in the “Brexit” Referendum on 23 June 2016 as about the life of George Michael.

Seven months after the Brexit vote, some of us are still rattled. The outcome is proof that Europeans in different countries have always thought of the European Union in different ways. In Spain and Greece, membership of the EU is seen as a way of escaping the great divides within the country itself, with the Union at the highest, not at the lowest common denominator. Countries that were in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire – above all France and Germany – had (but do young generations still have?) some emotional identification with this historic heritage that preceded nationalism and frontiers. A (declining?) majority within those countries embrace the narrative that nationalism had bad effects, leading to the creation of barriers and the wars of many centuries. Most continental peoples associate the EU with human rights and a larger, liberating identity, and with a peaceful, civilised way to settle problems.

In Britain, by contrast, most people have never seen European integration in that light. Before or after membership of the European Economic Community (EEC, the forerunner of the EU), they could travel; they still prefer taking the ferry to taking the time-saving Channel Tunnel, and therefore their passage experience is still one of Britain being separate, and passports being controlled, as it has always been. They only identified the “Common Market” with free trade (good) and otherwise see the EU as an alien empire dictating rules and regulations (bad, like the Roman Empire, and unsuccessful attempts to subject England by the Catholic Church through the agency of Philip II of Spain with his Inquisition and the Armada, of Napoleon and Hitler). Against this, England/Britain defended its Freedom – a nice flexible catch-all that throughout European history has expressed anything and everything, and now stands for poorly paid jobs with little social security, and a romance of Britain as part of a seafaring Anglosphere but not of the European Continent.

As an unemployed blue-collar worker in his late 50s said on BBC Radio in early September 2016, he had no hope of finding employment again, and could not afford to pay the medicines for his wife, and had voted for Brexit to “make Britain great again”. Unpack those assumptions: i.e. Britain was great before it joined the EEC in 1973, he would have been employed, and the National Health Service would have paid for all health needs. None of this would have been true. Labour minister Aneurin Bevan already resigned in 1951 when the young NHS was so overstretched that it could not pay for dentures any longer, and Britain joined the EEC because it was economically at rock bottom with high unemployment, labour unrest, and much poverty. But clearly, if this man is anything to go by – and a recent study suggests he is, see https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/brexit-vote-explained-poverty-low-skills-and-lack-opportunities – there is a myth prevalent among the British white lower classes of a golden age that was lost when Britain joined “Europe” (never mind geographic and historical facts).

In short, The whole narrative of the Pax Romana and Charlemagne and how the Holy Roman Empire managed most internal conflicts peacefully (until the religious wars) and co-ordinated external defence, and finally settled for religious tolerance, is never taught in British schools, nor all the wonderful things that EU does for ethnic minorities. (For a provocative book written by another fan of the Pax Romana, read Ian Morris’s bestseller War: What is it good for.)

What is incomprehensible unless it is lighting finding the only available conductor is the anti-Polish actions and other displays of xenophobia against EU citizens immediately after Brexit. Back in the early 1980s, with Solidarność and Lech Wałesa, the Poles were every Briton’s darlings. Even in the 1990s, people supported EU and NATO extension because, having guaranteed Poland in 1939, the British and the French felt rather sheepish about their inability to stop the Wehrmacht, and then the Red Army, from overrunning Poland. Everybody talked about the gallant contribution the Poles had made to the RAF and to decrypting Enigma.

The bêtise of the angry white Americans who voted Trump into office seems akin to that characterising the unemployed man quoted above. Some patterns are reminiscent of the 1930s, when nationalism was rampant, and nationalist authoritarian leaders such as Piłsudski admired Hitler and Mussolini, and when Piłsudski’s successors thought they were being clever when they joined in the carving up of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938. How do people not understand that a nationalist government of another country is by definition an adversary in a zero-sum game, and that any alliance with it can only be temporary? While democracies upholding human rights should logically co-operate (which the British found so difficult to understand vis-à-vis France in the 1920s and 1930s), nationalist countries by definition are each other’s enemies. What’s so difficult about that?

Any student of the history of European security and the construction of the fragile architecture that gave the Continentals the reassurance that they were covered by nuclear deterrence (to which Britain’s contribution was pivotal, and based on the unconditional mutual guarantee of the Brussels Treaty, now subsumed into the Lisbon Treaty of the EU), without further nuclear proliferation in Europe (!) should be terrified by the possible consequences of withdrawing the British pivot through Brexit. And while so far Putin “only” wants to rebuild the “Union” (so what about the Baltic states, members of NATO and the EU?), l’appetit vient en mangeant. Baltes and Poles are likely to dream about nukes – and probably want a very strong fence or wall. Call in the Israelis or the Chinese.

So when Trump thinks he can “do business with Herr Putin”, to paraphrase Chamberlain in 1938, and when Nigel Farrage and François Fillon and Marine Le Pen and the AfD in Germany and many other European leaders admire Putin (and Erdoğan? Probably…), history is clearly not taught properly to the masses.

In short, things are not looking good for human progress. Another Age of Enlightenment is coming to an end. George Michael did not “Choose Life”, the British did not choose to “Remain” in the EU. The former, a personal tragedy. The latter may become one for the stability of Europe, perhaps for the rest of the world.

 

Beatrice Heuser, who holds the Chair of International Relations at the University of Reading, is the author of (inter alia) Evolution of Strategy (2010), Nuclear Mentalities? (1998), and Western Containment Policies in the Cold War: the Yugoslav Case (1989). Her next publication will be Strategy before Clausewitz (2017).

 

Guest Article by Michael Klonovsky

Arrows and Maxims

By

Michel Klonovsky*

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One of the achievements of modern art has been to provide even coprophils with a proper aesthetic environment.

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What is worse: communication or ex-communication?

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When enough zealots subscribe to it, democracy may well turn totalitarian.

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The height of hypocrisy; the idea that in every child there is a Mozart or an Einstein.

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Had it not been for the numerous men who cooperate with it, feminism would have been limited to case studies in psychology textbooks.

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Where there is no enemy, the pariah is needed to create unity.

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Only when there are no elites does the term “elite” turn into a swearword.

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To be a “politically engaged” artist means dreaming of many engagements.

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The more just the war, the more numerous the dead civilians.

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One handout to a beggar is worth more than twenty volumes on the origins of poverty.

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The cathedrals of feminism are the abortion clinics.

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Never do the eyes of the devil shine as much as when he hears the words: liberty, equality, fraternity.

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Modern dialectics; a woman works longer and longer hours so as to be able to afford proper child care.

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Real cowardice starts at a certain age.

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The more committed to an ideology a historian is, the more likely he is to claim his works are “scientific.”

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Five Frenchmen, five opinions, Five Jews, ten opinions. Five Germans, one opinion.

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No blue-blooded family, however degenerate, could have produced the idiots one finds in any parliament.

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I like feminism. It brings good news. Its emergence means that society’s most important problems have been solved.

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When it comes to trivia shows, the well-educated fail miserably.

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How can one respect a boss who sits behind a computer?

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A so-called “creative” person may be recognized by the fact that he has never invented anything.

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Chess, considered as a test for the intellect, must be unimportant; or else surely there would have been more female grand-masters.

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Gender-equality rests on the idea that one can climb the sea and swim the mountains.

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Not to believe in the effectiveness of prayer, but to cast one’s ballot in elections, does not exactly point to realism.

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What I would love to read: a study of the way Greens behave under a dictatorship.

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Professors are often blinded by their own theories.

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When a woman says no, says the macho, what she means is yes. When a woman says no, say the feminists, what she means is no. Both are right. When a woman says no she may mean either yes or no.

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To denounce racial discrimination is part and parcel of a civilized society; to deny the differences between races, sheer hypocrisy.

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Literary criticism: the parasite needs the tree.

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One outcome of the “sexual revolution” has been to turn Western men and women into slaves of their sexual drives.

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Populism is the democrats’ mistrust of democracy.

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The height of absurdity: to discuss the limits of freedom of expression within those limits.

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As Jonathan Swift wrote, a genius may be recognized by the fact that all the idiots unite against him. Example: Steve Jobs.

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Whoever so much as mentions political correctness immediately becomes its accomplice.

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My generation was the last which had to discover the secrets of sexuality on its own. Nowadays to have sex is to imitate pornographic actors on screen.

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When feminists reach the point where they can no longer find plausible examples of discrimination in their own countries they turn to Africa or else to the ancient world.

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Thank God it was good bourgeois scholars who re-discovered classical antiquity. One shudders to think what would have happened if the field had been left to left-wing “social scientists” or to female professors of gender studies.

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So high is the quality of modern plastic art that none of its creators has ever produced a single failed work.

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Today it is not the Pope who claims to be infallible, it is his opponents

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To be a socialist means preferring the unfreedom of the many to the freedom of a few.

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Wherever right and left are said to have been abolished, it is the left that rules.

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“Adept at multitasking” is what we call those who are incapable of solving an equation or following the thought of a philosopher.

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What a wonderful feeling, to despise a person accused of despising others!

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He would like to become immortal. She would be content with a nice home of her own.

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The nice thing about dying is not having to cope with future technology.

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No tourist has ever stopped to admire a building erected by a socialist, an environmentalist, or a feminist.

 

* Michael Klonovsky is an author and journalists who works for Focus magazine in Munich. The above is a selection from his book, Aphorisms (in German).