Europe’s Cultural War: Liberal Intent Turns Illiberal
The obvious point to which Brussels turns a blind eye is that there is no popular mandate for cancelling Europe’s long-established culture.
Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat – a saying from around 450 BC goes: ‘Whom the gods wish to destroy … they first make mad’. The words somehow encapsulate the way in which the early Greeks, from Homer to the great tragedians, thought about the relationship between ‘the gods’ (here the invisible psychic forces that shape us), and the wider human sphere.
It does too, express a certain truth, in so far as it suggests that powerful men often become responsible for their own downfall – in so far that they embrace a certain ‘madness’; that of being blind to the obvious. (Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece articulates precisely how a powerful man can bring ‘Heaven and Hell’ crashing-down upon his own head).
The point here is to suggest that the sin of hubris – being so deeply embedded as it is in the whole secular humanist enterprise, and exemplified in the EU – has resulted in many of Europe’s influential cultural and political leaders going ‘mad’ in the sense of being blind to the obvious consequences of what they are doing.
Firstly, they have driven many Europeans close to being demented – by trying to piggy-back on the Covid lockdown ‘war’ for the purpose of imposing an ethos of war-time submission to a centralised ‘war’ command. As a strategy, it might have been somewhat compelling – save for the utter incompetence by which the EU ‘command’ managed the vaccine roll-out campaign – and for the capriciousness in which lockdowns were imposed, lifted and then arbitrarily re-imposed.
That this was all part and parcel to a covert ‘pilot-project’ for a wider social and economic engineering (a re-set) of the public sphere, was given away, firstly, by the EU command ‘fetishizing’ so evidently, its ‘Green’ and LGBTQI ‘revolutions’.
And, secondly, when Christine Lagarde this week put the climate “emergency” at the very centre of ECB policy. Henceforth, ECB bond purchases shall be directed to qualifying assets only: i.e. to Green bonds that conform to EU ESG objectives. Corporate Bond QE has proved a hugely effective central banking control mechanism, by limiting access to capital for perceived ‘bad actors’.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard notes that even now, the EU ‘command’ doesn’t seem to be able to get its act together:
“Europe has again misjudged the contours, time-lags and politics of the pandemic. Large swathes of the Continent will be in an incontrovertible fourth wave by the end of this month, before they are sufficiently vaccinated to ignore the medical consequences. This will be hard to explain. Covid cases in Catalonia are currently running above UK levels on a per capita basis, and the R reproduction rate is over 2.0. Portugal is tracking the UK’s trajectory with only a slight delay, while France’s health minister Olivier Veran says his country may be overwhelmed by late July.
“Yet Europe’s internal borders remain wide open. The imperative of saving this year’s tourist season has paralysed political leaders.
“We are witnessing a fresh display of the EU’s dysfunctional pathologies. Europe has had the laboratory of the ultra-contagious Delta variant before its eyes in England for weeks; but the EU’s collective system has failed to heed the lesson. The mistake repeats what happened earlier this year when politicians played down the self-evident dangers of the Kentish Alpha variant, when the EU vaccine roll-out had barely begun … The risk is a long messy fourth wave that drags into September, contaminating the French rentrée.
“[Strategically] My guess is that the pandemic has fundamentally changed German public attitudes towards the EU. It has done so at a delicate moment when Germany has also been badgered into large fiscal transfers through the €800bn Recovery Fund, initially presented as a Covid relief plan but in reality a patronage fund for a European Commission with insatiable ambitions”.
What is clear is that the Grand Reopening of the European economy and summer is in trouble. Jacob Nell from Morgan Stanley says the hit to GDP could be 1.5% for Italy, 1.7% for Portugal, 2.3% for Greece, and 2.5% for Spain in a “severe scenario”.
This may not constitute an end to the world in itself, but nonetheless, it represents a further asymmetric shock to already battered and lockdown-fatigued electorates. More pertinently, it will exacerbate existing lines of cleavage – most notably via Europe’s ‘war of choice’: Its embrace of full-on, cultural revolution.
With its culturally woke-style ‘democracy’, LGBTQI, ‘Human Rights’ and ‘climate-emergency’ revolutions, the EU gratuitously has alienated both Russia and China (which it needs to save its economy), and has chosen to launch internal culture war against Hungary and various other EU states over their reluctance to endorse woke culture, but more particularly their rejection of the EU Open Society project for using immigration to dilute ethnic homogeneity.
Politico (EU) reports, “the liberals aim to make it a showdown in the fight against discrimination against queer people in Hungary. They’ll put forward a call for real consequences, to be formalized: “The Council needs to trigger Article 7 against this Hungarian government””.
Regrettably, escalating culture feuds are likely to dominate European politics much as they do in the U.S. The fractures will not remain as between states such as the EU war on Orbán, but will be within states, as well as between them.
One long-time Republican Party operative, Frank Luntz cites the deep divides in voter attitudes in the UK as evidence of the contagion coming from America. Though British politics now is conditioned by Brexit, it is unlikely that European electorates, especially in the more culturally conservative East, will escape a similar process of fracturing.
Luntz’s point here is that Britain is increasingly divided along ‘woke’ versus ‘non-woke’ lines, rather than by traditional social and cultural tensions, such as between north versus south; cities versus rural areas; and even men versus women.
“In his study, which was first reported in The Times, under the headline, Woke Culture War is the Biggest Dividing Line Amongst Voters, around 81% of Tory voters agreed with the premise that the UK was a nation reflecting equality and freedom; whilst a mere 19% said the nation was “institutionally racist and discriminatory”. Among Labour supporters however, only 52% saw the UK as a bastion of freedom, whilst 48% said the country suffered from systemic racism.
When asked specifically about cancel culture, 40% of respondents said they believed the social phenomenon served as a form of “thought and speech police”, while 25% backed it, arguing that those who say something sexist or racist should “face the consequences”.
According to Luntz, these findings are an obvious ‘red flag’: “When you have decided that your country is institutionally racist and discriminatory, you don’t normally go back”, predicting that the chasm dividing voters would only widen with time. He said it was likely that in six months to a year, the “damage” caused by such radically different views about what the UK stands for, will lead to the same vast social upheaval already occurring in the United States.
“The problem with woke[ness] and with cancel culture is that it is never done. The conflict and divisions never end”, Luntz said. “This is not what the people of the UK want – but it’s coming anyway”.
The very obvious point to which Brussels turns a hubristically blind eye is that there is no popular mandate or enthusiasm for cancelling Europe’s long-established culture. Even in the U.S., half its population reject it; and may prove willing to fight it – perhaps literally.
This represents the Brussels’ managerial classes ‘going mad’ – in the sense of being blind to the obvious consequences of what they are doing. Europe has had a cancel-culture ‘war’ before – when the Frankish invaders of Rome, steeped in Old Testament exceptionalism, went to war against anyone, or anything ‘pagan’ – anything that was not aligned to the new Christian doctrine.
The point here is that when Christianity was imposed across the Roman ‘world’ (in 323 AD), Christians were a minority, pitted against an ancient metaphysics, old ways-of-being, that had existed for thousands of years past. It took four centuries of utter oppression – such as burning dissidents alive to light the arena of the Coliseum – to expunge the ancient understanding. Even so, the ancient insight was never finally destroyed. It went ‘underground’ and it is still around.
The Library at Alexandria, filled with the only surviving texts of ancient theosophy, was burned down on the order of the Christian Bishop. Its philosopher-keeper, the beautiful Hypatia, was skinned alive by the mob; pagan books across the Empire were ‘called out’, condemned and burned; teachers ‘cancelled’, and their teaching denounced; ‘pagan’ temples and property were expropriated; Greek statues were defaced with Christian crosses carved into them.
Under Justinian (527 to 565), toleration of any religion other than Christianity was ended. The last Egyptian temple – dedicated to the goddess Isis, on an island in southern Egypt – was shut down in 526. The legendary Plato’s Academy – with no less than 900 years of teaching in its curriculum – was shut down in Athens in 529.
Just to be clear, whereas the adoption of Christian values was on the rise in those early centuries, its obverse facet – Christianity (as illiberal authority, and as a power-project) – became the political tool used to fuse Papacy with Empire, and the tool with which to establish feudalism.
Many contemporary European liberals clearly are well-intentioned in their desire to pursue social justice. It is an admirable aim. But ultimately, when embarking on a culture war with no popular mandate, what starts as ‘liberal’, ends illiberal. That is the nature of cultural war. Ultimately, cultural struggle becomes a utilitarian ‘cover’, hiding a political project.
Are the EU ruling classes truly blind to these consequences, or do they secretly welcome the war’s inherent illiberalism, as the tool by which they might found their centralized EU Empire – just as the Franks used Old Testament authoritarianism to found the Carolingian dynasty?