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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: We cannot simply rid ourselves of Europe, as the Britons were rid of Julius Caesar

There follows an extract from Conservative Home, 54 BC:

"It has been confirmed that all Julius Caesar's troops and warships have left these shores and are not expected to return. Old King Cole, the local Kentish ruler, said; 'Good riddance. While we are happy to enjoy free trade with Gaul, we'll have nothing to do with that single currency of theirs - L.S.D, or whatever they call it - and I'd like to be able to call for my fiddlers three without worrying about the working time directive. Very few of us Ancient Britons want to be part of a European superstate based in Rome'".

The King's wishes were gratified, for 97 years. Then the Romans came back. Since then, we have never enjoyed such a long period when we were not in combat with other Europeans, ruled by them, or at least heavily embroiled in European complexities. Nor is there any reason to believe that the optimism of 54 BC will ever be restored. Almost a century ago, we went to war to preserve the balance of power in Europe. Now, although another war still seems unlikely, we are confronted by an unpleasant alternative. We can hope that the Eurozone will work, in which case there would be a threat to the balance of power. Or we can pray that it implodes, which would cause huge economic dislocation.

We must also remember that Europe is only part of the problem. The world has rarely been more dangerous: never, more incomprehensible. "The Chinese economy and the prospects for political stability": a good prize essay question, but does anyone have a clue about the answer? "The American economy and the danger of protectionist pressures", ditto. Then there are the little local difficulties: Iran, Pakistan, Palestine. To think: twenty years ago, George Bush Senior was talking about the new World Order; Francis Fukuyama, about the End of History. Lord, what fools these mortals be.

As for the Eurozone, the options are clear. It can neither go forward, nor go back, nor stay the same. Those who invented that infernal machine have a remarkable achievement. They have created a problem which is beyond the power of the human mind to solve.

I was about to write "unique achievement", yet that would not be correct. Around a hundred thousand years ago, man began to domesticate fire. Even so, that battle for mastery over the flames has never been won. Every year, fire destroys buildings and takes lives. (There is a parallel with the pussy-cat, first domesticated in the same era, and never tamed to obedience, except at feeding-time. But despite their best efforts, moggies are less dangerous.) For fire, read credit, and its handmaiden, paper money. Without heating, man could not survive the Northern winter. Without credit, we could not have built up the sophisticated economy that allows billions of people to enjoy the high living standards which would make their forbears gawp.

But today, there are hundreds of trillions' worth of monetary instruments lurking in the ether, or in banks' balance-sheets - equally nebulous - which have no roots in productive assets. A friend of mine, Mitchell Feierstein, has written a book called "Planet Ponzi". The title tells you all about the contents. Never has such a jolly fellow written such a gloomy book. If you have not read it, do so. If you have read it and can refute Mitch's arguments, please do so at once, and restore people's peace of mind. To paraphrase: "Give us peace of mind in our time, O Lord". Keep praying.

There are many cultural and intellectual differences between Britain and Europe. Can I  tentatively suggest a further one, which has not yet been identified, as far as I am aware. Despite our supposed anti-intellectualism, we Brits may be more likely than other Europeans to believe that reality is underpinned by rational structures, which provides grounds for optimism. Perhaps we are unconscious vulgar Platonists. If you have folk-memories of the Wehrmacht in the streets - steely, savage faces while the Gestapo fillet the neighbourhood for Jews - and of the hideous strength of a psychotic state, it is more a case of "After such knowledge, what forgiveness". That led many Europeans to lose all faith in the nation-state: hence the subsequent history of the EU, and the current desperate clinging to the leaking life-boat.

In 1940, Britain was on the crumbling edge of the abyss of disaster. There were no sensible grounds for thinking that we could win the War. Yet the overwhelming majority of the British people did assume that we would see it through to victory, and their descendants still retain some of the same jackets off, sleeves rolled up, we'll show them, truculence. Although we are not as innately optimistic as the Americans, there is an instinctive belief that a problem implies an answer. Paradoxically, that wonderful, stoical, gritted-teeth-determined, deeply moving British spirit could now cause problems for David Cameron. The public will assume that as we are bound to win, there must be a solution to the current difficulties. Europe is causing trouble? Let us have a referendum and sort it out once and for all.

If only. A referendum would have worked in 54 BC, to help see off a small force of Romans. It is no longer that easy. There is no alternative to prolonged, tough-minded, carpet-souk-style haggling, with the hope of eventually clarifying the terms for a high-minded and successful renegotiation. During the next few years, the world could turn very nasty. That is not an argument for cowardice, let alone surrender of our national interest. But there is no point in fooling around with fantasy solutions. That too would be a betrayal of the national interest.  
At some stage, there will be a referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU. First, however, we must clarify the issues: trifling matters such as the future of the Euro-zone. We are no longer in 54 BC. There is a basic point, which can never be repeated often enough. If you think that there are easy answers, you have not begun to understand the questions.    


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