Europe is Not Yet Lost – With or Without Trump

Haddad

Benjamin Haddad: Le paradis perdu: L’Amérique de Trump et la fin des illusions européennes ISBN 978-2-246-82016-1 ⭐️⭐️ ⭐️ If you have been living on an island for the past five years or if you never cared to read one of the much decried mainstream newspapers or if you inform yourself exclusively through dubious posts on social media networks, than this is a good book for you. Haddad shows how America lost its interest in Europe since the end of the Cold War and how – mainly for economic reasons – it turned its attention to the Pacific area. America’s friendship and support can no longer be taken for granted and Europe is slow to react to this change, Haddad finds.

If the political tension between the US and Europe cannot be neglected, there are also other forces at play, favouring a unilateral conception of politics. Haddad explains how many people in European countries just like parts of the US population succumb to populist politicians exploiting the fault lines in societies manly caused by the effects of globalization and the deregulation of financial markets. America first is echoed by Britain first or Hungary first or Italy first. Or Russia first for that matter. What Haddad does, is a tour d’horizon of current geopolitical issues, well researched and well written.

Anyone reading the “Washington Post”, the “New York Times” or the “Financial Times” on a more or less regular basis, anyone trying to stay up-to-date with current events from President Trump’s erratic foreign policy, the looming trade war with China and the Brexit fiasco will find little new insight in Haddad’s book. If the US and Europe still share common values, they no longer seem to have common strategic goals, neither in military affairs nor in economic issues. This is common wisdom by now and has nothing of a revolutionary theory.

Haddad maintains that this evolution is irreversible, as it began long before Trump came to power. He observes a disengagement of the United States already under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. To this I would like to reply that US governments always oscillated between engagement with and disengagement from Europe since World War I. The growing or narrowing distance between the US and Europe often did not reflect strategic choices but rather political constraints in Washington. That’s why I believe that Haddad’s conclusion is premature. But of course his thesis is an excellent sale’s pitch for a young political scientist.

This said, I agree with Haddad that Europe must quickly learn to care for itself. This is something most European heads of state agree on, and if it takes hard and long negotiations in Brussels to conceive a coherent EU foreign and security policy and a strong economic position in the global competition, that seems to be the price to pay for a united Europe. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the construction of a strong yet benign Europe has been going on now for half a century and there is still much left to do. I never had any illusions about either the eternal friendship of the United States or the rapid achievement of European unity. And if Haddad gave his book the title “Paradise Lost”, I do not consider Europe lost. Compared to the United States, we Europeans are much closer to paradise now than America ever was.

The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok escaped to the United States during World War II and in 1943 he composed a piece than won him universal praise, the Concerto for Orchestra (BB 123, SZ. 116):

Bartok’s Transition from Death to Life

Blood, Sweat and Tears or the Delight to Be a Victim

heroic failure

Fintan o’Toole: Heroic Failure. Brexit and the Politics of Pain. ISBN 978-1789540987⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Now that Theresa May has failed to secure a majority for Brexit plan A, it begins to show that neither the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn nor May herself have a plan B. Actually, there shouldn’t even have been a plan A. The initiators of the 2016 referendum never meant it to succeed. They wanted to shake up the political establishment, but not to ruin their country by pushing it out of the European Union. Fintan o’Toole, an Irish historian, literature critic and columnist, has written a well-researched, well-articulated analysis of the British, or rather the English, psyche that led to the disgraceful spectacle we have observed over the past two years.

As my desperation has been nurtured over the past two years by the many lies told by Brexiteers to their unsuspecting victims, the British voters, I take the unusual step of wrapping a review of this interesting and irritating book in two distinct personal letters. My frustration has to be vented, and this is the place to do it!

Dear Brexiteers,

I know you are busy toppling your government and polarizing your country even further, so I will be brief and not detract your attention from serving your country. About Brexit – I wish you to leave the EU as fast as you can. Preferably without a deal. Because I want you to fall flat on your face. I want you to feel the heat of competition under WTO rules, the burden of bankruptcy of your inefficient economy, the dead weight of a dysfunctional public administration and the shame triggered by derelict infrastructure no longer funded by Brussels. I WANT YOU TO FEEL PAIN! ENORMOUS, UNBEARABLE PAIN.

Fintan o’Toole’s book pushed my anger at British politics at a new level. The book’s general idea is easy to understand. Emotionally, the UK has not overcome the fact that victory in World War II did not lead to prosperity and international prestige, but translated into economic hardship, the dissolution of the empire and a relative decline in global importance. I perfectly understand that this amounted to a huge disappointment. However the psychological trick that UK politicians used to deny this fact and to compensate this feeling of loss is appalling: self-pity.

The UK apparently feels best when it’s beleaguered, but once the enemy is vanquished, heroism has lost its purpose. O’Toole shows that politicians looked for a new villain that a) could be used as a scapegoat for all that went wrong (Thatcherism, the Falkland War etc.) and b) that could make Britons rally around the Union Jack. The EU was perfectly suited for both. Self-pity went viral through the endless repetition of “It’s all Brussels fault” and “Germany still is the enemy, only now it sails under the European flag.” If you marry self-pity with auto-suggestion, you end up with Brexit, hard or soft, depending on the size of your ego.

Why did all this work? O’Toole speaks of a perfect cycle of self-pity and self-love. “We deserve to be loved, but we are hated because we are so wonderful”, he says. British logic? British humour? The lack of recognition has over decades been sublimed and transformed into political masochism. “The political erotics of imaginary domination [by the EU] and imaginary submission are the deep pulse of the Brexit drama”, o’Toole writes. The pleasure to be a victim, the delightful feeling to be exempted from any responsibility, has become the goal of British politics. The EU’s function is “to be a more insidious form of Nazism”. O’Toole presents a horrifying analysis here, but I suspect it comes very close to the truth. You relish pain? You’ll get pain. Plenty of it.

Dear Remainers,

I wish you a lot of courage. The less enlightened part of your journalists and politicians has condemned you to spend blood, sweat and tears, and is far from certain that your coming sacrifices will ever be rewarded. These people have left the path of rationalism long ago, they discard the empirically verified for day-dreams and wishful-thinking as Fintan o’Toole shows with many examples at hand. Since those politicians have been democratically elected, there’s little to be done about that, as long as a majority of British voters prefer lies to truth. We, the European people, will offer you exile anytime, but unfortunately the United Kingdom can only be saved by its own people. That’s you.

O’Toole puts forward an interesting fact that should be considered by all Remainers. He reflects the improbable alliance between two social classes, far apart one from each other, that support Brexit: parts of the working class and parts of the upper class. As a binding agent he sees “the sheer joy of being able to fuck everything up.” It’s stupid to break stuff, but let’s do it anyway, just for fun. And never mind the consequences, says the political punk Boris Johnson. A little bit of “Dunkirk Spirit” and British improvisation will do miracles.

If this is the spirit of the Brexiteers, Remainers must acknowledge that the next generation will have to pay for the fun that old, bored, rich, white men like Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg have right now. This a point women are sensible to. They don’t want the future of their children being gambled away for the thrill of a former stock broker like Farage. Brexit is about emotions, o’Toole says. On both sides. Right. So let’s use emotions like the Brexiteers do. There are only 32 million men compared to 33 million women in the UK. That gives women a real majority. Use it! It may be too late to stop Brexit, but it’s not too late to shape a post-Brexit future limiting the damage Brexit will do.

Unless a miracle happens between today and March 23, the UK will hit a wall at full speed abd finally wake up and acknowledge the realities of the 21st century. Economically, it is of marginal importance, compared to heavy-weights like the China, India, the US and the European Union. As for its political and military potency, let’s not talk about it. The EU Council fares better without constant British interfering, and the UK’s nuclear weapons are just as obsolete as the British pound. Past sacrifices on Europe’s battlefields will not be forgotten, but the United Kingdom itself has made them irrelevant by not embedding them in a narrative of a sustainable European peace and prosperity after the war. Britons fought for Europe from 1940 to 1945, yet they fought against Europe almost since the German capitulation.

And before you get me wrong: The EU botched up a lot of things, as o’Toole underlines. But Brexit is going to make the situation worse, especially for the UK. Many on this side of the Channel are sick of trying to convince Britons that, on the long run, cooperation is better than confrontation for both sides. Dear friends, for you will remain friends, you can fight now with Russia, China and President Trump on your own. Soon, you will be alone. Good luck and good-bye.

Am I angry? You bet. What about music? I’ll settle for something violent and cruel tonight: Aribert Reimann’s opera “Lear”:

Lear – You are men of stone