Tuesday, April 19, 2011

If we shout loudly enough, will you hear us?

Anti (Muslim) immigrant sentiment is proving increasingly an electoral winner in Europe. Adding anti-bailout sentiment seems to increase the appeal, as the True Finns have just discovered.

The “European project” has two levels to it. One is the European common market: creating a huge common commerce area. The aim was, by entangling European peoples so deeply with each other that another Great European War became outside the realm of emotional, and above all political, likelihood.

The other manifestation of the “European project” is to create a European superstate. To create a political identity and superstructure that sits above, and ultimately subsumes, the various European ethnic identities and associated states.

The first is a liberal project (in the classical liberal sense, not in the modern we-know-better conspicuous-virtue progressivist sense). It widens the range of interactions that people can choose to engage in. The second project is a deeply illiberal one.

Confederal democracy need not be an illiberal project, but the European superstate is not a confederal democracy. It is bureaucratic internationalism with an elected figleaf, given the European Parliament is little more than a talkshop.

The root of the problem is the underlying analysis, which holds that the great problem of European history is nationalism. This is nonsense. Europeans have found many reasons to slaughter each other over the centuries, even in the last century, nationalism is only one.

The power problem
The great problem of European history is unaccountable power. Nationalism was simply a sentiment that unaccountable power mobilised for its own purposes.
The First World War occurred because dynastic authoritarians wished to stave off political changes that would undermine their power. Invoking their roles as war leaders was a way of attempting to bind their subjects to them against threatening notions of democracy and ethnic equality, a role their alliances were based on and which a series of events either trapped them into or motivated them to take “all the way”. The representative democracies of Serbia, France and the United Kingdom got drawn into the war, but it was Dynastic empires of Habsburg Austria-Hungary, Hohenzollern Germany and Romanov Russia that created the War between them. It was, at its heart, the Dynasts’ War.

The Second World War occurred because Hitler had created a system where he was accountable to nothing but his own Will, and his Will was to create the Empire of Lebensraum. Stalin, equally unaccountable, saw a way of expanding his own Empire and entangling the “Imperialist” Powers against each other and so they divided Eastern Europe between them. It was, at its heart, the Dictators’ War.

But if one diagnoses the problem of European history as unaccountable power, then that implies the answer is democracy, is giving power to the vulgar masses, and limited power, a system of strong checks and balances. If one diagnoses the problem of European history as nationalism, that is a popular sentiment, and then the answer is for a “wise and virtuous elite” to curtail the “dangers” of popular sentiment. In other words, create yet another manifestation of unaccountable power.

It also means that the people only “get it right” when they agree with said virtuous elite.

This is, of course, an exercise in hubris. And, in the words of Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
Failed integration
What we are currently seeing is the intersection between two failures of the European elites. The first failure is managing successful integration of large migrant (specifically Muslim) populations. Not only are second generation male Muslims “de-assimilating”, but much of the European political left is using migrants as a new basis for support, to the extent of apparently deliberately manipulating migration policy to that effect.

Note, this is an active policy of preferring newcomers to the original residents. It fits in with the “anti-custodian” attitude of the Progressivist Ascendancy where critiquing what exists, what has been handed down from the past, in the name of a legitimating vision of virtue is an essential element in progressivist sense of status and identity. So, making any complaint about problems with newcomers because automatically “racism” and beyond the pale. But there are issues of integration and friction, and if they cannot be articulated within mainstream politics, then they will be taken up by whichever political entrepreneurs move into the available political territory first. (The point is not to claim that all complaints are legitimate: merely that issues that cannot be meaningfully discussed cannot be dealt with, so continue to fester.)

There are two problem with progressivists managing integration into the wider society. First, the point is not to have the newcomers behave (and so vote) like the existing residents. Differentiation is basic to the underlying political purpose.

Secondly, successful integration acts to legitimate the existing culture, society, institutions. If one’s status and sense of virtue is based on critiquing all that, then clearly having such “expand” their operation, to display their worth and effectiveness, gets in the way. The point is to use migrant difficulties as a critique of the existing culture, society and institutions, not as a means for such to display their power and worth.

To put it another way, given Western civilisation is, in so many ways, such a successful one, if one defines virtue against success, then one is going to produce a lot of failure. Particularly if failure is actually functional – that is, vindicates one’s sense of virtue and status and keeps the differentiated groups as moral and political mascots.

After all, if, for example, African-Americans became socially successful, they might start voting Republican, rather than being captive political dependents of the Democratic Party. (Having the Democratic Party as their monopoly political provider – how is that working for most African-Americans, exactly?) But if you want to see these processes operating in all its horrid logic, I direct your attention to the failure of indigenous policy in Australia, which displays these patterns in all their pathological glory.

Euro mess
The other great hubristic failure of the European elite is, of course, the euro itself, which has operated to make the looming demographic-fiscal crunch of European welfare states much worse. Economist Tyler Cowen has a particularly grim analysis of the current problems of the euro.

Paul Krugman summarises the underlying problem aptly:
But the architects of the euro, caught up in their project’s sweep and romance, chose to ignore the mundane difficulties a shared currency would predictably encounter — to ignore warnings, which were issued right from the beginning, that Europe lacked the institutions needed to make a common currency workable. Instead, they engaged in magical thinking, acting as if the nobility of their mission transcended such concerns.
Alas, the “magical thinking” Krugman points to is not some euro-specific malady, it pervades progressivist outlooks and particularly those of the European elites. Their sense of status and virtue comes fundamentally from the nobility of their intentions, of their moral vision. Yet a sense of virtue not ameliorated with a strong sense of responsibility grounded in social reality is a dangerous, hubristic indulgence. Without truth, there can be no morality for there is nothing which resists mere convenience. (This, by the way, is why serious narcissists are not seriously bound by moral considerations: since their convenience is their reality principle, they just reconstrue matters to evade any inconvenient moral constraints or obligations.)

Hence good intentions being what the road to Hell is proverbially paved with. While such “magical thinking” is generally a matter of various levels of public policy failure, these can have vile consequences for the sufficiently vulnerable – many indigenous communities in outback Australia include women and children living in hellish conditions. The recent Mullighan report (pdf) gives a sense of the horror.

So, if you are a European voter, confronting a EU system that gives you no direct levers of power beyond national politics and yet the EU structures are used increasingly to override national (and thus democratically accountable) decisions, what do you do? You see if people will hear you if you shout loud enough.

And voting for “right wing populism” is certainly a way to shout loudly.

Elite hubris
The problem is that this is as likely just to confirm the Euro-elite in its own hubristic belief that its virtue is “needed” to block “clearly pernicious” popular sentiments. If agreeing with the elite leads to being taken for granted and disagreeing with the elite leads to being contemptuously ignored, then a very nasty spiral can be set in train where increasingly intense mechanisms of complaint are resorted to in a vicious interaction between popular frustration and hubristic self-satisfaction.

The question becomes, a what point do people shout loudly enough that they will be heard? What is more important to the European elite, its sense of virtue and status or some dim sense of that the current political framings are not invulnerable? This is an open question: plenty of elites in history have ridden their sense of virtue and superiority to crashing collapse.

The fundamental problem of European history remains what it has always been: unaccountable power. The EU is not the solution, it is the latest manifestation of the problem. Unless it changes to become far more accountable, the pattern of spiraling disaster is only going to get worse.

ADDENDA I have amended this post to include the actual verse from Proverbs, rather than the common misquote.

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