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Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Tainted Source

Politics should be based on the recognition that the state is a public entity based on law, not an enterprise run by managerial decisions made in private.
John Laughland - The Tainted Source: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea

John Laughland’s book was first published twenty years ago but is still relevant today, especially amid the turmoil of competing Brexit narratives. Among other aspects, it provides an interesting examination of the roots of the EU, particularly Europe as envisaged by fascist and Nazi strategists, academics and business leaders before and during WWII. Of particular interest is how extremely close the EU is now to the structures worked out by totalitarian thinkers over seventy years ago. The EU is not a modern construct and fascist political thinking did not simply disappear from Europe in 1945.

Apart from this totalitarian and even antiquated aspect of the EU, one of Laughland’s most interesting ideas is his concept of an unpolitical EU. By that he means that the EU has a managerial rather than a political ethos and this runs throughout its structure. It is not political but unpolitical. All issues must have a single official response and supporting that response must be an overall plan, strategy or process with no room for deviation. This is not politics but administration - the EU is not political.

The EU is all about planning and implementing the plan, not about discussing plans in the political arena, tearing them to pieces, patching them back together again. None of that. The knockabout and messy war of ideas has no place in an EU which values its totalitarian roots without ever admitting that this is where it all came from. This is not to accuse the EU of being fascist as Laughland is careful to point out, because that would be ridiculous - times have changed. As his book’s title suggests, it is more a case of pointing out the EU’s tainted roots and continuing failure to repudiate those roots by facing up to the ingrained deficiencies they have caused.

The point being made here is that political life should be messy and uncertain because that is the very nature of politics and human interaction generally. This fractured, suck it and see form of social and economic progress is how mistakes are corrected, how resilience is welded into the political fabric, how dissident voices can be heard in case they harbour valuable insights.

In which case, first past the post voting is likely to be more political than any form of proportional representation because it maximises the political over the unpolitical. Proportional representation leads away from the clamour of political freedom towards the unpolitical path of restricted freedoms, of closed doors and insider dealing where the corridors of power matter far more than the debating chamber.

As ever a key problem comes down to people. As the EU tries and tries again to apply linear thinking to non-linear realities, the issue of competence at the highest level becomes ever more acute. The EU does not have the ability nor the flexibility to build what it claims to be building. It is all very well to poke fun at figures such as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, but there is a more serious side to this problem.

It is increasingly obvious that the EU does not have the political competence to push itself towards successful completion where it is able to compete with the rest of the world. The EU is gargantuan project lurching through the post-war decades, becoming more and more unwieldy. Like a huge drunken uncle sprawled across the kitchen floor, nobody cares to pick it up and in any event nobody can.

Who with an ounce of humility and self-knowledge would ever take it on? Not even a political genius and we don’t have many of those. A dynamic political culture supplies its own distributed genius, not merely from the brains of talented individuals but from millions upon millions of daily decisions taken by politically free people building their lives within a respected framework of law, justice and democratic government. That is what politics is supposed to do for us.

Politics is therefore part of what it is to be human, if ‘politics’ means the public association of individuals who understand themselves to be ‘a people’. Without ‘a people’, there can be no rule by the people (democracy).
John Laughland

7 comments:

Sam Vega said...

Many thanks. I'll put this on the "To be read" list. I thought the bit about First Past the Post voting systems was particularly interesting.

Sackerson said...

I like it. Well-considered writing. Congratulations!

Demetrius said...

Basically, it is back to the Habsburgs but this time attempting to be on a globalised scale as well. We should not forget that the Habsburgs relied heavily on the money lenders.

wiggiatlarge said...

Very well put together, "political genius", not just here but in the whole of Europe there seems to be no one, is that because the overiding march towards the beaurocratic state leaves no room for one, or do they just make sure only the compliant get in.

James Higham said...

The Club of Rome was highly political.

Roger said...

Seems to me we have a choice between a watered down monarchical system aka UK parliament or a souped up parish council system aka the EU. Neither is ideal but to my mind the monarchical system is slightly worse for most ordinary people than the parish council. Too liable to be captured by factional interests.

But looking longer term I think we need to lose about 30% or so of Western population and hold down the growth generally. We can't find a valid use for the ones we have.

A K Haart said...

Sam - it is interesting isn't it? Maybe we are too technical about the mechanics of voting.

Sackers - thanks. The book has so many references behind it that it encourages the reader to consider its message with some care.

Demetrius - yes, we tend to compartmentalise these issues and forget how old they are.

Wiggia - I expect it has something to do with attraction in that bureaucracy does not attract the right people.

James - so many political organisations work in the shadows and subvert the whole idea of public debate.

Roger - "I think we need to lose about 30% or so of Western population" I agree and the issue has niggled at me for years but it isn't easy to write about without it coming across as yet another doomsday sermon. Needs to be said though.