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’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
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).