Germany is on its feet again; the country’s answer to Ukip, Alternative Für Deutschland, made huge gains at the polls, winning a presence in three state assemblies. The shadow of Auschwitz looms over all European politics on the subject of immigration and race, but obviously more so in Germany, and many people are worried.
Their growth in popularity may have something to do with the chancellor’s decision to invite one million and counting people from the wider Middle East, in an gesture historians will probably see as the grandest act of folly of early 21st century history.
Some people are worried that, along with FN, Ukip and Trump, AfD are extremists who represent a threat to the established order. I was at a Brexit debate last night where one of the arguments made by the Remain side was that we needed to work more closely together to stop the likes of the AfD. By leaving the EU, it was argued, we would be flaming the forces of nationalism, and so instead we must do even more to support an internationalist, multicultural, liberal values-based project that breaks down borders.
In his book The Uses of Pessimism, Roger Scruton suggests that the modern universalism of the left comes from an older tradition of utopianism in which all the problems of the system can only be solved with more of the system.
The European Union, like Soviet Communism, is ‘an unachievable goal chosen for its abstract purity, in which differences are reconciled, conflict overcome and mankind soldered together in a metaphysical unity, can never be questioned, since in the nature of the case it can never be put to the proof. All the crimes committed on the way to it are deviations, perversions or betrayals, things that the ideal was designed to prevent.’
Eurofederalism is not Communism and the EU is not the USSR, but its supporters do share a belief that the way to overcome its central philosophical weakness is to double-down our efforts with more of it. Soviet theoreticians ignored humans’ instinctive desire to value the needs of themselves and their loved ones over abstract strangers; European federalists ignore our instinctive desire to share a political and social space with those to whom we feel an attachment. This is why opposition to the large-scale demographic change brought about by Angela Merkel and others will never be respectable. It’s a deviant belief, in relation to the ideals of the state.
The response to ‘xenophobia and racism’ – or as it’s also called, ‘human nature’- is always more of the same policy that goes against peoples’ instinctive desires. So whenever federalism fails and these super-states descend into acrimony, then nationalism and xenophobia will be to blame, not the absurdity of the super-state itself. Federalists are perhaps blind to this because they largely come from the small minority of western people (I would estimate between 5 and 15 percent of the population) who feel low attachment at the national level.
That sense of attachment felt by the majority might not matter to any of us much in our everyday lives, but in the long term, as Scruton said, nation-states have allowed men and women ‘to create institutions that hold their leaders and representatives to account for everything that affects the common interest’. It’s why countries with long-established national identities have far lower corruption levels and far higher, and wider, levels of trust.
Without that sense of common interest, multi-national states eventually fall apart, and I imagine that the EU will prove no different. Maybe, its die-hard supporters will maintain, it just wasn’t done properly.