Foucault, John Milton, and Euripides, on Liberty

Another lightly edited long extract from work in progress.

 

Foucault in his work on parrhesia and tragedy, presumably unconsciously, connects with one of the major seventeenth century republican thinkers, and someone who has often been regarded as a major part of the pre-history of liberalism, John Milton.  Nineteenth century English liberals gave great importance to Milton as a forerunner.  The Whig-Liberal  historian, politician and civil servant Thomas Macaulay, a definitive figure in the liberalism of that time, even elevated Milton to the status of ‘martyr of English liberty’ (Macaulay 1895, 7) (Macaulay, Thomas (1895) Macaulay’s Essay on Milton. Edited by James Greenleaf Croswell. New York NY: Longman.).

Like Foucault, Milton takes Euripides as a source of ideas about liberty in antiquity. His best known work was in epic literature rather than political prose, but Paradise Lost, contains republican themes, while his life and work as a whole add up to a major contribution to political republicanism (Armitage, Himy and Skinner, 1995) (Armitage, David, Armand Himy and Quentin Skinner (1995) Milton and Republicanism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.).   Milton himself was a republican supporter of the English Commonwealth, arguing for the Commonwealth on the basis of  a form of popular sovereignty argument inThe Tenure of Kings and Magistrates  of 1649 (in Milton 1974) (Milton, John (1974) John Milton: Selected Prose. Edited by C.A. Patrides. London: Penguin.)  He worked for Oliver Cromwell as Secretary of Foreign Tongues., and while Cromwell can as much be regarded as the great traitor to English republicanism as its hero, he did have republican supporters like Milton  The major essay by Milton on liberty is his defence of a free press in Areopagitica of 1644, the title of which refers to the Athenian court of Areopagus.  Sophoclean tragedy links the Areopagus Hill with the transition from revenge to law, as it is the location of the trial of Oestes in the Eumides, in which the Furies becomes the Kindly Ones.  As St Paul famously spoke there (Acts 17: 24), the court, and the geographical location, conveniently pulls together antique law and political institutions, together with the beginnings of Christianity.  This is very favourable to Milton’s interest in Christian religion and antique literature, and parallels Foucault’s concern with the continuity between Greek parrhesia, Latin libertas, and the Christian confessional.

Milton quotes the following lines from Suppliant Women (II 436-441) in his own translation.

 

This is true Liberty where free born men

Having to advise the public may speak free,

Which he who can, and will, deserv’s high praise,

Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace;

What be juster in a State than this?

(Milton 1974, 196)

 

Milton provides a bridge between Mill and Reformation thought about truth and himself refers back to the Ancient world, quoting Euripides and referring to Cicero in his account of  the value of printing freed from licensing (202), though as his reference to Cicero shows, there was no liberty to deny all religion.  Milton supported that limitation, and we cannot therefore see him as the complete precursor of Foucault, or of recent defenders of free speech in more absolute ways.  However, Milton’s vision of the purpose of free speech, of liberty of the press, is close to Foucault and to the best reasons for defending free speech.  It connects more with classical liberal arguments than is often understood, and that adds to the picture of Foucault as close to classical liberalism in at least some forms.

In Areopagitica,  Milton is addressing parliament at the height of the English Civil War, to appeal against the pre-censorship of books, which he refers to as licensing.  Maybe three pillars of his argument emerge: antique pagan precedent, the nature of Reformation, the means of establishing truth.  Milton’s argument is certainly dominated by the idea of finding theological truth, his biggest goal is the establishment of the best possible interpretation of the Bible and the best possible theology.  This requires argument, and Milton gives strong recognition to the value of contesting truth.  Truth emerges stronger for being challenged and then arguing for it, the act of persuasion towards truth is part of the formation of truth.  And we can never be sure that we have found the highest truth, so we are bound to entertain counter-arguments to whatever we think is the highest truth we have.

Milton makes it very clear that he excludes atheism and Catholicism from the range of  thought which can be freely expressed.  In mitigation of the prohibition, Milton’s opposition to licensing means that atheistical and ‘Papist’ works can be published, but maybe subject to state prosecution after publication, which would bring their printing and distribution to an end.  What Milton refers to as atheism might strike us as agnosticism rather than atheism strictly speaking.  The Sophist Protagoras is one of those he identifies in antiquity as subject to penalties against his writings because he expressed doubts about the existence of gods, though not denial of the possibility (202).  As noted above, Milton partly explains the limitations of antique tolerance with regard to Cicero, without noting that Cicero’s attitude towards ancient gods was like that of Protagoras.

Milton’s position refers to Graeco-Roman antiquity and to the Hebraic-Christian Bible, and might be summarised as an attempted union of Athens and Jerusalem.  God gave Adam reason, and that means free will, and so God intended us to be free.  The consequences of Adam’s use of his reason might be considered an argument against liberty, but that would be a Papist view for Milton.  He condemns the Catholic Church for keeping the Bible away from the laity for fear of misinterpretation, referring to the Catholic policy lasting up to the Reformation of preventing translation of the Bible into languages other than Latin.

Apart from Atheism and ‘Papism’, Milton argues for libel as a limit to freedom in publishing, and again refers to antique precedents  That is a limitation accepted by free speech advocates since Mill, though that still leaves room for a broad variety of views about what constitutes libel.  It is the freedom of books in Athens that Milton refers to as a model in antiquity, and this extends to a suggestion that England is a particularly free nation, implicitly like ancient Athens, so we see the role of classicism, of nostalgia for ancient republics in modern ideas about liberty.

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Liberty Ancient and Modern in Foucault, Mill and George Grote

Long slightly edited extract from work in progress.  More about Mill than Foucault but written in the context of work on Foucault and the history of liberty.

 

John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859) has an important relation  with the work of his friend George Grote on Athenian democracy, a work by a classicist arguing for the modern relevance of Athenian democracy.   Grote even takes on the most notorious aspect of Athenian democracy, ostracisim, to argue that it was necessary for building up the kind of constitutional morality necessary to a stable democracy.  It is the lack of that constitutional morality which is behind the excesses of the French Revolution, in Grote’s argument.  The implication is that for Grote ostracisim does not anticipate the worst aspects of modern democratic revolutions, it is a necessary barrier against those aspects.  A stable democracy may have less need of such devices over time, but that makes them no less necessary in instituting democracy.

 

Against this chance of internal assailants Kleisthênes had to protect the democratical constitution — first, by throwing impediments in their way and rendering it difficult for them to procure the requisite support; next by eliminating them before any violent projects were ripe for execution.  To either the one or the other, it was necessary to provide such a constitution as would not only conciliate the good-will, but kindle the passionate attachment, of the mass of citizens, insomuch that not even any considerable minority should be deliberately inclined to alter it by force.  It was necessary to create in the multitude, and through them to force upon the leading ambitious men, that rare and difficult sentiment which we may term a constitutional morality — a paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution, enforcing obedience to the authorities acting under and within those forms, yet combined with the habit of open speech, or action subject only to definite legal control, and unrestrained censure  of those very authorities as to all their public acts — combined, too with a perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen, amidst the bitterness of party contest, that the forms of the constitution will be not less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than in his own.  This co-existence of freedom and self-imposed restraint, of obedience to authority with unmeasured censure of the persons exercising it, may be found in the aristocracy of England (since about 1688) as well as in the democracy of the American United States: and because we are familiar with it, we are apt to suppose it a natural sentiment; though there seem to be few sentiments more difficult to establish and diffuse among a community, judging by the experience of history.  We may see how imperfectly it exists at this day in the Swiss Cantons; while the many violences of the first French revolution illustrate, among various other lessons, the fatal effects arising from its absence, even among a people high in the scale of intelligence.  Yet the diffusion of such constitutional morality, not merely among the majority of any community, but throughout the whole, is the indispensable condition of a government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of free institutions impracticable, without being strong enough to conquer ascendancy for themselves.  Nothing less than unanimity, or so overwhelming a majority as to be tantamount to unanimity, on the cardinal point of respecting constitutional forms, even by those who do not wholly approve of them, can render the excitement of political passion bloodless, and yet expose all the authorities in the State to the full licence of pacific criticism.

(Grote 2001, 93)

Grote, George (2001) A History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 B.C.,

Condensed and Edited by J.M. Mitchell and M.O.B. Caspari. London: Routledge

(George Routledge 1907, [Based onA History of Greece from the Earliest Period to

the Close of the Generation Contemporary with Alexander the Great (12 volumes)

1846-56].

 

In Grote’s interpretation of Athenian democracy, the democracy itself improves the mentality of the people who are now concerned with the common good, and with the private and public actions which go beyond pure egotism.  The suggestion that constitutional morality similar to that in the United States can be found in Athens through the institution of ostracism certainly cuts across a lot of assumptions about contrasts between ancient and modern liberty, direct and representative democracy.  The attribution of ‘constitutional morality’ to the Athenians could be something of an anachronism, certainly if means attributing mid-nineteenth American century attitudes to fifth century BCE Greeks.  One distinction could be in the unwritten laws that Pericles refers to in Thucydides account of his speech.  There is not necessarily a complete break, explicit notions of natural justice, along with less explicit assumptions about right and wrong, in modern societies may give us unwritten laws of a kind.  However, surely Pericles meant something stronger, which can be found for example in Plato’s Phaedo, the idea of the laws of a city as its character, as something distinct from a list of laws, some way in which the city is personified. The tragedies of Periclean (broadly speaking) Athens present us with law as the force of divine powers, and in conflicts between civil and natural law, which are very personalised and are not about adjudication between laws which may appear to conflict.  The ancient sense of law as something divine, archaic, often present in customs rather than written down is something noted by eighteenth century writers, as when Montesquieu talks about the conditions of a democratic republic, with reference to the early stages of antique republics.  Foucault, himself, alluded to this issue, when he refers to the growth of ‘juridification’ in the Middle Ages which he contrasts with style of living and care of the self in antiquity.  So ‘constitutional morality’ in ancient republics refers not only to respects for laws, and the laws which set up institutions along with the limits of law, but also to customs, respect for gods and the ancestors, awareness of the city as unified by its common rituals.  All of these might be taken as aspects of the liberty of the ancients, in Constant’s distinction, but we should also remember that Friedrich Hayek, admirer of  Constant and apparent advocate of liberty in the modern sense was a great advocate of law as distinct from written legislation.  This is another instance where attempts to make an absolute distinction between ancient and modern liberty fail.

In Grote, again we have an idea of active liberty attributed to antiquity, but also to modernity.  This is contrasted with Burkean conservatism in which it is assumed that the people will never, as a whole, be concerned with Burkean principles. This inherent quality of democracy adds to the benefit it provides of milder criminal justice, along with better laws and administration.  All of these advantages of democracy elevate the people beyond obedience to authority, and is what gave the Athenians success in war.

 

Stronger expressions cannot be found to depict the rapid improvement wrought in the Athenian people by their new democracy.  Of course this did not arise merely from the suspension of previous cruelties, or from better laws, or better administration.  These, indeed, were essential conditions, but the active transforming cause here was, the principle and system of which such amendments formed the detail: the grand and new idea of the Sovereign people, composed of free and equal citizens — or liberty and equality, to use words which so profoundly moved the French nation half a century ago.  It was this comprehensive political idea which acted with electric effect upon the Athenians, creating within them a host of sentiments, motives, sympathies, and capacities, to which they had been strangers.  Democracy in Grecian antiquity possessed the privilege, not only of kindling an earnest and unanimous attachment to the Constitution in the bosoms of the citizens, but also of creating an energy of public and private action, such as could never be obtained under an oligarchy, where the utmost that could be hoped for was a passive acquiescence and obedience.  Burke has remarked that the mass of the people are generally very indifferent about the theories of government; but such indifference (although improvements in the practical working of all Governments tend to foster it) is hardly to be expected among any people who exhibit decided mental activity and spirit on other matters; and the reverse was unquestionably true, in the year 500 B.C., among the communities of ancient Greece.

(Grote 2001, 109)

 

Grote accounts for the strength and liberty of the Athenians, with reference to the shared idea of a sovereign people of free and equal people.  This is certainly attributing the language of early modern contract theorists, particularly Rousseau, to ancient Athens, and probably contains an understanding of antique politics entangled with modern conceptions of sovereignty.  As Foucault notes, equality before law is (isonomia) is fundamental to antique liberty, itself connecting with equality in the right to speak in a public forum (isegoria), and that further connecting with parrhesia.  However, the ancient conception is much more specific, particularistic and opaque, with regard to the unity of an individual people sharing common roots in the city.

Oh Europe! From Rome to France and Germany

I’ve posted a few things about the reaction to the Euro crisis and alluded to the need to explain what I think underneath.

So why Europe?

First of all what is Europe?

Well Europe is very much Rome, though the Roman Empire stretched beyond Europe into North Africa and the Near East, and did not cover the whole of Europe.  It would be a mistake, in any case, to look for a a completely clear and non-ambiguous boundary to Europe.  The collapse of the Roman Empire in the west coincided with there rise of the Merovingian monarchy, of Franks (that is Germans who had entered Roman Gaul) who ruled France and Germany.  The first Merovingian monarch Clovis was given the honorary title of Consul by the Emperor in the east, and he took on symbolic attributes of Roman sovereign rulers.  The state which he led, became the Carolingian state, that is the Carolingian dynasty descended from Charles Martel which produced Charlemagne, who was was proclaimed Emperor of the Romans in 800.  Meanwhile out east, the Byzantines were weaker but still maintained the Roman Empire, and provided a model of Imperium for Bulgars, Serbs and Russians.  Charlemagne became the model of west European kings, including Offa, Alfred the Great and Athelstan in England.  Even lands outside the Roman Empire took on the Roman model, Russia looking to Byzantium, so ultimately to Julius Caesar and Augustus; Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Poland looking to Charlemagne, and again ultimately to Caesar and Augustus.  Caesar is the origin of the words Czar and Kaiser. Mehmed II ‘The Conquerer’ claimed the title Caesar, ‘Kayser-i Rum’, Caesar of Rome.  So a reason for thinking of Turkey as European.  Additionally, I did see  Turkey referred to as ‘Rum’ once in a dictionary of Kurmanji Kurdish and English.  However, I think this might be unusual.  Maps labelled in Kurmanji of the region, which I found online, refer to Turkey as Türkiye, exactly as spelt in Turkish.  What the dictionary refers to is one of the ways that Turks referred to Byzantium, and presumes that can be transferred to Turkey.

Notions of Carolingian Europe coincide with Christendom in a Catholic centred way.  The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and the preceding Turkish movement across the residual Roman Empire, focused the notion of Europe firmly on the Catholic west and centre, with Russia as a marginal presence.  A large part of Orthodox Europe, that is the part of Europe where Christianity was Hellenic Byzantine rather than Latin Catholic, was under Muslim rule, along with an even larger part of Eastern Christianity.  The notion of an essentially Catholic Europe has not completely disappeared and certainly had an influence on Christian Democratic architects of the union.  Rocco Buttiglione who had to resign as a member of the European Commission before he took up his post in 2004 was an expression of that kind of Catholic politics, and his resignation was a sign of its decline.  It certainly had its role in building the idea of Europe.

Of course the geographical expression Europe comes from Greece before the rise of Rome.  These discussion of kingship, empire and sovereignty, are relevant though, because Charlemagne was referred to in his own lifetime as father of Europe.  The notion of Roman Empire had become one of a European dominium, but evidently not an undivided dominium, but a series of fragments in which Charlemagne had the most important part, and which made him a  secular count part to the Pope, whose authority evidently derives from the identification between Christianity and the late Roman Empire.

The end of Byzantium in the fifteen century and the renaming of the Holy Roman Empire as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation points to the decline of Neo-Roman institutions as sharing Rome, though still left Europe a place where the understanding of law and the state was shaped by the Roman legal tradition which was revived in the thirteenth century. The history of political theory since Aquinas is shaped by this process.  But now Rome is becoming an abstraction,  a source of theories of sovereignty rather than the historical beginning and full presence of Europe.  The Reformation increased the fragmentation of Roman Europe (itself an assembly of fragments), dividing western and central Europe religiously between Catholics and Protestants, and different forms of Protestantism.  The next pan-European Empire was bigger than the Carolingian empire, or Byzantium after the separation of the Arabs, but was very short lived.  That is a reference to Napoleon’s Empire, itself a product of a French universalism going back to the Middle Ages and  transformed by the French Revolution.  The idea of France as the European nation, and therefore as the universal nation goes back to the Middle Ages and the separation of the title King of the Franks from Roman Emperor in the ninth century.  The title had existed before Charlemagne but its separation from Emperor within Charlemagne’s coronation with that title, meant a French monarchy which was definitely French nor German, and the title became King of France in the twelfth century.  The weakening of the structures of the Empire from the thirteenth century so that the Emperor only had full powers over the hereditary lands of the Habsburg dynasty from the fifteenth century, left France with enhanced relative prestige, so that apart from the Spanish hegemony of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, France maybe had a claim to be the leading European power until German Empire established in 1871.  So maybe six hundred years of France the European nation, a claim made explicitly by Joseph de Maistre, for example.

We can see that the idea of a Europe existing politically through the French-German locomotive, which has seemed in danger of disappearing ever since the classic friendship between Giscard Valéry D’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, but keeps reappearing, is deeply rooted.  Underlying that is Roman Europe, which cannot be complete without Turkey.

More to come.

 

Kim Jong-Il’s Death without Judgement Nothing to Celebrate. I hope Aristotle was Right.

Very recently got the news that Kim Jong Il,  the tyrant of North Korea has died.

Am I celebrating? No

Is this because of some extreme fastidiousness about ever celebrating death because of empathy even for the evil?  No but congratulations to those capable of such empathy.

Kim should have faced justice.  he should have seen himself and his system rejected and despised.  No doubt he was beyond repentance.  Trials of such people are exhibitions of their own powers of denial and desperation to resort to the ranting which characterised their rhetoric in power.  Nevertheless, a tyrant should live to see tyrannical power crumble and to feel the harsh winds of hatred and to be humber by the process of law. By dying before such things, maybe he could be said to have had a happy life and death.  Where’s the good in that?

Aristotle thought we cannot measure someone’s happiness through the events of that individual’s life (Nicomachean Ethics).  Happiness consists in good reputation after death.  At least on that basis, Kim is a man of extreme unhappiness.

Back to working on liberty in Mill and Foucault.  And all this soon after the death of Vaclav Havel.  A bizarre coincidence.

Eurosceptic Condemnation of Cameron Veto: Walking into Merkel and Sarkozy’s Trap

Triumphalism of UK eurosceptics may indeed be very premature and misjudged.  Oliver Marc Hartwich, an Australian of German origin who is a harsh critic of the European Union has an item at the free market Centre for Independent Studies, ‘A British pawn in Europe’s Game’.  What he argues, very convincingly to my mind, is that the German and French governments wanted the UK to veto a possible European Union treaty on fiscal union.  The reason they wanted a veto is not that they are against fiscal union, but that it is easier to get an intergovernmental agreement through rather than a treaty.  A treaty could trigger automatic referenda in Ireland and Denmark.  I’m not well informed on what exactly would trigger a referendum in either country, but it is definitely the case that in both countries certain changes to EU law have to be ratified by a referendum, triggered at a lower thresh hold in Ireland than in Denmark.  A treaty on fiscal union certainly sounds like it should at the very least trigger a referendum in Ireland.  There could be political pressure for referenda in other countries.  As Hartwich points out, referenda on EU proposals are not exactly  always a success for the yes camp.  The intergovernmental agreement will exclude the UK and could lead to decisions with a negative effect on the UK financial sector, making a complete nonsense of eurosceptic joy in the UK.

On Hartwich’s analysis, Merkel and Sarkozy played a passive aggressive game, with Sarkozy in particular being highly provocative, in order to get the UK to do what France and Germany want it to do, but apparently as a UK decision.  Even if Hartwich is wrong about how deliberate this was on Merkel and Sarkozy’s part, he is certainly correct on the logic.  France and Germany push for what they know the UK will not agree to, the naturally petulant Sarkozy pushes buttons in the UK, Cameron feels obliged to satisfy the intense euroscepticism of the Conservative Party through the drama of a veto.

Confirming Hartwich’s analysis, we can see that the City of London (the district of London containing the Stock Exchange and many finical companies,with a special form of local government and its own ‘Lord Mayor’) has very definitely not rushed to welcome the Cameron veto which is supposed to protect the City from onerous regulations and taxes imposed by EU countries which have a smaller financial sector.  Financial services are about 20 % of the UK economy, putting it a few per cent age points ahead of manufacturing.  Though Hartwich’s sneer that the UK has no industry other than financial services is highly exaggerated and surprising coming from a free market thinker.  I have to say Germans generally enjoy mocking the UK as a country with financial services and little else.  Perhaps that is bursting out through Hartwich’s free market mask.

Though I agree with Hartwich’s analysis on this issue, and share his general enthusiasm for market liberalism, I don’t share his view of the European Union.  A unified Europe with a democratic government, a continental wide political sphere,  and a sense of shared purpose, while promoting diversity at national and sub-natşonal levels, is a major ideal for me.  Something I need to discuss, when I’m not so busy picking up on the debate around the Euro crisis.  For now, I will just say that the economic weaknesses Hartwich generally refers to in his criticisms of the Euro should be and can be death with through a full economic, monetary and fiscal union, on the basis of a fully accountable democratic political structure.  The politics of this are very difficult and something I can’t deal with right now.

 

 

Politics and Economics of European Union

Regarding the accumulating European Union crisis around the Euro, banking debts, sovereign debts, treaty changes and the UK veto, there is a huge amount of invective around the supposed economic stupidity of whatever position on Europe that person rejects.  There is some justification for this, though less invective, more analysis would be welcome, where we are discussing economic issues, but not when discussing political .  There is no absolute distinction between these issues, but there is still a distinction and a very important one.  That a distinction cannot be made with complete certainty does no mean it does not exist and is not important.  Consider the difference between life and non-life when considering the ‘soup’ from which life life on Earth supposedly emerged, or the distinction between science and non-science debated intensely by philosophers since the early twentieth century.

Let us consider the economic merits of the UK and its membership of the European Union.  Could the UK thrive economically outside the European Union?  Very definitely yes.  Switzerland is doing fine on this basis.  Adopting a broader historical sweep, Singapore has done very well since leaving the Federation of Malaysia and Canada has been an economically successful nation though it declined to join the United States.  There are some economic benefits in large political units in promoting trade, as Adam Smith recognised, referring to the benefits of continental ‘Empire’.  However, that does not require every part of a continent to join the ‘Empire’, a country historically leaning towards free trade and with relatively open markets like the UK, can trade with a neighbouring ‘Empire’ and be part of the mutual benefits.  I will go so far as suggest that there are strong economic arguments for a political arrangement (so an argument about political economy) in which most states within a continental, or very large, land mass, achieving some measure of political union so that trade, with inevitable movements of jobs and investment, will have an institutional framework and will be politically acceptable to populations, who will see movement as often being within the same nation, or federation, or at the very least the same alliance of nations.

Does membership of the EU slow down the UK economically?  No.  The UK was in relative economic decline compared with other European market economies throughout the period it was not in what is now known as the European Union.  It’s position recovered during the eighties, after it had joined.  Utah was a self-governing Mormom community before becoming a state within the USA, and Texas was an independent republic after seceding from Mexico and before going the USA.  There is no obvious way in which Texas and Utah have suffered economic harm.  Some free market enthusiasts claim that ‘public choice theory’ (a branch of political economy) opposes large political units.  Though public choice theory is most popular with free market advocates, its analyses can be used across the political spectrum.  The issue is how far do political decisions support the common good, provide what are genuine public goods with universal benefits, rather than benefitting the most politically influential interest groups.  Public choice theory as we know it is largely associated with two  Virginia based economists, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock.  What their work says is that there are different trade offs between section interest and common interests as the decision making unity varies in size.  A small unit may have relatively transparent decision making processes, but will be more vulnerable to capture by a coalition of  small number of interest groups, or at the extreme may one interest group.  A large political unity will have decision making that is less clear to everyone, but will require much broader coalitions to make decisions, broader so closer to a genuinely common point of view.  Anyway, free marketeers who invoke this argument, very rarely recommend the brea up of the USA, which they should if they are serious about this argument.  Their failure to do so suggest we should not take that argument seriously.

The UK is not at all doomed to becoming a country where the only sizeable economic activity is banking if it is not part of a European fiscal union.  If the UK has less political influence in the EU then its political weight in the world will decline.  I’d be delighted to see Eurosceptics with the honesty to admit this, instead of indulging in fantasies about the status of the ‘special’ relationship with the USA, or the supposed grandeur and influence of a country which is not influenced by neighbours because it does not influence them.  Anyway, the UK can have a thriving economy outside fiscal union, outside monetary union, and even outside the European Union.  Its attractions to investors will still be there even if the UK is not represented in Brussels.  Japanese car makes will not all relocate factories from the UK to the continental landmass because the UK s not represented in EU political discussions.  Absurd predictions of that kind were made when the UK first opted out of the Euro, they were wrong then and they are wrong now.   Membership of the European Union, equally, has not prevented investment into the UK, though to listen to British Conservative Eurosceptics you would think UK economic life was being strangled by German bureaucracy and regulation.  Given that Germany does very well, and certainly no worse than the UK, under these rules and bureaucracies, we can take it that being to some degree influenced by a German mentality in EU level relations, will not kill the UK economy.

Decisions in favour of economic, monetary and fiscal union, evidently have political implications.  The EU is currently suffering from trying to add the second to a largely successful attempt at the first, without also attempting the third.  That is the EU has been largely successful in promoting an internal market, therefore in promoting economic union.  However, currency union had been damaged by the lack of union on tax and budgetary matters, which is what matters with regard to market confidence in relation to a currency.  The failure to do much about the third, it was part of the Euro launch but with a very weak to irrelevant mechanism undermined by France and Germany, reflects lack of political will itself a consequence of the failure to create a genuine European public sphere where all Europeans connect with EU politicians as much as national politicians, and know as much about EU institutions and politics as they do about the national equivalents.  It’s possible that weakness in fiscal union and the consequent monetary crisis will enable political changes to be forced through, but there is absolutely no sign of a common European political consciousness emerging.

The probability is then that EU decisions requiring strong political will are going to be lacking.  This a matter of regret for me.  I am an emotionally committed European federalist, but increasingly disenchanted with the EU decision making processes and the mentality of the federalist community.  The leaders of federalist politics in the EU are deeply unable to engage with citizen alienation.  Their reaction is generally to dismiss opinions different from their own as ‘populist’ and irrational, despite the evident failures of federalist leaders in relation to monetary and fiscal union.  They have no plan to engage the public and reform the EU, beyond more demands for more federalism, when the lack of public interest in federalism is the root problem.  Their tone in debate is often insufferably smug, no worse than than the self-righteous anger of militant Eurosceptics, but that is no recommendation.  EU politics desperately needs genuine politicians with genuine ‘charisma’ (as explained by Max Weber) in which ‘populist’ sentiments are mobilised on behalf of constructive political projects.  It might just be the case that the current crisis promotes greater union, but this will have no more than resigned acquiescence from the European population, and it looks like the solutions will fall short of the sort of complete fiscal union, with Eurobonds and European Court of Justice  enforcement of agreements, necessary to provide a long term solution.

Having said all of that, Eurosceptic to Europhobic demands, in the UK and elsewhere, to withdraw from the EU would impose costs of readjustment, and unpredictable consequences on relations between nations, which while they could be overcome, would still leave the question of what will be gained that will compensate?  The EU should be improved and it is very hard to improve its decision making without making some steps in a ‘federalist’ direction.  The underlying reasons I have for favouring European Union will have to be addressed elsewhere.  The political economy of the EU does not avoid the need for thinking about underlying  political processes.  It does at least suggest that we need to have a European political structure of some kind, covering at least a large part of Europe, to guarantee trade relations and open markets, and that going backwards, or nations withdrawing, imposes costs, as well as going forwards and the enthusiastic participation of nations.

 

 

 

Leading Moderate Eurosceptic Condemns Cameron Veto

I’ve just seen this item in The Independent (UK daily newspaper) by David Owen.  Owen was a a Labour government Foreign secretary in the seventies who later became leader of the Social Democratic Party, founded by Labour centrists.  He declined to joined the party formed by the merger of the SDP and the Liberal Party , now known as the Liberal Democrats, and made a failed attempt to keep the SDP going on its own.  Though the SDP started off as euro-integrationist as one of its core principles, Owen became a moderate Eurosceptic, or possibly a moderate Euro integrationist, these positions inevitably overlap, but in any case identify Owen as not a strong federalist .  However he is characterised, he was an opponent of the Euro from the beginning, and generally became an opponent of the more ambitious kinds of Euro Federalists.  He appeared to be close to John Major, when he was Prime Minister, John Major who secured an opt out from the Euro when signing unto the Maastricht Treaty.

Despite this record of opposing the Euro, Owen has strongly condemned Cameron’s veto of the plan for a treaty medication promoting fiscal integration in the European Union.  As Owen points out, previous opt outs and reservations have not led to the UK withdrawing from EU planning.  The Cameron veto means that an intergovernmental agreement will be sought to increase fiscal union, probably still enforceable through EU political and legal institutions.  These will have an effect on the City of London (the financial district of London) and Cameron’s veto does not appear to be popular there, though the motive was apparently to defend the City from unwanted European level taxes and regulations.

Key quote

In doing so, Cameron broke from a negotiating process of constructive engagement and thus rejected the collective wisdom of his predecessors. In 1978 Jim Callaghan decided to join the European Monetary System but not to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism. In 1990 John Major decided to be party to the European Monetary Union but not to join the eurozone. These were decisions taken on grounds of practical prudence. Experience of the EU had shown many people that the empty chair was not the way to win the argument.

Owen’s article is moderate in tone, avoiding the rhetorical excesses all round since the Cameron veto.  He is nevertheless highly critical of Cameron, suggesting that his position changed suddenly to appease the hard core Eurosceptics in the Conservative parliamentary party.  This analysis, which has been confirmed by others, goes some way to explain the apparent Clegg move from acquiescence to strong opposition in reference to the veto.  It simply took time to realise that the context had changed, shortly before the veto,  from seeking an agreement to protect the financial sector in the UK to seeking a confrontation in order to appease part of the Conservative Party.