The Corner

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Anglo-Saxon Attitudes


The Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne on the philosophical underpinning of the EU’s vampire currency:

[T]he fundamental problem remains unaltered, namely that European nations enjoy the benefits of a single currency but lack the discipline of a single state. Without such a single uncontested authority (including a single Treasury, single revenue-raising system, and the legitimacy which can only come from a homogeneous electorate), the existential threat to the euro continues to exist, and it is absurd to claim it does not.

I guess that Messrs Monti, Rehn, Draghi and Rajoy are sophisticated enough to grasp this; so their obfuscation has deeper roots. The problem is that European and British leaders tend to come from rival intellectual traditions. In Britain, empiricism – most closely associated with Hume, though its roots can be traced back to William of Ockham and others – is the native inheritance. Empiricism insists that all knowledge of fact must be based on experience. Most European schools of philosophy claim the exact opposite, namely that ideas are the only things that truly exist. This school of metaphysical idealism can be traced back through Hegel (for whom history itself is the realisation of an idea) and Kant to Plato.

Anglo-Saxon empiricism and the idealism found on the Continent therefore prescribe directly opposite courses of political conduct. Empiricists are trained in scepticism and caution: if you put your hand in the fire once, you will not do so again. Idealists, by contrast, are much less likely to renounce a course of conduct or set of beliefs because reality gets in the way….

But it should be remembered that these European leaders are doing something very cruel indeed. The euro has caused mass misery and suffering on a scale not seen in peacetime Europe since the early 1930s. In Greece, with 58 per cent youth unemployment, the hopes of an entire generation have been wiped out. Spain is facing the same predicament.

I am sure Mr Barroso is a kind, liberal man. But there is a comparison between the European Commission president and the fascists and communists who turned so much of the history of 20th-century Europe into a story of pure horror. All had been captured by a great enticing idea. For Mr Barroso, it does not ultimately matter how many tens of millions lose their jobs, how many businesses are destroyed, how many communities are ruined. For him, the critical thing is that his economic system survives its “existential” crisis. This sense of priorities means that it is fair to compare him to a doctor who tries to save the cancer, but does not care about the patient.

Oborne is too gentle about Barroso. Once a Maoist, the EU’s top bureaucrat is still a commissar, a whiny authoritarian on the make.