It’s an earthquake, say the pundits as they shake their heads over the elections to the European Parliament in Brussels. That parliament has hitherto been a rubber stamp to the political arrangements and deals done behind closed doors by the ruling class in Brussels. Suddenly it has become the one and only arena in which the inhabitants of Europe can express their anger and fear over what the ruling class has been doing to them. Decisions over which they have no influence bedevil them. Austerity, falling living standards, mass immigration including men and women of very different cultures, regulation, intrusion into privacy, new crimes and conflicting legal systems have materialized out of nowhere. European politicians and the people they are supposed to be representing appear to be unrelated.
These elections have thrown up substantial political parties whose main plank is to get out of the European Union. Defenders of the EU stigmatize these parties and their voters as reactionaries, certainly racist and maybe anti-Semitic. The United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, has taken England by storm, for instance, but rather than woo them, Prime Minister David Cameron writes them off as “fruitcakes.” Actually they are protesting against a future they never asked for. Faced with unconditional surrender to the ruling elite, growing numbers of voters choose to rebel.
I happen to have been reading a new book, a collection of letters written by Hugh Trevor-Roper, the Regius Professor of History at Oxford and a brilliant man with an understanding of the whole sweep of history. He refers to someone I’d never heard of, Professor Samuel Dill, also of Oxford, who as long ago as 1898 wrote a book about the end of the Roman Empire. The London Library had this book. In elegiac language that hasn’t dated, Dill might just as well have been writing about the EU as it proceeds on the selfsame way to disaster. The Roman Empire did not have to experience what Dill calls “the great social catastrophe” but this was brought on by “a ruinous system of finance,” a corrupt civil service, a torrent of oppressive laws, “bureaucratic despotism,” (yes, the phrase is his) the destruction of agriculture and the decline of the military profession. Barbarians like the Goths, Vandals, and pagan tribes were welcomed as immigrants but in the end they turned on their hosts and captured Rome and the Empire. Dill finishes his account of one thoughtful writer who “watched with anxious foreboding the darkness which was descending on the West.”
It might be a good idea to reprint Dill and hand a free copy to each of the 50,000 or so bureaucratic despots of the EU who have contrived to repeat in close detail the mess that put paid to the Romans and no doubt are preparing to fight their critics to a finish.