Monthly Archives: April 2016

image

Daniel Hannan, A Doomed Marriage: Why Britain Should Leave the EU (Notting Hill Editions, £8.99)

Daniel Hannan has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999, but he is not averse to biting the hand that feeds him. In “A Doomed Marriage” he is full of passionate intensity, making the case for Brexit while dressing up routine arguments with frequent references to literature and history. Perhaps this is to persuade us that Hannan, who was born in Lima, Peru and speaks three languages, is no ordinary Little Englander but a sophisticated advocate for the benefits of divorce.

When Hannan sets out his stall, however, his sense of British exceptionalism could hardly be more profound.  The British, he argues, are essentially a homogenous mass of loveable eccentrics, trainspotters and jaywalkers, free from written constitutions and served by autonomous institutions “like Oxford and Cambridge and the BBC.” A long list of uniquely British qualities contrasts with their absence among French and Germans who are centrists by nature. “The attempt to force an eccentric society like the British into an alien, concentric structure”, he predicts, “will have devastating consequences.”

From this problematic foundation, Hannan details the supposed devastating consequences of remaining in the EU. The first, inevitably, is that the home of parliamentary democracy could forever be yoked to the profoundly undemocratic union if it doesn’t act soon. A list MEP from a country with an unelected upper house and bishops and royalty embedded in the political process should certainly recognise democratic deficit. But instead of a glass house, Hannan sees only an unelected EU bureaucracy which is prepared to manipulate referenda results and spend a small fortune rewriting history while channelling propaganda through the soon-to-be-opened House of European History in Brussels.

Hannan is a lot more interesting when his arguments start to echo some of those heard before the Scottish independence referendum. First, the idea that small states work better than bigger ones, especially in terms of wealth generation. He argues that “the notion that size is a precondition of prosperity is belied by the facts” and produces two top-ten tables to show that the world’s richest people tend to live in small polities. Second, in a chapter called “The Case for Nationalism” he states that multi-national democracies are rarely stable and argues for national self-determination and small nation states based on “a community of identity” as ideal organising units. Smaller polities, he believes, bring out the best in the people and make them happier, better neighbours. 

Apart from the fact that Hannan’s community of identity is reductive rather than expansive, you might think that this is an argument for Scottish independence but you would be wrong: “Indeed, it is far from clear that Scottish identity is of the kind that generally constitutes national separateness. On most of the usual denominators, Scotland forms part of the same national continuum as the rest of the United Kingdom. Scots watch the same television programmes, follow the same sports, eat the same food, shop at the same chains and speak the same language as people elsewhere in Britain.”

A shared interest in Coronation Street is one thing, but polls suggest that Scots feel differently about the EU and Hannan’s quixotic little Britain argument takes no account of this. Perhaps workers rights are in safer hands in the EU than at Westminster; European human rights legislation is mostly effectual; the Schengen agreement is a nice basis for a holiday; the opportunity to work in Europe should not to be lightly discarded; EU investment benefits the Highland “transition region” in particular; the free movement of people has helped Scotland diversify its “community of identity”, address its demographic challenges and so on.

It’s obvious that the EU isn’t perfect. Scotland’s former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, a lifelong Europhile, wrote of planning to vote “remain” but without enthusiasm and described the impoverishment of the Greek people as the nadir of the European dream. Strangely, “A Doomed Marriage” has little to say about Greece beyond the fact that it shouldn’t have been allowed to join the EU in the first place. At the risk of mimicking Hannan’s penchant for literary references, writer Hugh Kingsmill once coined the term “New Dawnists” to describe those wedded to utopian ideas that would never come to pass. Hannan, by contrast, is a kind of Old Dawnist yearning for the restoration of an idyllic England that doesn’t exist. Being trapped with him and his ilk after “leave” is a consummation devoutly to be avoided.

[This review first appeared in The National]

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Articles

Popular Articles

Other Stories

image

Roger Scruton, Confessions of a Heretic (Notting Hill Editions £14.99)

 

It is not clear how Roger Scruton can be described as a heretic except as a self-conceit. His 1980 book “The Meaning of Conservatism” may have blighted his academic career, as he famously claimed, but many of his views are now in season. And in this collection of essays he tilts furiously at a “left-liberal establishment” which is no longer visible to the naked eye but, nevertheless, is the villain of virtually every piece.

Scruton is a philosopher specialising in aesthetics, but he is also a social commentator beloved by The Spectator. In the first essay collected here, “Faking It”, he bemoans the decline of originality in art and its replacement by “the fake” which has “artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde.” Duchamp’s urinal – stolen as well as faked according to some – is a paradigm for modern artists. Thus, sharks get pickled, crucifixes are submerged in urine and the Turner Prize consists of objects and events that aren’t art until critics designate them as such. Artistry, according to Scruton, must possess beauty form and redemption and he provides a handy list of the anointed – David Inshaw, James MacMillan, Ruth Patel and others. The essay introduces a theme that recurs throughout the collection: the world is divisible into the enlightened and those who just don’t get it. If you admire installation or video-art you have either been hoodwinked by liberal-lefties or you are a fool.

In “Loving Animals” the subject seems entirely different but the general conclusion is the same. Scruton reveals that he lives on a farm and that he once loved a horse called Barney, as Alexander the Great did Bucephalus.  Sadly, Barney “died beneath me while hunting”.  This occasions a short treatise on correct ways to love an animal. Scruton has particular issues with dogs and cats when they enter his natural kingdom; the first chasers of things, the second killers. But his real target is their owners who he sneeringly dismisses as “incomers”. Their pets upset the delicate ecological balance which he and his farmer-neighbours have been building. His analysis does not include himself – clearly an incomer at some point. Nor does it say how chasing around on Barney contributed to the natural scheme of things.

Separating the wheat from the chaff sometimes leads Scruton to the edge of absurdity. Here, for instance, is his definition of a slum from his essay “Building to Last”: “By ‘slums’ was meant the harmonious classical streets of affordable houses, seeded with local industries, corner shops, schools and places of worship, which had made it possible for real communities to flourish in the centre of our town.” This is not a definition of a slum easily recognized by those who lived in one. But Scruton’s plan is to eviscerate the people who replaced these harmonious slums with high rise blocks in open parkland and, again, he attaches a handy list of modernist, lefty villains. Salvation is found in the work of Léon Krier who planned the new town of Poundbury by Dorchester at the request of the Prince of Wales. In Krier’s “polycentric settlement” people live, work and play next to other urban centres and, though Scruton doesn’t say so, adopt the principles of the mythical harmonious slum for the actual comfort of the well-to-do. Poundbury appears in two of the essays along with an embarrassing paean to Krier who has “twinkling eyes” and unrolls his drawings like “a father gently lifting his new-born baby from the cradle”. 

By now Scruton’s insistent, righteous voice has become tiresome. Many of the essays are finely wrought and pleasing in their philosophical meanderings. But they also arc predictably from proposition through blame to conclusion. It’s no surprise, for instance, that he’s not a fan of the younger generation – at least that part of it that dances to “DJ Music” which is compared unfavourably with the communal dancing of ancient Greece. Scruton constructs a merry dance of his own piggybacking on Schiller, Kant and Heidegger to conclude that the replacement of communal dance with the sexualised and the impersonal is associated with various forms of abuse and a loss of self-love.

Facebook is not necessarily the preserved of the young, but in “Hiding behind the Screen” he compares traditional ideas of friendship to Facebook friends even though the word “friend” was co-opted in the latter case. And there’s a dreary inevitability about the final essay “Defending the West” which posits Western values against those of radical Islam while using Islamist and Islam almost interchangeably.  This argument is common currency these days though often presented with less sophistication than here. It’s a strange place to find a heretic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Articles

Popular Articles

Other Stories