Reagan on the EU via Mark Steyn

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Annie, Jun 9, 2004.

  1. Annie

    Annie Diamond Member

    Nov 22, 2003
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    Reagan knew why the EU won't work
    By Mark Steyn
    (Filed: 08/06/2004)

    'We are a nation that has a government - not the other way around." Of all the marvellous Ronald Reagan lines retailed over the weekend, that's my favourite. He said it in his inaugural address in 1981, and it encapsulates his legacy at home and abroad.

    I like it because too often we "small government" conservatives can sound small ourselves - pinched and crabbed and reductive. Reagan made small government a big idea. I always think of him in those broad-shouldered suits, arms outstretched, an inch of cuff: he was awfully expansive about shrinking government.

    In the speech, he meant it domestically: it was an age when every government cure for inflation only doubled it. He slew that double-digit dragon so comprehensively that today the word "inflation" is all but obsolescent, at least as a political issue.

    But, in the broader sense, Reagan's line about nations that have governments is a good way to weigh up the world. Across central and eastern Europe, from Slovenia to Lithuania to Bulgaria, governments that had nations have been replaced by nations that have governments - serving at the people's pleasure.

    The intelligentsia persist in believing this had nothing to do with Reagan or Thatcher: they maintain that the Soviet empire would have collapsed anyway, their belated belief in the inevitable failure of communism being in no way inconsistent with their previous long-held belief in the inevitable triumph of communism. And anyway, they continue, if anyone was responsible, it was Mikhail Gorbachev.

    In fact, it was Reagan who was responsible for Gorbachev. The Politburo would have gone on rotating the same old 1950s waxworks - Brezhnev, Chernenko, Andropov - for another decade or three, had not Washington's military build-up so exposed the old guard's inability to keep up that, in 1985, it turned in desperation to someone new.

    Gorbachev was doomed from the beginning. He couldn't turn the Soviet Union into a nation that has a government because at heart it was only a government, not a nation: its purpose was to facilitate communist rule, and nothing else. Or, as David Frost put it after Gorbachev was detained at his dacha during the abortive 1991 coup: "He went for a weekend in the country and returned to find he didn't have a country to have a weekend in."

    Today, it's easy to apply Reagan's line around the world. Grenada is a nation that has a government; Mugabe's Zimbabwe is a government that has a nation. Those are the easy ones. But Reagan's distinction also cuts to the heart of the European question. When the 13 colonies came together to form the United States, they already shared so much in common that they didn't need to express their sense of nationhood in an overbearing central government.

    However, because there is no natural demos binding Scotland and Greece, the European Union has decided to come at things from the other direction. It's not a nation that has a government. So instead its plan is to start with a government in the hopes that a nation - or quasi-nation - will follow.

    M Giscard and co seem to think that, if you have a commission and a council and a parliament and a president and a foreign minister and a common defence policy and a public prosecutor and a citizenship and a flag and an anthem and banknotes and a continent-wide minimum wage, then you have the bones and internal organs of nationhood and you can put flesh on them later.

    That gets it exactly back to front. They're just the outward symbols, and, without the deeper assumed ties, are as meaningless for the European Union as they were for Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. As Charles Moore pointed out on Saturday, most of the junk in the so-called European Constitution isn't in the least bit constitutional.

    That's to say, it's not content, as the American Constitution is, to define the distribution and limitation of powers. Many of my New Hampshire neighbours wander round with the constitution in their pocket so they can whip it out and chastise over-reaching congressmen and state representatives at a moment's notice. Try going around with the European Constitution in your pocket and you'll be walking with a limp after 48 hours. It's full of stuff about European space policy, water resources, free expression for children, the right to housing assistance, preventive action on the environment, etc.

    They may well be worthy planks in a political platform, but they're not constitutional matters. Yet what else is there? The European Constitution attempts to supplant genuine national identities with an ersatz bureaucratic identity - a government identity, from which a new national identity will follow. For Ronald Reagan, America was the "shining city on a hill". For M Giscard and his fellow founding fathers, the European Union is affordable housing on an environmentally protected hill. I can't see it working myself.

    The Tories have an established modus operandi on Europe: first, they tell us they're going to stand firm; then they sign on to it anyway; finally, they assure us it doesn't mean anything. The biggest question facing the country today is this: is the United Kingdom to be a nation state or merely a westerly region of a highly centralised European entity? The Tories, as a matter of policy, have fudged that question for 15 years, and in so doing have assisted the remorseless march of the Euro-fantasists. So I'm afraid I cannot agree with my eminent colleagues. This Thursday, vote UKIP.

    As for the European Constitution, I can understand why after fascism, Nazism and communism, Europeanism seems comparatively benign - not a Blitzkrieg, just a Bitzkrieg, an accumulation of fluffy trivialities that nevertheless takes for granted that the natural order is a world in which every itsy-bitsy activity is licensed and regulated and constitutionally defined by government.

    By contrast, Ronald Reagan took afternoon naps and ended the Cold War. "They say hard work never killed anyone," he said, "but I figure, why take the risk?" There speaks a man who understands the virtues of limited government. I slept easier in my bed knowing he was sleeping easier in his.

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