The idea of Europe, they warn, 'is falling apart before our eyes', as Britain prepares for Brexit and 'populist and nationalist' parties look poised to make sweeping gains in elections across the continent
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A group of 30 respected intellectuals, writers and historians has published a manifesto bewailing the imminent collapse of Europe and its supposed Enlightenment values of liberalism and rationalism. The idea of Europe, they warn, "is falling apart before our eyes", as Britain prepares for Brexit and "populist and nationalist" parties look poised to make sweeping gains in elections across the continent.
The short manifesto has been published in the liberal elite's European house journals, newspapers such as the Guardian. "We must now fight for the idea of Europe or perish beneath the waves of populism," their document reads. Failure means "resentment, hatred and their cortege of sad passions will surround and submerge us."
Unless the tide can be turned, elections across the European Union will be "the most calamitous that we have ever known: victory for the wreckers; disgrace for those who still believe in the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe, and Comenius; disdain for intelligence and culture; explosions of xenophobia and antisemitism; disaster".
The manifesto was penned by Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher and devotee of Alexis de Tocqueville, a theorist of classical liberalism. Its signatories include novelists Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie, the historian Simon Shama, and Nobel prize laureates Svetlana Alexievitch, Herta Muller, Orhan Pamuk and Elfriede Jelinek.
Though unnamed, their European political heroes appear to be Emmanuel Macron of France, currently trying to crush the popular, anti-austerity protests of the Yellow Vests, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, manning the barricades for the liberal elite against a resurgence of the nationalist right in Germany.
Let us set aside, on this occasion, the strange irony that several of the manifesto's signatories - not least Henri-Levy himself - have a well-known passion for Israel, a state that has always rejected the universal principles ostensibly embodied in liberal ideology and that instead openly espouses the kind of ethnic nationalism that nearly tore Europe apart in two world wars last century.
Instead let us focus on their claim that "populism and nationalism" are on the verge of slaying Europe's liberal democratic tradition and the very values held dearest by this distinguished group. Their hope, presumably, is that their manifesto will serve as a wake-up call before things take an irreversible turn for the worse.
In one sense, their diagnosis is correct: Europe and the liberal tradition are coming apart at the seams. But not because, as they strongly imply, European politicians are pandering to the basest instincts of a mindless rabble - the ordinary people they have so little faith in. Rather, it is because a long experiment in liberalism has finally run its course. Liberalism has patently failed - and failed catastrophically.
These intellectuals are standing, like the rest of us, on a precipice from which we are about to jump or topple. But the abyss has not opened up, as they suppose, because liberalism is being rejected. Rather, the abyss is the inevitable outcome of this shrinking elite's continuing promotion - against all rational evidence - of liberalism as a solution to our current predicament. It is the continuing transformation of a deeply flawed ideology into a religion. It is idol worship of a value system hellbent on destroying us.
Liberalism, like most ideologies, has an upside. Its respect for the individual and his freedoms, its interest in nurturing human creativity, and its promotion of universal values and human rights over tribal attachment have had some positive consequences.
But liberal ideology has been very effective at hiding its dark side - or more accurately, at persuading us that this dark side is the consequence of liberalism's abandonment rather than inherent to the liberal's political project.
The loss of traditional social bonds - tribal, sectarian, geographic - has left people today more lonely, more isolated than was true of any previous human society. We may pay lip service to universal values, but in our atomised communities, we feel adrift, abandoned and angry.
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