In response to:
Fear and Loathing in Europe from the October 17, 1996 issue
To the Editors:
In “Fear and Loathing in Europe” [NYR, October 17, 1996], Ian Buruma states that The Ecologist is “financed in part by Sir James Goldsmith.” This is not the case. For the record, Sir James Goldsmith has no financial, or indeed any other, involvement in The Ecologist.
Ian Buruma also quotes from an article I wrote on the Maastricht Treaty in which I express the view that “Europe is a construct, defined by economic and political interests rather than physical geography or a common ‘culture.”’ He uses this to imply that I subscribe to a meaningless and artificial divide between “authentic” communities (rooted in “blood and soil”) and “constructed” ones.
Had he gone on to quote from the next sentence in the article, it would have been clear to your readers that I make no such distinction. Quite the reverse. Indeed, it is precisely because I hold all communities, nations, ethnic groups, “races,” gender roles, and concepts of “nature” and sexuality to be socially constructed that I believe it to be vitally important that commentators such as myself take nothing for granted and instead ask: Whose interests does a particular construction serve? This was the question I posed in the article. My conclusion was concluding that, whatever the ideals of the EEC’s founders, the current Europe Union is being shaped by the aims and interests of transnational capital, leading to a concentration of power and wealth that is undermining democracy and leading to an increasingly divisive “Europe.” Unfortunately, Mr. Buruma does not engage with this view.
For my part, I hold it to be a basic human right for individuals, communities, and nations to define themselves, through their own democratic institutions, rather than be defined by others. That view is shared by my colleagues on The Ecologist. Hence our opposition to essentialism in all its forms and our support for groups resisting the imposition of ways of living which are not their own. Hence too our commitment to unsettling those power structures that stymie democratic debate and decision-making.
It would be regrettable if Ian Buruma’s article left NYR readers with the impression that opposition to Maastricht is restricted to xenophobic chauvinists. Last December, in Madrid, over 15,000 people from anti-racist groups, trade unions, and human rights and environment groups took to the streets in protest against what they termed “Europa Del Capital” (Europe of the Transnationals). Although opposed to the current direction of the European project, their call was not for a retreat into nationalism but for a Europe of dialogue, democracy, and economic justice. In effect, for a construction of “Europe” that serves the many, not the few.
Sturminster Newton, Dorset
To the Editors:
Ian Buruma’s “Fear and Loathing in Europe” [NYR, October 17, 1996] is, as is usual, perceptive. However, he raises a question for which there is self-evident answer and yet fails to draw it, “Why should the British transfer sovereignty to institutions which are unfamiliar and unaccountable?” It is because there is no alternative; like it or not—many don’t—it is industry and economy that are the cause and political institutions—in the ultimate—that are the effect. In Europe we are seeing a process unfolding that is not driven by politicians like Delors or Santer, Kohl or Chirac, but rather by thousands of businessmen and women, entrepreneurs and engineers that recognize that the only way to compete with Japan and the US is by europeanisation of Industry.
The result of this myriad of decisions is the emergence of a European Industrial Union which means that my constituents, knowingly or unknowingly, are working for and depending upon manufacturing and service industries that are now European i.e. not British. These Companies are more likely to make their decisions in Milan rather than Manchester, Bonn rather than Birmingham, Brussels rather than London.
To direct and channel this process we require levers that have a European fulcrum. The European Parliament is one such fulcrum. Yes, it’s weak, but not entirely without influence as the hordes of Lobbyists that infest its corridors demonstrate. It needs strengthening rather than denigrating. Industry has elided Westminster’s power to influence events as new process innovations and new technologies shape the future and put the economic logic of the medium-sized nation-states to the question. This new Industrial Revolution cannot be politely asked to bide a while. At worst we will either be overwhelmed by it, or at best push it into the liberal gentler path of a European Community in all senses of the term, rather than a vicious dog-eat-dog Common Market.
Finally, as a member of the Editorial Board of Tribune, which is as its masthead says, “Labour’s Independent Weekly,” the Sir James Goldsmith interview was intended as more to expose him than endorse him. His authoritarian right “poujadist” politics make him someone that the small “national socialist” wing of the Labour Party need to ask themselves very clearly who they are traveling with when they support his programme. If your readers want to find out what Labour’s thoughts on Europe will be post the election they would be as well reading the collection of essays by Labour MEPs Changing States: A Labour Agenda for Europe (Mandarin Paperbacks, 1996) rather than the xenophobic, Anglo-French rantings of Sir James Goldsmith.
Member of the European Parliament
Greater Manchester East
To the Editors:
One detail on Ian Buruma’s “Fear and Loathing in Europe.” Amongst its many canny editings, the English version of Sir James Goldsmith’s otherwise estimable Le Piège (The Trap) also omits a passage in praise of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, and on the need for monetary discipline in Europe if the single market is to be made to work. Sir James’s opposition to a fixed, single European currency (which I too oppose) is perfectly reconcilable with support for the more flexible ERM. Presumably he decided that the apparent contradiction would confuse the roast beef-minded Tories to whom The Trap, in its English manifestation, was meant to appeal.
More important: Ian Buruma’s recent articles (especially this one and “Action Anglaise” in the October 20, 1994, issue) provide a far more perceptive, intelligent, and stylish overview of what is happening in contemporary Britain than anything available in these increasingly introverted islands. I hope your American readers are as grateful as I am.
George Walden, C.M.G., M.P.
Conservative MPfor Buckingham
House of Commons
Ian Buruma replies:
.According to Sir James Goldsmith’s biographer, Geoffrey Wansell, Goldsmith’s “financial assistance kept the Ecological Foundation afloat for a time in the early 1970s, helping his elder brother Teddy to found The Ecologist magazine” (Sunday Telegraph, April 21, 1996). This does not mean that Goldsmith still helps to pay for the magazine. I am sorry for giving the impression that he did. But even without paying for the magazine, Sir James has opinions that are remarkably similar to those expressed in The Ecologist by, among others, Mr. Hildyard. They have in common a deep fear of what Hildyard calls “multinational interest groups, unfettered by local allegiances.” Hildyard, like Goldsmith, talks about democracy. He is right to warn about a lack of democracy in pan-European institutions. But I don’t think democracy is really the main point of his article. Protectionism is. The Goldsmith/Hildyard argument is that “local allegiances,” “local communities,” “La Vielle France,” farmers on the land, “nation-states,” and so on must be actively protected from “multinational interests,” which supposedly impose alien ways of living. The aim of any ecologist is to protect what is deemed to be natural, whether it be rain forests or local communities.
The most extreme expression of this sentiment was voiced at Goldsmith’s Referendum Party Conference in Brighton by his friend John Aspinall. He called the English an “endangered species” and waxed nostalgically about Angles and Saxons and the “daemon” of the “old tribesmen,” a phrase that filled him with such fevered emotions that poor “Aspers” lost his notes and repeated it four or five times, like a mantra. These old tribesmen, then, were in mortal danger from a “raceless continental superstate.” Some of Hildyard’s concerns are more reasonable, and his rhetoric is far less heated, but the underlying angst is the same.
I am more in sympathy with Glyn Ford’s argument that a multinational economy, operating under multinational laws, should be matched by multinational political institutions to provide democratic checks and balances. But that certainly was not the tone of the Goldsmith interview in Tribune. There was no mention of poujadisme. Instead, the interviewer, Mark Seddon, appeared to admire Goldsmith’s “powerful case against that modern panacea, global free trade.”
Finally, I am grateful to Kate Bradley, from Issaguah, Washington, for pointing out in a letter that Sir James’s ecological concerns could be open to question. She states that Goldsmith bought timberlands in Oregon in 1985, which were then logged so drastically that erosion has hindered the chance of forest regeneration.