To the Editors:
I don’t want to carp at Michael Ignatieff’s generous review of my Reflections on a Ravaged Century [NYR, March 23]. Nor can he be faulted for giving his (hostile) view of a controversial subject—the possible development of a closer association between the law-and-liberty countries of, mainly, what has been called the Anglosphere. He notes the fallings-off and faults to be found in the US and the UK; so do I, over two chapters. But he does not cover the far worse failings of his European choice.
He rightly shows that I am skeptical of the European political tradition. But I, and many others, are much more so of the EU actuality. We see it as divisive of the West, and indeed divisive of “European” civilization itself; as implicitly, and often explicitly, anti-American; as already, and with the promise of worse to come, an (immensely corrupt) bureaucratic and regulationist nightmare; as contrary to the law-and-liberty tradition; and, fatally, as missing any real sense of how the feeling of citizenship arises—something that cannot be elicited by appeals or compulsions on behalf of a supranational entity.
As to British feelings about the US and “Europe,” a recent poll published in The Economist on what ally would you trust in a crisis showed the British answer to be nearly 60 percent for the US, about 16 percent for Europe.
Michael Ignatieff replies:
The divisions between the English and American legal and political traditions are not “fallings-off and faults,” as Robert Conquest writes, but increasingly salient differences of view about the proper balance between private rights and public welfare. The links between Britain and the political traditions of various European countries, like France, are deeper than he implies, and have grown closer since Britain joined the Community. I share much of his anger and irritation at the ways in which the institutions of the European Union have sunk into nepotism and corruption, but he neglects some real achievements: Franco-German rapprochement, the anchoring of democracy in the Iberian peninsula, and the prospective absorption of Eastern Europe. Like him, I detest European anti-Americanism, and like him, I assume that Britain and America will always enjoy a distinctive relationship. But he seems to believe that Britain should either withdraw from Europe or refuse all further measures of cooperation, which would jeopardize Europe’s real achievements. He wants Britain to throw in its lot with a Union of English-speaking peoples, and I believe this to be a romantic illusion.
So the disagreements are as clear as they are important. As I said in the review, Conquest is to be warmly congratulated for making Britain’s historical choices so clear.
May 11, 2000