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Highbrows Vs. Deplorables

“The idea of Europe is in peril.” Thus begins an 800-word open letter published on Friday in the French newspaper Libération and other several European dailies. Written by Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher, it was signed by thirty “top intellectuals” (as the Guardian put it) from twenty-one countries.

Now, anyone familiar with current affairs will readily agree that Europe – at least Western Europe – is imperiled. It’s imperiled by a European Union whose unelected leaders are determined to convert it into a sovereign superstate with its own army and with ever-expanding powers. And it’s imperiled by hordes of Muslim migrants who, having been forced upon it by those EU leaders, will, barring dramatic reversals, eventually turn the countries of Western Europe into sharia states.

But this isn’t what these “top intellectuals” mean. Note the wording of their letter: they’re not concerned with the well-being of the peoples of Europe; their preoccupation is with the idea of Europe, which is to say with the preservation and fortification of the European Union.

And their message is that the EU is imperiled by – who else? – Europeans themselves.

Who are these “top intellectuals”? The signatories include the renowned novelists Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Milan Kundera, plus an assortment of philosophers, historians, activists, and social critics, some more famous than others. Their tender concern for the EU’s health is not surprising. The EU was always a project of privileged highbrows, who helped it advance from strength to strength by lying to the governed, acting without their consent, and overruling their votes. Now, with Eastern European governments rejecting dictates from Brussels and with Western European electorates, at long last, demanding that their voices be heard and their wishes respected, the EU’s architects and partisans are balking at the audacity with which the deplorables – the peons, the peasants, the proles – are standing up to them. Lévy writes:

“Enough of ‘building Europe’!” is the cry. Let’s reconnect instead with our “national soul”! Let’s rediscover our “lost identity”! This is the agenda shared by the populist forces washing over the continent. Never mind that abstractions such as “soul” and “identity” often exist only in the imagination of demagogues.

Pace Lévy, a feeling of national identity has long been a potent force in the souls of men. For him and other devotees of the “idea” of an EU superstate, it has been Job One to try to eradicate that patriotism and replace it with a newly forged sense of “European identity.” Unfortunately, these EU boosters have discovered that that particular abstraction thrives only in their own demagogic imaginations, and that most of the people of Europe want nothing to do with it.

Lévy’s letter goes on: