I’m re-reading C.H. Sisson’s autobiography, On the Lookout, by a long chalk the wisest book on all the important matters I’ve ever read. One short extract will give you the flavour:
“On 8th March 1936, German troops entered Cologne. I have no idea what the real chances of action by the West were. Certainly in Paris, in my circles and far beyond, there was an expectation that we should go in. Of course, it was the last time the French reacted that way. After that they had lost the war. In England the reaction seems most often to have been that, after all, the Rhineland was a part of Germany. Political imbecility could go no further than that. On 12th March, the French senate ratified the Franco-Soviet Pact, another piece of paper enthusiastically welcomed by all democratically-minded people at the time, but in the event quite useless. I think on the whole that, so far as people can be educated, it was a bit of an education to watch the events of those months from perspectives quite different from those I should have had at home. They were what is called critical months. Europe seemed very anxious to hurry up her preparation for suicide.”
In a similar vein and in the same book, Sisson writes of “democracy and the noise it makes.”
In the eighty-three years since those events – a period which has coincided with the invention of our international bureaucracies – we have witnessed a form of political activity which is not really political at all. For, whereas politics is, or used to be, concerned with the practical affairs of the polis as rooted in facts and actions, the new preoccupations which dominate and control us today are described in terms of democratic ideals and principles. That is to say, with abstractions. As Eliot put it in another context: “Tumid apathy with no concentration: men and bits of paper.”
These processes are observed so zealously that they amount almost to the status of a new religion. But, unlike, say, Christianity which is rooted in realities by virtue of its doctrine of Incarnation, the new faith is part fantasy and part charade. Fantasy, because its so frequently-stated ideals are so empty of content that they could never be realised; charade, because while its practitioners know this very well, they continue to operate the void. It is as if one should try to administer a massage to a gas cloud. In it are all the appearances of politics. Countless speeches are made, resolutions are passed, the bits of paper circulate endlessly and we vote. And how we vote! We have no sooner left the polling station than we turn about and enter it again…and again…and again. And none of this makes the slightest difference to the reality.
For politics is not about abstractions: its substance is interests. The Treaty of Versailles, created by the largest gathering of international statesmen ever seen, prohibited Germany’s re-occupation of the Rhineland. That didn’t stop Hitler’s troops from going in. The Fuhrer, by contrast with the Treaty, saw it in his interests to go in. The reaction of the West ignored – the word is betrayed – our interests and that is why the Second World War became inevitable from then on. Hitler was testing the water. He entered the Rhineland with a tiny, ceremonial company of soldiers who would have been easily stopped by one small operational army unit. But, since our policy was framed by ideals and abstractions, we refused. This is the imbecility of which Sisson speaks. Ditto the Franco-Soviet Pact. Ditto the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Ditto the abstracted and delusional Western policy which allowed Mussolini a free hand in Abyssinia.
These things are by way of a parable, but unfortunately we are not in the mood to be taught. The people of Europe have just voted – of course they have! – in the EU elections. And the whole effort and outcome is meaningless, for it will do nothing to impede the relentless, trundling power of the EU Commissioners – a polite euphemism, invented behind that smokescreen called Brussels, for German oligarchs. What Bismarck could not achieve by force of arms in 1870, nor the Kaiser in 1914, nor Hitler in 1939, German presidents have accomplished without having to fire a shot. They have conquered Europe, because they saw it in their interests to do so. We have repeatedly surrendered because we shape our policies on abstractions and on one abstraction in particular the one which Sisson referred to as being democratically-minded. You vote and you keep on voting and it makes no difference: Angela Merkel, under one name or another, remains top of the pile.
Let me turn from abstractions to the real interests of practical politics. How could it ever be in the interests of a nation state to surrender its capacity to govern itself to a foreign power? That is what results from our EU membership. Laws enacted by the EU trump our national laws. Economic policy is formed in the interests of Germany. Of course Germany disguises its interests behind a smokescreen of ideals and abstractions. One example – or perhaps two – will do: that of a pretended concern for what is called the environment. The reason the British steel industry is on the point of collapse, with the loss of thousands of jobs, is because, under EU regulations, our energy costs are twice what they are in the USA. Here again is the paradigm opposition of abstractions and interests. Again, the British fishing industry was destroyed because it was in the interests of the Germans to destroy it. Naturally, the Germans didn’t say that their interests were their game: they claimed the deed was done in the interests of the environment.
Currently, there is only one policy which is in our national interest, and it is to leave the EU. That is why we shall not be allowed to do it. There is, even at this late stage, a course of action open to us by which we could salvage our interests: it is to leave the EU with no deal. Actually, there is a deal. We just get out. That, and that alone, is the deal the people voted for in the Referendum. But it is a course as brave, as correct – and just as unlikely – as opposition to Germany’s annexation of the Rhineland in 1936.
Author: Peter Mullen
First published in The Salisbury Review: https://www.salisburyreview.com/blog/brexit-1939-all-over-again/
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