The French have so assiduously cultivated their knack for glib philosophizing that most Americans less credulous than professors of English literature have lost all interest in French intellectual life. They sense that the French are more interested in expounding novelties than truths.
This state of affairs is doubly unfortunate. That handful of contemporary French thinkers who are immune to the Parisian infatuation with fashion and fads are heirs to a grand tradition, including Montesquieu and Tocqueville. Moreover, the French language may be more conducive to lucid rationality than any other tongue.
Among the most acute and sagacious French political philosophers of our era is Pierre Manent.
He began his career as the assistant to Raymond Aron, the liberal intellectual who served during the 1960s as the tribune of common sense in a France in love with insane ideologies—epitomized by Aron's
École nationale d'administration
Over the last decade, Manent has turned from the study of the great thinkers of the past to grappling with new problems—above all the European grandees' attempt to suffocate national self-rule within the bureaucratic European Union.
Manent's forthcoming work from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is a short (103 pp) and highly readable book entitled Democracy Without Nations: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, translated by Paul Seaton. It's of particular interest to VDARE.com readers and to anyone concerned with the National Question—whether the nation-state can survive as the political expression of a particular people.
Elite opposition to nations, and thus to self-government, is not confined merely to Europe. On September 11, 2001, the Melbourne Age reported on former President Bill Clinton's speech to an Australian confab:
"'[Clinton] discussed the immigration issue in Australia and he took a position on it,'" said Tom Hogan, president of Vignette Corporation, host of the exclusive forum. 'The president believes the world will be a better place if all borders are eliminated—from a trade perspective, from the viewpoint of economic development and in welcoming [the free movement of] people from other cultures and countries,' Mr. Hogan said. Mr. Clinton … said he supported the ultimate wisdom of a borderless world for people and for trade."["Open borders to all:" Clinton, By Garry Barker, Melbourne Age, September 11, 2001]Manent's reaction to 9/11 was similar to that of VDARE.com—we cited a once-famous poem by Rudyard Kipling:
"The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return."Manent writes:
"In my view, the most deeply troubling information conveyed by the event … was this: present-day humanity is marked by much more profound, much more intractable separations than we had thought. … Before that fateful day we spoke so glibly of 'differences' …
[which] could only be light and superficial, easy to combine, easy to welcome and accommodate in a reconciled humanity whose dazzling appearance would be enlivened by these differences. This was such an aesthetic vision—a tourist's view of human things!"
The contrast between Manent's French clarity and the intentionally opaque and woozy ideas rationalizing the growing dominance of the EU can be striking. He continues:"Today, all of us—at least in Europe—are moved and even carried away by … a passion for resemblance. It is no longer simply a matter of recognizing and respecting the humanity of each human being. We are required to see the other as the same as ourselves. And if we cannot stop ourselves from perceiving what is different about him, we reproach ourselves for doing so, as if it were a sin."
And yet, this requirement to "celebrate diversity" does not make us more interested in others:"But what can 'same' or even 'similar' mean to someone who refuses to see what is different? … Europeans immerse themselves in an indifference toward the world that their humanitarian endeavors hide less and less well."
Peace and prosperity in Europe have not unleashed a cultural golden age:"Under a flashing neon sign proclaiming 'human unity,' contemporary Europeans would have humanity arrest all intellectual or spiritual movement in order to conduct a continual, interminable liturgy of self-adoration."
Manent offers a clear defense of the nation-state:"… the city-state and the nation-state are the only two political forms that have been capable of realizing … the intimate union of civilization and liberty."
To Manent, the nation-state is the optimal size, better than either the city-state or the empire, occupying "the middle ground between the puny and the immense, the petty and the limitless…"
Manent notes:"… one cannot but admire the long duration of the European nation-state… Most of our nations are recognizable over the course of at least seven or eight centuries. … the European nations, during the course of centuries, knew how to invent new, unprecedented political instruments that would allow the adventure to continue."
According to Manent:"The sovereign state and representative government are the two great artifices that have allowed us to accommodate huge masses of human beings within an order of civilization and liberty."
Under the EU, however, "This strange contemporary 'depression' of the most inventive peoples in history, until recently the most capable of renewing themselves" has led to a new form of government where "the state is less and less sovereign, and government is less and less representative. … The time of enlightened despotism has returned."
Consider the ongoing controversy over the admission of Turkey into the European Union. The EU, which began as an invitation-only club, is now confronted by American insistence that to exclude Turkey from the EU would be—horrors—discrimination!
Alec Russell reported in the Daily Telegraph:"'Including Turkey in the EU would prove that Europe is not the exclusive club of a single religion, and it would expose the "clash of civilizations" as a passing myth of history,' Mr. Bush said." [Bush says Turkey must be allowed its place in EU June 30, 2004]
Manent expands upon Bush's bullying:"'By what right do you leave us waiting at the door?' … How could Turkey be refused what has been granted to so many others? … There is no doubt that the majority of European citizens and their representatives believe that the fact that populous and powerful Turkey is a massively Muslim country constitutes a major obstacle to its integration into the Union. But how can one say that?"
The only weakness of Manent's Democracy Without Nations? is that it never mentions the single word that has the most powerful future implications for its thesis: immigration.
Yet it's highly relevant. The Eurocrats and their supporters are clearly beginning to use high immigration to undermine nationalism and entrench their power. One popular anti-immigration party, Belgium's Vlaams Blok, was actually banned outright by judicial decree. Similarly, the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, was charged with "incitement to racial hatred" on the eve of the 2005 General Election. (He was acquitted, but only after two trials.)
Of course, mass immigration is relatively a new issue in Europe. Let's hope that Manent will take it on in his next book.