The EU is following the same path as its deceased sibling – the USSR

The EU is following the same path as its deceased sibling – the USSR

Ronald Reagan’s speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate on 12 June 1987 was one of those rare moments when you knew as you watched that the hinges of history were creaking; and events proved that they were.

It may have been thirty years ago, but for me it still feels like only yesterday. Listen to it now and the rhetorical brilliance of the oratory still thrills. And that final climax – ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – still makes the hairs prickle on the back of your neck.

In the autumn of 1991, after the USSR had collapsed, I was part of a small group in Moscow convened to help Mr Gorbachev think through his options for what to do next, and I remember him telling us how the President’s appeal touched his heart and his conscience. But in the summer of 1987, the speech had had a more immediate consequence for me.

My friend Christopher Lee, who was then the BBC Defence Correspondent, and I had a good idea. Why not travel around what was then the European Economic Community and see what people thought would happen if Mr Gorbachev actually took President Reagan’s advice, and if the Berlin Wall was torn down? It was enjoyable. Our programmes were well received by listeners, judging from the correspondence that came in.

But that welcome did not extend into the ranks of the Great and Good: among the diplomats, politicians, businessmen, lobbyists, journalists and the like; the status quo Establishment. The BBC received complaints about the programmes (‘ill-judged,’ ‘might disrupt diplomacy at a delicate moment’ etc.) and about us. Our motives were questioned: someone thought we were subtle agents for anarchy or goodness knows what.

But of course we had guessed better than we might have known, and they were wrong. Die Mauer came gloriously tumbling down in November 1989.

This episode had been in my mind as I wrote and then published on the new universities-based site, Briefings for Brexit, a study which applies to today’s European Union a famous general theory of the dynamics of collapse in complex societies.

Following the example of Joseph Tainter, an American archaeologist who innovatively borrowed marginal gain theory from investment managers and applied it to a whole slew of mostly ancient empires, I ran the facts of the history of the European project through Tainter’s test of marginal gain or loss arising from increasing institutional complexity. The main finding is of a fatal convergence.

Table 4 in my report documents that, shown by their increasing refusal to do what the Brussels nomenklatura tells them to do, there is rapidly declining legitimacy of the EU in the eyes of its subjects. Therefore, since the turn of the century and most especially since the introduction of the ‘euro’ single currency, the rapid increase in complexity resulting from the relentless drive towards ‘ever closer union’ is producing, in their eyes, diminishing marginal gains. That pushes the ‘project’ into the zone of risk of collapse.

This figure summarises the first order argument of the report:

It is only human to be fascinated by the moment of collapse which leaves the wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command of the shattered visage lying on the desert sands; and I’m glad if this got people’s attention. What I would like now is for those of us who have the moral legitimacy of victory at the polls to translate this into taking back control of the terms of the discussion about Brexit from the hard Remain faction which controls many of the gate-keepers of the media. And that is what primary analysis of my report aims to do.

There is a second order argument too, which is about the cult-like world-view and encapsulated belief structure of the hard Remainers who are intent on stopping Brexit, or at the least, delivering a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit (‘you can check out any time but you can never leave’). As any old general could tell you, it is absolutely essential to understand your enemy as fully as you can. Anyone seeking to overturn the largest majority vote for any policy or government in the history of British democracy is an enemy of that democracy. Hence the hard Remainer belief system has always interested me from the viewpoint of someone who has done fieldwork in cultural anthropology in the past. The behaviour is very strange if treated as a form of politics but becomes immediately comprehensible when viewed as a post-religious cult belief.

And there is a third order argument in the report, which is about the likely nature of collapse. The EU’s unfixable lack of legitimacy inhibits the development of the depth and type of optimistic loyalty that institutions require if they are to transmit across generations. The EU doesn’t command that any more than the USSR did, which is a fundamental reason why, in my judgment, the latter did not and the former likely will not outlive one human life-span.

Like Tony Blair, the EU was the future – once. But it hasn’t been for a long time, for increasing numbers of its restless and resentful vassals.

The report was published on Easter Day and it was fascinating to see that it was neither the first nor the second but the third order argument that was picked up in the news coverage and which especially irked the ‘remainiac’ sentries whose exotic pleasure (heaven help them) is to patrol the on-line comments spaces to anathematise any heresies like mine.

Maybe it’s all those futuristic glass buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg and Luxembourg that give such an impression of permanence and that make it hard for people who administer, legislate and collect their pay and expenses cheques in them to comprehend how little loyalty these castles command.

The flags are flying. The lights are on. But the hearts of the people just aren’t there.

In fact I think that there is a more compelling reason why Martin Selmayr and his cohorts march grimly onwards: for they are the Praetorian Guard, the Vanguard of the Revolution. They know better than the poor benighted rabble, blinded by false consciousness. So the ‘project’ has been built to be tamper-proof and to move in only one direction, and that is why like the USSR, when collapse comes, it will more likely be with a bang than a whimper.