You are here:   Text > Europe and the Nation State: Thoughts on Ortega y Gasset
 
I hold up Ortega as a role model for young Spaniards because he seems to me to represent a kind of European intellectual who has almost disappeared, or at least been eclipsed, in the six decades since his death. That period roughly coincides with my own lifetime; and like others, I have often regretted the absence of the great thinkers, writers and artists who were my contemporaries but who have died before I could meet and learn from them. Hitherto, Ortega the European intellectual has had no real successor in Spain and precious few in Europe. Why not? And what is to be done about it?

This brings me at last to the subject which you have doubtless been waiting for: Brexit. I shall share only a few thoughts with you now, for fear of provoking a new Spanish inquisition or, worse, to be handed over to the secular arm for an auto da fe. First, the Eurosceptic rationale is much more complex than has been reported here on the Continent, for a simple reason: most of the press here sees its job as cheering on the European project rather than questioning it. On the day after the referendum, the BBC correspondent in Brussels, Katya Adler, asked the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker a highly pertinent question: “Is this the end of the European Union?” Juncker pretended not to hear, then snapped a one-word answer — “No!” — and stormed out of the press conference. The other journalists applauded — not Adler, their colleague, but the petulant president. They saw their job as playing their part in advancing “Europe”, not as holding its officials to account. That is why Brexit came as even more of a shock to the rest of Europe than it did to us in Britain.

Second, the British are not xenophobic, racist or even “anti-European” merely because they voted to leave the EU. We love almost all the same things about Europe that you do, including the idea of Europe as a family of free and democratic nations, brought together by our Judaeo-Christian civilisation. Indeed, we helped to make the EU possible, by defying first Hitler and then Stalin. We were able to do this because the British are blessed by an unbroken tradition of parliamentary government and the rule of law. But most of Europe has a very different experience, as I hardly need to remind a Spanish audience: one of dictatorship, occupation and totalitarian ideologies.

It is therefore no surprise that we see the nation state rather differently. For the British, the nation is the primary political entity, the embodiment of our freedom. Parliament is the visible representation of our ancient liberties. Those who govern us do so under the rule of laws that we, as a nation, have made for ourselves, either in Parliament or through the operation of judicial precedent in our courts that we call the common law. We do not recognise any source of authority over the people, other than the Queen in Parliament. It is essential to our conception of democracy that ministers are accountable to Parliament and may be removed from office at any time: normally by free and fair elections or, exceptionally, by due process of the law. A free press is as essential to our system as an independent judiciary and an impartial civil service. We are proud of the fact that the nation state has preserved our freedom for more than a thousand years. It is at once a thoroughly liberal form of politics, capable of reform as the need arises, and a profoundly conservative one, which has obviated the need for revolutionary change.

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Hanno Achenbach
April 29th, 2018
12:04 PM
Belief in sovereignty is about as intelligent as belief in race. And the Swiss or Norwegian model means being subjected to the rules of the European union with no say in establishing them. Is that what Daniel Johnson wants?

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