Just when I was starting to recover from the bout of Hitler tourettes Ken Livingstone suffered a few weeks back, now we have BoJo in on the act. Speaking to the Telegraph, Boris evoked a grand theory of why the EU doesn’t work that involved, you guessed it, the Nazis:
“The truth is that the history of the last couple of thousand years has been broadly repeated attempts by various people or institutions – in a Freudian way – to rediscover the lost childhood of Europe, this golden age of peace and prosperity under the Romans, by trying to unify it. Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically.”
The only positive thing I can say about the quote above is that at least when Hitler was mentioned by a British politician this time round, there was nothing explicitly anti-Semitic about it. That was a depressing sentence to type. It may seem minor to some people, but the fact that points of argument that we thought beyond bad taste only a few weeks ago have now been brought into conversations by politicians of both the Left and the Right is a sobering fact.
Anyhow, back to everyone in Westminster’s favourite subject these days, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was trying to rediscover a “golden age of peace and prosperity”, Boris? Really? That is an interesting take on the Nazis’ ambitions. Also, on a minor note, the Roman Empire, Napoleon and Adolf Hitler have few things in common, but the one unifying factor is that all of them were involved in military conquests of large parts of Europe. To be clear, they had their armies march into places, do a massive amount of damage, and then put them under imperialistic control. Whatever one can say about the EU, there is no pillaging of cities involved; no forcing anyone within it to do anything via direct military threat.
This isn’t a minor point. Boris’ quote unintentionally opens up a can of worms for the entire centre-right way of thinking about the world. The single market which then became the EU, as it was at first designed, is wedded to one key idea: that when countries trade with one another on relatively equal terms, they are much less likely to try and go to war with one another. It is based on the ethos that commerce is a thing which unites different cultures and presents a grown-up, non-violent way of relating to one another.
This is the essence of centre-right thinking on free markets as well. And that is why arguments from the centre-right such as this latest Hitler-laden one from Boris are so muddled: it is hard to be too free market friendly and overly nationalist at the same time. Sooner or later, the two streams will come into conflict with one another.
The EU, for all its faults, is trying to do the precise opposite of what the Romans in antiquity attempted to do. The European Union is trying to build a Pax Europa without anyone getting killed, one in which eventually all members will become relatively economically equal with each other. The Romans simply wished to rule the world themselves, cherry picking the bits they liked (Greek culture) while destroying the parts they didn’t (too many to mention). I have no idea if this was just more hot air from Boris, or if he actually believes what he said about the EU yesterday. Either way, it is psychologically interesting, if nothing else.