I tend to have a very physical idea of politics. By this I mean that I see politics as an arena in which large forces are at work, pushing and pulling entire peoples one way, and then another. And I’ve begun to believe that if you want to understand any people, in any part of the world, you should first study the physical geography of the places they inhabit, and how these have acted to shape them.
For example, where I live, in England, I’ve begun to believe that the Welsh are essentially a hill people (an idea I was entertaining a couple of years back). For a little to the west of where I live, the Welsh hills rise very abruptly and steeply from the English plains to the east of them. Wales beyond this Welsh border is, quite simply, a very different sort of country than England. And so the Welsh are a different sort of people than the English. The same applies to the Scots in the mountainous highlands of Scotland.
My own family, on my father’s side, originated in Wales. But it also, on my mother’s side, comes from Ireland (the Bog of Allen), via Liverpool. And in addition it’s a family that spent many years on the Scilly islands: there are lots of graves of the Davis family there. And I had a great great grandfather who lost his life off the coast of Brazil, near Porto Allegre. And I have lived in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.
And I think that wherever anyone lives, they are slowly and insensibly shaped by that place. You will become a different person, if you live somewhere long enough. If you live on the lagoon of Venice, you will have a different character from the nearby Swiss in their mountain valleys, and also a different character from the inhabitants of the north German plain between the Oder and the Rhine. But you might find that you share many of the traits of the Dutch on their canals, or the Russians of watery St Petersburg.
The same applies to the Americans of the original English colonies along the east coast of America. Many of them started out as English men and women. But as soon as they arrived in America, they started to become Americans – which meant, among other things, starting to smoke tobacco. And the same thing happened when the Dutch and Germans and Italians and Irish began arriving. They all started to become Americans. It was inevitable that America soon became an independent country from England. It was equally inevitable that Brazil would become an independent country from Portugal, and the rest of south America independent from Spain.
The American talk show host Michael Savage (who is himself of Russian origin) regularly speaks of the importance of borders, language, and culture. And of these three, I think the most important are the borders. For it is the borders of any country that define it and shape it. And within those borders there will usually be one language spoken. And within that language, there will arise a culture.
And one of the big political issues of our time is about the importance (or lack of importance) of borders. Some people (like Michael Savage) believe that borders matter, while others believe they are just arbitrary and unimportant lines drawn on a map. The former – the localists – are usually people who live in a single place (Michael Savage was born in Brooklyn, but now lives in San Francisco – a city of which he despairs), while the latter – the globalists – are people who travel a great deal, and who find all these borders rather tiresome. The localists are people who see the world from one place (New York, Venice, or in my case eastern Herefordshire), and the globalists are people who usually see the world gazing down on it from an altitude of 10 kilometres as they jet from place to place.
The matter of borders is a very hot political topic in Europe. For what is happening in Europe right now is a re-assertion of national borders in the face of a tide of immigrants from Africa and the Near East. The uniform and borderless EU is beginning to fragment into its constituent nation states, all of whom have fairly well defined borders and languages and cultures.
And over the past few weeks there have been a number of seismic political events in Europe, happening almost simultaneously. In Spain, pro-European prime minister Rajoy has been ousted from office by a vote of no confidence. And in Italy an anti-European populist coalition government was first voted into office in an election, and then blocked by the pro-European Italian president, and then unblocked by a new coalition. Most surprising (to me) was a Belgian resurgence:
“There will be no more European Union” unless the continent shuts the border and makes illegal migration “impossible”, Belgium has declared, as interior ministers from the EU28 met to discuss plans for a common asylum policy.
“Reform of the Dublin Regulation is dead”, Secretary of State for Migration Theo Francken declared, pointing out that staunch opposition from Central Europe and voter swings to the right in nations like Italy and Slovenia have all-but killed the prospect of agreement over a system of sharing responsibility for third world migrants throughout the bloc.
The surprise for me was that Belgium had any government at all. For with Brussels as the capital city of the EU, Belgium seems to have become as synomymous with the EU as, for example, Washington has become identified with the USA, or Moscow with Russia.
I’ve been thinking about ice ages in recent months, and yesterday I was watching ice grow and melt in my little climate simulation model. And as I was studying it, I was thinking that the EU had been a sort of European ice age. The ice had arrived in the 1950s, and had very rapidly grown in depth and area until it extended from Ireland to the borders of Ukraine, and from Sweden to Cyprus. And it was now beginning to melt, as the temperatures of the terrain beneath its surface had begun to rise. Large cracks have opened up across the EU along the borders of its underlying constituent nation states. And the once-expanding EU is now having to fight for its existence against a wave of rising populist sentiment (i.e. ground temperature). The EU is quite likely to vanish more or less as rapidly as it first appeared.
In this respect, with EU leaders due to meet Donald Trump in Canada in a few days time, they may find themselves skating on thin ice:
Trump To “Confront” G-7 As Macron Plans On “Standing Up” To US President
Ahead of what is shaping up as the most confrontational G-7 meeting in history (the first meeting took place in 1975), we reported that Germany chancellor Angela Merkel already was setting the ground for the Toronto showdown among the world’s top political leaders – where Trump will also be present – vowing to challenge Donald Trump on virtually every issue, from trade to climate, and warning that the lack of room for compromise means leaders may fail to agree on a final statement, an unprecedented event at a summit of the world’s 7 most advanced nations.
Will it be possible for the leaders of a disintegrating and dissolving EU to stand up to Trump? Over the past few years, they’ve lost much of the assurance that came with their ever-expanding empire, and much of what they say now sounds like bluster. I suspect they will all return to Europe nursing black eyes, and more at odds with each other than ever.