The Mysterious Idea Of Europe

About three and half minutes into one of his latest short talks, Steve Turley drew attention to an 800 word manifesto that had been published in a number of European newspapers:

I hunted the article down in the Guardian:

Fight for Europe – or the wreckers will destroy it

The continent faces its biggest challenge since the 1930s. We urge European patriots to resist the nationalist onslaught 

Europe ‘coming apart before our eyes’, say 30 top intellectuals

The idea of Europe is in peril.

From all sides there are criticisms, insults and desertions from the cause.

“Enough of ‘building Europe’!” is the cry. Let’s reconnect instead with our “national soul”! Let’s rediscover our “lost identity”! This is the agenda shared by the populist forces washing over the continent. Never mind that abstractions such as “soul” and “identity” often exist only in the imagination of demagogues.

Europe is being attacked by false prophets who are drunk on resentment, and delirious at their opportunity to seize the limelight. It has been abandoned by the two great allies who in the previous century twice saved it from suicide; one across the Channel and the other across the Atlantic. The continent is vulnerable to the increasingly brazen meddling by the occupant of the Kremlin. Europe as an idea is falling apart before our eyes…

Among the authors or signatories (whose names I recognised) were Bernard-Henri Lévy, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Simon Schama, Mario Vargas Llosa.

And I was very struck by the first sentence in the manifesto:

The idea of Europe is in peril.

They weren’t claiming that Europe was in peril. Nor were they saying that the EU was in peril. They were saying that the idea of Europe was in peril. And what was this idea of Europe? There were an almost infinite number of possibilities of what it might be.

The idea is mentioned again and again:

Europe as an idea is falling apart before our eyes.


Our faith is in the great idea that we inherited


…the gravediggers of the European idea.


We must now fight for the idea of Europe…

I kept waiting for the great idea to be explained, or at least briefly summarised. I was looking for a sentence that began: “The idea of Europe is…” But I was disappointed. There was no explanation of the idea, which we were being told was a ‘great’ idea, but was ‘falling apart’, yet in which we were supposed to have ‘faith’, and for which we were even supposed to ‘fight’, presumably against the army of ‘gravediggers’ that were trying to bury it.

If one has an idea of some sort, isn’t it necessary to try to explain the idea, so that people can gain some notion of what it is? Yesterday I gave a brief explanation of an idea of mine: an “orbital siphon”. I said it was a 170,000 km tower sticking radially outwards from the equator of the Earth nearly half way to the Moon. I could have drawn a picture of it as a red line (right). People may have thought it a highly implausible idea, but they would have at least known what it was.

So if you’re going to write a manifesto in defence of an idea – the “European idea” – shouldn’t you at least try to explain what the idea is? Shouldn’t you draw a thumbnail sketch of it?

Many of the signatories of this manifesto were authors. Couldn’t one of them have taken the trouble to add the sentence I was looking for: “The idea of Europe is…”?

There were faint clues in the text about the origins of the idea. We were told that it was

the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe and Comenius

Erasmus was a Dutch author, born in 1466. Dante was an Italian poet, born in 1265. Goethe was a German writer and statesman, born in 1749. Comenius was a Czech philosopher and theologian, born 1592. About the only thing they seem to share in common was that they were Europeans, and they were authors. And since they all lived long before the European Union was even a twinkling in anyone’s eye, they had nothing whatever to do with the EU, and so the “idea” of Europe could have nothing to do with the EU either. It was something much older and more mysterious.

Given that many of the signatories to the manifesto were also authors, and indeed authors of fictional novels, and I began toying with the idea that their manifesto was itself a work of fiction, in which a ‘great idea’ is hinted at, but never explained, and readers are required to discover for themselves what the idea is, before the army of gravediggers bury it. After all, if you’re writing a detective story, you usually leave it to the readers to guess whodunnit, only revealing his identity in the last chapter, rather than the first. You keep them guessing. So while other manifestos might be tedious lists of things to do, their manifesto was to be a work of art and imagination.

But another possibility was that The Idea was one of such depth and beauty that it was impossible to put it into mere words, and this was why none of these illustrious writers had tried. The Idea could only be comprehended by a very few people, for whom knowledge of it came in the form of divine revelation.

And yet another possibility was that there was no idea there at all. There was no there there. The Idea was a void, an emptiness, a vacancy waiting to be filled. Or it was a book called The Idea Of Europe which was filled with blank pages waiting to be written upon. It was a book that the reader had to write himself. It was a book that had yet to be written. And if it was not written, it would fall apart, and be buried by the gravediggers who bury unwritten books.

It reminds me of how, as a boy, I had once read a book which featured various cats, one of them called Twinkle, and another Captain Jake, who lived around an old mill pond. I was so taken by the story, that, disappointed to learn that it was the only book about them, and there were no subsequent books in a series, I set out to write them myself.

Perhaps this is what I will need to do with The Idea Of Europe. I should buy myself a sturdy notebook with 600 or so blank pages in it, and write on the front The Idea Of Europe by Frank Davis, and then wait for inspiration for the words to fill it with.

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18 Responses to The Mysterious Idea Of Europe

  1. beobrigitte says:

    I used to like the idea of Europe – after all, the various nations were supposed to get to know each other better, thus lose old prejudice and benefit from less bureaucratic trading with each other.
    I never thought that a “United States of Europe” would be beneficial as it brings back old prejudices (who has the most power? – something England, France and Germany were squabbling about for centuries) and political trickery, which in turn feeds paranoia of the various nationals.

    I should buy myself a sturdy notebook with 600 or so blank pages in it, and write on the front The Idea Of Europe by Frank Davis, and then wait for inspiration for the words to fill it with.
    Bring it on, Frank!

    • margo says:

      What was your Idea of Europe, Brigitte? Please tell us – it might give us a clue and maybe it was the same as these Remain authors?

  2. Dirk says:

    ASEAN is trying to imitate the EU, but it failed miserably. The problem with ASEAN is that there is no Germany. In the EU Germany leads. Who would lead the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ? Singapore and South Korea are no longer Third World countries and they would be the obvious leaders, but Indonesia, by far the largest archipelago, is shackled by superstition and Islam. The Indonesian president sides with the Islamic hardliners in order to get votes from the gullible peasants in a effort to be re-elected next year.

    General Prabowo, who also wants to be president, endorses genital mutilation of female babies, which is available in all the Indonesian hospitals.

    The recently enacted porn law makes it a criminal offense to kiss in public. Homosexuality is a felony. Lesbian too.

    You are the lucky ones, born in the UK and living in that country.

  3. slugbop007 says:

    | The New Jerusalem | | By William Blake (1757–1827) |

    |   | | IENGLAND, 1 awake! awake! awake! | | |   Jerusalem thy sister calls! | | | Why wilt thou sleep the sleep of death, | | |   And close her from thy ancient walls? | | |   | | Thy hills and valleys felt her feet |         5 | |   Gently upon their bosoms move: | | | Thy gates beheld sweet Zion’s ways; | | |   Then was a time of joy and love. | | |   | | And now the time returns again: | | |   Our souls exult; and London’s towers |         10 | | Receive the Lamb of God to dwell | | |   In England’s green and pleasant bowers. | | |   | | IIAnd did those feet in ancient time | | |   Walk upon England’s mountain green? | | | And was the Holy Lamb of God |         15 | |   On England’s pleasant pasture seen? | | |   | | And did the countenance divine | | |   Shine forth upon our clouded hills? | | | And was Jerusalem builded here | | |   Among these dark Satanic mills? |         20 | |   | | Bring me my bow of burning gold! | | |   Bring me my arrows of desire! | | | Bring me my spear: O clouds, unfold! | | |   Bring me my chariot of fire! | | |   | | I will not cease from mental fight, |         25 | |   Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, | | | Till we have built Jerusalem | | |   In England’s green and pleasant land. |


  4. Twisted Root says:

    The idea of Europe is political weasel words like when a politician spouts about ‘our values’. It is deliberately never specifically stated leaving you to project your version onto the meaning of the words.

  5. Dr Evil says:

    The idea of Europe should be summed up by a phrase which some people will absolutely hate: Europe for the Europeans. I think that encapsulates the problem rather neatly. This is why the idea of Europe is in danger.

  6. slugbop007 says:

    Quebec jumped on the values bandwagon several years ago. One of the recent proposals by the Parti Quebecois in last October’s provincial election was to ban people from getting on buses wearing sunglasses.


  7. Philip Neal says:

    Apparently the Idea is “to lift Europe’s peoples above themselves”. Lofty or what? Who do they think they are?

    For that matter, who are they? I have heard of and know something about eight of them (Applebaum, Grossman, Kundera, McEwan, Michnik, Rushdie, Schama, Vargas Llosa) and I recognise the names of three more (Lévy, Pamuk, Tóibín). I have never even heard of the other nineteen.

    • Frank Davis says:

      From the Guardian:

      Our faith is in the great idea that we inherited, which we believe to have been the one force powerful enough to lift Europe’s peoples above themselves and their warring past.

      They’re still not saying what the Great Idea is, simply that in some mysterious way it’s able “to lift people above their warring past.”

      What they presumably mean is that, if the previously warring nations are simply abolished and incorporated into an EU superstate/empire, there will be no more war. I don’t think that’s what will happen. I think what happens is that you get small countries trying to break out of the empire. After all, that’s what was happening 100 years ago: people like Gavrilo Princip were trying to make Bosnia separate from the Austro-Hungarian empire into which it had been incorporated. And we’re seeing the same separatist movements today for the same reasons as 100 years ago. The EU is, in effect, a new Austro-Hungarian empire. And any wars that get fought will be between separatist European states and the EU, rather than between states. It is probably for this reason that the EU wants its own army: not to defend against Russia (or America) but to suppress any attempt by member states to escape the EU.

  8. waltc says:

    The idea is to break the eggs of the individual nations to make a European omelet.

  9. waltc says:

    Beating yesterday’s horse. There are a lot of aspects of medicine (including some of it’s often brutal and ineffective “cures” and unproven theories) about which I’m skeptical, but It’s possible to carry skepticism too far. Cancer can not only be typed (squamous, basal,adeno etc) but sourced.

    “When observed under a microscope and tested in other ways, metastatic cancer cells have features like that of the primary cancer and not like the cells in the place where the cancer is found. This is how doctors can tell that it is cancer that has spread from another part of the body.

    Metastatic cancer has the same name as the primary cancer. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the lung is called metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer. It is treated as stage IV breast cancer, not as lung cancer.”

    • Joe L. says:

      There’s a bold new claim making headlines this week:

      Cure for cancer? Israeli scientists claim to be on brink of development

      A group of Israeli scientists say a cure for cancer is within reach, even optimistically predicting that it will be found within a year.

      But at least one expert in the U.S. has questioned the potential cure’s legitimacy and said it’s more likely just another claim on a list of “irresponsible and ultimately cruel false promises” for cancer patients.

      The company, Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd. (AEBi), has described its treatment, MuTaTo, as comparable to a cancer antibiotic that uses a multipronged approach similar to the treatment given to HIV patients. The Israeli team told The Jerusalem Post that this treatment relies on a combination of several peptides for each cancer cell, reportedly eliminating the chances of evasion through mutation.

      “We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer,” Dan Aridor, of AEBi, told the news outlet.

      The company’s CEO, Dr. Ilan Morad, said MuTaTo also works to target cancer stem cells, eliminating the chances of recurrence, with Aridor claiming that it will be effective from “Day 1” and cause “no or minimal side effects at a much lower cost than most other treatments.”

      Is this real or is it bullshit? It seems we won’t know for at least a year, but if it there is any truth to it, I would bet the big shots in Tobacco Control and the rest of the Medical-Industrial Complex will do whatever they can to preserve their cash cow and ensure it doesn’t see the light of day.

  10. RdM says:

    In the first major paragraph the ideas – ‘abstractions’ – of “soul” and “identity” are deplored as only existing in the minds of demagogues.

    “Enough of ‘building Europe’!” is the cry. Let’s reconnect instead with our “national soul”! Let’s rediscover our “lost identity”! This is the agenda shared by the populist forces washing over the continent. Never mind that abstractions such as “soul” and “identity” often exist only in the imagination of demagogues.

    Yet by the 2nd to last paragraph the authors claim “soul” and “spirit” need to be defended!

    Urgently, we need to sound the alarm against these arsonists of soul and spirit who, from Paris to Rome, with stops along the way in Barcelona, Budapest, Dresden, Vienna and Warsaw, want to make a bonfire of our freedoms.

    And beyond that first glance in to that turgid flowery intellectual document there seems to me to be a further mass of writhing, seething contradictions… an influence propagandiszing Hydra . . .

    But who started it, insinuated the ideas to these ‘intellectuals’ and ‘creatives’ in the first place?

    Can every, any of them recall that precise moment when they were given the idea?
    [to spread]
    And by who?!

    Cultivated, initiated, or even brought in unwittingly.
    This has been infiltrated down from higher up, it’s obvious.

    Yeah, it’s an influence campaign, somewhat a (or of a) polemic, deliberately dense.

    It appears to call for a something, a spirit of activism, against… individualists?

    I’m being deliberately dense there too, but still obviously shallow and deep at the same time.

    What nonsense ! Truth! Who Knows? How can you tell?

    Good Night !

    • Frank Davis says:

      In the first major paragraph the ideas – ‘abstractions’ – of “soul” and “identity” are deplored as only existing in the minds of demagogues… Yet by the 2nd to last paragraph the authors claim “soul” and “spirit” need to be defended!

      Well spotted.

      I had a similar thought, which was that an ‘idea’ is another abstraction, just like ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’.

  11. Pingback: The Looming European Civil War | Frank Davis

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