Apart from his efforts to bring about the Threefold Social Order after the First World War, Rudolf Steiner stayed away from involvement with politics. Indeed, he went so far as to say: “The Anthroposophical Society is averse to any kind of sectarian tendency. Politics it does not consider to be among its tasks.” This is a line that many anthroposophists also take, for understandable reasons.
Despite this, I am going to write here about politics, because the forthcoming “snap” British general election, called by the British prime minister Theresa May to be held on June 8th 2017, is of such a momentous nature, with implications not just for the UK but also for many other countries around the world, that it surely deserves a wider anthroposophical perspective.
We have also just had the result of the presidential election in France, which was won decisively by Emmanuel Macron, leader of a new political party, En Marche! (On the Move!), whose name by a strange coincidence bears the same initials as his own. His defeated opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National party, had one of the most devastating lines in their televised debate, when she said: “France is going to be led by a woman, either me or Frau Merkel” but her aggressive, hectoring style led most observers to conclude that she had lost the arguments.
(As an interesting aside, a respected clairvoyant suggested to me that Emmanuel Macron is an aspect of Napoleon Bonaparte, who has reincarnated to do what he can to compensate for all the death and destruction he caused during his life as Emperor of France. A fanciful notion, perhaps, but put pictures of Macron and Bonaparte side by side and there is a distinct resemblance. I shall watch with great interest how Macron approaches his task of seeking to unite a very divided nation.)
The Eurozone economic crisis, combined with the cultural and social impact of its open borders policy, has led to the rise of far-right parties not just in France but in many EU nations: the very thing which defenders of the EU say it exists to counter. But discontent with the EU is only one factor; another important one, which applies much more widely than just within Europe, is that the bankers and money-men collectively bankrupted us a decade ago – and got away with it. The resulting surge of rage across the Western world unleashed the Brexit vote in the UK; it smashed the established French party system, so that neither of the main parties there was any longer even in contention for the presidency; and in the USA it carried Donald Trump all the way to the White House. The tide in favour of national self-determination and anti-globalisation appears to be running high in many countries right now.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I voted to leave the European Union during the referendum held on June 23rd 2016, and I gave my reasons here and here. Most anthroposophists I know took a different line, and voted to remain. There has been a lively discussion about all of this in recent issues of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain’s Newsletter. I don’t intend to repeat the arguments I made last year, but will add here a few further observations.
First of all, a glance back at the history of Britain and the European project, together with a question: why was it that Conservative and Labour statesmen such as Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin, as well as the great European Charles de Gaulle, were all against the idea of Britain joining what was to become the European Union? Was it because they all understood what the European project was about and realised that Britain was not a natural part of it?
The case made by those in favour of joining the European Economic Community (such as Harold Macmillan, prime minister from 1957 to 1963) was that Britain’s relative economic and actual geopolitical decline after the Second World War left joining the rest of Europe as the only viable alternative. However, after the war and in the early 1950s, most British politicians were unable to see just how difficult Britain’s position had become; or perhaps some of them could see it, but weren’t prepared to tell the British people that our imperial pretensions could no longer be sustained. It was the Suez War of 1956 that revealed just how far Britain’s economy had weakened, and how dependent it had become on the USA.
Britain after the Second World War and into the 1950s resisted the idea of joining in any moves towards European integration. True, Churchill had publicly supported the idea of a United States of Europe, notably when he made the keynote speech at the Hague Congress that created the Council of Europe in 1948; though whether he ever envisaged Britain being part of any such union is very doubtful. Certainly, he was far less sympathetic to the idea of union by the time he had returned to power in 1951. Nor was the post-war Labour government in favour of any moves towards union that might cede sovereignty in any form. In May 1950 foreign secretary Bevin said that because of links with the USA and the Commonwealth, Britain was “different in character from other European nations and fundamentally incapable of wholehearted integration with them.” In any case, measures towards political union of any kind aroused him to vigorous rejection. ‘I don’t like it. I don’t like it,’ he famously said of the idea of the Council of Europe: ‘When you open that Pandora’s Box you’ll find it’s full of Trojan horses.’
Most Conservative politicians agreed with him. So Britain failed to engage in the creation of the EEC in the Treaty of Rome of 1957, and then later tried but failed to remedy what had come to be seen as a mistake. For Charles de Gaulle had never forgotten that Churchill had once told him that “if we had to choose between France and the US, Britain would always choose the latter.” So when Britain finally tried to join the EEC, first in 1963 and then again in 1967, de Gaulle vetoed our applications. Giving his reasons in 1963 for saying “Non”, he commented: “England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her interactions, her markets and her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has, in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions.”
De Gaulle also believed that Britain would represent American interests: it would be the US’s Trojan horse in the EEC. He had concluded that Britain was not committed to the goals of the EEC because, having withdrawn in 1955 from the original talks that led to the creation of the EEC, Britain had then proceeded to establish its own rival customs union (EFTA – the European Free Trade Association). In addition, he found the British both arrogant and self-important. Was de Gaulle wrong about any of this? I don’t think so.
This is all ancient and unfortunate history, some might say. Eventually, in 1973, Britain managed to join the EEC – but only after de Gaulle had left office. Nearly half a century later, we’re all Europeans and global citizens now, drinking our fairtrade coffee while we wait for our flight to some agreeable holiday destination. We like the idea of being able to move to any EU country for work, and in any case, without all those helpful Eastern Europeans coming to the UK, who will look after the elderly in our care homes or serve us our skinny latte?
Despite such compelling arguments, I voted to leave on June 23rd 2016, and thus opened myself up to accusations of racism, fascism, betraying young people etc from furious Remainers. Even so, I was somewhat bemused to find myself characterised by Michael Eggert, a German blogger, as someone who was siding with “neo-nationalist reactionaries” and “reflecting the internal arguments of the UKIP supporters.” He tells his readers that if they go to the anthropopper blog they will know what to expect if they are “familiar with today’s neo-right and open-fascist conspiracy theories. The ingredients for anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the same, albeit with the pseudo-occult bluff arguments which so many believing Steiner supporters derive from his statements of 100 years ago.”
Actually, Michael, if I were pushed to define my political position, I would say that I lean towards anarcho-syndicalism with a deep green tinge. I thought I had taken great care in my Brexit essay to set out quite a distinct and principled position from a progressive standpoint – but perhaps the argument was too nuanced to pierce the hard shell of your cultural infallibility.
Leaving the uncomprehending Egoisten aside, I still remain baffled by the poor reasoning exhibited by so many Remainers; why is it, for example, that pro-EU people on the left or Green sides of the argument are so in favour of the European Union? What are they doing, these radicals who like to think of themselves as being in the forefront of the fight against globalisation, by fighting instead for an undemocratic, unaccountable trading bloc which is backed by the world’s banks, multinational corporations, financiers, and heads of governments? To listen to these Remainers, it’s clear that the decision to leave is being treated not as an opportunity to engage more fully with the wider world, nor a throwing-off of economic handcuffs or even simply as a change that must be accommodated after due democratic process, but rather as some kind of a national disaster.
And what is the Green Party thinking of, when it supports the EU? The EU cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as green. Has Caroline Lucas forgotten the continent-wide destruction created by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – the wiping out of hedgerows, forests and wildlife, landscape features, small and family farms, and the promotion of industrial farming and agricultural free trade – which has arguably done more damage to the rural landscapes of Europe in 50 years than any other single instrument in the previous 500? This of course is now being extended to Romania, Poland, Hungary and the other newer members of the EU, where we will once again see the destruction of the peasantry, wildlife and diverse landscapes and the introduction of monocultures and the triumph of agri-business.
As for the Labour Party, I confess I don’t know what their attitude to the EU is today, nor do I understand what their position is on Brexit. What I do know is that they have failed to provide any kind of leadership, or to show that they have any clue about what caused the vote to leave. It seems that they have already given up on any prospect of winning this general election and are now manoeuvring behind the scenes for the leadership election that seems likely to follow a heavy general election defeat for their party.
The weakness of the left and the Greens means that this general election campaign will be more or less entirely about Brexit – and if I am right about most people’s motivations for voting to leave the EU, then in some ways it is also a manifestation of anti-globalisation, as we have seen elsewhere around the world.
The ruthlessness and will to power of the Conservatives have been much in evidence ever since the country voted to leave. We saw this first of all in the leadership contest to succeed David Cameron and then in everything Theresa May has done since becoming prime minister, especially in the way she has called this general election after denying on at least six occasions that there would be any election before 2020. The chances are that we are in for an extended period of Conservative rule. This has huge consequences, most obviously for Brexit and the UK’s future relations with Europe, but also for the futures of Labour’s leadership, public services, and the constitutional outlook for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
Mrs May has of course been fortunate in her enemies; nothing is better calculated to bring voters over to her side than leaked vindictive accounts from the aides of Jean-Claude Juncker of private dinners at Downing Street, or the threat of charging British taxpayers £100 billion because we were foolish enough to want to resign from the club. This is perhaps one reason why the Liberal Democrats were not able to make any kind of a breakthrough in the British local elections held on 4th May – as the one British political party which is unequivocally for Remain, they are now seen as supporting the vindictive and venal elite of the European project.
For the European Union has always been an elite project. Since it took shape in 1992, its architects have always been reticent about putting their project to the people. Referenda were rare, and if people voted the wrong way, as they did in Ireland or in Portugal, they were told to vote again until they gave the ‘right’ answer. The unspoken but clear aim has been to diminish, if not abolish, the democratic sovereignty of European nations, and to ‘pool’ that sovereignty in the interests of creating a giant, borderless free-trade zone. Of course, it was dressed up with talk of peace, equality and brotherhood, but it was primarily an economic project, as well as an attempt to keep Germany from becoming too dominant. (I wonder what happened to that?) People were not asked to vote on any of this, for a simple reason: it was clear they would say no. People remain stubbornly attached to their national identities, as we have seen in Britain, and as we see across the continent. This has been the EU’s fatal and quite deliberate flaw: it has never carried the people with it.
Were Rudolf Steiner alive today, he would not be giving his backing to the European Union as it has evolved. Why so many anthroposophists are unable to see this escapes me, because Steiner was quite clear about what should happen. He hoped for a threefold association of European nations that would themselves be threefold societies in which the cultural, legal-political and economic spheres would be clearly separated yet inter-related, his diagnosis being that Europe’s ills were caused by the interference of the three spheres with one another: business seeking to dominate the political state and the state seeking to dominate the cultural life (e.g. education). For the European level, Steiner looked forward to a common European economic life (which the EEC had started to provide), a common supranational European cultural life (which over the last fifty years has started to emerge in many ways) but to the maintenance of national values and traditions in the sphere of rights and law. It is this last point that the European Union, in its inept attempts to become a superstate, has completely failed to understand, and this is why Brexit became a necessity.
If Macron and others could begin to help the EU to reform itself along the lines indicated by Steiner, I would not hesitate to seek to rejoin such a community – and I think this would apply to many other people as well, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.