This is a difficult moment for Ireland and for Britain. In such moments calm is essential. No one should rush into premature judgements. However the first immediate problem for Ireland will be in the tourist and hospitality industries. These will be impacted because the low pound will make Ireland a much more expensive destination for visitors from The United Kingdom. In this area at least our government might well have to act sooner rather than later. More broadly though, nothing should be done to erode the wonderful progress that has recently taken place in Anglo-Irish relations.
A little story from South Africa tucked away on page 37 of The ( London ) Times last Saturday caught my eye. Apparently President Joseph Zuma has got himself into trouble by attacking the first Dutch settler Jan van Riebeeck by saying that South Africa’s problems are all the fault of the whites. As a result he has been referred to the human rights commission for stirring up racial hatred.
A storm in a teacup you will say. Well, no. The point here is not the fact that Mr. Zuma’s white opponents are accusing him of lacking political correctness- which given the history does make me raise my eyebrows a bit. Rather it is that Mr. Zuma’s remarks betray a deep misunderstanding of his responsibilities as President of South Africa. Of course he has a responsibility not to exacerbate the animosities existing between the various groups which inhabit his beautiful country. But as importantly he has a responsibility as President to ensure that the debate in South Africa focuses on the correct issues. In this instance he has clearly failed to do this, as he has not understood that there is a crucial difference between the cause of an historic injustice, and the most prudent way of putting it right.
It is certainly true, ( and not denied by any sensible observer, ) that black South Africans were for many years subject to a regime of injustice which was quite unacceptable. This has led to a huge gulf between the way of life enjoyed by black and white South Africans. No one denies the cause of this, and Mr. Zuma is correct when he attributes it to the policies of the various white governments before 1990.
The question though which now presents itself to any government of South Africa is how this gap can be closed. Of course a part of the answer is for wealthy whites ( and blacks ) to pay more tax than they might like. Of course part of the answer is for the ownership of land to be spread more equally between white and black. But neither increased government services, nor land reform will be anything like enough to provide a decent way of life for the rapidly increasing black population of South Africa.
This can only come through economic growth. There is no alternative solution. The socialist model of development has been tried again and again, and it has always failed. It has failed not because of a lack of enthusiasm, hard work, or dedication on behalf of the socialists. It has failed, we now know, because we can use resources effectively if and only if we have a system of prices to make it possible for us to make rational economic choices.
This is a truth universally acknowledged and applies not simply to Mr and Mrs Bennet in the Northern Johannesburg suburbs, but in every township from Soweto to Khayelitsha near Cape Town. Everyone has the responsibility to ensure that Black South Africans do not to have their hopes destroyed and their lives further messed around by the kind of policies that have failed everywhere they have been tried. South Africans, black white, and coloured alike, need and can only prosper in a free society. They need the rule of law. They need property rights. They need economic freedom, and only those regulations that are absolutely necessary.
This is the road to prosperity and self respect for all South Africans. We know from Colin Bundy’s ( b. 1944 )remarkable book “The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry” that, if given such opportunities to prosper through their efforts, black South Africans will seize them with enthusiasm. Bundy ( who writes from a broadly Marxist perspective ) shows that in the nineteenth century many black South Africans were making a tremendous start at building prosperous lives for themselves. For example they by were growing maize and selling it more cheaply than their white competitors thanks to their lower overheads. Their efforts were only frustrated by the government that did everything it could to protect the interests of the white farmers.
The real objection then to President Zuma’s remark is not that it violates the canons of political correctness; but that it reasserts the foolish fable that the only way forward for South Africa is through redistribution. The point here is not just that Mr and Mrs Bennet’s swimming pool is not big enough to accommodate everyone, but that by arousing hatred of the Bennets, President Zuma has distracted his fellow black South Africans not simply from one of the most remarkable chapters of their own history, but from the only way that they have of escaping from the poverty that still so stunts their lives. South Africa deserves a President who does better than that.
…. Jo Cox the popular British Labour Member of Parliament is of course a disgrace. Such gross immorality must be repudiated utterly by every Conservative. We can only offer our deepest sympathy to her family and friends who have been so cruelly deprived of her presence and company. May she rest in peace.
Leave may be ahead for the moment in the polls. But Remain is still likely to win the British referendum. Like a dodgy accountant the government in London has cooked the electoral books and will get the result it wanted. That’s how it goes, although I must say spending nine and half million pounds of the taxpayers money on pro EU propaganda just before the spending limits came into operation was rather pushing it even by the relaxed standards of the Bullington Club!
All is fair, though, in love and war, and the United Kingdom will stay within the European Union- for now. This, of course, is not the end of the story. Although Remain is going to win, British politics has been changed. Boris Johnson has emerged as a serious and important figure. His emergence as the leader of “Leave,” and potentially too leader of the Conservative Party is as important as Gladstone’s conversion to Home Rule in December 1885. Mr. Johnson’s break with the establishment raises the possibility that Britain will elect a government explicitly committed to leaving the EU. And at that point the serious action will begin. ( There will, of course, always be a few pro- European Tories, just as there were Liberal Unionists in late nineteenth century Britain.)
In the meantime the scene of the action has moved to the rest of Europe, where ( except in Ireland ) “populism” is advancing. Of this three things should be noted. Firstly some of its exponents do have roots in the darker recesses of the European right. Secondly, that freely confessed, they have shown themselves adaptable, politically astute, and appealing to moderate voters concerned about uncontrolled immigration. Other less emotionally charged forms of Euro- scepticism are also on the rise. Thirdly, important as these developments are, the anti European right is still on the margin. The liberal need not be unduly frightened by the True Finns. In France, Germany, and Italy, the Europeanist establishment is still in power and in control of events. There is then no immediate crisis of legitimacy in Europe. For this at least the supporters of the European idea ( among which I am not numbered ) can be thankful. Their project still has some popular appeal. The establishment can still win on a good day.
However the fact that the system is not in immediate danger should not delude us into believing that it is stable, or that the model cooked up after the war is still an appropriate architecture for Europe. The peoples of Europe value their individuality and their various identities far more than can be accommodated by a single state; just as their economies are too different to flourish within one currency. This much, at least, would surely be obvious to an observer whose vision had not been moulded by Europeanist propaganda, and the memory of the very unusual conditions that prevailed in Europe in 1945 when much of the continent was a gigantic bomb site, and what was left of the railway stations were packed with refugees.
On the other hand there are real difficulties with European nationalism. As the “Europeans” never cease to point out it can be and often is very unattractive. In Ireland we have recently been reminded of this by the blood soaked language of Patrick Pearse. But he, of course, was far from being alone. There were Jingoes all over Europe in the nineteenth century. And their activities played a part in forming the conditions which led to the first world war and to the subsequent disasters all over Europe. The ugly right remains ugly, despite being ( sometimes ) correct about the European “project.” The far right’s offer of protectionism and prejudice is far from attractive or realistic. Nor is it in any serious sense conservative.
Unattractive as the far European nationalism can sometimes be we should never forget that it is to some extent it derives from the reaction to Napoleon’s attempt to create what was in effect a super state in the form of French client kingdoms. ( Indeed some of the silly talk from Germany about excluding Britain from the single market reminds me of Napoleon’s Continental System ) In this “take” Europeanism and nationalism are images embossed on different sides of the same coin. The one brought forth the other. Neither take account of the complexity of the reality with which are faced, and consequently both are certain to give rise to grave errors.
The Europeanists are right ( or at least half right ) when they depict nationalists as being narrow minded bigots who cannot see the big picture who risk plunging Europe into another war . The Nationalists are right ( or at least half right) when they depict the Europeans as being fanatics prepared to sacrifice everything including democracy and the economies of countries such as Greece in pursuit of their delusions.
Are these though in truth the only alternatives? Are things rally so bad that we have to choose between Norbert Hofer and Jean- Claud Juncker? The real problem with post war Europe was that those who founded the Community were so frightened of nationalism that they failed to understand that love of the local can be a honourable emotion, and one that is quite compatible with liberalism. Above all they did not realise that it is the seemingly endless bureaucratic meddling from the centre which provides the explosive fuel for the very xenophobia that they wished to eradicate.
How then should we now proceed? It seems to me that the choice we now face is clear. The result of the vote in Britain means that we now have the time to build a more modest and institutionally restrained Europe that respects national divergencies. If the elite ignores the message from the leave voters and continues along the path of continued integration, multiplied regulation, increased centralization, all disguised beneath a smokescreen of Euro waffle, then, frankly this is going to get ugly.
Mr. Hofer may have been defeated in Austria. Mr. Johnson may have been thwarted in Britain. Mrs Le Pen may yet be defeated in France. But the finger is writing on the wall. It will only take one nation to break free, for the instability of whole structure to become clear. The choice is between genuine reform and a horrifying crack up crisis driven by xenophobia. We then have no alternative but to begin the laborious process of rethinking what it means to be Europeans, what it means to be a members of a nation, and to work out ways that properly reflect both poles of our identity. We have time. But not much time.
What has happened in Orlando is an act of murder. It has been a crime of almost unimaginable depravity. First our hearts must go out to the family and friends of the victims. But then we must bear in mind that this is not an act of war. War can sometimes be honourable. What happened in Florida is squalid beyond imagination. The motive which led to its perpetration is irrelevant. No cause can justify such evil. Those tempted to repeat it elsewhere must know that free people are not to be abused.
The Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam were the two narratives which shaped the United States in the late twentieth century. Muhammad Ali was an important figure in both stories. They were angry times. Those who participated in the arguments that they gave rise to could hardly fail to offend many of those who differed from them. Ali was no exception, he like William F. Buckley, offended many of his fellow Americans.
Just as Buckley fascinated even his most bitter opponents in The United States by his use of language, so Ali thrilled the world and Ireland with his skills. It was not just that he was a better boxer than anyone else; it was that he so obviously enjoyed doing what he did. Just as the television viewer of Buckley in full flow could not avoid smiling as one of his neatly turned epigrams exploded over his unhappy liberal interlocutor, so there was a delightful and unforgettable elegance about Ali whether he was in the boxing ring or the television studio. Certainly he was the strongest ( just as Buckley was the wittiest) but he was also in truth “the greatest”
And what was this greatness? It was his capacity to communicate his own sheer love of what he was doing. Of course Ali was a professional. He had to be. His own background was modest, although one senses not exactly poverty stricken, but he always had something of the amateur about him- a man who did what he did because he relished what he did. Buckley was born to great wealth, and could have spent his life on the ski slopes, but he too hurled himself into the debate. Ali knew that his great skills as a boxer demanded more from him than merely victory in the ring. He delighted everyone, he spoke for millions, may he rest in peace.