The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Monday, 2 February 2009

48. ii) Progressing to cosmopolitanism

Who could have predicted that, less than a year after boldly promising "British jobs for British people," Mr Brown would have his words come back to bite him in his prudently ample arse? That such an innocuous phrase might be interpreted by some as "Read my lips : no new jobs for Johnny Foreigner"? Listening to various government bods arguing the semantics of the Caledonian Charmer's rhetoric on Radio 4's Westminster Hour helped shorten a motorway drive through the falling snow last night, and the consequent cockle-warmth provided for the heart is much appreciated in the unseasonably seasonable weather we are currently experiencing.

As well as containing fascinating insights into the continent's bugs and critturs, EB9's EUROPE article finds time to remark on the phenomena of Nationalism : then a novel concept, as yet unsullied by darker notions.

"We have seen that nationalism is powerfully at work ; the tendency to give practical application in the political domain to the principal familiarly expressed in the phrase qui se ressemble s'assemble, birds of a feather flock together. The so-called nations of Europeare still in painful process of formation, -some in one stage and some in another, but all without exception very imperfectly organinized."

Imperfectly organized? One hundred and thirty years later, it is difficult to recognize the Europe so described. (For the benefit of younger readers, please insert a winking smiley face here).
"As a mere vocable the word nation is old enough, but the thought which it now expresses is a thought that men are but beginning to think. Europe has had its tribes and its kingdoms, its village-communities, its cities, its Achaean leagues, its Hanseatic confederations, its republics, its empires ; it is only developing its nations. [...] [The priciple of nationalism] sometimes appears as a restorative and conservative, sometimes as an innovating and creative force ; and any attempt to insist that it shall be exclusively this or that is certain to be abortive. Here it is on the side of the weak and oppressed, and seems humane and benign ; there on the side of the strong and despotic, and seems stern and cruel. In spite of all difficulties and opposition it is making rapid progress, and is likely to be a powerful factor in Europe for generations to come,-building up political unities, rehabilitating decadent languages, and calling new literatures into life. Greece and Italy, Belgium and Bohemia, Hungary and Roumania, are testimonies of its power in the past decades of the century : who will say what it will have accomplished before the century is done?"

Here, however, is another concept to consider, at a time when more Britons than ever are employed in and doing business with our neighbours on the continental mainland, whilst others struggle to come to terms with alien sausages and jam finding their way onto supermarket shelves, and skilled, literate workers from the Czech Republic and Poland unaccountably fill jobs that somebody who struggles with the motivation to sign on once a fortnight might otherwise have occupied:
"As a natural complement of nationalism we have internationalism, which in certain aspects may be regarded a stage in the progression to cosmopolitanism. Just in proportion as the various nations develop and recognize their national individuality they become conscious of their true relations to each other, and find the necessity of regulating their mutual intercourse and common activity ; isolation is impossible. Reciprocity must increase with the capabilities and desires of each : there are many things which can be attained only by concerted action or division of labour."

The phrase "division of labour" was clearly intended differently from the association which now forms in my mind when considering Europe and the notion that "reciprocity must increase with the capabilities and desires of each." Here's a thought for all the noble demagogues from UKIP contemptuously filing their expense claims as MEPs in Brussels:
"The tendency of internationalism is displayed in the purely political domain by the growth of international law, and the gradual endeavours after a system by which international disputes may be settled by arbitration and discussion rather than by armaments and devastation. That it will end before long in something like a confederation of European states the optimist believes and the philanthropist hopes. Every European congress familiarizes the idea and establishes the habit."

If the term "before long" can be taken to mean "after one hundred years and two world wars," then both optimist and philanthropist would have cause for celebration. Nonetheless, H. A. Webster's vision remains inspiring, now that it has in many respects been realized.
"In the social domain, the tendency is equally potent. Facilities of travel and accumulation of wealth are annually leading a greater proportion of the citizens of one country to make personal acquaintance with the citizens of another. Ignorance and bigotry are naturally lessened, though there are indeed an ignorance and a bigotry which return from abroad more ignorant and bigoted than before."

A statement with which I would expect we can all readily concur, requiring no heavy-handed references to stag weekends, easy jet, nor the Twilight Zone facility of finding egg and chips on the Costa del Sol and tapas in the East End of London.

Vive l'Europe.

No comments: