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John Waters
1 . 31 . 19

S ome people make things happen; some people watch things happening; some people don’t know

what’s happening.” This old saw hacked into my head upon reading the Manifesto signed by “30

Pro-Europe Intellectuals,” informally sub-titled in many media reports, “Europe is coming apart before our

It soon became clear that these 30 Pro-Europe Intellectuals are among those who don’t know what is
happening. “The idea of Europe is in peril,” the Manifesto begins. “From all sides there are criticisms,

insults and desertions from the cause.” But it does not explain what this “idea” is or how the “cause” might
be de ned. The nal sentence references a “challenge to liberal democracy,” as though the word “liberal”

could bear the weight of the document’s quite preposterous insinuations.

If they do not know what exactly they favor, these intellectuals know well what they oppose: “populism”

and “demagoguery.” “Europe as an idea is falling apart before our eyes,” they lament. It soon becomes clear
that what we have here is not “30 Pro-Europe Intellectuals” but “30 Pro-European Union intellectuals,” an

entirely di erent kettle of drummer boys.  

Some of the signatories are well-known: the novelists Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Milan Kundera;

the notorious journalist Eugenio Scalfari; the playboy philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of the

Manifesto.  They count themselves “European patriots” and preach about the need to lift Europe's peoples
“above themselves and their warring past.” But what they really defend is the oligarchy of Brussels

bureaucracy, which has for many years threatened to asphyxiate Europe. Their Manifesto is a party political

broadcast on behalf of the European Union, speci cally in the context of its European Parliament elections

this coming May.

These intellectuals sarcastically dismiss Europeans’ current craving to “reconnect with their national

souls.” “Abstractions such as ‘soul’ and ‘identity’ often exist only in the imagination of demagogues,” they


In response to the nationalist and identitarian onslaught, we must rediscover the spirit of

activism or accept that resentment and hatred will surround and submerge us. 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 bon re of our freedoms.

So soul, it appears, may exist after all without bene t of demagogues—or perhaps the demagogues are both

generators and assassins of soul? The intellectuals mention the “new crisis of the European conscience that

promises to tear down everything that made our societies great” but do not elaborate on the nature of
“everything.” They drop the names Erasmus, Dante, Goethe, and Comenius, but nowhere in the document

does the word “Christian” appear.  The failure of the E.U. project is causally related to Europe's retreat
from its rich Christian heritage. That retreat has left a vacuum that economics, liberalism, and materialism

have failed to ll. A bogus liberalism has attacked and all but destroyed the three fundamental pillars of

human society in Europe: family, Church, and nation. Yet all three are capable of resurgence at any

moment. Early signs of such resurgence are what scared the E.U. intellectuals into print.

In the end, they descend to reductio ad Hitlerum, referring to “a challenge greater than any since the 1930s.”

They employ the term “populism” as a hypnotic trigger-word to demonize those who are di erent in

outlook. “Populism” was once merely a synonym for “popular,” signifying a connection to the people, for

the people, with the people. Almost no one speaks of “the people” these days, and for good reason: The

people present a problem for the elites, who have reintroduced the concept of “populism” as a handy

pejorative synonym for “democracy”—which for obvious reasons they cannot so readily condemn.

Of course, the word is intended to invoke the image of a seething, foaming, raging rabble. But there are all

kinds of mobs, including “intellectual” mobs. These intellectuals have issued no statements condemning

#MeToo mobs, pro-choice mobs, LGBT mobs, or common or  garden Twitter mobs seeking the scalps of
holdouts from the latest “liberal” demands.

None of these writers and intellectuals can be deemed to have exalted in his or her work any entity rooted

in what they defend that is even loosely to be called Europe. Of all the books published under the names of

the thirty, perhaps only Ian McEwan’s Atonement might be counted as a great European novel.
Interestingly, the signatories make no attempt to plead innocence on these charges: “Our generation got it

wrong,” they admit. “Like Garibaldi's followers in the 19th century, who repeated, like a mantra, ‘Italia se

farà da sè' (Italy will make herself by herself), we believed that the continent would come together on its
own, without our needing to ght for it, or to work for it. This, we told ourselves, was ‘the direction of


Indeed: The direction of history, as Havel noted, is the quintessential totalitarian idea. Those among the

European intelligentsia who did not actively participate sat by and permitted the birth of the fundamentally

totalitarian idea that doing what you pleased could sustain a civilization—thus enabling the destruction of

the European peoples through the slaughter of innocents and the diversion of human desiring. When this

created the inevitable demographic crisis, the intellectuals left their inks in their inkwells. When people

who did speak out were silenced and ostracized, they again kept their pens in their sheaths. They are more

right than they believe about getting it wrong.

The failure of the “European project” has therefore also been a cultural, artistic, and philosophical

failure. Michel Houellebecq aside, Europe in the era of what is called “the  European Union” has had no

great cultural iconographers capable of summoning up its spirit and essences, and Houellebecq does not
atter it.  It is arguable that there never was a united art or literature of Europe, and that only Christianity

served to create the impression that there was. 

The late French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once observed that, although each part of the American

continent feels di erent from every other part, there is also a pervasive American essence. Europe is not

like that. What became “The European Union” was never articulate about itself in cultural terms, but

instead resorted to a language and logic of materialism and secular democracy, which writers and artists

failed to plumb, bypass, or otherwise negotiate.  

The bureaucratic nature of the E.U. has led it to treat culture as irrelevant and non-essential, soul as some

residual anachronism, identity as a problem, and faith as something to be “tolerated” at best. In the absence

of a cultural and spiritual vision, economics became everything and, inevitably, nothing. In its headlong

dash to ful ll its aims in that idiom, the E.U. destroyed the European peoples’ hopes and nally demanded
that they lie down and die. 

What the thirty intellectuals call “Europe” was never a convincing replacement for the nation-states of the

eponymous continent. Nothing made this clearer than the failure of the post-1960s arts establishment to
create an art or literature that might serve to unify the nations of Europe into a common home. Now the
intellectuals seek to cover their tracks. 

It will take more than moral blackmail or virtue-signaling to put things back together again. A revolution is
happening across the free world. It is not a revolution of the “Right,” “alt-right,” or “far right,” but a
revolution from the concrete center, from the places where working people live and work to build, x,
paint, and clean the world as their antecedents did for thousands of years. It is fundamentally a reaction
against lies, intimidation, o cial stupidity, and political correctness. It is already sweeping Italy, Spain,
Germany, France, Sweden, and the countries of the Eastern bloc. It is at the back of Brexit and Donald
Trump. It may not be an “intellectual’ movement, but it is a movement rooted in a deep and ancient
intelligence—the intelligence of the human heart—which has beat for several thousand years at the center
of the greatest civilization the world has ever seen.

The people of the West are stirring in their slumber. Yes, Europe is coming apart at the seams, but not in
the ways the E.U. intellectuals divine. What they call “the bon re of our freedoms” has already happened,
and the people who make and x things are building a new Europe in the ashes of the old. 

John Waters is an Irish writer and commentator, the author of ten books, and a playwright.

Photo by Dili via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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