In case my American readers have forgotten, in the midst of
our tumultuous presidential campaign, virtually every major
nation (and not a few smaller ones) in Europe is facing a
significant political crisis just now. My European readers,
watching the U.S. political melodrama with some unease,
know about their own continental political and social
melodramas only too well.
This limited space prevents me from commenting on the
whole picture of this crisis of the West, so I will only take a
a quick look at the crises in the two major European powers,
Great Britain and Germany.
In the United Kingdom (UK), the nation, already under internal
pressure for the departure of Scotland from the kingdom, the
Conservative prime minister has scheduled a referendum on
the question (nicknamed "Brexit") of the UK membership in the
European Union. British euroskepticism, or the desire to end
Britain’s formal relationship with the EU, has been gaining
strength in the island nation in recent years. The UK wisely
did not ever accept the Euro currency, and it has observed the
dizzying and repetitive economic failures recently among
several EU members, including Greece.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised a referendum,
and then attempted to win major concessions for continued UK
membership so that he could persuade voters to vote “yes” on
the membership question. He did obtain some concessions, but
many in his own party, and outside it, consider the concessions
inadequate, especially in the face of the growing threat that the
EU will impose conditions on the UK that will involve the loss
of its thousand-year old sovereignty. Cameron’s fellow Tory,
Mayor Boris Johnson (also an M.P.), has emerged as the leader
of those Britons who intend to vote “no.” The voting will take
place on June 23. The outcome is unknown at this time, but it is
believed that the vote will be close.
In Germany, its crisis has taken a different form. Chancellor
Angela Merkel has responded to the massive movement of
refugees to EU nations, by welcoming more than a million of
them into Germany. When she made this decision, she was at
the height of her popularity in Germany, and of her influence
in the European Union. The massive influx of migrants, many
of them Muslim, has not been universally welcomed in Europe,
and that includes in the previously booming unified Germany.
Mrs. Merkel’s popularity has declined rapidly, and her nation’s
influence on its neighbors has been partly shifted eastward to
Turkey which holds the key to further refugee immigration.
German nationalism, dormant since the end of World War II
has been reignited, and Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democratic
Union Party (CDU) has just suffered notable defeats in local
elections, putting members of a new nationalist populist party
in state parliaments.
It needs to be pointed out that Mrs. Merkel’s compassionate
actions in regard to refugees is quite understandable in the
light of Germany’s past that includes a world war and the
Holocaust. But like so many decisions made in post-war
Europe, including the creation of the EU itself, decisions
were made by political elites and bureaucrats without true
building of grass roots support.
Similarly, Mr. Cameron’s efforts perhaps were made before
building grass roots support for remaining in the EU among
British voters. The issue is not the UK’s economic relationships
with its continental neighbors. Even top euroskeptics such as
Tory M.P. Bill Cash, acknowledge the importance of those
relationships, but of the aggressive evolution of the EU charter
into areas which take away its member nations’ political and
Americans can understand this issue from recent attempts
at the United Nations which attempt to cancel U.S.
sovereignty with binding legal agreements (something bitterly
opposed by most Americans, and which could not be ratified
As I have previously pointed out, in spite of their differing
forms, the crises in Great Britain and Germany (and in the
other European nations) have a common cause, that is the
failure of their political establishments, both on the right
and the left, to gain the consent or support of their
respective nations’ grass roots voters.
In the late 1920’s the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y
Gasset saw a similar phenomenon developing which he
labeled “the revolt of the masses.” His prescience foresaw
the rise of totalitarian fascism and communism, and the
unspeakable horror and violence which resulted only a
Today, virtually all of Europe lives in a much more
democratic environment. There is little need for revolution.
But, as I have diagnosed in the current U.S. presidential
election crisis, there is a spirit of mutiny rising everywhere
against entrenched political establishments on both the left
and the right which are mired in political stalemates.
I have come to realize that this is not some temporary or
superficial political phenomenon, but one which requires a
thoughtful and transformational response. Lincoln’s immortal
remedy “of the people, by the people and for the people” cannot
be regarded as just some pretty and empty phrase. It is, to the
contrary, the only route out of our crises.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.