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June 27, 2016 1:52 am

Brexit Does Not Signal the Victory of ‘Another Europe,’ But of ‘No Europe at All’

avatar by Bernard-Henri Lévy

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Prime Minister David Cameron, standing. Photo: Video Screenshot.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, arguing against Brexit. Photo: Screenshot.

Thursday’s Brexit marks a victory not of the people but of populism. Not of democracy but of demagogy.

It is a victory of the hard Right over the moderate Right and of the radical over the liberal Left. It is a victory of xenophobia in both camps, of long-simmering hate for the immigrant, and of obsession with the enemy within.

It is the revenge of those throughout the United Kingdom who could not bear to hear Obama, Hollande, Merkel and others offering their views on a matter that was theirs to decide.

It is, in other words, a victory of sovereignism at its most rancid; of nationalism at its most idiotic. It is the victory of fusty England over an England open to the world and fully in touch with its glorious past.

It is the defeat of the Other before the puffed up I, the defeat of complexity before the dictatorship of the simplistic. It is the victory of the followers of Nigel Farage over the “political-media class” and “global elites” who supposedly “take their orders from Brussels.”

Abroad, it is a victory for Donald Trump, who was one of the first, if not the first, to welcome the historic vote, and for Vladimir Putin, whose dream and whose plan — this cannot be repeated too loudly or too often — has long been the break-up of the European Union.

It is a victory, in France, for the Le Pens on the right and their twins on the left who dream of a French variant of the Brexit while not knowing the first thing about the intelligence, heroism, radicalism or rationality of the culture in which they live.

It is a victory, in Spain, for Podemos and its cartoonish indignados. In Italy, for the 5 Star Movement and its clownish leaders. In central Europe, for those who, having pocketed their EU dividends, are ready to dissolve the Union . It is a victory for those everywhere who were just waiting for a chance to get out while the getting was good — and it is thus the beginning of a process of disintegration that no one yet knows how to stop.

It is the victory of the mob of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis over Renoir’s “Boating Party.” It is the victory of the wreckers and dimwitted leftists, of drunken skinheads and hooligans, of illiterate rebels and bull-headed neo-nationalists.

It is a victory for those who — in imitation of the unbelievable Donald braying, “We will make America great again!” as his yellow pompadour snaps like a lasso — dream of building a wall between “the Muslims” and themselves.

It will be declaimed in every language, dialect, slang and patois. It will be pronounced while grumbling, bashing heads, turning away the other, pushing him into the sea, forbidding him from returning, while saying haughtily, “I, sir, am English!” — or Scottish, French, German or any other nationality.

And each time it will be a victory of ignorance over knowledge. Each time it will be a victory of the petty over the great, of brutishness over spirit.

Because, British friends, by “great” I do not mean the “plutocrats” or the “bureaucrats.” I do not mean the “privileged,” whose heads everyone in your country and everywhere else now seems to want to see impaled on a pike.

Those whom the Brexit took out while taking Britain out of Europe are not, alas, the “oligarchs” decried by the podium thumpers.

The greats are the agents and the inspiration of the true greatness of every people. The greats are the inventors of this splendid dream full of the brilliance of Dante, Goethe, Dickens, Byron, Husserl and Jean Monnet — a dream called Europe. Those are the greats that you are cutting down to size. It is Europe itself, Europe as Europe, that is dissolving into the nothingness of your resentment.

It is true that Europe played a part in its own death. Certainly, this strange defeat is also the defeat of a bloodless entity that scorned its own soul, history, and vocation. There is no doubt that the Europe we are executing had been moribund for years, incarnated in listless, ghostly leaders whose historical error was to believe that the end of history had arrived and that they could sleep the sleep of the last man on earth provided they remembered to turn on the automatic sprinklers — that is too true.

That responsibility for the catastrophe also lies with political leaders who preferred, having consulted their spin doctors and sociologists, to massage events along the line of least resistance and in a fog of ahistoricism, to shrug off the rumbling of looming storms, and to wrap themselves in a newspeak that has always been used more to impose silence than to speak truth — that is equally obvious.

But we must not permit the British majority who voted “Leave,” or those who have applauded the outcome, tell us that their real intention was to advocate for some vague “Europe of the people.”

Because this Brexit does not signal the victory of “another Europe,” but rather of “no Europe at all.”

It is not the dawn of a reconstruction, but the possible twilight of an ambitious project of civilization set in motion by a band that included a certain Winston Churchill.

Unless we pull ourselves together, last Thursday will mark the consecration of the grisly International of the sworn enemies of enlightenment and the eternal adversaries of democracy and human rights.

Europe certainly was unworthy of herself. Her leaders were pusillanimous and lazy. Her captains were set in their ways, and their art of governing was somnolent.

But what is coming in place of this garden of the Finzi-Continis is a globalized suburb where, because one sees only garden gnomes, it is possible to forget that once there was Michelangelo.

Between those resigned to let this world rot in the Trumpian dumpsters of gun-toting, cowboy-booted “greater America,” or under the spell of a Putinism that is reinventing the language of dictatorship or, since Friday morning, in the desolation of a Great Britain turning its back on its own greatness — between those current realities and the heat of an oven from which the most frightening demons of Europe emerged lies but a single human lifetime.

So the choice is clear.

If Europeans do not seize the moment, yesterday’s referendum will be remembered as the baptism of a Holy Alliance of the dark horsemen of the new reaction — baptized not in the waters of the Jordan but on the banks of the Thames.

Either we emerge together — through strong words matched by decisive action — from a crisis that is without precedent in the past 70 years, or, across the broad spectrum of modern pre-totalitarian languages, where  grimaces vie with belches as forms of expression, incompetence with vulgarity, and love of the abyss with hate for the other, the worst of humanity will come surging back.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of France’s most famed philosophers, a journalist, and a bestselling writer. He is considered a founder of the New Philosophy movement and is a leading thinker on religious issues, genocide, and international affairs. His 2013 book, Les Aventures de la vérité—Peinture et philosophie: un récit, explores the historical interplay of philosophy and art. His new play, “Hotel Europe,” which premiered in Sarajevo on June 27, 2014, and in Paris on September 9, is a cry of alarm about the crisis facing the European project and the dream behind it.

This article was translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.

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  • There is no question that Chancellor Merkel has come to symbolize all that is wrong with the EU project. The project, by its very nature, is federalist and was bound to generate strong opposition among those who hold to cultural idiosyncrasies of long standing. In England, at least, the opposition to melding carried the day and proved that the United Kingdom has not achieved the unity asserted by the name.

    An excellent apology addressing some of the issues which may be at play in the dissolution of the EU can be found in Diane Weber Bederman’s work, Back to the Ethic: Reclaiming Western Values (2015).

    The Brexit will not have a direct impact or influence on Mr. Trump’s odds of winning the election other than exciting the morale of his supporters in the face of unrelenting MSM denigration; instead, the Brexit vote is symptomatic of a disease affecting both electorates: hatred of self-serving elites who have forgotten or never learned the meaning of noblesse oblige.

  • Each time chancellor Angela Merkel laughs
    I feel Jerusalem old stones shinning cleans old winds
    I see Angela Merkel home for lost homes is bright

  • There are a lot of contradictions in what B.L.H. writes, read it carefully. He writhing is topical French intellectual spectacle, I’m depressed to became aware of him been involved in Libya intern affairs, a philosopher must stay away from politics, because politics often towns out to be wrong, where innocent people are killed for nothing at all. Mr. Gaddafi was captured! He had the right to be brought to international court!!! It didn’t happen is a fact that Obama and Norway did break the international law!!!! Where there is a Nobel Peace Prize there is CHAOS! And SPLITS politics. If EU is an old culture why French men no likes to speak English, in fact the French EU political staff in Brussels wants to stop to speak English already. Interfering in Libya intern political and economical affairs is the cause of the rise of neo – nationalism in Europe which was well planned, was the cause of Mr. Gaddafi been killed and not brought to the international court. Where Obama says many time, to behave by and under the international community law, which did not exist for Mr. Gaddafi, taking down Mr. Gaddafi was for EU and Obama a computer game play, a very bad one. A contradiction in what B.L.H. does writes. What a strange stolen brains.

  • Yaakov

    There was Europe before the EU and there will be Europe after the EU. There are more pressing problems facing the European nations.

  • Gnomercy9

    “Conservatives believe government action is an obstacle to our freedom. Leftists believe our freedom is an obstacle to government action.”

    – Ben Shapiro

  • Whatever Bernard-Henri Lévy says do the opposite. I’ve bad memories of his alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. The Jewish community should not choose this man as a role model for vision. On the day of the BrExist vote Abu Mazen was speaking at the European parliament. What this really is the defeat of progressives that hate Jews and I’m very tired of the feminist/progressive/leftist tyranny dominating our Jewish voices. Jews around the world should remember BrExit as an opportunity for what Israel wants… the autonomy from international control. It is time for Jewish liberals to grow up. A quality website like Algemeiner shouldn’t care what Bernard-Henri Lévy thinks.

  • What is this man talking about? All of the glories of ancient Europe which he describes occurred before the EU ever came into existence, or even entered into the minds of the populace. The grandeur of Europe flourished for 1,000 years before the advent of the EU. The EU has contributed little or nothing towards its continuation.