Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Europe in the Frame

It is trivially true that one cannot give one’s opinions on some matter without the possibility of colouring that matter to some extent with those opinions, though one trusts that everyone of at least moderate sensibility is aware of this, and can distinguish between fact and mere opinion, or between what is established and what is asserted or argued, and that he has his own mind to discriminate between probable and improbable, fair and foul, temperate and harsh, and so on, such that he is not led insensibly or mindlessly to accept one’s own colouring of the matter, but rather he comes sensibly and mindfully on his own terms to accept it as the true or proper or sensible colour if it be so.
.....It is regrettable, however, that words can work upon men much as bells did upon Pavlov’s dogs [1], and furthermore that many a man is swayed by the most intemperate or unfair of opinions, even against his better judgement, if it be that they whisper in his mind’s ear what he wishes to hear, or set fire in his belly against his enemies, and if he has not first guarded against the inferior part of his constitution. [2] All effective propagandists understand this, and appreciate moreover that the mass-mind is a dumb and ignoble one, albeit with the power to overthrow the nobler part of a man’s constitution.
.....All of which brings me to the matter of the framing-technique of political language — not, that is, of the incidental colouring of matters by language, which might arise through the expression of one’s opinions, but of the intentional setting of the terms of debate for deceitful purposes — and in particular to a ready but rather humble example thereof, though, it must be said, not humble par crapulence: that of Ms Polly Toynbee of The Guardian. [3]
.....If one is susceptible to the framing-technique of political language so crudely displayed by Ms Toynbee, one might register the impression that those who oppose the European Union are “fanatical Europe-hating”, “malevolent and xenophobic” “Euro-crazies” who are given over to “Euro-hysterics” about the “the work of devious” and “filthy federalising foreigners”. [4] Now, I am aware that she aims some of these epithets at the newspapermen, who themselves, as chefs of discontent, are not averse from over-egging the pudding, but still, we all know which frame Mr Toynbee is seeking to strengthen: that against so-called Eurosceptics, wherewith such people are to be seen as narrow-minded, xenophobic, and silly baboons who think Belgium is a dirty word (well . . .) and Germany, a land fit only for carpet-bombing. That is to say, in terms of the “debate”, such people are to be seen to be beyond the pale. The terms are set to foster the view, above all, that hatred or dislike for the European Union is in fact hatred or dislike for Europe itself. Well, I shall not speak for anyone else, but for my part, it is because I love Europe—or rather, what it has been—that I hate the European Union.
.....By the way, if citizens of the smaller nations of Europe want a good reason why they should not be part of the European Union, Polly Toynbee inadvertently gives them a hint of one:
At the crucial Nairobi climate summit, it was a bad idea that the president of a very small country represented all of Europe, and not very well. [5]
For, you see, whilst it is seen as legitimate that a representative of a large nation of Europe may represent the European Union, it is not seen so with a representative of a small one. The small nations must submit to the interests of the big nations. Citizens of small nations, therefore, might heed the words of Leopold Kohr:
In contrast to his counterpart in great, populous states, the small-state citizen has much greater personal dignity, representing, as he does, not an infinitesimally small share of the state sovereignty, but a proportion that can definitely assert itself. Since the concept of sovereignty does not increase in quality with the increase in population . . . the effect of increasing population is the diminution of individual importance. [6]
Besides, there is some reason to believe that Europe’s richness of culture is owed in part to the many and diverse particularities of its peoples living in its many and diverse states and parishes. As far as I can see, if the European Union is the only hope for Europe, then there is not much hope for it at all.

[1] Just think of all the men who have come to espouse values attached to the honorific title of the Enlightenment, who might never have done so if those values hadn’t had that title attached, yet who wouldn’t know enlightenment from a slap in the face — which, come to think of it, and considering their insensibility, might be better suited to bring it.
[2] “Let a man first firmly establish the nobler part of his constitution, and the inferior part will not be able to take it from him.” Meng Tzü (Mencius), Mencius, VIa, 15, quoted by Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 1: The Period of the Philosophers (from the Beginnings to circa 100bc), tr. D. Bodde (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p.122. I take that as a good prescription for the role of a basic education.
[3] One never knows: my preamble might serve in part to forestall the accusation that I am myself framing the language against Ms Toynbee, but, if it does not, then to those not satisfied, all I can say is that it is my honest judgement that Ms Toynbee provides an example par crapulence of a framing-technique that is in her hands quite crude. (I certainly cannot see it as refined, sophisticated, or even bog-standard.) Let the reader make of it what he will. One may reply that the framing that Ms Toynbee applies is, after all, a reflection of her honest opinions; and so it may be, in which case I can see no good reason not to call her a fanatic too.
[4] All these words and phrases come from one article: Polly Toynbee, “We can’t let the Euro-crazies drag us out of the club”, The Guardian, 16th October 2007.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations (Totnes, Devon: Green Books, 2001), p.118.


Sir Philip Johnston-Higham said...

This cries out for the old adage that the large nations act like gangsters and the small naions as whores.

David Duff said...

As usual, elegantly but passionately argued. However, mostly I wanted to thank you for printing your quotes and notes in a larger font. My optician and I are grateful!

Deogolwulf said...

Sadly, it is often so, Mr Higham.

No problem, Mr Duff. I tend to give priority to my aesthetic sense over my practical one. (I much prefer the look of the smaller fonts for the quotes and notes.) But for a dear dim-eyed old duffer, I can make an exception.