Treason at Maastricht (1994), Reviewed by Sean Gabb

Treason at Maastricht:  The Destruction of the British Constitution
Rodney Atkinson and Norris McWhirter
Compuprint Publishing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1994, 123 pp., £6.95 (hbk)
(ISBN 0 9509353 8 7)

Note: I wrote this review in 1994 for inclusion in a issue of Free Life. For some reason that I cannot remember, I left it out. I then forgot all about the review. I was rather less Eurosceptical in those days than I later became. Even so, I still think the points I make are sound. I am not interested in leaving the European Union so that the police state we have can be simply rebranded with the Union Flag. i only want national independence because I believe that a sovereign England would be more liberal than the European Union. If I was not so sure about this in 1994, it is not because I held different principles, but because I held a different opinion about matters of fact.

Treason at MaastrichtThis is an alarming book.  It must be read by anyone who still believes the European Union is any kind of liberal project.  It is not:  it is instead an embryonic superstate.  Already, its 15 Member States stand where the 13 American States stood in 1787.  The only essential difference is that the federal administration will be far less liberal at its outset, and that far less than 150 years will be needed for Brussels to stand where Washington stands today.

Yet, this being said, Messrs Atkinson and McWhirter have still to persuade me that there is anything deplorable in this progress. I am no less patriotic than they are.  I am proud of this country’s past.  It was the birthplace of both liberalism and industrial capitalism.  From this country was ruled one of the greatest empires – and certainly the most benevolent – that ever existed.  Take away the achievements and the example of the British people, and the world would be an incomparably more evil place, bereft alike of progress and of hope.

But note here the absence of the present tense.  We live today in what was a great country.  Our Empire, our power in the world, our comparative wealth – and far more importantly than these, the freedom from which they derived – are vanished.  Our decline was astonishingly swift, and filled far less than the space of a single lifetime.  But it has been accomplished.  Whatever our grandparents and parents were – whatever we were born to become – we are the citizens of an impoverished welfare state; and if present trends are allowed to continue, we shall assuredly die the citizens of an impoverished police state.

The European Union offers an alternative to this rapid and continuing decline.  In one way or another, its internal market already includes the whole of western Europe, and will soon be extended sharply east.  This hardly approximates to the whole world which was our market before 1931.  But it is respectably large; and the treaties that created it restrain the protectionism that guided our trade policies between 1931 and 1973, and would certainly otherwise guide it now.

Added to free trade is sound finance.  For all its defects, the Treaty of Maastricht prohibits excessive budget deficits and currency debasements.  Again, this is a poor alternative to the fully convertible gold standard and balanced budgets that once were the unquestioned norm in this country.  But it is a decided improvement on what we have suffered at least since 1945.  Even as I write, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is casting round for excuses not to raise interest rates – despite the international collapse of Sterling and the rising domestic prices that are the first, unambiguous symptoms of the inflation reignited in September 1992.

Of course, there are costs.  We shall lose our national independence – or what dwindling remainder we have enjoyed since 1973.  We shall progressively give up the national habits and institutions that even now distinguish us from every other European nation.  We shall be weighed down by an increasing burden of petty and vexatious regulations.  I regret these costs.  But once we look behind the uproar raised against accepting them, we shall see that they are often more apparent than real.

I have read much about the torrent of nonsense issuing from Brussels on whether carrots are fruit and on where window cleaners must pour their used water.  I have read rather less about how these regulations are given substance and are interpreted solely by British civil servants.  Enterprise is stifled beneath a mountain of bureaucracy – but only because we already have a bureaucratic state:  stop the import of regulations, and the loss will be immediately supplied by home production.  Anyone familiar with the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and the various forms of the National Curriculum, will appreciate the ingenuity of our own civil servants.

Regarding our national distinctions, these grow increasingly superficial.  There was a time when – for example – the Imperial system of weights and measures was part of an organic whole.  It was one of many institutions that had evolved over centuries; and what it lacked in abstract convenience was more than compensated by its practical working and the feeling of community with the past that it encouraged and allowed.  As with our Constitution and currency and other eccentricities, it indicated a respect for grown tradition more conducive to an overall harmony than the brittle rationalism that other peoples were seduced into accepting as their guide.

Today, this traditional cast of mind is almost extinct among us.  The customs and institutions that proceeded from it are now only inconvenient.  Without their nimbus of old associations, our pounds and inches are to the metric system as trial by ordeal is to the Napoleonic Code.  Our habit of driving on the left puts up the price of cars.  Equally, the Common Law tends to raise the price of justice – and can even make it harder to secure.  So far as we now differ from our neighbours, we differ for the worse.  Though a brittle guide, rationalism is all that we now have available to us; and the more European we become in our habits, the better we shall do as a nation.

All this being said, my comments on national independence will need little room.  People have no right to their own government simply by virtue of their possessing distinct national characteristics.  It must, before all else, be shown that their lives and properties will be better ensured by self-government than by alien rule.  We may not yet have brought ourselves to the same wretched state as the Rwandans, or even the Greeks.  But our capacity to make good use of our independence is plainly in decline.  I have mentioned the decay of our freedom.  I have mentioned the incompetence of our monetary authorities.  I loathe the almost certain shape of the emerging superstate in Europe, but I also suspect that it will govern this country with more benevolence and success than will a sovereign British state.

In the debate over Europe, I increasingly suspect, the British people stand much where the slaves and free negroes stood during the American Civil War.  The Southern leaders upheld the right of seccession with endless talk of freedom and horrifying predictions of Northern misrule.  Their predictions were only slightly exaggerated, and many slaves deplored the Yankee victories, and some free blacks even fought in the Confederate armies.  Nevertheless, the Confederacy was a slave state, and its leaders’ fine words were only a means of keeping it that way; and charlatan that Lincoln was, and racist bigots that his generals usually were, the North did have a greater degree of right on its side by most liberal standards.

I do not wish to be a European.  Neither, though, will I play Uncle Tom to Lady Thatcher.

Edward Hume (Sean Gabb)

© 1994 – 2017, seangabb.

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