Anyone who reads the news will have some idea of the gravity of the situation in England. Unfortunately, journalists nearly always have a partial and narrow understanding of the situation. Of course, I speak of the British Government and the Brexit issue. Naturally this thing goes far beyond a simple question of the UK’s membership of a group of countries. I won’t go into the political ins and outs, which I can only understand partially with the help of political pundits and commentators on the internet.
I believe that the issue, shared between a number of European countries and elsewhere, is a transition from a more humanist and liberal paradigm to authoritarianism, from personalism to collectivism and a vision for which many have died. Nazism and Fascism in the 1920’s to 40’s were only manifestations of a same anti-humanism. The poisonous roots remain even if the outward appearance is so different as no longer to be recognisable. I live in the country, and am extremely fortunate to be protected from the loudest noises of various protest movements and their irrational ideologies. Indeed, I was lucky to have come to Europe when things were still going quite well. It was towards the end of the Thatcher era, and I was in France just after the end of the Falklands War. I sought my way in life and made many mistakes and followed illusions. I was fluent in French quite quickly and I ended up studying theology in that language. My time in Switzerland brought me into contact with a Germanic culture and my two stays in Italy brought me another dimension. I suppose it all made me quite rootless, and an attempt to settle back in England in 1995 was inconclusive.
Two experiences of life are clashing: those who have money and are settled, and those for whom the goalposts are too high. The polarisation between capitalism and socialism is widening, and the more they oppose each other, they more they resemble each other. We have to go deeper if we want to come to self-knowledge and thereby to empathy towards others. Alone, I cannot rebuild anything or even recognise what is broken. One issue I now face is not being able to identify with the idea that civilisation can be restored through authority and the State above the Person. It has challenged my entire feeling and understanding of Christianity, abused as it has been by men with ulterior motives throughout history. Talk of evangelisation has for me become extremely shallow, to the extent that I constantly question my calling to the priesthood. I have come to understand the Christian way as not flogging the dead horse of street-corner evangelists, but a quiet and interior life hidden from the world – something that can be transmitted to those who ask for it. It is the way of the Catacombs and the hermit’s cell of Charles de Foucault in Algeria. Priests are not only parish pastors but also contemplatives and teachers.
It is true that Europe is greater than the political institution called the European Union, but the latter has helped in many ways to solve the causes of the two world wars in the twentieth century and to promote cultural values. Nothing is ever perfect, and politicians are known for playing fast and loose with truth. However, the UK has hardly taken the moral high road! The old British Empire was established and / or maintained by theft, rape, pillage and murder – no better than the Nazis! I too have left the House of the Blind.
I have already written about the problems of nationalism, not only in our country but in Poland, Hungary, Italy and some other countries. Nationalism or patriotism can be a fine sentiment, akin to our attachment pro aris et focis to our homes, hearths and families, as the old Romans used to say. It can be a wonderful catalyst of the highest and best of human aspirations, but are we not enriched by diversity and the input of those who come from elsewhere? Going to England for me is very hard. Materially, I have my passport and places to go, with my family and my Church, and friends dotted around here and there, but I no longer feel a part of it. It seems to be a feeling I share with many of the younger generations who were unable to keep the aspidistra flying. When I last lived in England, in 1996, my nostalgia for the life I had known in France and Italy was inconsolable. I did not find what I sought on returning to the Continent, but I was looking for the wrong things. I needed to know myself and come to terms with what I would find.
If those who want the UK to stay on the way of cosmopolitanism can hope not to have our dreams shattered by the “reality” of other people’s big money, we have to have a positive desire instead of hating those who believe in the opposite and contradictory “truth”. It is something I have learned from Romanticism. I quote from Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil) (quoted in Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age, New York 2018, p. 97):
Thanks to the morbid estrangement which the lunacy of nationality has produced and continues to produce between the peoples of Europe, thanks likewise to the short-sighted and hasty-handed politicians who are with its aid on top today and have not the slightest notion to what extent the politics of disintegration they pursue must necessarily be only entr’acte, an interlude—thanks to all this, and to much else that is altogether unmentionable today, the most unambiguous signs are now being overlooked, or arbitrarily and lyingly misinterpreted, that declare that Europe wants to become one. … I think of men such as Napoleon, Goethe, Beethoven, Stendhal, Heinrich Heine, Schopenhauer. . . . They are related, fundamentally related, in all the heights and depths of their needs: it is Europe, the one Europe, whose soul forces its way longingly up and out.
Indeed Nietzsche is one of the most misunderstand thinkers of modern times. The Nazis misrepresented him, to say the least! Sehnsucht, nostalgia, call it what you will. When you have experienced Europe, it is not something you can put back into its box. Novalis centred his vision on an idealised notion of the Papacy, but we must look higher. If there is no future in Europe, then none of its countries can survive. Maybe they are all up for sale to the highest bidder – the USA, Russia, China… The Europe of which I dream is not so much a bygone historical era, but the light of what Christ gave us. The visible signs can only be icons of a higher reality. There can be no no cherries without the cake!
Europe is not the Kingdom of Heaven, but a place of humanism that brought truth and justice. Rob Riemen comes up with the sober point: “Truth can be known only because of the meaning of words, for what are love, friendship, freedom, and justice if we don’t know what the words mean? Where language has become meaningless, no truth can exist, and the lie rules“. When words become debased and perverted by evil men, they become meaningless. The very words we use to convey the message of Christ have also become meaningless for many people, because they become kitsch euphemisms for something else. Thus, Dietrich Bonhöffer tried to find Christ elsewhere from the churches. Our gift of language is indeed horribly abused, where words mean different things to different people. We need to develop different ways of expressing ourselves to protect insights from being banalised and abused. We are brought to think of Jesus’ teaching through parables and their secret meaning. This is why Nietzsche came up with such outrageous ideas like the “death” of God and the annihilation of all that is good. All that remains is lust for money and power. The liturgical world of symbols alone has conserved the Mystery of Christ in spite of the lamentable corruption of ecclesial institutions. There is a conservatism that seeks timelessness, truth and justice – but also a conservatism that crosses over to obscurantism and reactionary politics.
In a way, I sympathise with some of the feelings against the European Union, which as a political organisation has its own problems, and is hardly more outstanding in moral virtue than any other. The true Europe is the soul. Politics will never defend the spiritual, but only power and money. One thing that repels me from Brexiteer orthodoxy is the mendaciousness of its proponents – the contradictory propositions that cannot all be true at the same time. I have called some pseudo-ecclesiastical charlatans wooden legs because of the lying, but it is nothing compared to Westminster or Washington DC!
The quest of Europe must be philosophy, love of wisdom. This has to be the positive and transcendent aspect of our combat. For me and many others, the essence of Europe is a quest for the human being and our immortal soul which enables us to know the absolute and eternal, truth, goodness, beauty, love and justice. These transcendentals are not what concerns the men and women now running the British Government! Without the soul, all is chatter and dross. To this end, we need to fight for a truly humanist society via a new generation of schools and universities, though mystery schools that form the eternal Church. The EU has neglected this spiritual dimension in order to concentrate on money, technology and national interests, and the movement for its destruction can only lead to a return to the 1930’s! The media and the universities have become places of stupidity. Perhaps the desperate message of the Brexiteers in part is the need for something new. Novalis – clearer of new land.
Es wird so lange Blut über Europa strömen, bis die Nationen ihren fürchterlichen Wahnsinn gewahr werden, der sie im Kreise herumtreibt, und von heiliger Musik getroffen und besänftigt zu ehemaligen Altären in bunter Vermischung treten, Werke des Friedens vornehmen und ein großes Liebesmahl als Friedenfest auf den rauchenden Walstätten mit heißen Tränen gefeiert wird. Die Christenheit oder Europa (1799)
– Blood will continue to flow in Europe until the nations recognize their terrible madness. This will continue to drive them into circles until, moved and calmed by sacred music, they step before their past altars in a motley throng. Then they will undertake works of peace, celebrating with hot tears a great banquet of love as a festival of peace on the smoking battlefields.
I would like to see the European Union reformed and renewed, ordained to man’s highest realities regardless of our different religious faiths and ways of life.