Gunpowder plots

by Henry Farrell on September 4, 2003

The collectivisation of the blogosphere (or, as righties might prefer, its rationalization in response to market forces) continues, with two new group-blogs, “Open Source Politics”: and “A Fistful of Euros”: I’m especially pleased about the latter- European politics doesn’t get enough attention in the blogosphere, and when it does get mentioned, it’s usually filtered through intra-American arguments (prime example: right-trolls who defend Berlusconi because he’s friends with W.). Iain Coleman gets the ball rolling with an especially nice “take”: on a quite bizarre “article”: by Adrian Hilton, in the British _Spectator_, which claims that the EU is a Catholic plot to subjugate Protestant Britain. Iain, not surprisingly, thinks that Hilton is barking mad. I disagree – Hilton’s just very _old fashioned_. He’s harking back to a political tradition that’s nearly dead in the mainland UK – equating British national identity with Protestantism,so that the Queen is defender both of the faith and of Britishness.

Linda Colley discusses how this tradition was invented in her magisterial study, “Britons”: Her thesis is that British national identity was forged around a very specific core of anti-Catholicism in response to the threat posed by Catholic France. Colley advances fairly convincing evidence to show that Britishness and Protestantism became so closely entwined as to be virtually inseparable. The Continent – Catholic and threatening – was seen as the enemy, out to subjugate loyal Britons, and impose their nasty, foreign practices on England’s green and pleasant land. This tradition began to lose force in the early Victorian era, with Catholic emancipation. It’s now more or less moribund, except in Northern Ireland, where bowler-hatted loyalists still hold true to the faith (and embarrass folks on the mainland with the fervidness of their Britishness).

Hilton’s article is an extraordinary throwback to this earlier era – his political analysis wouldn’t be out of place in an eighteenth century Calvinist tract. Choice quotes:

bq. … entry in 1973 to the ‘European Economic Community’ brought England back into the Catholic fold, and exactly 460 years after the English monarch was declared sovereign, the present Queen was reduced to vassal status under the terms of the Maastricht Treaty, which rendered her a European citizen and thereby subject to ‘foreign princes and potentates’ …

bq. …The issue of European religious union is one that has been concealed even deeper than the plans for political union, but the ratchet towards a Catholic Europe is just as real. …

bq. …Such a destiny can be foisted upon recalcitrant nations only when they are weakened. The Roman principle of divide and rule is resurrected in the ‘Europe of Regions’ strategy, which encourages each ‘region’ of Europe to look directly to Brussels for policy and funding, bypassing national parliaments in the process. This is a recreation of a mediaeval Europe of small, ineffectual states which can be easily dominated. The ecumenically minded Church of England has been complicit in the fracturing of England, with its bishops chairing regional conventions, but the Ecumenical Movement is in reality a parallel front to Rome’s divide-and-rule strategy. …

And the extraordinary thing is that Hilton is an “approved candidate” of the British Conservative party. Although, in fairness, this doesn’t mean that he’ll get the chance to run as an MP as far as I know; he still has to convince a local constituency organization to select him.

As I say, I don’t think that Hilton is mad, quite, but he is utterly out of touch with the modern world. If Hilton represents state-of-the-art UK Euroscepticism (and the _Spectator_ is quite close to the heart of the Conservative party), Blair may actually win his perpetually-deferred referendum on entry into the Euro. Even the Murdoch tabloids would have difficulty in resisting the temptation to ridicule this prime-grade nonsense, while the BBC would only be too delighted to interview Hilton and his ilk. A couple of frothing-at-the-mouth prognostications about Catholic plots on the telly would do wonders for the pro-Europe movement. The eurosceptic right may yet turn out to be Tony Blair’s greatest ally.



Robert Schwartz 09.04.03 at 5:47 am

I don’t know about cultural Britishness. I do know that the EU and the Euro have some very substantive economic problems. See this thread at Dan Drezner.

Beyond that France bailed out the conglomerate Alstom to the tune of $3×10^9. It seems that under EU rules, governments are not supposed to bailout private companies. The Alstom bailout is just the latest French violation of this rule.

I am short on the EU. I think the EU constitution is DoA. The Euro is 50/50. If the brits are smart they will pass and be well positioned to pick up the pieces.


Doug 09.04.03 at 8:43 am

There’s an interesting article to be done on what fantasies European integration evokes from local paleocons. In Britain, it’s apparently Guy Fawkes. In Poland, it’s godlessness, Communism and abortion. In Hungary, it’s Jews and maybe Germans. In Germany, it’s waves of invaders from the East. There’s probably a specific set for almost any EU or soon-to-be EU country that would tell outsiders a lot about the neuroses in national history. And these, in turn, tend to draw on political tropes that are so old fashioned you wonder what steamer trunk someone lifted them out of.

(For outside observers like Russia or the United States, there’s probably also a set of specters that lead to advice like telling the Brits to pick up the pieces. In fact, for the US there’s probably a very good article to be done on the weird Anglophilia many American conservatives have for a Britain that’s even more imaginary than Middle Earth. Perhaps it lets them give full throat to their monarchist tendencies.)

I wonder what Hilton will have to say about Turkey’s application to join the Union. The contortions to needed dress up the Sublime Porte’s homage to Berlaymont as a Catholic plot should be very entertaining indeed. On the other hand, I am sure that the Austrian press will soon be invoking Sobieski.


Bob 09.04.03 at 1:39 pm

Debating whether Adrian Hilton is a flat-earther or an anti-papist may be a fascinating pastime but it is apt to distract attention from real and important issues such as the scale of fraud and maladministration in the EU Commission for which there is compelling evidence.

From a report by Britain’s National Audit Office, published on 12 June this year:

“For the year 2001, the [European Court of Auditors] drew similar conclusions to previous years and for the EIGHTH year in succession qualified its opinion on the reliability of the Community’s accounts. The Court’s opinion on the financial statements again emphasised the persistent and on-going weaknesses in the [EU] Commission’s accounting systems, particularly the lack of reliable information on the completeness of assets held, and recommended that urgent action be taken to address these problems.” – at:

Recent joiners to accounts of this long-running saga may like to know that all EU Commissioners were obliged to resign in March 1999 following an adverse report by an expert panel on maladministration, nepotism and fraud in the EU Commission. A leading task of the newly appointed Commission was to ensure administrative reforms were introduced to prevent reversion to old ways. Four years on, reports of yet another scandal of fraud and corruption have recently surfaced.

Those of us who have repeatedly tried to engage in constructive debate on Europe’s future have, sadly, become only too familiar with diversionary spin to channel discussion away from fundamental issues into trivia and recourse to blatant abuse of EU critics. In my long experience of this, there are indeed those quick to paint any criticism of the EU and its institutions and policies as akin to “blasphemy” (citations available) and dub critics as xenophobic Europhobes or “nutters” – a recent speech, supposedly on the benefits to Britain of joining the Euro, by Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary being a graphic example:,11306,1030159,00.html

The predictable outcome of the serial diversions is that urgent reforms of EU institutions and policies are not pushed through with determination and conviction. Just possibly that is among the undisclosed intentions.

The discussion on A Fistful of Euros gives extensive citations to online documentation.


Kevin Hayden 09.04.03 at 10:42 pm

European politics doesn’t get enough attention in the blogosphere

We’ll try to mention it more. Just help me here; I can’t find it on the map. ;^)

N. Todd Pritsky will likely lead our way on EU stuff as that’s his area of expertise.

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