“And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himselfe, so reasonable as Anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he sees no power great enough to endanger him”
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
“Have we – we who have returned – been able to understand and make others understand our experience?”
Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved
Hobbes wrote about the need for a Leviathan, a body mightier than humanity itself to rein in our dark flamboyances, being that such excesses often played out in violence, chaos and death. Lest we fall into the trap of mistrusting our neighbours, fearing them and them fearing us in return – a trap in which humanity often falls.
In the 20th Century, we saw Europe fall into the abyss, not once but repeatedly. Over resources, over political ideology, over racial superiority, over colonialism and exploitation. It left a scarred and battered people. Worldwide, the tremors still resound and echo. The war in the Balkans with its stark imagery of concentration camps and bloody ethnic slaughter, the Rwandan tribal genocide and the secretarian conflicts in the Middle East – have we not managed to communicate the experiences of the last century adequately?
Communication is paramount; without clear channels and clearer motives, fear overrides reason. Hobbesian fear, the need to dominate others so we cannot be dominated by them, has its roots in the psychology of groups. With who we identify is a tribal and emotive issue, going back to the dawn of communal life. Regarding the resources of the group, food, shelter and the like; a need for fierce protection from others meant that you and yours could survive. Even at the potential cost of others.
We live in a different world now. A world of nation states and global communications, the world laid bare for all to see. We strive to cooperate in world institutions such as the UN and the IMF. What is Europe and what identity does it realise in 2016?
Beyond the landmass, that continent so recently broken and rebuilt, there is a different vision; of one people living free and peaceably. We people are maintained and nurtured with shared ideas, shared knowledge, cooperation and even freedom of movement. Never before has that Hobbesian fear been so far removed.
Yet it encroaches again in the distance. Our shared heritage across Europe is being forgotten and into the trap we are falling.
When discussing the upcoming EU referendum, my wife and I seemingly cancel each other out. I’m voting to stay in and she’s voting to leave. However, it’s the taking part that counts and it’s integral that everyone who can participates.
If we are to consider returning to a position of us and them; in my wife’s opinion, that the EU is simply too big, too distant and unaccountable politically; then we must consider what we have learnt from the experience. Rather than pretend it has been a giant misunderstanding that we still and will always tribally identify as different regardless of circumstances; we must still look to the future and how to ensure that we, the people of Europe, continue to live peaceably and safely, free from the fear and desire for domination.
I agree with my wife’s complaints, but I want to remain part of the EU. For those institutions we have built between us, the cooperation fostered is of no less intrinsic value, however, politically we need reform. Politicians are meant to represent the people and in forcing distance, they have created anxiety and apathy about their function. They are not representative, nor share a voice.
Even now, it is too easy to say “but Germany says this” or “that France does that”. It is supposed to be “we say this and do that”. That supposed figure, the Leviathan, a benevolent bigger brother has become corrupted through division and inequalities. Fault lines are created and picked at with reckless abandon, tearing away at the work and effort gone into creating this society based not on the mistakes of the last century but on a better vision of what we can be.
Yes, we share the ECHR, a feat of incredible value in ensuring fairness and justice. On the other hand, we deny Scottish fisherman the opportunity to fish locally, whilst allowing Spanish fleets within 50m of the Scottish shoreline. Locally, we’re still being isolated into pockets, dismissed and irrelevant. We are not making sure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit. That discontent is being fostered, illustrates those failings politically and in the vision of a prosperous Europe for all.
Change is needed, not simplistic measures to placate those who would wish to create division, to ensure that they and theirs survive. The focus of the EU must be the people, all of them. It should be robust and relentless in removing division, removing unfairness and cronyism. Let people live freely and safely, forever distant from the experiences of Primo Levi. We must not forget the history of the 20th Century and the understanding that it is easier to appeal to the base nature of the human animal, than it is to cooperate, for the benefit of us all.