Saturday 15 December 2018

500 years after the Reformation, politics now faces one of its own

Swiss Guards arrive before Pope Francis delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Christmas Day. Photo: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters
Swiss Guards arrive before Pope Francis delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Christmas Day. Photo: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

David Quinn

The coming year will mark the fifth centenary of the start of the Reformation. In 1517, the German monk, Martin Luther, hammered his 95 'theses' to the church door at Wittenberg objecting to various practices within the Catholic Church, not least the sale of indulgences.

The year just coming to an end saw an increasingly angry electorate hammer its own set of theses to the door of every single mainstream party in the Western world, setting off a Reformation of its own, except this time a political Reformation. This Reformation will continue into 2017.

At a minimum, Marine Le Pen will do very well in the French presidential election next year, and even if Angela Merkel becomes German chancellor for a fourth time, she will be a greatly diminished figure because of her recklessly generous refugee policy.

There were many other ways to help refugees than her opening of Germany's borders. Her policy was structurally biased in favour of young, single men because it was young, single men who were best placed to make the arduous journey from the Middle East and North Africa.

Instead, she should have flown refugees directly to Germany from the camps in Turkey. This policy would have been fairer. Why should young, single men have a better chance of finding asylum in Germany than other categories, including the old and infirm?

What is ironic is that this good woman, who has done more than almost anyone to set the conditions for Europe's new Reformation, is herself the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, and is therefore also a product of the original Reformation.

She has also set the conditions through her unswerving devotion to the euro.

It is simply a fact that a one-size-fits-all policy, which is what the euro is, and what the European Union itself is becoming, is absolutely doomed to failure in its present form and people are rightly rebelling.

The euro's value is set at a level that suits the Germans far more than the Italians or the Greeks. Or the Irish for that matter.

The interest rate set by the European Central Bank also suits the Germans more than it suits anyone else.

But here is another irony; it doesn't suit the Germans enough either because, to a certain extent, it tethers the fate of the German economy to the likes of 'feckless' Greece. This has given rise to Alternative for Germany, condemned as being 'far right' for wanting to pull Germany out of the euro and to curb immigration.

Defenders of the euro will say the fact it doesn't even suit Germany enough is proof that it involves compromises. But who do these compromises really serve? It is as though the vision of a united Europe which the euro embodies is more important than the practical and often dire effects of the euro on the ground.

Ms Merkel is now the equivalent of the popes at the time of the Reformation. She represents the old order. With Barack Obama departing the scene, she has become the major standard bearer for liberal internationalism. She is for globalisation, tout court, meaning she is for free movement of both goods and people, as well as for an ever-growing forest of international laws that undermine national sovereignty.

This promotes the global and the universal at the expense of the local and particular. Therefore, it completely ignores or denounces as 'bigotry' an absolutely ineradicable part of human nature, namely that we will always feel closest to the things that are closest to us.

Catholicism is also a universal religion. One reason Protestantism went so far, so fast, is that it allied itself strongly with local rulers. Henry VIII went for it partly because it would enhance his power and diminish the power of the Pope in Rome. Today, Rome is Brussels.

However, the Catholic Church had deep ancient local roots in almost every part of Europe. To that extent, it was both local and universal.

The euro and the Euro-federalist project, by contrast, are elitist and top-down from start to finish.

The Catholic Church painted the Protestants as 'heretics', and from its point of view that's what they were, and vice versa. Each sought to crush the other.

The mainstream parties in Europe are today what the Catholic Church was then. So is the mainstream media. Every mainstream party and most of the mainstream media are allied to liberal internationalism.

The populist parties of left and right, plus the alternative media, are the modern equivalents of the Protestants back in the 16th century.

The mainstream parties and media are furious that their power is being so badly threatened and denounce the heretics as 'bigots' and knuckle-draggers.

Just as the Catholic Church didn't trust the laity to interpret the 'Bible' properly, so the modern-day 'bishops' of the European Union don't trust the laity to properly understand the intricacies of the European project.

This is why they hate having to put European treaties to the vote and absolutely loathed Brexit. With Brexit, the British did another Henry VIII and now a modern-day Spanish Armada is determined to stop Britain leaving the fold permanently.

Donald Trump is more radical still, a sort of John Calvin to Brexit's Martin Luther. And lying in wait we have Ms Le Pen and co. Like the Catholic Church in the 16th century, the mainstream parties will hope to crush this heresy, but they will fail, just like the Catholic Church failed then. It will not be put down.

Liberal internationalism's high water mark has come and gone, just like the high water mark of the Catholic Church's power in Europe came and went in the Middle Ages.

Irish Independent

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