How the EU elite paved the way for populism

In a now largely forgotten book published in 1982, Redemption by War: The Intellectuals and 1914, the American historian Roland Stromberg detailed how European intellectuals, almost to a man, welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. Things did not improve in the following decades, when scores of Europe’s thinkers fell under the spell of one extreme ideology or the other.

Is it different this time? Intellectuals across the continent seem almost unanimous in their defence of European liberalism which is threatened — as they see it — by Brexit and populism. Support for Leave in British universities ranged from the non-existent to the minuscule; and hardly a day goes by without some prominent intellectual warning of a return to the politics of the 1930s, to which the Saturday Guardian recently devoted a special supplement. Are Europe’s intellectuals on the right side of history at last?

Speaking of warnings, a small platoon of European thinkers did sound the alarm about the process of European integration in articles and books published at the turn of the century. Among them was Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde. Jurist, historian, and former judge on Germany’s Constitutional Court, he is little known in Britain although hopefully not for much longer now that a collection of his essays is available in English (Constitutional and Political Theory: Selected Writings)

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