Mark Mardell on the EU’s Catholic/Protestant fault-line
The whole article can be found here, but one is warned that links to it will always lead to the latest update, and Cranmer half suspects it will soon disappear into the BBC’s black hole of obscure archives. In order to sustain this rare internet presence, some of Mr Mardell’s most interesting observations include:
The gist of it was that (Manuel Barosso) could not see why politicians - technical experts at designing the best possible laws - should have to behave in a certain moral fashion before any such law is introduced.
My contact claims this is a line through Europe, much more wobbly and patchy but just as real as the olive oil / butter line. It is the political line between Catholic and Protestant Europe. He thinks it is very Protestant to expect politicians to be secular saints who lead by example.
According to this theory, most Catholic nations accept flawed human nature for what it is and know that preachers may stumble in practice without affecting the truth of their doctrine, or indeed the wisdom of their laws. The flaw in this argument is that in resolutely Catholic Belgium it has been a great sport for the press comparing what monstrous cars ministers drive…
…the difference in European social policies goes back to the ancient Greeks. To sub down a complex argument to its very basics, he says that the Aristotelian tradition of man as a social being fed in to Catholicism, but the Stoic distrust of emotion and human motives contributed to Protestant thought.
So Aristotle's theory of natural social hierarchies leads to a welfare service run by society at large and focused on those in most need. Stoicism, with its distrust of human nature, leads to universal provision run by the state. And he suggests the Calvinist doctrine of the elect, saved spiritually and rewarded by God materially, leads to an ‘on yer bike’ mentality which ‘one might be inclined to blame... for... some of the acute problems of modern neo-liberalist ideologies’.
Although superficial in his analysis (an undoubted understatement), Mr Mardell does in fact touch on something quite profound about the nature of the European Union. There is a certain tendency to infallibility in the Commission’s view of itself, of its creation, and of its ultimate destination. And there is further an acceptance, quite antithetical to the traditions of the United Kingdom, that fraud, tax evasion, nepotism, inefficiency, and corruption, are all par for the course. Mr Mardell is not the first to posit the view that one may stem from the Protestant doctrine of individual accountability, and the other a consequence of a corporate and unaccountably hierarchical worldview.
Mr Mardell has, however, got Aristotle quite wrong, but he probably did not do Classics, and would probably favour its eradication from the education system.