Magazine article The Spectator

The Missing Heart of Europe

Magazine article The Spectator

The Missing Heart of Europe

Article excerpt

The advantages of sweet disorder THE MISSING HEART OF EUROPE by Thomas Kremer June Press, £11.99, pp. 254, ISBN 0953469735

This is a distinguished addition to the select company of books that succeed in adding significantly to our understanding of Jean Monnet's and Jacques Delors' European project. Each author has adopted a different framework. Larry Siedentop, in Democracy in Europe, a self-conscious reenactment of de Tocqueville, approached the EU's problems of structure and democratic legitimacy through the prism of political philosophy. Hugo Young, in This Blessed Plot, an unrelievedly determinist account of what he saw as Britain's and the Continent's manifest common destiny, traced Britain's uncertain march towards European federalism through the stories of individual participants. Christopher Booker and Richard North's tour de force, The Great Deception, an indispensable counterpoint to Young, is a fascinating forensic history of the seen and unseen forces that have brought us to the present point.

Thomas Kremer's approach is to delve into the deepest historical roots of society and behaviour in Europe through a comparative analysis of cultures, in the broadest sense of the word. Humour, sport, business style, law, political custom, games - every aspect of social, political and economic life is brought to bear. And as a Transylvanian émigré, a former kibbutznik, soldier and educator who once escaped from Bergen Belsen, a graduate of the Sorbonne and Edinburgh University responsible for the world-wide Rubik cube craze and now a successful international inventor living quietly in Devon, he brings to his writing the rarest combination of imagination, learning, reflection and experience.

For Kremer, the defining distinction is between 'concentric' and 'eccentric' countries. The concentric seeks integration, command, conformity, control by the elite, order, codification, collectivism, respect. The eccentric is marked by sweet disorder, common law, pragmatism, individualism, rebellious voters, disrespectful media, the unseen hand of the market - the whole informed by ubiquitous, irreverent humour. Chief among the eccentrics sits the UK, self-mocking and attentive to contrary opinion from Chaucer and King Alfred to Have I Got News for You and the Today programme. Its constitution, like its law, evolves gradually through organic response to change. Chief among the concentrics sit France and Germany - Germany a dispersed federal system, France a metropolitan one, but both essentially commanded from the top and with written constitutions. …

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