Bernard-Henri Lévy: ‘Europe without the British spirit cannot be Europe’

Richard Williams interviews the French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy: The outcome of the Brexit vote, not surprisingly, upset him. “For me, all my life, England has been really an example, a model. In dark times, this country has so often had the good reflex. I never saw in my lifetime, and I don’t find in my memory, a circumstance in which this country has gone through such a disaster with open eyes and such a popular fervour, left and right united in the same dishonour, nobody wanting to take the responsibility of going out. This is incredible. What’s sad is that England has added a little chapter to the history of the shameful comedy of bad politics.”

The referendum, he says, should never have been called. “A referendum is really the last option. It should not be a regular form of government. There is a great mistake in taking the option of referendum for personal reasons, for domestic reasons, in order to improve a career and so on. And when the destiny of a country is at stake, the destiny of a continent, it’s such a risk to play that with a tiny majority.

“You ask the people for a reply to a question. But democracy is not only a reply to a question. Democracy is first to shape the question, number two to reply, and number three to adapt to the reply with some laws and decrees and so on. Democracy means all three: to raise, to reply and to apply. A referendum is only number two, without the raising of the question and the application. So, even in the most traditional terms of political philosophy, you cannot say that a referendum is the embodiment of democracy. Not: ‘Are you for Europe or not for Europe?’ A question in democratic terms is something more sophisticated. Which can be the product of the will of the people, but not like this” – he snaps his fingers – “on one Thursday.”

And will the consequence of the British withdrawal be to solidify Europe, or to atomise it? “I don’t know. First of all, it is atomising the United Kingdom. Mr Cameron, Mr Boris Johnson and Mr Farage made a big achievement – they took the risk of destroying a great 60-year-old institution, and the many-centuries-old political whole that is the United Kingdom. This is the situation. And Europe without the UK, without the British spirit, cannot be Europe. It will be a huge loss of being, a loss of substance.” [Continue reading…]

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