The Politics Of Fear: Why The Sky Is Always Falling


A mock-up of the Houses of Parliament under European rule created by the Sun in 2007
This week’s debate on the referendum to stay in the European Union, instigated by the rather dubious e-petitions website, predictably resurrected fears that our continued presence in the EU is actually a plot to create a United States of Europe.

Of course, out of all the ridiculous notions that are floating around UK Politics this is probably the most ridiculous and I have previously had limited patience with it. However, this week as the hysteria has started to come to light again, I’ve found myself considering where it really comes from and the historical precedent for it.


There are antecedents for the belief from George Washington and even British nationalists’ favourite Winston Churchill who said ‘We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living’ in a 1946 speech in Zürich.

However, this was in the context of preventing another war and co-operating in the financial and physical reconstruction of Europe after the devastation of the last one. Given that Britain finally paid off its war debts to the USA in 2006 it would have seemed like the original problem had been solved and there was no need to worry. Then we came to the Eurozone crisis.

And its bad. The Eurozone is really going to hell in a handbasket and despite the agreement that was reached on Wednesday its still touch and go whether or not it’s going to make it in the long run. The parallels between what is happening now and what was happening after the war would therefore reawaken fears about the extending reach of Europe, especially when the EU has become so integral to the British economy and trade.

Of course this doesn’t stop the idea being completely and utterly implausible for several reasons:

a) The idea is completely unworkable. George Washington wrote that he hoped Europe would become a United States based on the same model as the fledging America however he failed to realise that this idea was completely untenable. Europe is a mishmash of thousands of cultures, economies and people. True America is a fairly composite nation but the biggest European state since the fall of the Roman Empire, was Charlemagne’s empire in 800. It splintered and collapsed within a few generations of his death. Europe is too vast and diverse to ever fit into one nation.

b) No-one wants to be in a United States of Europe. Not even me, probably one of the most pro-Europe people in the UK. I don’t want to be governed by a far off capital and I don’t want all laws to be governed centrally for the above reason. If nearly everyone is against the idea then what politician is stupid enough to suggest it? If there isn’t a political will, it ain’t happening.

c) Why would any politican intrigue to lose his position? Which would you prefer; Governor or Prime Minister of the UK?

When you dissect this idea it does become ludicrous but to understand why it has gained such it influenced it is important to look to the past for an explanation. Much in the way Euroskeptics are afraid of ‘Big Bad Brussels’, people in 1950s America were afraid of Communists and eighteenth and nineteenth Europeans were afraid of Freemasons.

Looking back on the fears that Freemasons were secretly plotting to overthrown the political order makes them seem absurd today but if you see it from their perspective it seems a bit more understandable.

After the French Revolution in 1789 and the fall of the ancien regime, the political order was suddenly overthrown and the values of old seemed upended. Therefore rumours that there were dark forces at work would have been more welcome as an explanation for what was happening to European society.

This of course doesn’t stop the explanation being patently absurd but it does provide an example as to why people still believe in conspiracy theories today. The Eurozone crisis is hard to understand, the combination of talk about bonds, countries being in debt and credit ratings can be hard to follow for the untrained observer. Similarly, the intricacies of the dichotomy between lavish lifestyle of the French elites and the rising hardship of the peasant classes may be hard to explain in detail to the average newspaper reader in the eighteenth century.

People will always fear what they don’t understand. They will things that are complex to be simple. And the easy way for this to happen is for find someone to blame. Once that requirement has been filled, the blame turns into hysteria and the hysteria gathers momentum.

Some Euroskeptics believe if we leave the EU suddenly everything in the UK will be ok again. However, in reality, there will be a new Chicken Licken claiming the sky is falling and there will be plenty of people to believe it. Its human nature to panic.

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Published by

Caroline Mortimer @CJMortimer

Freelance journalist.

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