La Marseillaise is, as Ian Smart points out more than the French national anthem: it’s a battle hymn for the values of the revolution. I have some views about what the response to the attacks in Paris should be, largely informed by my interventionist instincts and hardened by the hazy and contradictory reports from Hanover, but I’m not sure about them just now. I do think that that Russia’s growing involvement, the pace of the Vienna process and the escalation of ISIS actions in Sinai, Beirut and Paris have probably changed the context from 2 years ago.
Instead I want to talk about defending the revolution in less physical terms but from threats which are just serious. I say “the revolution” because the French revolution is still playing itself out in Europe and (without wishing to sound like Nicholas Parsons) around the world. If Zhou Enlai actually did say that it was too soon to tell what effect it would have he must surely have meant overall, because it’s defined European and world history in a way rivalled only by the concurrent industrial revolution1.
The motto “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” sums up the aims of the side of the Enlightenment. It has inspired revolutions and counter revolutions for two centuries and has found it’s ultimate expression in the European Union. Within the EU we see those values enacted at a scale which has never been known before. Five hundred million people free to travel and work and live and love without having to worry about which part of it they happened to be born in. Five hundred million people able to take part in the second biggest democratic elections ever. Five hundred million people who guarantee each others rights, hold their governments to a standard of democracy and build ever stronger links between each other.
There has never been a greater expression of the highest ideals of the Enlightenment and the Revolution than the European Union and it has never been under greater threat. The threats have never been greater either: terrorism and Russian expansionism, institutional paralysis in the face of refugee crisis, the Greek financial crisis, the wider Eurozone crisis and falling democratic standards in certain member states.
The EU, and Britain’s position within it, is worth fighting for. Not for narrow, transactional, contingent reasons, but because the EU represents the highest ideals in Western political philosophy: a world without borders, equality and justice for all. It represents the sort of future I want to live in, and it represents our last best chance of coordinating effective and equitable action with the USA, Russia, China and developing nations to tackle climate change. More than that, we need to be active, enthusiastic, thoughtful and full throated participants to make it work.
1. Hobsbawm argues that these are best understood as linked, sometimes complimentary sometimes conflicting twin revolutions in The Age Of Revolution is well worth reading if you like your Marxist history