European Conservatives Gather in Rome

Culture - December 4, 2023

What is a European conservative? One plausible answer is to be found in the Reykjavik Declaration of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party. The ECR Party is dedicated to individual liberty, national sovereignty, parliamentary democracy, private property, limited government, free trade, family values and the devolution of power.

Rome on 15–17 December

These values underpin the politics of the ECR Party, including its vision for a reformed European Union. Europe stands at a crossroads, and the ECR Party’s agenda for reform has never been more relevant than it is today. On 15–17 December 2023 the ECR Party will bring a delegation to Atreju, the largest event this year of the Italian political party Fratelli d’Italia, led by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, President of ECR Party. Held in Rome, the delegation of European conservatives will be offered many opportunities to network with its Italian counterparts and increase the bonds between them.

The ECR Party Vice Presidents are Jorge Buxadé, MEP for Vox from Spain, and Radoslaw Fogiel, Polish MP of Law and Justice, while the ECR Party General Secretary is Italian MP Antonio Giordano. For the meeting in Rome, the ECR Party has decided to use its resources to provide cultural and political experiences to European citizens sharing conservative values. Therefore the participation fee is very low. The fee for a participant who requires a single room is €360 with airfare, accommodation, welcome reception and conference events included, and for a shared room the fee is €270. Needless to say, Rome, the eternal city, is a place worth visiting. An extra night fee is €75, and for a business class upgrade on the airfare it is €150.

Limited Government and Free Trade

My book on Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers might be interpreted as a discussion of the ideas and values in the Reykjavik Declaration of the ECR Party by reference to the most profound political thinkers of Western civilisation. The two proto-liberals of the Middle Ages, Icelandic chronicler Snorri Sturluson and Italian philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, both supported limited government: the ruler had to be constrained by law and if he violated the implicit social contract he could be deposed. English philosopher John Locke presented a systemical defence of this ancient principle which inspired both the British revolutionaries of 1688 and the American revolutionaries of 1776. These were conservative revolutions, made to defend and extend ancient and traditional liberties.

Needless to say, the principle of free trade presented by Scottish philosopher Adam Smith has been accepted and implemented with great results in the last two hundred years. No less than the principle of limited government, it is now under attack. Although free trade is generally beneficial, there are groups that may suffer temporarily from it. But perhaps the most brilliant expositor of the idea of free trade was French writer Frédéric Bastiat. In a book I am working on about Nordic liberalism I point out that he was quite influential in the Nordic countries in mid-nineteenth century. His writings are very accessible to laymen.

Sovereignty and the Family

Two ideas and values of the Reykjavik Declaration are only indirectly treated in my book, national sovereignty and family values, although in my chapter on Lord Acton I respond to his critique of nationalism and reject it. I think a distinction has to be made between two kinds of nationalism. One is non-aggressive nationalism which cherishes the national heritage of a society, its history, literature, and language, but looks with interest and sympathy on other societies, in the spirit of German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder and French historian Ernest Renan. English philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin has also written with great understanding about this kind of nationalism. The other kind of nationalism is aggressive and militant and sets one nation above another. Perhaps its clearest example today is the Russian nationalism of Vladimir Putin who refuses to recognise the right of the Ukrainians to be Ukrainians rather than Russians. Indeed the war in Ukraine can be interpreted as the war between the two kinds of nationalism, the desire of the Ukrainians to have their own state and protect their own culture, and the desire of the Russians to subdue them.

The family is also a core value in a free and civilised society. The two economic arguments for it are of course that for consumption it is a more efficient unit than a single person and that for production it can avail itself of the division of labour. The two philosophical arguments for the family are that it extends the time horizon and personal preferences from the here and now to the future, because it takes into consideration the interests of the children as well as the parents, and also that it creates a sense of belonging and content indispensible for the civic spirit. The family is one of the intermediary institutions of a free society hindering it from dissolving into a mass of isolated individuals confronting an almighty state, as French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville saw clearly.

Devolution of Power

For the European Union, perhaps the most urgent principle or value found in the Reykjavik Declaration is devolution of power. Here again Tocqueville is relevant. He realised that the French Revolution was a failure unlike the British and American revolutions, and the reason was that France lacked the many intermediary institutions and traditions existing in the United Kingdom and United States. These institutions and traditions had been slowly eliminated by the absolutist kings of the past who had been even more effective levellers than the Jacobins of Paris. The French Revolution was an attempt by intellectuals with no training in statecraft to impose their dreams and fantasies on a whole society. They had no sense of the limits of human reason. It was crucial, Tocqueville and another French philosopher, Benjamin Constant, argued, to try and recreate civil society and to encourage the growth of local communities, spontaneous associations, clubs and societies. We see the same relentless centralisation in the European Union today as in pre-revolutionary France, coupled with the twin diseases of conferencitis and gigantomania from which many Brussels bureaucrats suffer. With only little simplification it can be said that what the European Union should do, it does badly, and what it should not do, it does energetically. Power has to be returned to the nation states which constitute the European Union. There is obviously plenty to discuss in Rome in December.