A cultured Polish friend posted this clip on Facebook today to explain Britain's odd attitude to the European Union. It's only funny because it contains a grain of truth. "Divide and rule" is comic overstatement however. Unlike France, Germany, Russia and even Poland (in the days of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire) our hands are clean in Europe. Even in the Age of Empires when we got a little carried away in our desire to open the world to our trade, we never sought to rule our home continent. Our policy has always been "divide so as not to be ruled". We are anyway not much into ideologies or "geopolitics". We would just like our trade routes open, thank you very much, so we can keep on making an honest living.
The Continental mentality is different. Given their common Roman Law heritage our neighbours are inclined to a "top down" quest for Ordnung. They look for "rational" direction from the wise men of academia with their professorships and multiple doctorates. The very people we instinctively try to keep as far away from practical matters as possible! The economic democracy of markets, with doctorate-free plebs willy-nilly signalling their vulgar desires through trillions of spending choices, is repugnant to such intellectual snobs. Hence the shameful succession of "isms" developed in the academic Mordor of the Continental universities. Communism, fascism and socialism – all devised by European intellectuals – have repeatedly brought Mankind to the brink of destruction. These ideas are still (ask Cubans, Zimbabweans and Venezualans) wrecking lives on this planet by the million.
We Brits are pragmatists, realists and shameless tradesmen. We're not insulted to be called "a nation of shopkeepers". Retailers, unlike professors of politics or Énarques, are useful people who serve real needs and enhance our lives. We instinctively agree with Orwell that some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals can believe in them. We laugh at the pretensions of academics who insanely believe they can tell the world's billions how best to live their lives. We instinctively understood – before the expression was invented – that no-one, however clever, can outthink the "wisdom of crowds".
The Common Law is both the sign and symbol of our mentality and our greatest achievement as a society. It has no author or founder. The names of the judges who developed it, first in the forests of what is now Germany and then on our archipelago, are lost. It derives from no "Grundnorm". It needs no pompous Constitution to give it legitimacy. It developed organically (and is still evolving to the extent modern politicians leave it be) from the customs of our common people going about their business. In modern parlance you could say it was "crowdsourced." It gave us a useful and adaptable legal order long before we had a democracy.
In the course of the Brexit debate, some German commentators (as reported via a link to Newsweek as the Der Spiegel article is firewalled) have even been wise enough to recognise that we;
... have an inner independence that we Germans lack, in addition to myriad anti-authoritarian, defiant tendencies. A lot of what happened in Britain spilled over to us sooner or later, reinforcing our cultural ties
They are right to fear that the EU will trend faster to authoritarianism without us, but their mistake is to believe we can hold that back from within. When we differ with our fellow members we lose every vote because its institutions are shaped by the dangerous tendencies I have outlined. It is yet another professor-crafted, top-down, énarque-run institution that – like the previous evil works of Europe's academies – only proves Mencken's point that;
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong
For so long as we are members, the EU will always try to harmonise our weird and wonderful way of seeing the world with precisely what makes Continental Europe the historic source of all ideological darkness. Our neighbours need to understand once and for all that, to to be available to them as an ideological fire brigade, we must remain us.