Ten years after his death, Auberon Waugh still makes me laugh out loud. Here, for example, from the Spectator of June 1985, are his thoughts on British prostitutes:
British prostitutes have the reputation for being not only the ugliest and greediest but also the laziest in the world. Few even pretend to enjoy the job, they make no secret of despising their customers and being in it only for the money.
Not everyone is amused by that sort of thing, and I daresay some will find it flippant. Auberon Waugh—Bron to his friends and enemies—inspired as much hate and contempt as he did love and admiration. Much the same was true of his father, the novelist Evelyn, but in real life the two men were very different, as those who knew them both will attest. According to the Earl of Onslow, Bron Waugh’s brother-in-law, “the difference between Auberon and Evelyn was that Auberon was a nice man and Evelyn was a sh-t.” When Waugh fils died, on January 16, 2001, at the relatively youthful age of 61, he got some very good notices, and some not so good. Polly Toynbee, president of the British Humanist Association, honorary associate of the National Secular Society, and granddaughter of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, wrote a merciless op-ed in the Guardian. The illustration accompanying the piece showed Waugh being flushed down a lavatory bowl. It was such a gratuitous display of bad taste, such an offense against bourgeois morality, that Waugh would have loved it.
“The world of Auberon Waugh,” wrote Toynbee, “is a coterie of reactionary fogeys centred on the Spectator and the Telegraph”:
Effete, drunken, snobbish, sneering, racist and sexist, they spit poison at anyone vulgar enough to want to improve anything at all. Liberalism is the archenemy. . . . [T]hey enjoy extremism of any complexion and excoriate the dreary toil of incremental improvement—bor-ring, sin-cere and social workerish. The worst thing is “doing good.” Their snobbery is of a vulgarity beyond belief—yahoos capering in genteel suits.
There is truth in what Toynbee wrote, but she was wrong about one rather important detail. Auberon Waugh did not really belong in the “world of Auberon Waugh.” In some ways he had more in common with Polly Toynbee than with the boozy reactionaries of old Fleet Street. Like her, he was against capital punishment and long prison sentences and the oafish moral posturing of the tabloids, with their desire to blame and to humiliate. He was not even an enemy of liberalism. He was an elitist. It was democracy he disliked: “You are either a convinced liberal or a convinced democrat,” he said. “You can’t be both.”
And like Toynbee, but unlike most of those who call themselves “conservative,” he was strongly in favor of the European Union, which, in fairness, is something that Toynbee acknowledged. He was pro-Europe because, again unlike most conservatives, he was anti-American. “I never have the impression, when I visit the United States,” he once wrote, “of being among creatures of the same culture or even the same species as myself.” He was a resistance writer. “It is no accident,” he declared,
that the central boulevard in Europe’s Disneyland . . . is called Main Street USA. The whole enterprise is a celebration of the victory of American mass culture over the educated, humane, liberal civilizations of Europe.
European civilization still finds favor with some people here, and there are still Tories who believe with Bron Waugh that Europe is Britain’s natural home. The novelist Piers Paul Read is one of them. “I would rather be well governed by a Dutch bureaucrat in Brussels than badly governed by a British civil servant,” he said in an interview with Standpoint. As it was, he said, Britain had been a particularly badly governed country since the war. “The only things we are good at producing are unmarried mothers and broken families,” he said. “In almost any other area we have done really badly.”
The creation of nation-states by the Treaty of Westphalia had led to endless wars, competition, and slaughter:
The nation state was a terrible idea, whereas Charles V’s concept of Christendom, of a European Holy Roman Empire, was a wonderful idea. And the EU is to some extent a re-embodiment of Charles V’s concept of how Europe should be governed. . . . [I]f the Habsburgs had ruled the whole of Europe, we wouldn’t have had those religious wars. Protestantism would have been nipped in the bud by the Inquisition.
“I think it’s very important that Europe, with its unique values and history, should have a stronger presence in the world,” he said, “and that we should be part of that stronger presence. . . . I think we have a particularly strong contribution to make to the European civilization of the future.”
Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, doyen of British conservative writers (what else could you be with a name like that?), is of much the same mind. In the 1950’s and 60’s especially, but until the end of the Cold War, he was an Atlanticist, and once declared that he would be prepared to spy for the United States if a far-left government ever came to power here. Now he can see no future in the Atlantic, and looks instead to the Channel. He believes that what he calls “a grown-up dimension” is missing from Britain. “In the Camelot era,” he once wrote in the New Statesman,
the answer might have been to urge a merger with the US—a fate that, after Bill Clinton, most of us would struggle to preserve our grandchildren from. But to bequeath them the right once again to boast Civis Europeanus sum, as did Erasmus and Thomas More—surely no legacy could be richer than that.
Even the late Michael Wharton, “Peter Simple” of the Daily Telegraph and perhaps the best Tory satirist Britain has produced since Dean Swift, understood the romance of the European project. He was a nationalist, in the sense that he took the side of just about any ethnic group that laid claims to a particular territory (he was for a Free Cornwall and was perhaps the only man in England who was both an Irish nationalist and a Unionist), but he could see the point of a federation of nations. He would not have lifted a finger for Brussels, but before Britain had even joined what was then known as the Common Market, he envisioned a Europe that might win his support:
United Europe; a wider Holy Roman Empire; a New Order without the Nazis; a federation of European nations with a place for England, France, Spain, Wales, Brittany, Lithuania, Flanders, the Grand Duchy of Muscovy and all the rest; a forest of ancient flags on a green ground; an empire of extreme diversity, prosperous but aware that prosperity is not all; peaceable but unchallengeably strong in its own defence; a Europe taking its place once more as the natural centre and summit of the world.
Alas, it was not to be. The prolific English journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft, another conservative Europhile, takes a rather less romantic view of European possibilities. Some, especially in the Tory press, might reject the conservative label for Wheatcroft, but then Wheatcroft would challenge their claim to be conservative. Wheaty, as he is known to his friends and enemies, used to write regularly in such right-wing publications as the Telegraph. But he rebelled against the Thatcher line some years ago and took strongly against the “War on Terror,” and now he is to be found in the Guardian and the New Statesman, and in such American publications as The New Republic, The National Interest, The New York Review of Books, and the New York Times—the dreaded MSM.
Wheatcroft’s Europe is not one that will frighten such Europe-fearing neocons as Mark Steyn, George Weigel, Robert Kagan, and Victor Davis Hanson. After the bloodletting of the last century, Wheatcroft argues, Europe has abandoned dreams of military power and will not present a direct challenge to the United States. Instead, the future Europe is likely to be an economic superpower. Is there a lesson here for the United States? Wheatcroft thinks so. As he has written in The National Interest,
After their own highly unsatisfactory recent experiments with military might, from Vietnam to Iraq, is it possible that the Americans themselves will look eastward at Europe one day, and be tempted to wonder if that is the better future?
There is, naturally, a Catholic dimension to this. Wheatcroft is not a Catholic, neither was Wharton, but Read and Worsthorne are, and Waugh was. So were the founding fathers of the European Union—West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Italian statesman Alcide De Gasperi, and French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. All three men were inspired by Catholic social teaching. That’s rather more than can be said for their successors in Brussels, of course. Benedict XVI has publicly deplored the moral relativism that governs much European thinking, and believes that the European Union is guilty of apostasy in following the American lead and failing to mention either God or Christianity in its constitution. All the same, the Pope is a Europeanist and is hostile to the economic liberalism that underpins Atlanticist Euroskepticism. In an address to the Italian senate in May 2004, then-Cardinal Ratzinger declared: “In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine, and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.” That’s not the sort of thing they say at the American Enterprise Institute, or at right-wing think tanks in London.
But maybe we Europhiles are kidding ourselves in believing that the European Union may be the last best hope of an independent Europe. Maybe, as French royalists are apt to say, the United States of Europe is the Europe of the United States.