Coming from the thread, "A view from the Aemilain Bridge
", I thought of what
Boris Johnson once said about European Unity:
that the best way to promote it in the hearts and minds of was to point them in
the direction of a common culture - a common inheritance. He suggested that we
all should learn Latin again and read Virgil.
Now I know he is a euro sceptic, but I think there is some truth here.
It is indeed ironic that as European integration has grown, the commonality
between Europeans has diminished. The Catholic church which once united us with
the French and the Spanish has now retreated to the sidelines, and that great
common language Latin, which was the language in which Newton published his thesis
and which any scholar any where could understand, has at last finally
disappeared from the public sphere. Where, once a Frenchman and a German could
unite in their admiration of Horace, or their dislike of Caesar, they now have
little but the newly imposed Anglo-American culture to share in. It’s clear
that English is the winner here but for how long? Its roots are temporary and
will only last so long as American economic dominance does, and then what.
While I think nationalism and national identity as well as patriotism are very
important, we cannot escape the fact that the fate of Europe
is bound up with that of our own. A common European house is the best way to
protect Irish interests and culture for future generations. That is a common European
house which sees Irishness as being a constituent part of Europeaness as Dutchness
or Greekness. The economic and political benefits are there. I might disagree
with the current form of unity, which I think is undemocratic, but I do not
oppose the overall goal of unity. And before we embark on that goal, we must
see that we need a common heritage much more than we need some centralised
neo-imperialistic super state.
Nevertheless our leaders are committed, strongly and often in the face of
public opposition to closer integration. These same leaders have however
overseen a dramatic drop off in children studying for the classics. Presently
all resources are being devoted to IT and the sciences. While this is
understandable it newfound devotion to "practical" subjects should
not be at the expense of other important subjects. What we need from the politicians
in Europe is recognition that the best way to form a European
identity is to ensure that the children are taught the classics again. It was after
all in antiquity where the concepts of Democracy and republicanism were
invented and developed, not to mention literature. And it could be argued that
it was the obsession of renaissance to enlightenment thinkers with the classics
that indirectly fuelled the flames to those fateful revolutions in France
and America in
the late 18th century.
In such a time as this is it not surprising that people are becoming
politically apathetic. If they knew of the laws of Solon, of the sacrifices
made by the elder Brutus and the civic virtue of Poplicola and Cincinatius they
might see civic responsibility in a different more positive light. They may
read Virgil and take pleasure from those words. They might all speak Latin in a
real European parliament instead of the Babylon
of languages that we have now.
I'm please to say that some people are already acting on this.
Connects is a project for European cultural education. Its manifesto is
written in 16 different languages.
Finland has set
up a radio station in Latin in an attempt to promote its use and the Vatican
also spoken out on the issue.
Would Latin "turn EU jargon into poetry"? Instead of the
Common Agricultural Policy, there would be the "Ratio communis agros
The editor of Finnish EU presidencies website, Mia Lahti had this to say
"Using Latin is a way of paying tribute to European civilisation and it
serves to remind people of European society’s roots, stretching back to ancient
times. Latin isn't dead – it’s still very much in use in different forms across
the world today. After all, Italians, French and Spaniards all speak a new form
It should be clear though that no one is proposing that we all start speaking Latin.
Rather Latin is a neutral language with a rich cultural legacy (unlike Esperanto)
which could be easily adopted in place of the multi-lingualism which we have
now. It also sets the other languages as equals rather than having English, German
and French as pre-eminent.
On a personal note, I believe that most European politicians not only have no
interest in promoting the classics but are much more comfortable operating in a
world where the big languages pull the biggest weight and the lessons of the
classical world about the tyranny of power remain far from the reach of the
ordinary citizen. In such scurrilous hands the European project is more than