13:58 May. 26, 2016
The rise of angry nationalists across Europe is threatening to destroy a union based on peace – while Russia waits to prey on its remains
This is a time of strong emotions. Immigration is one such case; to leave or not to leave the EU is another. To a certain Mr Clarkson from Gillingham, talking to the BBC, Europe lies miles away, over the sea. "We are not Europeans. How could we be? So why does the government bow to diktats from Brussels?"
One has to wonder whether much has changed since 1938, when the then prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, decided that endangered Czechoslovakia was a faraway country that nobody knew about.
Britain's relationship with Europe has always been ambiguous. Britain joined the postwar club constructed on other countries' terms late, and never felt quite comfortable inside. It reacted with hostility whenever it felt its judicial, parliamentary or governmental sovereignty were being questioned. British rule of law, it was felt, needed no improving from foreigners.
What we see now in the campaign is a familiar longing to bring back Britain's "greatness". But that doesn't tell us enough about what is going on right now.
Europe is different things to different people and different nations. For continental Europeans, it is at once a geographical, historical and cultural home – which it has never been to Britain – and at the same time a political and economic project they have been involved in together – some more, some less, some longer, some more recently.
The Germans, for instance, have been reborn since the war as the essential Europeans (the late addition of East Germany complicates the picture). They, France and a few others are not merely members: they are Europe. The "new" members, from eastern and central Europe, saw Europe as a guarantor of prosperity, better governance, openness and modernity, and felt protected inside the club against Russia.