At times, one craves freedom not of speech, but from it.
Yes, of course, the reading public should be exposed to a range of opinions. But with one important and increasingly ignored proviso: opinions that are demonstrably idiotic should fall outside that range.
For example, if someone makes an impassioned case for English weather, then by all means give him newspaper space, even if most people would disagree. But if he then concludes that, because English weather is so lovely, Velazquez is a better painter than Goya, the only space he merits is in the loony bin.
Or else, if Michael Morpurgo’s article in The Times is anything to go by, on yesterday’s anti-Brexit march in Westminster.
Since Mr Morpurgo is a celebrated children’s writer, he knows how to speak to little tots in their own language. Alas, he seems to have forgotten how to speak grown-up.
For grown-ups don’t just shoot from the lip when they talk and especially write. If they reach a conclusion on the basis of the evidence presented, then, before writing, they run at least a rudimentary check to see if the evidence justifies the conclusion.
If the disparity between the two is as vast as in the hypothetical example above, they start again. If they don’t realise the disparity is vast, they are either stupid or mad, and you’ll have to decide which designation applies to Mr Morpurgo.
He starts out by listing nine different ethnic inputs into his own DNA, all of them European. Having thus established his ethnic credentials, he then extrapolates to the royal family, whose origin he traces back to every corner of the continent.
No one will demur at this point: not only Mr Morpurgo and our royal family, but just about everybody can boast multi-ethnic roots. And all white people, wherever they live, are of European descent.
That’s not so much true as a truism, which by itself is a bad sign. But in this case, it’s not by itself.
For, displaying sterling erudition that eight-year-olds would find impressive, Mr Morpurgo then states that ours is “a mongrel language, a magnificent blend, from all over the British Isles and all over Europe”.
Not only that, but “our laws and our early religion have their foundations in Rome, our democracy in Athens. So we do not need a flag or anthem or even a union to be European. We are European. We share Europe’s history, her culture, her learning, her glories and her shames.”
Fine, Britain and all other European countries belong to European culture. Since I knew that when I was indeed eight years old, I yawn but at least I don’t vomit.
Moreover, I agree with Mr Morpurgo, that “we do not need a flag or anthem or even a union to be European”. In other words, if I understand him correctly, we can leave the European Union and still remain European.
But I don’t understand him correctly. Because, in the kind of self-refuting reversal amply covered in psychiatric literature, Mr Morpurgo concludes that we do need “a flag or anthem or even a union” after all. We don’t need the EU to be Europeans, but we do need the EU to be good Europeans.
Because, you see, European nations used to fight like alley cats, but then, one wave of Jean Monnet’s magic wand, and: “in the second half of the 20th century did this change. We built a tunnel: we joined Europe physically. And we joined Europe politically. We joined for business, for trade deals.”
If business and trade deals require a political umbilical cord, one wonders why we didn’t also join the US and dozens of other faraway countries with which we do profitable trade without dissolving our statehood in theirs.
As to the old chestnut of the EU solely responsible for keeping peace “in the second half of the 20th century”, it’s mendacious on every conceivable level.
But for NATO and the US nuclear umbrella, the Soviets would have overrun Western Europe the same way they had overrun the eastern half. And, whenever the EU or any of its precursors tried to interfere in regional conflicts, such as in Yugoslavia, they either did nothing to stem the bloodshed or made it worse.
“We either did not realise or we forgot the reason the EU, the European Community, the Common Market, came into existence and who had created it,” continues Morpurgo.
But we haven’t forgotten. However, those of us who have can refresh their memory by reading what one of the EU godfathers, Jean Monnet, wrote on the subject in the 1950s:
“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose but which will irreversibly lead to federation.”
Europeans, in other words, must be duped into believing that the EU serves economic and other worthy causes, while in fact all it pursues is the socialist dream of a single European, eventually world, superstate.
Those British people who are less gullible than Mr Morpurgo, realised that and voted to get out while the getting was good. But he knows exactly why they did so: because the EU isn’t socialist enough.
The EU “seemed unaware how alienated and threatened and resentful so many millions of our citizens were feeling… [because] the divide between those who have and those who have not is shamefully wide in this country and wide all over Europe.”
Now I know dozens of people, all of them conspicuously brighter and better informed than Mr Morpurgo, who voted Leave not because they felt there were too many rich Europeans, but because they wanted Britain to remain sovereign.
He then displays a firm grasp of political science by explaining that, because some people are richer than others, “at the heart of Europe, democracy is compromised”. However, overcome with agued passion for democracy, Mr Morpurgo wants to ignore the democratic vote of the British people and stay in the EU. That makes sense.
“I don’t want a divorce,” concludes Mr Morpurgo. “I do not want to be estranged from Europe.”
But he argued at the beginning that we couldn’t be estranged from Europe even if we wanted to. I get terribly confused, but not as much as Mr Morpurgo.
Equating Europe with the EU may work in a kindergarten, but we’re big boys and girls here. Hence we wonder how a writer can disgorge such drivel. And we wonder even more how a formerly respectable paper can print it.