William Penn on the Need for a European Parliament

I’ve probably blogged about this before, but as the issue is now of major importance once again, I’ll carry on talking about it.

The debate about whether Britain should leave the EU has been raised again, with both Boris Johnson and Ian Duncan Smith giving their support to the leave campaign. David Cameron, on the other hand, supports staying in, and has forced his cabinet to take an oath of personal loyalty to him about it. Actually, I wonder if this was the real reason IDS walked out of the cabinet, rather than any of the bunkum he spouted about working age people being hit too hard by Osborne’s benefit cuts. IDS has never voiced any opposition to cutting wages or benefits before. Indeed, he’s been frantically for them. And Tory opposition to the EU is focussed on the Social Charter, which guarantees European workers certain minimal rights. This seems far more likely as a reason for IDS choosing to walk out than him suddenly developing a social conscience. Though it might be that he was genuinely frustrated at not being able to vent his malevolence and hatred of welfare scroungers at the elderly.

Euroceptic attacks on the EU frequently argue that it’s a development of the policies of Napoleon and the Kaiser. Both of these monarchs wanted to create a free trade zone in Europe. However, the demands for a European parliament weren’t confined either to Napoleon, and can be traced back centuries earlier. Kant wrote a trace, On Perpetual Peace, arguing for a federation of states that would outlaw war, and Mazzini, the Italian patriot and revolutionary, also held the same views.

And one of the first pieces arguing for the benefits of a European parliament was written by the great Quaker writer and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, in 1693 pamphlet An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, by the Establishment of an European Diet, Parliament or Estates.
This is divided into several individual sections, such as ‘1. Of Peace, and its Advantages’, ‘2.Of the Means of Peace, Which Is Justice Rather than War’, ‘3. Government, Its Rise and End of All Models’, ‘5. Of the Causes of Difference, and Motives to Violate Peace’, ‘6. Of Titles, Upon Which Those Differences May Arise’, ‘7. Of the Composition of these Imperial States’, ‘8. Of the Regulation of the Imperial States in Session’, ‘9. of the Objections that May Be Advanced against the Design’, ’10. Of the Real Benefits that Flow from the Proposal About Peace’, and a Conclusion.

It is the section ‘4. Of a General Peace, or the Peace of Europe, and the Means of It’, that contains Penn’s basic description of the European parliament he proposes to provide the means by which the various princes and leaders of the various European states at this time could settled their differences peacefully through negotiation. He wrote:

In my first section, I showed the desirableness of peace; in my next, the truest means of it; to wit, justice, not war. And in my last, that this justice was the fruit of government, as government itself was the result of society, which first came from a reasonable design in men of peace. Now it the sovereign princes of Europe, who represent that society, or independent states of men that was previous to the obligations of society, would, for the same reason that engaged men first into society, viz. love of peace and order, agree to meet by their state deputies in a general diet, estates, or parliament, and there establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another; and thus to meet yearly, or once in two or three years at farthest, or as they shall see cause, and to be styled, the sovereign or imperial diet, parliament or estate of Europe; before which sovereign assembly, should be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another, that cannot be made up by private embassies, before the sessions begin; and that if any of the sovereignties that constitute these imperial states, shall refuse to submit their claim or pretensions to them, or to abide and perform the judgement thereof, and seek their remedy by arms, or delay their compliance beyond the time prefixed in their resolutions, all the other sovereignties, united as one strength, shall compel the submission and performance of the sentence, with damages to the suffering party, and charges to the sovereignties that obliged their submission: to be sure Europe would quietly obtain the so much desired and needed peace, to her harassed inhabitants; no sovereignty in Europe, having the power, and therefore cannot show the will to dispute the conclusion; and consequently peace would be procured, and continued in Europe.

The full text of Penn’s work, and his other writings, can be found in William Penn: The Peace of Europe, the Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, ed. Edwin B. Bronner (London: Everyman 1993).

Penn was writing in the late 17th century, after a series of terrible religious wars had raged across the continent, of which the British civil war was just one. The French in the 16th century had suffered the Wars of the Religion, while in the German Empire a fifth of the population had died of starvation as armies had raged across the country from the borders of France to Russia. As a Quaker, Penn was committed to peace, and saw the creation of a European parliament as the correct means through which peace could be achieved, and justice and prosperity return to the suffering peoples of Europe.

There’s a lot wrong with the EU, from bureaucratic wastefulness and corruption to the massive, economic mess that’s the Euro and the Troika ruling Greece, Italy and the other countries that have suffered severely from the economic effects of the single currency. But the idea of creating a single European community of nations, in which international disputes can be resolved without violence, and nation can truly speak peace unto nation, is the dream of centuries. It should not be thrown away, and especially not because IDS, BoJo and Priti Patel want to turn Britain into an unregulated sweatshop outside EU control.

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2 Responses to “William Penn on the Need for a European Parliament”

  1. Florence Says:

    IDS, Cameron, Osborne and the rest of them in both camps in the EU debate seem to consider themselves the new princes of the UK, the Norman conquest revived. We must keep the EU moving forward to greater democratic control, as it is the one thing they all fear most – the system that works for the common good.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Very much so, Florence. We are seeing a deliberate attempt to drive ordinary people away from politics for benefit of a small, professional elite.

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