How the world sees us

How the world sees us


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2016

brexit-cartoonjpg-722fa2ebc756752b 2new yorker cover


uk apart

Photo courtesy Gaia Saccomanno


  • Allen says:

    I hope there’s no Greek food in that little collection because, thanks to the Euro, which silly bowler hatted Britain had the sense to stay out of, they’ll probably be needing it themselves.

  • Jimbo says:

    Do we really want our laws made by unelected old white men in Brussels? Surely Parliamentary Democracy, where we can elect those who make our laws is superior.

    Besides how is Greece, Spain and Portugal working out with 50% youth unemployment. The Euro has brought them such prosperity.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      In the EU, laws can only be passed by the elected EU parliament but it’s unsurprising people have been fooled into thinking otherwise.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      It is much better, of course, when they are made by unelected old white men in the House of Lords and faceless bureaucrats in London.

      At least we’ll get rid of all those immigrants who provide specialised expertise and contribute significantly to the British economy, the arts, the education system, the NHS, etc.

      Meanwhile, we’ll also regain our sovereignty by continuing to follow EU commercial regulations (in order to export to the EU) while abdicating every form of control on these regulations.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      Yes, and preposterously, Germany says it needs to boost its own population; that’s how they justify “come on down” to the whole of the middle east. Meanwhile people within the EU have to food or work.

      It was, of course, one great big lie from start to finish.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Obviously, the brexit is VERY stupid. Europe as a whole (Incl the UK) faces problems which cannot be solved by one nation alone. Yes, the EU has to be reformed, and yes, the leave voters had concrete reasons (mainly against their own government, in fact), but returning to provincialism and disrupting the fabric of the UK itself, is insane.

  • James P says:

    Looks to me like those who didn’t understand the need to be independent are the ones painting the bleak image of Brexit. But this is definitely not the sentiment of “how the world sees” this. In fact, here in Minnesota last night we were singing “Rule, Britannia!” at an English pub in tribute to the good folks of the newly restored UK. Congrats from the USA!!

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Believe it or not, but there is a world outside of the US. And, dearer to the Brits, Canada (part of the Commonwealth) sees it as a catastrophic mistake.
      Also, independent from what? In what way? And what is “newly restored”?

      • Dave T says:

        What?? There’s a world outside the United States?? Dear me, I can’t believe that at all, because nothing James P says could possibly be construed that there is.
        This is truly BIG NEWS to us provincial nitwits in the U S of A. Thanks for letting us know, Emil.

        • Emil Archambault says:

          Sorry, I might have over-reacted to the notion that “the world sees it differently” because “we in Minnesota” like the Brexit result. Apologies for that.

          • Dave T says:

            Accepted. Your points are generally well thought out and reasoned. I do enjoy reading them.

  • Hilary says:

    I suspect there’ll will be a sharp u-turn on the referendum result ( in some respects you can regard it as an opinion poll as it’s not binding) or some kind of compromise.
    Note Boris Johnson’s anything but elated expression when the results were announced. More than meets the eye. Farage is just a stooge in all of this.

    • Ravi Narasimhan says:

      Is that possible within the UK’s legal system? If so, what was the point of the referendum in the first place?

      • Emil Archambault says:

        That’s exactly the question – what was the point? No, referendums have no status under British law – they are merely informal consultations which are not binding. So the next prime minister could simply ignore the whole thing, call another referendum, or find another solution that was not on the ballot.

        The point, of course, was that Cameron saw the referendum as a way to pacify the Tory party. And failed miserably.

        • Ravi Narasimhan says:

          That should do wonders for those who are suspicious of their representatives and the overall system.

        • Holly Golightly says:

          The way you airily dismiss working democracy tells a lot about yourself when a decision doesn’t go your own way. Have you got the storm troopers on standby? Sadly, there’s no Reichstag for you to burn.

          • Steven Holloway says:

            Emil simply raises the issue of the standing of the referendum in law — a matter studiously ignored during the campaigning, but much discussed in the media and legal forums since. Your wildly OTT response is a gratuitous insult and argument at the level of the school playground.

          • Emil Archambault says:

            Wow, so much for nuance (and one Godwin point for you!). There is a difference between representative democracy and direct democracy, and one does not necessarily imply the other. This option is not only my own, but one caressed by several political actors, including the leave camp (hear Michael Gove speak of ‘informal’ negotations to assess whether Art 50 needs to be triggered). Finally, if a referendum is a consultation, then it has to be taken exactly as such – as a consultation.

            By the way, regarding your tasteless Nazi reference: the Nazi regime used at least 5 referendums to solidify their power by circumventing legal institutions. In fact, the abolition of the Reichstag was carried out by referendum. The use of “the people” as an entity against political institutions is a traditional fascist move (no, I’m not calling Boris Johnson fascist). So, before implying that ignoring a referendum result would make one a Hitlerian, perhaps brush up on your history? There is a foundation to Clement Attlee’s saying that referendums “are the weapons of demagogues and dictators.”

  • Marg says:

    The arts are sure to suffer now the free and easy flow between the UK and Europe will cease and visas come back in.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I wonder how they ever functioned at all prior to the UK joining the EU!!! Even Haydn was allowed to go and work in Britain in 1792.

      • Robert King says:

        The answer to that question is simple. The first English passport was not issued until 1794, so Haydn was able to enter England in 1792 because there was complete freedom of movement between England and Europe. In practice, for the 120 years following that very limited experimental exercise, there were not really passports as we would recognise them today before 1914. The League of Nations in 1920 created an agreement to try to standardise passports.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Interestingly, Stefan Zweig relates in his fascinating ‘Die Welt von Gestern’ that, at the beginning of the 20th century, people could travel without passport through all of Europe. But of course, only the rich travelled.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Haydn had to suffer unpleasant instrusion into his privacy however and had the inside of his wig inspected at arrival at the English shores.

  • Dave says:

    Perhaps the Brits should place a large part of the blame on David Cameron. The Conservatives had just won an election and held off Scotland from leaving. Mr. Cameron made a big miscalculation that cost him his job and his country is now leaving the EU. Job well done.

  • Richard says:

    To my fellow American who left a comment above: all anyone needs to know is that Donald Trump thinks Brexit is great.

    • Dave says:

      At the moment Richard, it doesn’t matter what Trump thinks. David Cameron pulled the trigger and got the opposite results.

  • William Safford says:

    I love the Ministry of Silly Walks reference in the New Yorker cover.

    But I don’t love what’s behind it.

    What we may be witnessing is the breakdown of the post-WWII consensus.

    It, along with rising nationalism in Europe, bodes poorly for stability and peace in Europe.

    Finally, both Russia and Iran are thrilled, as they should be. It plays into their geopolitical hands.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      I am afraid your comment has a point. There is one blond ruler who is at least quite pleasantly surprised by Brexit, and that is Czar Vladimir in the Kremlin. We do not need two more blond rulers in 10 Downing Street and the White House (heavens forbid!). I listen to Wagner’s Goetterdaemmerung. The only thing making sense to me right now, if only for the Norns’ question: “Weisst du, wie das wird?”… That is a very serious question, and the Burocrats in Brussels, as well as the government’s of the remaining 27 member states, will do well to embark on a fundamental overhaul, and get in place a healthy subsidiarity principle, and greater flexibility (also applying to bananas and cucumbers).

      • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

        Eurocrats and Governments. Darn autocorrect!!!

      • John Borstlap says:

        I agree on the point of bananas. In my local supermarket, they now sell bananas which are bent the other way around, because the European Committee of Fruit Design wanted to show its flexibility after complaints from Colombia.

    • M_von_Kolinahr says:

      I believe you’re quite right to be concerned. An article in “The New York Times” summed it all up thus:

      “The young, the higher educated and city dwellers, the most dynamic members of Britain’s economy, voted to Remain. They were outvoted by the old, the less educated and non-urban English, who often rely on taxpayer largess. With economic opportunities stunted, everyone will suffer for Leave voters wrongly blaming hard-working, taxpaying European migrants for everything they dislike about modern Britain and wrongly trusting economic charlatans.”

      But I think it also goes a lot deeper than that. In my experience, after having lived in southern Germany for 15 years (with a German wife), I feel that a great many British actually have comparatively little real understanding of the continental mindset at all (… but I think they’re going to come to know rather better quite soon), and that also applied to many British professionals I knew there who had high-profile jobs in IT, for example, but still knew no German other than “bitte”, “danke” and “Ein Bier bitte” even after ten years or more, simply because they showed no interest whatsoever in learning the language and really taking the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture they were fortunate enough to be guests in. Almost no self-respecting young German professional living in a foreign country would show similar such indifference. And whatever its problems, I’d say they don’t really understand much of the significance of the EU either, or also what it means to German people themselves (absolutely NOTHING to do with a new “German empire” at all, I hasten to add, or, a “Fourth Reich”), and so they’ve demonised the EU more and more in their minds to the point of absurdity. (It was indeed also most unfortunate that Mr Cameron couldn’t have concerned himself with some of the more positive aspects the EU and concentrated so much on the negative consequences of leaving it, as he did.) Meanwhile, much of the clamouring for “sovereignty” and some kind of return to the glory days of old would seem to me to be primarily a sign of a deep-seated insecurity, paranoia, provincialism and philistinism. In my experience, Pegida et al. aside, most Germans still tend to be very reserved when it comes to nationalist tendencies. They know better than most just what unchecked nationalism – the highly illogical and unfounded belief that your country is somehow better than all others, simply because you happened to be born there – can lead to, and to all intents and purposes keep any national pride sensibly under wraps. For my part, I didn’t miss overt displays of it one bit all the time I was there.

      There are two sides to everything, and so of course there could indeed be ways Britain would be better off outside the EU – I understand that very well. However, it seems all too likely that the drawbacks will seriously outweigh the benefits, and, worse still, the decision has been taken in almost complete isolation as it were, solely on the basis of self-interest, without any real regard for other ramifications even right on the doorstep, such as the Scottish and Irish questions, let alone matters of wider European solidarity or indeed the global impacts in what are already very unsettled times. In other words, a totally short-sighted, inward-looking decision, together with uninformed, unbridled contempt for nearly every expert opinion warning of the consequences – no sense of the big picture.

      Anyway, given that this is a classical music website, I’m again put in mind of what the German comedian Loriot (aka Bernhard-Victor Christoph-Carl von Bülow, 1923–2011) said about the deeper significance of one Herr W. R. Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (yes, me too, after Mr Brenninkmeyer above):

      “The protagonists in the most epic drama in all musical history are actually a really nice bunch. Just one common passion unites them in what ultimately seals their fate: they seek to own more than they can afford, and to wield more power than they are entitled to. In their blind, loveless pursuit of material gain, they end up destroying themselves and their world. … Fortunately, of course, such things happen only on the opera stage.”

      And so, for me, Brexit represents one of the biggest, most audacious and outrageous bl**dy Rapes of the Rhinegold in Western society that I can think of in my lifetime (55+ years) – in all, one almighty step backwards in a world still striving for peace and a truly global perspective – and self-evidently, it seems the Rhinemaidens also haven’t been guarding the gold nearly as well as they should have been. Many may view things very differently, but it seems love has indeed been callously sacrificed for power and avarice, and meanwhile the lowest and basest elements in society are already increasingly making their presence felt as a result – – so what’s up next, huh? – “Briten! Wehrt Euch! Kauft nicht bei Polen!”?? It’s potentially looking like a very nasty slippery slope in some respects. (… We human beings didn’t want to be anywhere near this particular track, let alone taking it yet again, right? Where’s the necessary vigilance??)

      The experts may have done their calculations, and so it may be clear how much Britain might have to pay for this move in pure economic terms, but it’s not yet at all clear just how much it’s going to cost everyone in the long run. I wish the best of British luck all round – I’ve a feeling it’s going to be needed.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A thoughtful & sensible article….. agreed with practically all of it.

        As for nationalism: why not cut-up the countries into their original areas, give them their local parliaments which brings policy close to the people, and over all these small areas a layer of European centralized government for the subjects that are equally important to all? A United Nations of Europe consisting of small Länder like Flanders, Wallonia, Bavaria, Bretagne, Castilia, the Valois, Brandenburg etc. etc. After all, the nation states have been forged together artificially in the past. Locality, the nation, and above it all the EU as it stand now, is too much a structure and too far from the people. Such small-scale areas woud also be beneficial to culture, see the local courts in 18C Germany which all had their individual cultural institutions. Spanish Catalonia and Bretagne have already strongly separatist movements, and like Scotland they cultivate their local integrity and cultural identity. The nation state, which has created so much havoc in the past, is maybe now a thing outdated, and an increased locality can balance the uniformity of an overall European government. (Also, small areas won’t quickly go to war, lacking resources.) One would have the best of both – the nation state is somehow a barrier to integration.

        It is like a polyphonic piece: independent voices forming a harmonious whole, where the notes relate to each other and where there is an overall structure like a river bedding. Say, like a work by JS Bach, combining individual freedom of movement with consideration for the overall structure and narrative. (In other words: the opposite of Xenakis or the late Schoenberg.)

        • M_von_Kolinahr says:

          Thank you for your response – and if you found my comments “thoughtful and sensible”, then may I say that I always enjoy reading your contributions here, and in particular also your recent essay “The Myth of Progress in the Arts”, which I am still mulling over in my mind!

          I have no idea how cutting up countries into their original areas would work (… maybe that’s how it will all end up in the long term anyway, at this rate), but I did find the comparison with a polyphonic piece to be very poetic. “Independent voices forming a harmonious whole, where the notes relate to each other and where there is an overall structure like a river bedding… combining individual freedom of movement with consideration for the overall structure and narrative” – interestingly enough, when I was living in Germany myself and also travelling through countries like the Netherlands, France, northern Italy and Austria, that’s (very roughly!) how I always felt those continental countries were relating to one another – each highly individual, yet still all somehow part of an overarching whole, as then also acknowledged by the existence of the EU itself, which for people had a very serious cultural significance as well as an economic one. Although it is only about 1,000 km from southern Germany in a straight line, I then typically didn’t have the same feeling when I visited family in southern England, although I felt and hoped that they all might still grow together more, given time – it still seemed like things were moving forward…

          J. S. Bach is no doubt a good place to find solace at the moment. I still have the words of Alice Sommer-Herz echoing in my mind: “Bach is like the Bible, the music of humanity – it’s the same language.” Humanity and humility alike are what is desperately required at the moment. What’s been happening is to me a complete and utter debacle to say the very least, and the way things are going I don’t see how on earth the UK is going to be able to live it all down in the foreseeable future. I live well outside the UK, and all I can say is that the impression that is being gained abroad (e.g. also following the absurd scenes in the European Parliament recently) is truly shocking.

          • John Borstlap says:

            A comment bursting out of the SD context….! Let’s hope the EU pulls together, reforms (esp. concerning poverty), and will more stimulate culture.

        • M_von_Kolinahr says:

          (-> Your comment from 12:42 pm) – Yes, indeed – here’s hoping!! 🙂

          • Ralph Fisher says:

            “The Myth of Progress in the Arts,” hmmm, sounds vaguely similar to — ahem — “The Demon of Progress in the Arts” by Wyndham Lewis. Any connexion?

  • Holly Golightly says:

    Dear me, there’s a lot of fear and loathing in these comments. And I thought conservatives, as a group, were wholly responsible for – what is it now – moral panic and reactionary behaviour??!! Priceless.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Who’s being reactionary? The ones who want to continue the current system of European unity or the ones who want to go back to the world as it was before the EU? The ones who say “we’re fine now” or those who say “it was so much better 30 years ago?

      Who’s expressing hatred? The ones who say ‘we appreciate every member of British society and will not stand for division and xenophobia’ or those who say ‘immigrants cause problems and should be kicked out’?

      Who’s expressing fear? The ones who brandish the spectre of the UK become a province of Europe overrun by hordes from the East or those who are concerned that political elites are being decimated and that there is, in fact, no plan whatsoever?

  • Sue says:

    @Steven Holloway:

    Why didn’t you raise the issue of the “legality” of the referendum before it was held? Oh, that’s right….

    • Janice says:

      Because referendums are opinion polls and not legally binding.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Because there is no question. Referendums have no legal status. Plain and simple. There is nothing in UK law governing referendums. So, as Janice says, referendums are glorified and expensive opinion polls, not legally binding, unless the government passes a law to regard them as binding (as the Scotland referendum in 2014). Now, it is different in places such as California, Switzerland, etc., where mechanisms are legally defined to give referendums force of law. That is not the case in the UK.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      First, Sue, it is not a matter of the ‘legality’ of the procedure. I did not, as your punctuation seeks to suggest, use that word. It is a question of whether the result of a referendum in the U.K. is legally binding upon the Government. As there is no provision for it in the Constitution, that can hardly be other than moot. Secondly, I did write about it. SD is hardly my main venue for writing about music, let alone the details of the British Constitution and current events. I’m sure the same is true of not a few other contributors of comments.

  • debussyste says:

    And now Channel Tunnel me be shut down and everything will be like in the Victorian age !