Who cares what a bunch of old writers think about the EU?

Few comments in recent British history are as infamous as Michael Gove’s statement about the country’s impatience with experts, usually shortened in the retelling to omit his qualifier “from organisations with acronyms” and his reference to the dubious records of such bodies.

The post-referendum fetishizing of experts among some remainers has been an amusing trend. One of the stronger factors that predicted whether one voted leave or remain was whether you attended university, leading to such glorious headlines as: “Brexit caused by low levels of education, study finds”.

The notion that leave is a project for thickies remains a core belief for certain remainers. Last week the Guardian even ran a story claiming that “30 top intellectuals” believe Europe is “coming apart before our eyes”. But who are these people?

Writers, basically. Sure, some are historians, some philosophers, and some hacks – but all scribblers. Pan-European scribblers, but scribblers nonetheless.

The Graun has form in this domain, having previously published a letter by forty “senior academics”, among whom were experts in comic book characters, zombies and video games. Such people are qualified to sit on obscure panels at still more obscure conferences, but newspapers should probably not be citing them when discussing whether Jeremy Corbyn is a promoter of anti-semitism.

Even assuming the Guardian took no view on the merits of the academics’ argument, it must thought it worth readers’ attention. And so it must also be with the letter from the “intellectuals”, who want to claim “the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe and Comenius” and depict their opponents as championing a “politics of disdain for intelligence and culture”.

(All this is claimed while they tout their own enlightened “European patriotism”, somehow immune to the flaws they see in other nationalisms.)

This invites the query: why should the layman care what Ian McEwan, to name one signer, thinks about the EU? He may be an intellectual in the sense he can make money publicly musing on higher things, but his qualifications to muse on European governance with any authority seem dubious. He is an expert, just not in the subject under discussion.

A scan of the Wikipedia entries for much of the rest of the list – many perhaps unfamiliar to even Guardian readers – reveals a smattering of novelists, poets and playwrights. Unless those playwrights were James Graham, the mind behind Brexit: The Uncivil War, why should anyone care?

Bonus point: Many remainers have been keen to undermine Brexit by pointing out how ancient and decrepit many who voted for it were. People who are about to snuff it surely shouldn’t be allowed to have a say in how the country is run, they argue.

The average age of this letter’s signers? 71 years.

Full list (Sources: Wikipedia and Google)

Name Occupation Nationality Age
Bernard-Henri Lévy Philosopher and public intellectual French 70
Milan Kundera Writer Czech and French 89
Salman Rushdie Novelist and essayist British Indian 71
Elfriede Jelinek Novelist and playwright Austrian 72
Orhan Pamuk Novelist, screenwriter and academic Turkish 66
Vassilis Alexakis Writer Greek and French 75
Svetlana Alexievich Journalist, essayist and historian Belarus 70
Anne Applebaum Journalist American and Polish 54
Jens Christian Grøndahl Novelist Danish 59
David Grossman Writer Israeli 65
Ágnes Heller Philosopher and lecturer Hungarian 89
Ismaïl Kadaré Novelist, poet, essayist and playwright Albanian 83
György Konrád Novelist and essayist Hungarian 85
António Lobo Antunes Novelist Portuguese 76
Claudio Magris Writer Italian 79
Ian McEwan Novelist and screenwriter British 70
Adam Michnik Historian, essayist and journalist Polish 72
Herta Müller Novelist, poet and essayist Romanian and German 65
Ludmila Oulitskaïa Writer Russian 75
Rob Riemen Writer and philosopher Dutch 56
Fernando Savater Philosopher and essayist Spain 71
Roberto Saviano Journalist, writer and essayist Italian 39
Eugenio Scalfari Journalist Italian 94
Simon Schama Historian British 73
Peter Schneider Writer German 78
Abdulah Sidran Poet and scriptwriter Bosnia 74
Leïla Slimani Writer and journalist Franco-Moroccan 37
Colm Tóibín Writer Irish 63
Mario Vargas Llosa Novelist Peruvian and Spanish 83
Adam Zagajewski Poet, novelist, translator, and essayist Polish 73


Jimmy Nicholls
Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact jimmy@rightdishonourable.com

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