J. Enoch Powell (1912-1998), excerpts from a speech to L'Association des Chefs
d'Enterprise Libres (Lyon, February 12, 1971)
You, above all people, appreciate the importance of verbal precision, and the dangerous power of words misapplied. Unhappily such misapplication is common in Britain on the topic of the Community. The word ‘European’ has been appropriated to membership of the Community. Consequently those who advocate British membership have arrogated to themselves the style of ‘Europeans’ and describe their opponents as being ‘against Europe’. As I shall argue, if these labels have to be used at all, they ought to be transposed, and the label ‘anti-European’ affixed rather to those who wish Britain to accede to the Community than to those who oppose this. It is as a European among Europeans that I claim to speak to you.
From boyhood I have been devoted to the study of that Greek and Roman inheritance, which in varying measure is common to all that is Europe, and not only ‘Europe’ of the six or eight or ten but Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals — and beyond. I also claim that reverent enthusiasm for the history of my own country which commands an equal reverence for the past that has formed everything else which is European. The truest European, in my opinion, is the man who is most humbly conscious of the vast demands which comprehension of even a little part of this Europe imposes upon those who seek it; for the deeper we penetrate, the more the marvellous differentiation of human society within this single continent evokes our wonder. The very use of the word ‘Europe’ in expressions like ‘European unity’, ‘going into Europe’, ‘Europe’s role in the world’ is a solecism which grates upon the ear of all true Europeans: only Americans can be excused for using it.
Perhaps the fact that I address you this evening in French is the beginning of my explanation, why the British have this preponderant sense that their national destiny cannot be merged in that of the Community. I mean that observation in the most serious manner possible. With equal delight and effort, like those who have climbed a frontier range of mountains, one surmounts the linguistic watershed and looks out, like Winckelman looking from the Alps into Italy, over another land — a different past, and a different future. There is no more ignorant vulgarity than to treat language as an impediment to intercourse, which education, habit, travel, trade abolish and remove. The function of language in the life of nations, as a means both of differentiation and of self-identification, is rooted in the very origin of humanity, and increase of knowledge tends to enhance its significance rather than diminish it. Everything that nationality means is represented and, as it were, symbolised by language, which becomes less and less like a common currency the more one penetrates its inner meaning. When one of our poets wrote, during the Napoleonic War, ‘we must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spoke’, it was a description of the British nation as precise as it was relevant.