Maths and the EU referendum


Yanis Varoufakis is right about the EU, I think. And the history of mathematics bears him out.

The creation, from a continent wrecked for centuries by incessant national and dynastic wars, of a Europe of mutual enrichment, and melded traditions, has inspired democrats and socialists since the mid 19th century.

As recently as the 1930s, André Weil became an epoch-making figure just because he broke the chauvinist barriers which had stopped French mathematicians learning from German mathematics.

There was an equivalent in England in the 1820s: a students’ revolt at Cambridge University which broke down the narrowmindedness which had paralysed English mathematics for a hundred years after the death of Isaac Newton, banning the use of “German” notation (like dy/dx).

In all fields, a Europe of cosmopolitan culture and free movement is an advance not just “for Britain”, or for this or that grouping, but for the whole continent.

The arrogance and shameless capitalist dogmatism of the EU leaders, their drive to present the rules of the single market and the eurozone as axioms to be enforced by unelected officials whatever the cost to human lives, is drowning those ideals in a quicksand of bureaucratism.

And in so doing, it is nourishing narrow-minded reflexes, nationalism, xenophobia, migrant-hating.

Varoufakis is right: “The European Union will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate!”