Brexit: a Month On
July 22, 2016 7 Comments
Everything is connected: Brexit, Trump, le Pen, Isis – even Ghostbusters. They’re all part of the same story.
It’s been nearly a month since the Brexit vote and Remainers are still in a daze. Most struggle to articulate why it’s so emotional, why we feel so bereft and angry. Surely this isn’t all for the EU itself, an institution no-one showed any real love for in the years leading up to the referendum, or even now as we hope to get back in. […]
It’s because this was never about the EU. This was the culture war. It is the single greatest question of our lifetime, the one which defines this moment for the West: do we accept globalisation? Do we share goods and people and culture across the world, or do we retreat into our closed identities? Nativism versus globalism.[…]
This correlates to the chaotic changes we’ve seen in the two main Westminster parties. Labour is in a state of absolute disarray, but the clash of personalities just reflects a deeper ideological malaise. Immigration is a wound at the heart of the party, preventing it from bringing together traditional support in its northern working class heartlands with middle class liberalism in London and the cities.
The Tories would be in precisely the same state right now if it weren’t for one little rule, a very sensible rule which has saved them as a functioning party: the three month window between membership and voting for the leader.[…]
Look overseas and see our own problems mirrored a thousand times over. Donald Trump is a walking Brexit. Where the phrase ‘take back control’ dominated the referendum, he promises a wall against Mexico and a ban on Muslims entering the US. But it’s not just the policy – the emotions are identical too. Take Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for the wall. That’s the real kicker in the policy. Crowds at his rallies love the way it implies strength, total dominance, superiority. It is identical to the swaggering ignorance of Brexiters talking about how the EU will accept whatever trade deal we give it, or how Brussels doesn’t get to call the shots anymore. It’s the emotional frustration of those who feel powerless, disguised with bravado.
In a way, it’s funny: I (and many conservatives) am at heart a free trader. Like many of us, I recognize that the best chance for our poor to have upward mobility includes free trade, not least because protectionism mostly hurts the poor. If you doubt that a visit to WalMart will disabuse you. Free trade provides many, many things at a low cost that without other countries would be very expensive indeed, if even available. Like your Chinese made iPhone. But, we almost all, at least American ones, supported Brexit. Why, because from our vantage point, we could see that the EU had become the problem, not part of the solution. A protectionist continent, that was doing undue harm on its inhabitants. I wanted to say citizens in that sentence, but Europeans had long lost control of the bureaucracy of the EU. We, or at least me, don’t see the Brexiteers as little Englanders so much as we see the Remainers as little Europeans; and the Brexiteers as a free trade possibility for us.
What Mr. Dunt says above about the referendum as part of a larger story that includes Trump and le Pen is, I think, true, although I think ISIS is a point too far. ISIS is, I think, merely reacting to weakness in the west, and an inability to effectively defend ourselves. Yes, part of it is related to our mishandling of the middle east going back at least to Sykes-Picot, but that’s not really that novel anymore is it.
Chalcedon makes the point this morning that the founders of the EU were profoundly influenced by their Catholic heritage. I think him correct, as usual. He decries that England specifically lacks that heritage. Also true, but perhaps that is why England above all had the vision to see that the EU had become unfit for purpose, and should be scrapped, as it scrapped the hierarchy of the Catholic church during the English Reformation.
Theodore Dalrymple also wrote on this recently, his thoughts are also interesting.
[…]Certainly, many young people selectively interviewed by the media said that they felt that their future had been stolen from them by those who voted for Brexit. (The fact that the youth unemployment rate in Belgium and France was 25 percent, in Portugal 30 percent, in Italy 39 percent, in Spain 45 percent and Greece 49 percent did not seem to worry them. They were not of the youth-unemployment class.) And it was the old, who predominantly voted to leave, who had snatched their glorious future from them.
Actually, this is not the whole truth. The proportion of the electorate who voted in the referendum increased sharply with age, those over 80 being more than twice as likely to vote as the young, despite it requiring much more of a physical effort for them to do so. It seems, then, that the elderly care more about the future of their country, or have a greater sense of civic responsibility, than the young.[…]
The statistical correlation between both age and relatively low levels of education, on the one hand, and a vote to leave on the other, was much remarked upon, not only in Britain but throughout Europe and the rest of the world.[…] And only the young and educated know what the right way is.
While age is certainly not a guarantee of political wisdom, the ever-increasing experience of life might be expected to conduce to it.[…]
The relation between political wisdom and levels of education is far from straightforward. It was educated people who initiated and carried out the Terror in the French Revolution. The Russian Revolution, and all the great joy that it brought to the Russian people, was the denouement of decades of propaganda and agitation by the educated elite. There was no shortage of educated people among the Nazi leadership. And the leaders of the Khmer Rouge were also relatively highly-educated, as it happens in France. The founder of Sendero Luminoso, who might have been the Pol Pot of Peru, was a professor of philosophy who wrote his doctoral thesis on Kant.
And so, in some sense, you pays your money and makes your choice, but I think it very important that we don’t make the mistake of considering these things in their own little vacuum bags, what happens in Europe affects America, and vice-versa. If we don’t defend the least (pick whatever measure you prefer) of our citizens, we defend none of them, and that is where ISIS enters the equation. But we also owe them the duty not to arbitrarily make their lives worse, and that is exactly what protectionism will do. It was no coincidence that because FDR continued and strengthened Hoovers anti-trade policies, the Great Depression continued and worsened until World War Two ended it. That is not a good model to follow. We should learn from history, not strive to repeat it.