Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit: A Romantic View

Just about everyone is weighing in with an opinion on the vote of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.  I can't think of a more down to earth topic to write about, so I may as well write about it.  Regular readers will understand that I try to avoid doing 'big ideas' posts too much.  I don't think they're a good form of writing.  Spouting opinions on the grand subjects of the day isn't (pace Philip Adams) something to be proud of when you never have the responsibility of implementing either them or their results.  Even if people listen to you, it's (well) no better than an evening on Chatroulette.

I have mixed feelings about the outcome of the vote.  On one hand, it doesn't really concern me.  I've never been to Europe and have no particular desire to go.  Bloviations on Lateline aside, I don't foresee the vote tipping the world into recession, causing mass migration, poor fuel mileage and ingrown toenails.  On the other, the European Union was perhaps the best surviving relic of the long weekend off from history between 26 December 1991 (the day on which the Soviet Union was disbanded) and 11 September 2001 (needs no introduction).  It was in that period that the dominance of liberal, commercial, more-or-less progressive and broadly Western ideals seemed to be assured.  It was only in that period that Francis Fukuyama's argument that we were approaching The End of History could be credibly made.  The EU (almost in spite of itself) tried to make that set of ideas a concrete reality -
Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.
There was certainly plenty to like about the EU's ideals.  A continent brought together by law and culture and trade is a beautiful idea after centuries of bloodletting, even if it was accompanied by the sort of irresponsibility that prompted two German economists to say bitterly that “It would be much easier politically to renegotiate a compromise with Greece, albeit a lame one, and thus maintain the fiction that Greece will pay back its loans at some point in time” (emphasis mine).

Images from here and here

It's also not an unmixed blessing for Britain.  The people of Northern Ireland and Scotland may go their own ways, leaving England and Wales with their independence.  A strain of French nationalism seems to have been stirred up by this vote.
But I ask myself if the future is really so bleak.  Despite having no known English or Welsh blood in my veins, I think  - romantically perhaps - that there's much to love about the 'idea' of England.  Its placenames lean towards quaint (Blandford Forum, anyone?).  English law, for all its lack of logic, works remarkably well.  And the refusal of its rural and village culture to be subsumed by the great cities of London and Birmingham and Manchester (consider their endless popularity as subjects for television) says that this is a place endlessly able to regenerate itself.  Something big has certainly happened, but I still think there's good reason to be hopeful for that green and pleasant land.

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