A liberal case for Brexit

You don’t have to be a racist or a nostalgist to thing Brexit is a good idea. There is, in fact, a very good case to be made that the EU is simply too rooted in the past for its own good, and that to remain would be to risk stagnation. So, here goes:

Governance and Justice

The EU has no kind of accountability, neither to governments or people. Rather, it is a self-promoting oligarchy that considers the well-being of ‘the project’ as being more important than that of the people. The response to every demonstration of popular loathing for the institution is not to listen, but to lecture.

Britain historically has a very different world-view . This goes back to the Norman Conquest. The Normans had no time for the ultra-centralised states of Europe, but created a system of bi-directional responsibility, of master to man and man to master, and a system that encouraged huge social mobility, and has continued to do so. Compare that to France, with its rigid hierarchies and Enarchs, or Germany, where the state essentially decides on your future for you at age 11.

As a result, British politics are more individualist, and yet stable, because the concept of a right is acknowledged as having both positive and negative aspects – freedom to and freedom from, the latter concept being alien to continental legal thinking.  To be precise, in British political thinking, rights carry with them responsibilities.  If I am granted the right to private property then so is everybody else, and, just as they are expected to respect my right to private property by refraining from taking what they want from me, I am expected to respect theirs.  The state exists to regulate this system, essentially to keep the playing field-level, and ensure that the powerful are not able to take advantage of the weak.

Continental political thinking is somewhat less pragmatic.  Ideas of universal liberty, good and fellowship are proclaimed, but then something strange happens.  British philosophy is sceptical and empirical; continental rationalistic and idealist. Compare Descarte’s largely discredited exercise in building a picture of the world based on pure deduction, with the clear-eyed analysis of Hobbes and Berkeley.  Hence, the British system, as described above, is predicated on the assumption that everybody is, at heart, pretty nasty, so the state exists to protect us from one another, while the Continental system assumes that it is possible to determine truth about all things using pure deductive logic.  Therefore the state need not concern itself with reciprocality and consensus: it can simply announce what one can and cannot do, and leave it at that, for no reasonable person can disagree.

Indeed, the presumption of innocence, rigid separation of function between investigators, barristers and judges, the healthy distrust of lawyers imbued in the use of juries, are simply not present in Code Napoleon inspired legal systems.  The reason is simple: as truth is unambiguous and, once determined by one in authority, cannot be questioned, there is no need for the Anglo-Saxon concern for reasonable doubt.  Likewise, to question the correctness of the arguments presented by magistrates is ridiculous, for the truth is self-evident.  So we get magistrates such as the infamous Spanish Justice Guzman, who announces, in advance, whom he intends to convict next,  and on what basis, and whose judicial timetable appears to be driven by his personal political agenda rather than the needs of Justice. While British justice is predicated on the presupposition that it is better by far that a hundred criminals go free than one innocent be punished, the Code Napoleon takes guilt as read.

Culture

Britain is, of course, famously the nation of shopkeepers. The fact that the little corporal thought that was an insult says a lot (as does the fact that the French continue to revere him, instead of acknowledging him as the war criminal he was). Britain has always been mercantile (this is why, for much of the last thousand years, it has been by far the richest kingdom in Europe), and now has a dynamic post-Industrial economy that grows while Europe’s lag. This, of course, might be because in Britain the utility of markets is unquestioned (save by a few, irrelevant, kooks, such as the current leader of the Labour Party), while the idea of letting prices find their own levels, and people decide what goods they want is viewed with at best suspicion on the continent (and, in France, as being more or less immoral).

Similarly, Britain, though not perfect, is close to being genuinely multicultural. Angela Merkel has pronounced multiculturalism dead; French leaders insist that it is not possible. Britain has a Muslim Mayor of London, and the Metropolitan Police have an official uniform hijab. On the continent there are banlieus (aka ghettoes) and burka / headscarf bans, as well as open, systemic racist and religious persecution.

British English, as a language, is undergoing constant modification, and has, historically borrowed vocabulary from more or less everywhere (large chunks of our core vocabulary come from Hindi, for example).  It is generally acknowledged that usage is changing (e.g. the accusative form ‘whom’ that I used above is now essentially dead in all but the most formal of writing, and entirely defunct in the spoken language), and the Oxford English Dictionary, the closest there is to an official definition of what British English is, is descriptive, not prescriptive.  That is to say, its job is to describe the language as it is used, and not to say how it should be.  By way of contrast, the Academie Francaise recently ruled that the mere idea of gender-neutral language was inimical to French, and the adoption of gender-neutral terminology could well be the death of the French language!  This is manifestly ridiculous, for language is what people make of it, but the rationalists on the continent do not see it that way.

Underpinning all of this is a matter of confidence.  British culture is confident, ready to adapt and grow, while retaining its identity.  Continental cultures are so fearful, so lacking in self-confidence that they fear change might destroy them, and so must lock themselves away in the inward-looking echo chamber of the European Union, preserving a mythical time when everything was good.

Nationalism

Trumpism is born of continental philosophy: the resentful anti-modernism of romanticism and Rousseau’s simplistic idealism. France, with the obsessive mania about la France profonde, and curious ideas about the dignity of manual labour, is an almost ideal Trumpian society: note, for example, Trump’s pronounced bias towards the rural, and the curious notion that cities are not part of the ‘real’ USA. Even in the late medieval period, England was often depicted as a hydrocephalous child, with London as the huge head.  Trump, like the Academie, is terrified of change.

The real issue, then, is not nationalism, it is simply totally different paradigms. A decentralised, bottom-up approach to power, in which all citizens are actually equal (as are non-citizens: it is a little known fact that in Britain, the Human Rights Act applies to everyone, everywhere on the planet, while on the continent, it applies only to EU citizens), as opposed to total centralisation, with citizens told they are equal. Freedom, as opposed to notional liberty. The rule of law as opposed to the rule of the elite. Openness to the rest of the world, as opposed to a sclerotic inward gaze.

It is time for Britain to divorce itself from this mess and continue to live in the world, leaving the continental powers to collapse into their smug hell of introspection.

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