Saturday, July 02, 2016

So ... is Brexit to be understood in terms of class war or generation-war-as-class-war or ... ?

There have been those who have framed the recent Brexit referendum as a decision of the old against the young, of localist against globalists, and a variety of other battles between darkness and light.  Since the sun has been setting on the English empire since it fought in two nominally globe-spanning conflicts there's a sense in which this American in Seattle can't pretend to be hugely invested in what just happened.  Pop culture icons such as James Bond and Doctor Who would seem proof enough from the Cold War era the Brits know their empire has been in decline.

Noah Millman had an observation he tossed out on the net recently about how it seemed as if there was a pattern, that those most angry about Brexit seemed to be of a shared demographic:
I think that’s all pretty much right [link and excerpt forthcoming within this this post]. But I notice something. All of those links in the “shock – fury – disgust – despair” paragraph are to Anglo-American writers. What do people on the continent – those whom Britain would leave – think of Britain’s announced intention to depart?
It’s from the Anglo-American liberal commentariat, primarily, that I see the wailing, the gnashing of teeth, and the rending of garments. These people do seem to have suffered a blow to their faith. But what is the nature of the blow?

Well, the one thing I can definitely say about Britain leaving the EU is that it will take Britain out of the rooms in which the decisions about the structure of the EU are decided. It will make Britain an observer to, and an outside influencer of, rather than a participant in, European politics. The European project may go forward, or may go backward, or may go forward in a wholly new direction. But it will go forward without Britain.

Will France and Germany agree on the compromises necessary to make Europe work? It’s not clear – and never has been – but the Brexit forces the question.

here's the link mentioned in the Millman post, with an excerpt or two:
If history is moving inexorably toward humanitarian universalism, then giving it a sharp shove forward every now and then might be necessary and even admirable. And it certainly won't meet any significant resistance. It will merely hasten the inevitable.

But what if progressivism isn't inevitable at all? What if people will always be inclined by nature to love their own — themselves, their families, their neighbors, members of their churches, their fellow citizens, their country — more than they love the placeless abstraction of "humanity"? In that case, the act of ignoring or even denigrating this love will have the effect of provoking its defensive wrath and ultimately making it stronger.

It makes perfect sense to be surprised, saddened, and concerned by the outcome of the Brexit vote. But shock? Fury? Disgust? Despair? That's what a person feels when he discovers that his most dearly held fundamental beliefs have led him astray.

Wake up, progressives! You have nothing to lose but your illusions.

Now maybe one of the troubles with Brexit is that a globalist elite is upset at a decision, and maybe they can present it as old people hating young people but that kind trumped up generational resentment seems so ... American.  There may be plenty to the left and the right who hated the UK being part of the EU for a variety of reasons. 

That not everyone who has been in the European Union has been happy to be in the EU reminds me of something somebody wrote--the observation was made some fifty years ago that the ideology that ... well ... here's the quote:

Leonard B. Meyer
Copyright (c) 1967. 1994 by The University of Chicago
ISBN 0-226-52143-5

page 179-180

Although diversity had been growing since the seventeenth century, the fact was seldom squarely faced. The very ideology that nurtured pluralism tended, until recently, to eclipse its presence and obscure its significance. To believe in progress, in a dialectic of history, or a divine plan was to acknowledge, at least tacitly, the existence of a single force or principle to which all the seeming diversity would one day be related. To accept the Newtonian world view, or later the theory of evolution, was almost inevitably to subscribe to monism and to look forward to a time when all phenomena would be reduced to, or subsumed under, one basic, encompassing set of laws. The notable achievements of science were taken as proof that Truth was One. Behind the manifest variety of phenomena and events lay, it was supposed, the latent unity of the universe which would eventually be discovered and embodied in a simple, all-embracing model. Because the oneness of things was what was real, surface diversity and incongruity could be disregarded.

But this picture of the world is, as we have seen, no longer entirely convincing. ...

Meyer proposed that the ideology that nurtured pluralism had, until the 20th century, eclipsed observable diversity itself. Where Meyer went on to emphasize that the assumptions made by the ideology that fostered pluralism were suspect, I think there's another way of putting things--the actual diversity that came to be observable in the world across space and time became too big to fit within the ideals of a universal brotherhood of Man as conceived in Western European terms (insert "patriarchal/imperialist, etc" here if you like).  It was supposed that in the end we'd all discover that we bleed the same blood and that means we're the same.

But we're not, even if we are.  Our stories are different and in lieu of a shared story that could unite us all as humans we'll default to the stories that define us.  You know, people who are into Marvel are into Marvel and people who are into DC are into DC and only some are into both or you could say a majority of humanity is understandably into neither. 

We now see that the pluralism within the world, within the span of humanity, is vastly greater than the ideology that nurtured the Western conception of pluralism can possibly contain. 

The recent news about Brexit might suggest that if western Europe can't swing a shared story of pan-European identity that the progressive dream of a humanity that sees itself as one seems impossible unless a religion that envisions all of humanity as united on the basis of something or other were invented.

That's been done, like, dozens of times.  And attempts at secularist counterpoints have been of limited success.  There are not more Star Trek conventions than there are churches.


Cal P said...

Of course, there are perhaps two legitimate shocks that might resound from the Brexit:

1) UK becomes more and more of an American satellite, a base station in Europe. This is even more true if the union breaks, and England becomes, functionally, the Philippines of Europe. With Britain being able to leave Europe, this opens up the possibility of further secessions. If it continues, Europe will be carved up into American and Russian camps once again, and/or European nations will become more aggressive towards one another, leading towards a kind of Balkanization of the continent. While I put no trust in princes, the dream of Europe was a hope to close off war in one of the darkest continents. Now that question is reopened as Europe might become another geo-strategic territory for empires. Though, I suppose after 400 years of Western European dominance and hegemony, it serves them right if France becomes a colony of China (I jest).

2)This might reignite the Troubles in Ireland. The peace might not last with tightened borders between the northern counties and the rest. Perhaps the more liberal climate might prevail and northern Ireland might peacefully secede, but unlikely, nor will Downing Street allow that. So Sinn Fein might become a popular front once again, a reason to ignite conflict and cast out the British who are preventing the Irish from joining with their fellow Europeans. I can smell the propaganda already.

All in all, I wonder if this is Britain's return to isolation and nothing more, or if this will be the beginning of the end for the EU.


Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

It's seemed like the UK was an American satellite in some ways since the start of Gulf War 2. The Phillipines would probably still rather be a satellite of the U.S. than China for the time being, or so I'm hearing from recent emigres.

I grew up watching the EU slowly and inefficiently take shape and it never seemed like it was going to go anywhere.

One of the annoyance as I've had, as a US citizen, has been reading op-eds from the European side complaining about American imperialism and racism as if those legacies weren't exported to the north American continent by the European cultures that have in the days since the Cold War complained about our imperialism.

It can be easy for some folks to forget that empires have this habit of proclaiming their values and aspirations to be universal. Reading western Marxists approvingly quote Mao on the arts (I'm reading through Cornelius Cardew's Stockhausen serves Imperialism) is a sobering reminder that whatever groups we might be tempted to think won't be imperialistic end up being imperialistic.

Cal P said...

I'd say the UK has been a satellite since the end of WW2, and the fundamental fissures within the Empire that put it on an inevitable course towards sunset. And, as some have pointed out, the US' rein over the UK, when in the EU, allowed an American presence within Europe. So with the kind of populism of the Brexit, US operators are dismayed. I'm not so sure, who knows what interests are cheering the UK pulling out of Europe.

Yeah, European critics of Europe are silly. It's funny to think how it wasn't so long ago that the British were the world empire who possessed notoriously ignorant, obnoxious world tourists that embarrassed the nation. Now the British are sophisticated and the Americans have inherited that mantle. The largess of empire makes philistines of all! Whether it's France in prior colonies, Germany's iron-fisted austerity policy forced upon struggling European nations, or what have you, Europe is no innocent, but it was certainly better than a return to the struggles of decades past.

chris e said...

The geography of the Leave vote was that of those left-behind. Either those left behind in the wake of Thatcherism (voters in the former industrial areas who had not seen a social settlement, and pre-GFC had been tided over to a limited extent by transfers from the South East), or those older - usually much better off - voters in middle England who had been left behind socially).

I wouldn't read too much into the tropes of betrayal used in some progressive circles, its a fairly common one in internet debate.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

indignant declaration of betrayal probably IS the internet at this point. :) Good point.