Saturday, July 2, 2016

On Brexit

So, BREXIT happened last week. In a surprising result to many, including me, Britain voted to leave the European Union 52-48. I had not been following the Brexit campaigns (Daniel Hannan speech videos notwithstanding)  nearly as much as the fun and games of Trump and Bernie. In fact, the departure of the RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan dubbed R3XIT, which got a lot of coverage, was sold as a massive blow to market sentiments and that combined with the possibility of Brexit had all financial market commentators on high alert and that's how it came back on to my radar. Since the surprise result, which caused tremendous financial mayhem, I have been following the political and media reactions and the fallout with some interest and dare I say, amusement - especially the part pertaining to the British political Game of Thrones like scenarios.

As one might expect, the rejection of the European Union by the English is being condemned by the liberal elite. It is being looked at as a racist, xenophobic reaction. Some others are calling it a rejection of elites by the masses. Many have called into question - the wisdom of having a referendum for such an issue (perhaps rightly), while others are vociferous in asking for a re-match so to speak.

Yuval Levin, writing in the National Review, had one of the best posts that I read. I totally agree with his line on foreign elections: As a general matter, I tend to think that honing sharp opinions about foreign elections is a bad habit to be in.

The points about the tensions between the Left's view that globalism is the future and nationalism is the past, and how it contradicts the present realities is very well made. The parallels of the feeling among the common people fighting against the elites in both Brexit and the rise of Trump are well described by Levin and his invocation of Edmund Burke is spot on:

I think the sheer vastness of our society, as well as the substance of the American idea and the demands of human flourishing, mean that a revival of the national spirit in America would need to be a kind of sum of subsidiarity—that it would follow from a revival of the local and communal. This is what Edmund Burke had in mind with his famous reference to the “little platoon,” which is often selectively quoted to suggest an elevation of the local in place of the national. Burke said “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” That insight seems to me to harbor an answer to the crisis that manifests itself in the simultaneous rise of radical individualism and radical cosmopolitanism.
Essentially, Levin is suggesting that it is through flourishing local communities and groups that society can combat the various challenges of let's say the negative aspects of globalisation, that certainly cannot be ignored now.

This piece is Dissent Magazine described the divide over Brexit as a London problem. These lines summarized the divide very well:
In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites—the economic elites of “the City” (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together. This has proved to be a toxic combination.
For the rest of the country has felt more and more excluded, not only from participation in the creativity and prosperity of London, but more crucially from power. 
This piece in The Spectator gave a vivid account of the divisions that this referendum exposed.

The referendum revealed a great divide in Britain. According to YouGov polling, the overwhelming majority of university graduates — 70 per cent — were for Remain. But among those with nothing above some GCSEs, a similarly big majority — 68 per cent — were for Leave. The highest social classes were for Remain (62 per cent). The lowest were for Leave (63 per cent).
There was also a city versus country divide. Parts of London were well over 70 per cent for Remain, whereas country areas — particularly on the coast — were for Leave.
Every election is divisive, but none has pitted rich against poor like this one. The social divide has been far more dramatic than the divide between the two main political parties. In general elections, the professional and managerial classes favour the Tories by a margin of four to three. The difference is nothing like as marked as the social divide in the referendum vote. As a generalisation, the split has been between the educated ‘haves’ on one side and the working class on the other. The Remainers found ways of making this point — casting themselves as cosmopolitan and ‘open’ against the crude and (presumably) closed-minded Leavers. 

David Frum, writing in the Atlantic, was of the opinion that immigration was the main reason behind Britain voting for leave. This paragraph is a very good summary:

Is it possible that leaders and elites had it all wrong? If they’re to save the open global economy, maybe they need to protect their populations better against globalization’s most unwelcome consequences—of which mass migration is the very least welcome of them all?
Matii Taibbi in the Rolling Stone had this: The Reaction to Brexit Is the Reason Brexit Happened.

Were I British, I'd probably have voted to Remain. But it's not hard to understand being pissed off at being subject to unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. Nor is it hard to imagine the post-Brexit backlash confirming every suspicion you might have about the people who run the EU.
Imagine having pundits and professors suggest you should have your voting rights curtailed because you voted Leave. Now imagine these same people are calling voters like you "children," and castigating you for being insufficiently appreciative of, say, the joys of submitting to a European Supreme Court that claims primacy over the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.
The overall message in every case is the same: Let us handle things.
But whatever, let's assume that the Brexit voters, like Trump voters, are wrong, ignorant, dangerous and unjustified.
Even stipulating to that, the reaction to both Brexit and Trump reveals a problem potentially more serious than either Brexit or the Trump campaign. It's become perilously fashionable all over the Western world to reach for non-democratic solutions whenever society drifts in a direction people don't like. 
Brendan O'Neil had a piece on similar lines in The Spectator, describing the dangerous recent trend of modern elites quick to not accept democratic verdicts that don't go according to their wishes.

And finally, Ed West in this prescient piece written just before the result tells us how societies are likely to be increasingly divided in the foreseeable future because people are beginning to identify themselves in two starkly different terms:

So whoever loses tomorrow will feel great bitterness. They will feel especially bitter because they’ve learned to see their nation not as a group of people joined together by ancestry or adoption but as an extension of their own ideals. I’ve seen lots of people tweet they want to remain because they want this country to be defined by certain values. Others saying that the other side are taking away their birth right by steering the country away from the way they want it to go.
Perhaps, but being a citizen of a country, rather than just a subject, means suppressing your own wants and concerns in favour of the common good, since your ideals, and your preferred direction, might be squarely at odds with those of your fellow citizens. And so the less a country is defined by things like history and the more by ideals and values, the more bitter the arguments will be over what those ideals are, and the less ready people will be to accept when they happen to lose.


  1. What you're saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I'm sure you'll reach so many people with what you've got to say.

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