The conservative case for Brexit
Here are my predictions for today’s Brexit vote: the Northern Irish and the English outside of London will vote to leave. The Welsh, the Scots, and the Londoners will vote to stay. The latter will prevail, at about 57 percent.
I do hope that I’m wrong. This vote is an important symbol in the ideological war between nationalism and globalism; between sovereignty and internationalism; between democracy and technocracy.
One understands why liberals prefer the latter of these formulations. To them, the existence of borders is itself an affront to their cherished cosmopolitanism. Their three largest political projects – statism, radical individualism, and multiculturalism – are all aided when political power is moved upward and centralized; in this case, so far upward that it is outside the country. The bureaucrats who pull the knobs and levers in Brussels cannot, on account of the differences between their subject peoples, derive governing principles or practices from any one national culture. So instead, the principles have to be derived from theories – about rights, justice, duties, entitlements, and freedoms – available to “man as man,” rather than practices developed in a particular national context over centuries, which have actually been proven to work.
The Savoyard anti-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre said, “I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc. But, as for Man, I declare that I have never met him in my life. If he exists, I certainly have no knowledge of him.” This is a founding conservative insight, and one which is antithetical to government conceived in the form of the European Union.
British liberty is a phenomenon unto itself, reliant on British institutions, sovereignty, and culture, that cannot truly flourish in a transnational polity. In a way, this point goes all the way back to the debates between Edmund Burke and Tom Paine. Paine, the radical, believed that politics had to be divorced from culture because culture could get between man and his rights (guaranteed and provided for by the state); Burke, the conservative, believed that culture, as a central component of human nature with its inevitable web of obligations, was an essential part of politics.
A lot of conservatives have been taken in by the European project, on account of its promise for freer trade, greater access to markets, a larger labour pool, competition, and other stalwarts of libertarian economic philosophy. This philosophy has rightly become a part of today’s conservative movement because it articulates a workable (and superior) alternative to socialism. But just because the thought of Friedman and Hayek is superior to that of Marx and Keynes doesn’t mean that political argument stops there; in fact, the utility of economic liberalism is limited to the satisfaction of other, more primary considerations.
In America, the stability of the political system and culture are ideal conditions for economic liberalism. But the European project is a counter-example, where free trade, common standards, and common markets are carrying water for attacks on national sovereignty. This is not to say that its premises are invalidated; insofar as free trading serves the national interest – i.e. in creating wealth and thereby strengthening the economy – it is good. But these policy goals could be achieved without the ambition of “ever closer union,” in which the independence of nations is continuously diluted. There is every reason to believe that a seceded Britain could commit as equally to robust continental trade relationships as it does under EU auspices.
More from the PAH:
At the crossroads for Britain’s future
by Julian Neal
EDITORIAL: Rooting for Brexit
by the PAH Editorial Board
Are Britain’s EU opponents xenophobic nationalists?
by Henry Srebrnik
Conservatives would do well to remember their founding principles: suspicion of state power and the size of government, respect for tradition and culture, and the protection of national sovereignty. The European project is a friend to exactly none of these principles.
I don’t doubt that there would be some short-term consequences to secession. But in deciding which of the outcomes would be the friendliest to their political philosophy, conservatives should see the “Remain” option as hostile. What we have on offer is two competing visions of governance. Under sovereignty and independence, the political regime is bound by a national culture recognizable and familiar to its members, and where the process of democracy is meaningful because both the governing and the governed are part of the same, centuries-old population. Under internationalist premises, the regime is controlled by foreign elites whose culture is alien to the governed, the latter of whom merely function as funders of the central power’s tax base.
If the British are to be subjects, they really ought to be ones of their own monarch, rather than of a Brussels elite, to whom they constitute a faraway people of which it knows little.
The Prince Arthur Herald
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