Faith, Doubt and Brexit

Anti Brexit march

A warning about the disturbing fundamentalism of Continuity Remain and the anti-Brexit crusaders

In the course of arguing on Twitter this evening, I received back the following piece of friendly psychological analysis from a longtime follower and antagonist.

The text reads:

“You are almost always wrong, as if you’re from another planet. I’m starting to feel pity, not sure if for you or for the people who have to suffer the consequences of what you keep saying with grave conviction. Please take a step back and reflect.”

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Now, I don’t necessarily take issue with the charge of being “almost always wrong”, nor even the insinuation that I hail from extraterrestrial origins. But the funny thing is that I am actually a rather introspective person, and do spend quite a lot of time stepping back and reflecting on my beliefs and political worldview – perhaps in fact never more so than now, when law school has limited my available time to write.

Also, having never attained any level of fame or recognition from my writing (save a solitary appearance on the BBC and the very occasional retweet from a famed Twitter bluecheck journalist) I have not been subject to the temptation to lapse into permanent “transmit mode”, that gnawing need to be seen by my legions of followers as an all-knowing sage, privy to Great Knowledge and the secret schemes of the political elite.

In fact, performing a word count search on my blog reveals that the word “introspection” appears over 30 times in more than 20 articles – usually in the context of me demanding that certain politicians, journalists or other actors engage in some introspection as to their recent behavior, and precisely because I hold myself to this standard of regular self-reflection and accountability.

So I do take it somewhat personally when it is suggested I “take a step back and reflect” on my position on Brexit, because that is something I frequently do anyway. Having begun my age of political awareness as a devout europhile and even ardent euro-federalist, I already know many of the arguments in favor of the EU and against Brexit inside-out, without needed to hear mangled recitations of them from the Continuity Remain lobby’s telegenic campaign mouthpieces. In some cases, I was spouting many of those same tedious lines about “friendship ‘n cooperation” while pro-EU “celebrities” like EU Supergirl and Femi Oluwole were probably still watching children’s television rather than the evening news.

Having been on a journey from ardent euro-federalist (I once proudly wore a polo-shirt emblazoned with the Euro logo, soon after the single currency’s launch) to reluctant supporter to resigned leaver to committed Brexiteer, I have naturally examined and re-examined my views and the evidence supporting them on repeated occasions. That’s what it is to change one’s mind. And when it comes to the question of Britain’s European Union membership, I would always sooner listen to someone who once held an opposing view only to change their minds – whichever side they ultimately end up on – because at least I then know I am dealing with someone who has likely evaluated conflicting evidence or willingly exposed themselves to alternate viewpoints. The result is almost always a more productive exchange of ideas, and the avoidance of those dreary social media debates where two ideologues simply sling dueling talking points at one another with no intention of engaging in real debate.

Thus I continually questioned my beliefs before I started taking a more outspoken role in the Leave movement. Was the EU really as harmful to our democracy and impervious to attempts at reform as I had come to believe? Were many of the benefits of EU membership really replicable through other means that did not involve supranational government? Was the EU actually the best we could hope to do in terms of looking at governance beyond the nation state at a time of globalization? Were there realistic prospects of spurring that broader international discussion through Brexit, or would it be an act of national self-mutilation that had no ripple effects beyond Britain? Would it be better to just bide our time sheltering inside the European Union while we waited for someone else to finally address the pressing issue of balancing global governance with national (and local) democracy? Does it look like anybody else is about to step up to the plate and begin that work? Is the EU actually going to step up, admit its past failings and respond in a humble new citizen-centered way?

I also inevitably thought about how history would judge the positions I took and the statements I made, particularly at a time when social media records every throwaway remark or careless retweet, creating a rich seam of information that can be used by the unscrupulous to destroy one’s reputation and career. If Brexit was likely to fail and its opponents succeed in portraying it as a doomed nationalist spasm fueled primarily by xenophobia, was it worth the risk of me sticking my head above the parapet and supporting it? With so many powerful people on the pro-EU side, Remainers never seriously had to worry about being viewed by the history books as a latter-day Nazi if Brexit succeeded despite their opposition – they had more than enough manpower in the political, commercial, academic and cultural arenas to effectively absolve themselves from any blame for standing in the way of Brexit if it did lead to good things. Not so Brexiteers – like the American revolutionaries who would have been hung for treason had they not prevailed, history’s judgment would likely be merciless to Leave advocates and voters if Brexit did not go well, even if the fault was that of saboteurs determined to ensure that it not succeed.

Even after winning the referendum in 2016, I questioned my choices. The very next day, as Brexiteers toasted victory, I travelled with my wife and friends to Greece on holiday. As we passed through the EU flag-starred lane at passport control, I again asked myself if my decision to support Brexit had been a mistake; whether the EU, imperfect as it is, was the best we could do; whether it were better to remain in a vast bloc and regulatory superpower that looked likely to centralize further and become more powerful, even if it meant the further atrophy of British democracy, in order to remain “in the club”.

And of course the dismal events of the past two years – as Article 50 was triggered prematurely and without a plan, negotiated ineptly by a government sorely lacking in expertise, held to account by a Parliament full of MPs who cared more about appearing superficially knowledgeable or striking partisan poses than actually understanding the important minutiae on which everything depends, watched over by a debased and infantilized national media which either failed to contain its bias or do its due diligence – only led to more such introspection. Was it all a terrible mistake? Was there never anything good to be won? Was it inevitable that things would end up this way, with our government, opposition and legislature beclowning themselves in front of the world on a daily basis?

Yet after all of my questioning, my answer remains the same – Britain was right to vote to leave the European Union. I was right to campaign for Britain to do so. Even now, we are right to pursue Brexit and to resist those who would like to simply maintain the status quo in our governance and relationship with the EU. The fundamentals have not changed – indeed, Continuity Remainers seeking to overturn the result have generally still not bothered to discern precisely what those fundamentals are, in order to better communicate with Leave voters.

I do, however, wonder whether my far more famous and eminent counterparts on the Remain side have ever once engaged in the kind of introspection and self-questioning as to their stance of opposing Brexit and uncritically embracing the EU that I perform on a routine basis regarding my opposition to the project. And I strongly suspect that many of them have not.

Do you think for a moment that James O’Brien, LBC’s anti-Brexit polemicist-in-chief, as ever once taken a break from his task of finding the most inarticulate, confused and angry Brexit supporters to “defeat” in argument on his show to question any of the fundamental issues about the EU and Brexit that I and other Brexiteers consider every day?

James Obrien Brexit LBC

Do you think that eminent celebrity academics like AC Grayling ever once take a break from rending their garments and peddling conspiracy theories on Twitter to consider whether they might themselves be trapped in a closed ideological echo chamber which prevents them from fulfilling the basic academic and scientific duty of exposing their dogmas and hypotheses to scrutiny and criticism from alternative perspectives?

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Do you think that grandees like Tony Blair and John Major ever really stop and reconsider the pivotal moments in their administrations, and ask themselves whether they might have ever misjudged the march toward greater EU integration without public consent? Or is it more likely that they are simply desperate to cement their legacies rather than concede potential error?

Tony Blair and John Major warn against Brexit

Do you think that progressive-left religious leaders like the vast majority of bishops of the Church of England – people who are supposed to unite the nation in faith but who have often chosen instead to use politics to divide us while idolizing a slick salesman’s vision of European unity – have ever prayerfully reflected on their behavior?

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Do you think that issue-illiterate, virtue-signaling woke celebrities like Gary Lineker and Eddie Izzard ever engaged in a serious evaluative process of understanding valid complaints about the EU and the driving forces behind Brexit, or is it more likely that their publicists simply spotted a good opportunity for them to effortlessly win acclaim from the chatterati?

Gary Lineker celebrity Remainer Brexit

Do you think that the self-regarding doyens of the prestige international media ever take a break from communing with Bono to learn the causes of populism in order to question whether their very actions might contribute to the problem, and whether their uncritical acceptance of the legitimacy of bodies like the European Union (and consequent feeble scrutiny of them) was harmful to the very democracy they claim to defend?

Fareed Zakaria Bono Populism Brexit

Do you think that the plum voices of the BBC ever take a break from smearing UKIP voters or flatly declaring without evidence that Tory MPs belong to the “far right” in order to question whether they are really promoting the cause of truth and serving the whole of society?

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Do you think that shamelessly biased Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow ever actually seriously considered whether he was wrong to negatively highlight and criticize the number of “white people” attending a pro-Brexit rally in Westminster?

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In all of the above cases, I believe that the answer is probably “no”. Convinced of their righteousness from the start, these individuals and many others switched into permanent transmit mode on 24 June 2016 (and in some cases long before), never once subjecting themselves to the discomfort and potential cognitive dissonance of questioning their own assumptions.

Maybe these people have actually forfeited the public trust and the right to their bully pulpits in the media.

Maybe when evaluating how Brexit is being attempted, resisted and portrayed in the media, we should ask ourselves who is actually engaging in an intellectual exercise of any kind, and who has simply lapsed into triumphantly bleating articles of faith, with little questioning of their own side. I would argue that many of the latter can be found in prominent positions on the Continuity Remain campaign, or at the apex of those organizations and industries which most strongly support it. And ironically, many of them can also be found publicly marveling at the inability of Brexiteers to reconsider their stance, question their dogmas and change their minds.

The truth is that Brexiteers have had nearly three years of unremitting exposure to the scorn, derision and hatred of many of the most respected and influential groups in our society – the politicians elected to our Parliament; the people who staff our civil service, lead our educational institutions, run our largest companies, lead our charities and edit our newspapers; the people who act in our favorite films and television shows, entertain us with their stand-up comedy or represent us at the pinnacle of professional sports, literature, music and the arts. Three years of this unremitting negativity and hostility from opposing forces in the most powerful reaches of the country; three years of embarrassing failure after failure by the people tasked with executing the decision we made at the ballot box on 23 June 2016, and still there is no overwhelming desire among Brexiteers nor the country as a whole to scrap Brexit and remain a member state of the European Union.

You could say that this is emotion over reason, that it is faith over fact, that it is a desperate act of confirmation bias by people who simply don’t want to admit to themselves that they were wrong. But every single one of these attack lines is also a piercing dagger which can just as easily be aimed right back at the heart of the Continuity Remainer “resistance” movement – people who despite being rebuffed at the referendum against all the odds and opinion polls have still not engaged in any kind of meaningful introspection at a group or individual level, and many of whom never once questioned their stance on Brexit, prior to nor after the referendum.

We are continually told that Remain voters and their movement’s heroes are more highly educated – even more moral – than those of us who had the nerve to imagine a future for British democracy outside the European Union. We are told that they are stringent disciples of reason while we are base creatures motivated by nativist superstition and easily led astray by nefarious outside influence. But it’s all a total sham. Theirs is a priesthood with no monopoly on fundamental truth, just a desperate faith in the European Union as the solution to problems which it has shown no capacity to meet.

There is indeed an emergent quasi-religious movement in Britain, one which holds its truths as unquestionable dogma, which views nonbelievers as automatically “lesser than” and which blindly fetishizes a flag as representation of all that is good and true in humanity. But the new faith militant in British politics is not the fractured and browbeaten Brexit movement. It is the Cult of Continuity Remain, and the banner under which it triumphantly marches bears the twelve yellow stars of the European Union.

 

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A Crisis Of Identity: When Global Elites Forget How To Be Patriotic

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The global, liberal elite are increasingly transcending any lingering commitment to patriotism and national identity, setting them on a collision course with the small-c conservative majority

Michael Lind has an unmissable essay in the National Review this week, entitled “The Open-Borders ‘Liberaltarianism’ of the New Urban Elite“, which manages to explain so much about the rise of Donald Trump and the growing inability of political elites in America and Britain to speak to whole swathes of the country they supposedly control.

The crux of Lind’s argument seems to be that the educated, liberal (to use American parlance) inhabitants of the large cities have increasingly taken on what were always fringe libertarian ideas about open borders and the irrelevance or undesirability of the nation state, leading them to pursue policies and espouse values which alienate the more suburban and rural population.

Key quote:

To date, the public conversation on both sides of the Atlantic has been dominated almost entirely by the elite inhabitants of Densitaria, interrupted only by occasional populist revolts such as the Trump phenomenon or the Brexit vote. In a relatively short period of time, a new elite ideology has emerged that contrasts the dynamic, multicultural, libertarian city-state with the allegedly anachronistic and immoral nation-state. This ascendant worldview unites the open-borders economics and cosmopolitan, utilitarian morality of old-fashioned libertarianism with an idealization of the largest cities and their denizens.

In the 1970s and 1980s, libertarians made all of the major arguments heard from globalists since the 1990s: Favoring citizens over foreign nationals is the equivalent of racism; national borders impeding the free flow of labor and goods are both immoral and inefficient; the goal of trade and immigration policy should not be the relative security or relative wealth of particular countries, but the absolute economic well-being of all human beings.

Until the 1990s, this was an eccentric minority perspective in the U.S. and other democracies, encountered only in small-circulation libertarian journals or in the work of the occasional unworldly academic theorist of cosmopolitan ethics. But in the 2000s, as affluent whites from the professional class and their Latino, immigrant, and black allies displaced working-class whites as the base of the Democratic party, the traditional labor-liberal opposition to low-wage immigration and offshoring of industry was replaced by a new open-borders progressivism distinguishable from traditional libertarianism only by its unworkable combination of support for unrestricted immigration with a generous national welfare state.

This certainly accounts for one of the main reasons behind the Labour Party’s civil war in Britain – from the Blair era onward, Labour has been entirely captured by the open-borders progressives and increasingly turned its back on its former working class voter base. Even under the current Labour leadership election, both candidates hold open borders convictions to their core, even if only Owen Smith is stupid enough to rant about overturning the EU referendum result in public.

It also accounts for the increasing public rage (among non-progressives) about immigration in America, where the Democrats are proud and unrepentant in their support for illegal immigration while the Republicans have talked a tough talk for decades yet done nothing, precisely because the Republican political elites benefit from the current immigration status quo as much as anyone. Enter Donald Trump to an arena where nobody else is even seriously talking about the impact of mass immigration on wages and cultural cohesion, and one cannot be surprised when his crude, simplistic solutions gain political traction.

More:

The combination of open-borders “liberaltarianism” and trendy urbanist hype might lead one to wonder whether leagues of dynamic city-states should replace moribund modern nation-states. Benjamin Barber has published a book titled If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Barber is one of the founders of the Global Parliament of Mayors, which, according to his website, can help “fill the void left by nation states who [sic] are increasingly dysfunctional.” The economist Paul Romer has proposed boosting Third World development by means of semi-autonomous “charter cities,” which to his critics look remarkably like Western colonial enclaves.

Not even Barber and Romer propose actual urban independence. While cities may teach one another best practices, there is not the slightest chance that leading American cities will secede from the United States, link up with other city-states around the world, and form a new, global version of the Hanseatic League or the Delian League.

We saw the same loose talk after the EU referendum vote, with many Londoners (most of whom have no conception of what the EU really is or how it works) furious at having part of their cosmopolitan identity ripped away from them (as they see it) suggesting that London should somehow secede from the rest of the “backward” United Kingdom and become its own independent city state.

Of course this would never actually happen, but it shows just how disconnected the metropolitan elites are becoming from the country as a whole, and the sheer contempt with which they regard other regions which dared to express their patriotism and belief in self-determination by voting for Brexit. It is also misplaced arrogance of the worst sort – the lights would go out and people would begin to starve in London within days were it not for the arterial links of people and goods from the supposedly terrible and backward rural and suburban regions.

And it is this continual feeling of disrespect, I think, which does so much to drive populist insurgencies like the rise of Donald Trump, and (if I am honest) even those populist causes that I actually agree with, like Brexit. People in the industrial and commuter heartlands, as well as rural folk, are getting increasingly sick of being told that they are too backward, too intolerant, too racist, that their own priorities and concerns do not matter and that they should be led in all regards by an urban elite who don’t even seem terribly attached to the country that gives them life and liberty, and who find the slightest display of national pride or patriotism almost painfully embarrassing.

I’m fortunate. I got into a good university and managed to embark on a career which has seen me work in numerous countries across three continents. But if this had not been the case – if, like many of my peers, an international business career was either never on the cards or simply not what I wanted to do – then I would probably be quite put out by people whose interest and commitment to any one country seems transitory at best telling me what I should think about immigration, global governance and democracy.

Now living in remain-voting West Hampstead, I am surrounded by the kind of people who are aghast at the Brexit vote and who consider it a calamity brought down upon the heads by the kind of ignorant, unwashed oiks whom they would never normally speak to unless they were fixing their car or serving them a burger. I can see how it must grate with Middle England, because it grates with me.

Lind goes on to touch on this point:

What appears to be a debate among globalists and nationalists, then, is really a debate about the structure of the 21st-century nation-state. There are real dangers associated with the coalescing elite ideology of post-national globalism or, to be precise, national-elite pseudo-globalism.

One danger is groupthink resulting from the attempt by the new globalists to equate even enlightened and civic nationalism with racism. When the economist Larry Summers, nobody’s idea of a pitchfork-waving populist, tentatively called for “responsible nationalism,” he was criticized by The Economist, whose open-borders libertarianism, once eccentric, has become near-orthodoxy among the trans-Atlantic elite.

And closes with this stark warning:

The most significant threat is the possibility that the abandonment of national patriotism by many elite citizens of the nation-state for make-believe cosmopolitanism will weaken national unity, to the benefit of sub-national racism, ethnocentrism, and regionalism. The loyalties that succeed national solidarity are likely to be narrower, not broader. If history is any guide, the victims of tribalism and illiberal populism are likely to include would-be citizens of the world who despise the nation-states that make possible not only their wealth but also their security.

Absolutely. This blog has been banging on for years about the continued importance of the nation state as the final guarantor of most of our most precious rights and freedoms. But the nation state is also, in the democratic age, a relatively harmless way of allowing people to feel and express a sense of belonging and community pride without tipping over into other, much darker expressions of identity.

Those weepy europhiles mourning Britain’s imminent departure from the EU because they consider themselves “European citizens” might want to pause and think through the consequences of further undermining the nation state, which is the primary aim of their beloved project. Because enlightened, one-world government is a few centuries away yet, and whatever crops up to replace the nation state that they so eagerly undermine will likely be unpleasant, even violent.

And while it may not be purely libertarian, this blog would much rather live in a world of moderate, familiar nationalist rivalry than descend into the known horrors of ethnic or religious sectarianism. We already see the early fruits of this blinkered commitment to “multiculturalism” in self-segregated and un-policed communities here in Britain among certain immigrant populations. We don’t need to extend those delights to the entire population.

What is the solution? Michael Lind does not offer one, and this blog does not see an easy fix either. But when global elites (Davos Man and the like) and the next tier down (those with international lives and careers) have more in common with each other than with those of other socio-economic groups and communities in their own countries, it is a recipe for political alienation and the eventual fracturing of our civic life.

To avoid disaster and a true crisis of democracy, our ruling elites in the political and commercial sphere must somehow learn to be patriotic again – for if the nation state has no champions it will go on being relentlessly undermined on all fronts. But right now there is little evidence that they are remotely interested in bridging the growing chasm between their own interests and those of the people they supposedly “serve”.

This leaves the field wide open for the likes of Donald Trump and UKIP 3.0 to make inroads with voters left cold by the other options available to them. And the time may soon come when the political elites sorely regret ceding this territory.

 

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Bottom Image: Stefan Molyneux, Globalism versus Culture

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