Do we need a theory of managerial class disintegration? Such an ambitious question can at the least be ventured given our headlines: Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, the European Union and the larger rise of the Euronationalist parties, and the questioning of postwar international institutions, to name a few.
Something strange has been happening all year in Western politics. Both in the United States and Europe, events dismissed as unthinkable have occurred again and again. In June, Britons voted to leave the European Union. In November, Americans elected Donald Trump to be President. In opinion polls throughout 2016, Euroskeptic parties like Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement in Italy and the National Front in France, once derided as fringe movements, have shown continuing appeal. In fact, in Italy, Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement just combined to defeat a constitutional referendum championed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leading Renzi to resign.
Thwarted elites are not good losers. They will resort to any maneuver to ensure that their opinions prevail—which is why I believe that Brexit is by no means a certainty, notwithstanding the recent referendum.
Beginning pre-Brexit and ending post-Turkey coup, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published a series of articles under the heading, Zerfaellt Europa? (Is Europe Crumbling?). Interesting stuff. Naturally it’s all in German and that be difficult speak. I’ll supply links upon request but you’ll have to trust my summaries and translations. Or ignore this and the next post.
Jointly and severally, the articles—authored for the most part by past and present politicians—suggest several conclusions. First, the idea that there might be something wrong with the EU that can’t be fixed with the demand for “more Europe” and “ever closer union” has begun to occur to responsible politicians. Good.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher together moved the world decisively back toward classical liberal principles in the 1980s. Thatcher was elected earlier than Reagan, and she was a harbinger of what was to come in America and the world. Thus, it is significant today that new Prime Minister of Britain, Theresa May, is moving the Conservative Party decisively in the opposite direction—toward more statism and less liberty. It is not only in the United States that the party of the right seems to have lost its classical liberal bearings.
No result of an election or referendum in Britain during my lifetime has produced such an excess of rhetoric among those on the losing side as that concerning Brexit. One survey found that nearly half of young people who voted for Britain to remain in Europe either cried or felt close to crying afterwards. This survey suggests either their depth of feeling or their emotional incontinence. I think the latter is probably the more accurate interpretation. Certainly, many young people selectively interviewed by the media said that they felt that their future had been stolen from them by those who voted…
Britain’s experience of direct democracy by means of referendum has not so far been very happy. The first referendum ever held in Britain was in 1975, and also concerned its (then recent) membership of the then European Economic Community. The result was a decisive vote in favour of remaining, by two thirds of the votes cast; however, because of the high rate of abstention, this represented only 44.44 per cent of the population eligible to vote. Of historical interest is the fact that Scotland was considerably less enthusiastic about membership of the EEC than England: 68.7 per cent in favour in…
The British people’s decision to leave the European Union reveals that Britain, like the EU itself, suffers from a “democracy deficit.”
Several commentators have noted that that reality suggests the problem is not so much a political one, but instead concerns a feeling that “globalization can and has run roughshod over the economic and social orders of old,” and “the extraordinary movement of populations in the world today.” Ramesh Ponnuru argues that it is not Britain but the EU that suffers from the problem; but he probably overcorrects.
Public debate before elections or referenda is seldom notable for its high intellectual level or honesty, and that which preceded the recent referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was no exception. On both sides names were called and nonsense spoken. Those for remaining in the Union implied that trade with Europe would cease if Britain left and even that war on the continent would be more likely. Those for leaving the Union played on fears of limitless immigration, though much of it (for example from Poland) has been good and even necessary for the country, and the inability or unwillingness of the British public administration to control the kind of immigration that is most feared, for example from Moslem countries, has nothing to do with Britain’s membership of the Union.
You may have noticed that not much is said in this space about what goes on in other countries. It’s not that I don’t have opinions; it’s just I don’t imagine mine are worth much. I conspicuously didn’t take a stand on Brexit. It seemed to me there was a good case to be made for Britain’s leaving the European Union and a good case to be made for its staying in. I thought I’d leave it up to them. If I were British, I would have been more psyched up about the whole thing.
The outcome surprised me, because the past history of secessionist movements—such as Quebec and Scotland—has been of a petering out at the end. Just enough people get all prudent and make a safe choice. Not only that, all the factions of the respectably British cognitive elite—top politicians, public intellectuals, the business leaders, celebrities, the unions, and so forth—advocated making the Progressive choice. “Progressive” here means stay the course when it comes to evolving beyond the nation-state in the direction of larger and more cosmopolitan unions. We aspire to be citizens of the world, politics being that pathology that we shed as we move, as Tyler Cowen puts it, from being brutish to being nice.