So the hammer has fallen, the vote was taken, and England (the United Kingdom as it presently stands: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) will depart from the EU. The uproar has been, understandably, intense. Millenials and Gen-X blame Baby Boomers for voting to leave. For wanting sovereignty as a nation and cutting off the socialist ideal of the supranational confederation called the European Union.
As an aside, it seems ironic that the very generation that has voted strongly to withdraw were the same age as the present Millenials and Gen-X are when Britain first joined the EU in 1973. Perhaps, through the hard won wisdom of experience, they have learned something and upon that experience have made their present choice? It’s a thought.
A few questions about the dynamics surrounding Brexit arise: Is Britain floating out there all alone in the North Atlantic with no safety net? Is there such a thing as a long-term “supranational” league? What will happen to Europe? Who will the “big-cheese” of the continent be? What does it take to make a “united” Europe?
Leagues of nations
In our day and age, we have had experience with supranational organizations, in other words, confederations or treaty organizations in which nation states have agreed to subsume their individual sovereignty (to varying degrees and sometimes unwillingly) in favor of a power or structure that issues oversight and force upon said states. In other words, the United Nations, a kind of world congress or parliament with the power to enforce its will upon various nations. Governed purportedly by those it represents, by those very nations in congress and committee. (I question the success of this. Is there really one nation that can with objectivity judge the actions of another?)
Though the ideal of world unity, in the best of circumstances, has a ring of hopefulness to it, I remain a cynic about the actual success of this endeavor under human auspices. I believe it will take a more Divine benevolence to affect the change to peace among the peoples of the world. Peace comes with a price tag of obedience.
Returning to supranational organizations, the UK does already belong to a league of nation states that is larger in number than the EU. This financial safety net is called the Commonwealth of nations and is a vestige of much of the economic power that was wielded by Britain in the heyday of its Empire. That commonwealth has 53 member states, some of which were part of the former empire and some which were not, and it stretches around the globe, particularly in Africa and Asia. It wields, through economic cooperation and shared ideals regarding the rule of law, a considerable amount of power and influence. It counts among its members India, which has developed significant economic momentum in recent decades.
The immediate financial destruction of the UK is therefore not guaranteed, as many Brexit opponents and foreign observers have predicted.
Supranational on the long term?
Do these multi-national leagues or confederations have significant longevity? I have my doubts.
If we step back to look at ancient Rome, we see a supranational organization called…the Roman Empire. It ruled other proto-nations, peoples who gave up their sovereignty mostly by force to obey the Emperor (a religious figure it should be noted) and to some degree benefit from the financial advantages of the trade within the empire. This usually came after thousands of people from whichever ethnic group were slaughtered to prove to them how superior life (or in their case, death) by empire was.
Before Rome came other empires, Greek, Persian, Babylonian, Assyrian. None of them, Rome included, has significant longevity as a supranational conglomeration for very long. Rome strung out the original empire (with fluctuating borders here and there) for about 500 years (a good run), albeit a fairly bloody one. Persia, in various degree and conglomerations for longer than that (kind of). China as an entity went back and forth from a confederation of conquered nations to merely a group of ethnically related, but separate kingdoms just as Egypt did through the centuries. The 13th and 14th centuries A.D./C.E. being the heyday of Chinese empire, and possibly an argument could be made for the present.
Large alliances of peoples have the fluid capacity to shift and lurch in shape and form. They become, unruly. And in the ancient world unruliness was put down by force. A lot of very, violent force. The likes of you and I being the fodder of such force, and odds are, if we shift back to such a militant world climate, we will again be so. Sad to say.
What about the United States of America as a confederation? Well, first of all the “states” are as currently defined, really just provincial organizational units of the centralized government, and aren’t peopled by individuals with a long-standing unified ethnic and/or language heritage, as one might describe the European “nation” states. We are a melting pot with a shared history of “coming to America” (even the Native Americans) through the centuries, particularly the 19th century. As a national alliance we are coming up on 240 years of history this year. Not a bad run, historically speaking, but with recent mismanagement (both politically and morally) the future looks, at present, bleak.
Bringing together actual nations which indeed have their own long-standing history, a specific ethnic history, and a unique language is more complex. In part because somebody has to admit that somebody else is in charge. One nation has to take the lead. We idealize the thought that it is possible to have shared power, but the reality of human nature and interaction proves that, throughout history, to be a fallacy. At best we can create balance of power, or mutually assured destruction to withhold us from the brink.
We are usually left with, on the positive side benevolent, enlightened dictatorship or oligarchy (often dressed up as a republic). On the dark side, this descends into the worst atrocities of the 20th century (as was seen in Germany and Russia, and other places).
So, supranational organizations do indeed have term limits. Sometimes they run long and other times they run very short. I think the EU, as it stands, has run short. Europe has never been a particularly non-violent place. Its history is layered with conflict as is not surprising when many peoples with long-standing histories jostle in close quarters.
Nationalism is alive
This brings up another reality. The renaissance of nationalism. The media called it the “Arab Spring” a couple of years ago, but really it is a spirit of nationalism that has moved the peoples of the world to recognize that they are unique and demand respect as individual nations, and can’t be combined into one “world” through the auspices of a socialist paradise. In fact, the dream of the socialist ideal in which individuals and individual nations subsume their identities for the “greater good” as defined by someone important ruling from somewhere else, has turned into a nightmare. Economically certainly and now spiritually.
The “Nationalist Spring” has descended upon us, and is the right wing swing following on the left wing sweep of the past several decades. It is reactive, violent, and purposeful (compared to the limpid alternatives) and won’t be going anywhere for a while.
So where does “Brexit” fit into this?
It is a part of the ethos that is emerging, the recognition of national identity. It is a sign that the EU, as a whole, is a failure. The UK, despite the slams against it as a puny island nation, is actually a significant economic engine and banking state. It funded a significant portion of the EU, but mismanagement (iconized by the March 2016 terrorist attacks that took place right outside the headquarters of the EU and at the Brussels airport – ie. an entity that cannot even protect itself from existential threats), the ineptitude of the handling of the refugee crisis by the other driver of the EU, Germany, through its weakening political leadership under Angela Merkel, and petty, but punishing policies handed out to member states make for an ultimately untenable internal dynamic.
Europe cannot be unified or centralized through economic bureaucracy alone, it must have a spiritual identity around which to develop oneness of mind and ideals. The indelibly anti-Europe force of the moment, the Islamic confederation of co-religionist nations has that unified calling (for better or worse). In the course of time Europe (with a strong central Germanic core) will develop something similar and then, batten down the hatches, we’ll be in for a world-halting rodeo.
Without this eventual unity of calling and religious fervor, Europe can’t fulfill its destiny. The aimless atheism and agnosticism of socialism doesn’t even have the force to coalesce that ardent, atheistic Communism did. Religious fervor goes above and beyond even that, it has the power to change the earth for the better…or worse. It really depends on in whom you place your faith.
We all wondered what the outcome of the Brexit vote would be. Many assumed that things would remain as they are, but a spirit of change is sweeping around the globe and to expect the status quo to remain ad nauseam is naive. We must learn to expect the unexpected.
Does this mean that England is a lost cause? Perhaps, not yet. Taking the long view and waiting to gather additional evidence is a necessary part of analyzing current events in the light of history.
As the old curse goes: “may you live in interesting times.” I think it’s fair to say that we do!
Keep thinking history!
– Amanda Stiver