Sunday, February 7, 2016

Political Atrophy

Peter Hitchen's compares the forthcoming UK referendum on leaving the EU to that of a prisoner who accidentally finds himself outside the prison and soon longs to return there. His main point is that Britain simply no longer has the indigenous competence to be an independent country once again:
Anyway, how many active adults, now participating in the political process, can remember what it was like being in an independent country, whose Parliament was sovereign,  whose embassies flew its own flag and nobody else’s, whose head of state wasn’t a citizen of someone else’s country,  which chose its own economic policy, had its own fishing grounds, decided how to subsidise its own farms, issued its own passports, controlled its own borders, made its own alliances and trade agreements, did not abandon its traditions and its particular special ways of doing things to conform with some great overarching plan?
If I was English I'd certainly be tempted to vote to leave the EU: the European Project is now akin to building a bigger mainframe computer in a world of smartphones and iPads. It has outlived its purpose (or perhaps forgotten it) and is increasingly in danger of making things worse for European citizens rather than better. As Bryan Ryan recently put it in a new paper from Theos, Europe has lost its soul and needs to rediscover it. Though he, like I, thinks it may be too late.

What might make me hesitate - in the event I was voting on Brexit - is the state of England itself. The England I knew when I lived there in the 1980s is mostly gone. Benjamin Schwarz argues in a brilliant essay that the deliberate project of cultural revolution via mass immigration instigated by the first New Labour government under Tony Blair in the 1990s has 'succeeded' in that 'England' and what it means to be 'English' isn't what it used to be, and never will be again. He observes (before quoting one of England's greatest socialists, George Orwell) that:
In the context of the enlightened cosmopolitan values that hold sway in Britain today, once the majority’s views are thus ruled beyond the pale, liberal democracy permits—in fact demands—that the majority be excluded from political consultation. At the very best, it is safe to say that the confines of acceptable public debate on culturally determined ethnic differences, national identity, and mass immigration are exceedingly narrow. The consensus of the bien pensant can, of course, be just as effective as outright censorship in its stultifying political effect, as Orwell explained: 
"At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing."
Hitchen's gloomy assessment of England's atrophied abilities to ever again be an independent nation is a timely reminder as we endure a General Election debate here in Ireland about non-issues such as 'fiscal space'.  Our own 'orthodoxy' leaves us dangerously unprepared for the disruption likely in our next door neighbour in the coming months and years (even if they vote against Brexit).  I hope the English vote to remain in the EU for Ireland's sake (at least in the short run), but I'd applaud a vote to leave if it meant the England I admire might be saved.

And who knows, it might even create an opportunity to save Europe's soul. Stranger things have happened.

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