The Collapse of Western Democracy
Over the weekend, friends asked my opinion of Brexit. You lived abroad, they said, and you’re an analyst or something, so what can you tell us?
It wasn’t what they wanted to hear.
Most Americans who support Britain remaining in the European Union have characterized “leavers” as ignorant, backward-looking bumpkins, motivated by chauvinism or even racism: the British version of Trump supporters.
In a way, that’s what they are — a sizable group of ordinary people with valid concerns who’ve been neglected and misled by elites for so long that they’re seizing their only chance to register their rage at the established order. But just like in the U.S., Britons’ concerns have been buried under an avalanche of prejudice and mischaracterization.
Can we Americans learn anything from this … or is it too late?
The Shadow on the Cave Wall
Like the shadows in Plato’s allegory of the cave, politics is never what it seems. Brexit is a case in point.
Elite opinion says that English cultural chauvinism explains Thursday’s “leave” vote. Many “leavers” were bigots, but for most, anti-immigrant sentiment was just one way they dressed up their underlying frustrations. Tellingly, “leave” seems to have been just as popular amongst nonwhite lower-class British as amongst whites. Second- and third-generation South Asians and West Indians voted the same way as the Andy Capp pub-and-darts set.
Here’s my take on what happened — and why it’s going to happen here, too.
The EU is essentially a supersized free-trade agreement. It provides for the free movement of capital, labor, goods and services throughout the EU. But to avoid competition between member states, EU rules override laws that were previously decided by sovereign parliaments, such as agriculture, fisheries, external trade, the environment and, above all, budget policy.