The Brexit vote has finally come and gone, and as we’ve now learned, the vote is 52-48 in favour of the UK leaving the European Union. The result is not immediate, of course: the process of unwinding the existing links between the UK and the EU will take some time, and trade treaties and the like will need to be negotiated. There’s a long way to go yet.
Nonetheless, much has been said and done in response to the recent outcome, some of which we will look at here.
Brexit: referendum on racism?
The proponents of Brexit have placed much focus on the issue of British sovereignty, claiming that the European Union has strongly undermined it. One of the main issues raised in this regard has been control over the UK’s borders.
Clearly, many in the UK have been concerned about foreigners moving in too easily. Amongst the concerns are the fact that foreigners are ‘stealing’ jobs, as well as their up-take of welfare and social services. As a result, a very interesting narrative has emerged regarding the referendum as a whole: a vote to leave the EU is really just a vote in support of racism.
As I wrote just recently, narrative can be a very powerful force.
Insofar as this narrative has been effective, those who fear being seen as racists, or those who want to claim the moral high ground, would certainly be inclined to vote ‘remain’. Given how important social justice has become to members of the millennial generation throughout the Western world, this may well explain why the younger groups in the UK primarily voted to remain in the EU.
This brings us to the issue of age.
‘Ageism’ is only a problem when it fits the narrative
On any other day, the contemporary ‘socially-conscious’ youth militate on behalf of the old in order to combat ‘ageism’ ie. discrimination against the elderly. Great emphasis is placed on government provision of pensions, healthcare, and so on. Old people are a vulnerable group, and they need to be cherished and protected.
That script has been (temporarily) shelved, though.
In light of the Brexit vote, we are now hearing that older people have betrayed the youth; they are being selfish; they’ve ‘screwed’ the UK; they don’t have to live with the consequences of their decisions. The list of bitter critiques may continue indefinitely.
So which is it?
This is what happens when, instead of having a coherent set of principles, your approach to politics is entirely identity-based. It’s a problem that seems to be particularly prevalent amongst millennials these days, but older generations (especially politicians and public intellectuals) deserve their share of the blame.
This leads to a final important point.
Democracy is great, except when it isn’t
Social grants? Democracy is great!
Healthcare? Democracy is great!
Labour regulations? Democracy is great!
Education? Democracy is great!
UK to leave the EU? Failure! Utter failure! Democracy has let us down and such important decisions cannot be left up to low-information voters! We can’t let such important decisions be made on a whim by just anyone!
Again, it is fair to ask: so which is it?
Some of the most vocal supporters of ‘democracy’ are only happy when it yields the results that they want. The ‘will of the People’ is merely a rhetorical tool that is used when that ‘will’ indicates support for a pre-defined set of positions; and when the ‘will of the People’ goes against (for example) the dominant socio-political narrative, it is simply and definitionally wrong.
This is exactly what the Critical Theorist Max Horkheimer meant when he wrote that “logic is not independent of content.” Democracy is only a good, rational, intelligent system if it leads to a specific set of outcomes.
A note on the referendum itself
In her latter days as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher warned against the Euro currency project and the implications it would have for Europe as a whole. In response to a question by one MP about whether she would continue to fight the single-currency project and a European central bank, and another MP suggesting that she would be that bank’s governor, she had this to say:
“But if I were [governor], there would be no European central bank accountable to no-one, least of all to national parliaments. Because the point of that kind of European central bank is no democracy; taking powers away from every single parliament, and being able to have a single currency and a monetary policy and an interest rate which takes all political power away from us. As my right honourable friend said in his first speech after the proposal of a single currency: a single currency is about the politics of Europe; it is about a federal Europe by the back door.”
In many ways, it seems she was right. The EU is today something of a political leviathan, and the sovereignty of individual states is becoming less and less relevant. With regards to the recent Austrian election, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made it clear that if Norbert Hofer – a candidate he apparently viewed with great disdain – became the Austrian president, his powers in European decision-making bodies would be completely stripped.
Whether Brexit will be a success – or even take place – for the UK is not guaranteed; it is contingent on how the UK government acts in response, amongst other things.
None of this seems to matter to today’s youth, though. They’re too busy feeling sorry for themselves and lashing out in their typical, self-righteous indignation.