As an old Brit with a political interest, I have been engaged by Canadians and others in many conversations since the UK Referendum on Europe. Almost invariably, my interlocutors are shocked to find that I am very happy with the decision to leave Europe. Almost without exception, they find it hard to believe that anyone can think this is anything but a disaster for the UK.
I believe my friends, like many observers, are diverted by the obvious short term disadvantages and confused by the right-wing rhetoric that appears to have driven the result. They are not yet recognising the broader and more positive implications of the Leave victory and the deeper motives that have, temporarily at least, underpinned the right’s appeal.
History, I am certain, will record Brexit as the first major push-back against the forty-year plus neo-liberal globalization project that has created the extreme levels of inequality the vast majority of us suffer under today. The rejection of TPP and similar “free trade” deals that actually benefit only corporations will swiftly follow as step two.
The people are showing that they are sick and tired of policies that delivery billions to the few and endless austerity to the rest (“the disastrous experiment that was austerity, which was an ignominious failure,” as economist Danny Blanchflower recently put it.) . They are understanding that mega-governments — within which genuine power is removed further and further away from the people — have economic and social drawbacks that are far more real that the marketed “benefits”, and they want the return of local control. Deep down, they understand as Dani Rodrik of Harvard University notes: “[S]ocieties cannot be globally integrated, completely sovereign and democratic—they can opt for only two of the three.”
The Economist further points that “it is increasingly clear … that supporters of economic integration underestimated the risks both that big slices of society would feel left behind and that nationalism would continue to provide an alluring alternative. Either error alone might have undercut support for globalisation … In combination, they threaten to reverse it.”Self-described multi-millionaire and “0.1%er”, Nick Hanauer goes even further: “Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution … If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.”
For a radical decentralizer like me, someone who wants to strip all power from the hands of the self-appointed and self-sustaining elites and to bring that power back into the hands of the people, devolutionary moves such as Brexit can only excite and energise.
It is true that much of the Brexit campaign was filled with distressingly nativist and protectionist rhetoric. This wrong-headed approach is based on the idea that the nation state should represent the primary jurisdictional and emotional boundary –an idea that has been pounded into our childish heads by a nationalist education curriculum for the past few hundred years. But the fears of those that ensured the victory needn’t be the fears that shape the UK or the EU’s future. I see these concerns as merely the current symbols of a deeper search for freedom from top-down autocratic control.
I have been accused of wishing to see the re-establishment of borders.I agree that less permeable borders might be an immediate outcome of breakup, but that would be temporary. As Billy Christmas writes: “Those that were in favour of Brexit must distance themselves more than ever from xenophobia and protectionism and reiterate the humanitarian case for leaving the EU – not to separate from the world, but to join it through the bonds of voluntary exchange and free movement.”
The decentralization that I seek goes well beyond “nationalism”. Power needs to be returned to the individual, to such a minimalist position that geographic boundaries are irrelevant, and only recognised bilateral need, individual to individual, generates any form of trade and labour, and thus is genuine free trade and movement of labour without any geographic restriction.
This is the final step, of course. Before we get there, we need to dismantle the internationalist structures that currently exist, and then to work on devolving power within each territory to smaller and smaller communities, destroying nationalism in the process. Mike Walsh has written a piece that suggests a rise in city states, though he sees them as the best way to further integrate globalisation. I see them as merely another possible way station on the road to institutional dissolution and the march toward individual freedom.
It is within this framework of long term historical processes that Brexit should be seen as a major early and positive step.