Although the blog is on a break, Brexit is a momentous historical event. It made me think of a quotation* from the Younger Pitt: "Depend on it, Mr. Burke ... we shall go on as we are to the Day of Judgement."
Perhaps. Although the UK will not leave the EU for two years, Irish and Scottish support for the European Union may lead to the reunification of Ireland, the separation of Scotland, and the break-up of the United Kingdom. Because the campaign became so dark, ugly and tragic, culminating with MP Jo Cox's murder, I will not comment at length on the arguments for one side or the other. I can see both points of view, because the Brexit debate confirms trends I have observed here while researching posts on the economy and the cultural impact of technological change.
This is it: Old England has deprived young Britain of its European future. pic.twitter.com/DnRxkTRKR6— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) June 24, 2016
Bitcoin Price Spikes to $650 as Outlook Shifts for ‘Brexit’: The price of bitcoin is rising at press time, pa... https://t.co/iX4ws1TRcI— Bitcoin (@bitcoinpoet) June 24, 2016
Brexit and the upcoming American election reflect a delayed popular response to the Great Recession. The European Union won broad support as long as the economy was good and it promised prosperity to the working classes, who could thereby be persuaded to abandon their local nationalisms. After a massive recession, however, in which many from the middle classes joined the working classes, the pro-EU argument was less able to quell local populism. Paul Staines's pro-Brexit conservative site, Guido Fawkes, quoted David Cowling, BBC's head of political research, on this; Cowling described pro-EU élites, preoccupied with the refugee crisis and bureaucracy, and unable to understand the anti-EU mob:
There is also a theme in Brexit of historical continuity versus change. EU leaders and supporters do not clearly acknowledge the EU's historical roots, beyond the fact that the EU is a liberal reaction against the national-socialist fascisms of World War II. In fact, the EU is two things. It is a new, progressive, 21st-century project bogged down by larger historical legacies. First, it puts history behind itself and pushes forward into a globalized future. Leaders of the most powerful EU countries are ashamed of their colonial pasts, with good reason. They sought to make amends for that past. In that regard, the EU represents their humanitarian, global, liberal option of open markets and the free movement of free peoples in a Postmodern world."It seems to me that the London bubble has to burst if there is to be any prospect of addressing the issues that have brought us to our current situation. There are many millions of people in the UK who do not enthuse about diversity and do not embrace metropolitan values yet do not consider themselves lesser human beings for all that. Until their values and opinions are acknowledged and respected, rather than ignored and despised, our present discord will persist. Because these discontents run very wide and very deep and the metropolitan political class, confronted by them, seems completely bewildered and at a loss about how to respond ('who are these ghastly people and where do they come from?' doesn’t really hack it). The 2016 EU referendum has witnessed the cashing in of some very bitter bankable grudges but I believe that, throughout this 2016 campaign, Europe has been the shadow not the substance."
But secondly, and at the same time, the EU continues a deeper narrative with a very different message about European great power politics. From the 19th century, with Napoleon Bonaparte's First French Empire's attempts to dominate the continent, through the 20th century ambitions of the Germans during their Zweites Reich and Drittes Reich (Second and Third Empires) during the two World Wars, we see in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the French and Germans cooperating to control Europe not by war, but peaceably through laws, politics, and economics. The EU was built by post-imperialists who could find in the continent a new quasi-imperial concern and save face in a counter-stance to America's superpower status. When the economy soured, the French-German great power nexus beneath the progressive project became more apparent. The EU's future began to give way to the past. In these past cases, Britain and Russia were the key powers which blocked French or German expansion. It is as if the Wimbledon ball has been lobbed to Vladimir Putin's side of the court.
Finally, the new Millennium is dominated by overwhelming dual impacts of globalization and technological change. These shifts have eroded older values and norms extremely quickly, sparking social tensions and private crises. On an esoteric level, last week, the British tabloids (the Daily Mail and the Express) mocked astrologer Timothy Halloran for predicting (here) that this week's aspects promised to the end the way we have perceived the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. He called it, "Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide time."
Every day, people are confronted on large and small levels with choices about what to preserve from the past, and what to discard, as they are propelled into the future. Some of these choices are painful and lead to regressive backlashes and atavistic cultural throwbacks. Or they inspire strange Internet conspiracy theories and online myths to explain unprecedented changes. This blog has repeatedly expressed doubt about these legends but confirmed that they also provide new forms of popular stability because they fuel online community building. This is why new technology - the domain of the rational, the logical, and provable and the scientific - is giving rise to cultish new spiritualism, while politics and economies move beyond familiar ideological arenas and conventional institutions.
So - 'who are these ghastly people and where do they come from'? They come from the Internet. As members of online forums and congregations, the precariat's netizens sift through the wreckage of the past together and decide what they collectively believe. They are becoming happier in virtual reality, where they nurse to life their fantasies of the future. They feel more empowered there than they do in the real world as vulnerable, downwardly-mobile members of a post-Postmodern order. For eight solid years, the precariat have been down there in the back alleys of the Internet, way off the Eurocratic radar, talking incessantly about the past, the present, and the future. When they do go offline, they make those virtual fantasies manifest in harsh realities. Today is definitely futuristic, but it is a 21st century future that does not fit easily with, nor was it expected by, 20th century liberal notions of progress.
*The Younger Pitt quotation is from: John W. Derry, Politics in the Age of Fox, Pitt and Liverpool, rev. ed. British History in Perspective Series, gen. ed. Jeremy Black (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave (St. Martin's Press), 2001), pg. 58.
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