Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and Superorganisms

The glory of human beings is that we create super-organisms of non-kin who work together for common purposes.  These super-organisms must create loyalty to their shared community.  The bigger the community, the harder the work of imagination this loyalty requires.

The European Union is one of the most ambitious acts of imagination ever attempted.  Unlike nation-states or multinational empires, the idea of the EU was not backed by force.  Rather, it used the softer powers of capitalism to create ties, and the even softer - but deeper - power of a common cosmopolitan culture to create a feeling of Europeanness.  The EU has been a great force for peace, especially in Europe, for which it was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2012.

The surprising British vote to leave the European Union is a step back from the great experiment of a super-organism held together by soft power.  I believe this is a loss for the world.


dd said...

It is a victory for sovereignty and Demoracy. The elites have pushed globalism too far much to quickly.

Barry said...

Europe's history of nationalism, tribalism, and sovereignty excess has been many centuries of sad and violent existence. The "law of unintended consequences" may very likely come into play over the coming years.

Michael McCarty said...

I think you have actually correctly identified why the “Leave Camp” prevailed. It is all well and good for ivory tower intellectuals to praise the idea of “super-organisms of non-kin who work together for common purposes,” but when we are dealing with human beings, pragmatism always throws its monkey wrench into the gears of the fuzzy hankering for a one-world government at the expense of individual liberty.

I agree with you that the original intent of the EU and its predecessors to use what you call the soft powers of capitalism to work toward peace. And so long as the EU confined itself to purely economic (trade) issues, it worked pretty well.

Unfortunately, as Stephen Sestanovich, the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a piece in Saturday’s European edition of Politico,, “One reason it is hard to pick post-Brexit winners and losers is that our prognosticating has been too economic…. But this is too narrow a lens. The message of the Brexit vote, whether or in what fashion Britain actually leaves Europe, is simple: be a state.”

In other words, what always seems to happen is that a group of bureaucrats will use such an agreement to seize for themselves political power, at the expense of the people who have neither consented to that usurpation nor actually want it. Having tariff-free borders is one thing; being forced to knuckle under to bureaucrats and authoritarians who propose to dictate every aspect of the citizenry’s existence is quite another.

The single most essential purpose of a government and a Nation is to protect the interests of its citizens against the interests of any outside entity. When Brussels presumed to dictate redistribution of wealth to foreign countries, assuming a governmental authority over sovereign nations, it lost any chance of good will from the average citizen. Example: the requirement that member nations accept foreign workers who could leave a country with low benefits for one that granted better benefits, and then be required to send additional benefits back to the worker’s home country for his or her extended family.

As Professor Sestanovich observes, a “… hyper-pluralist, overly rule-bound, post-sovereign policymaking [entity] is doomed, prone to interest-group capture and stalemate, and unlikely to sustain popular loyalty over the long-term.”

The UK was just the first domino to fall. The citizens of other EU member states are now re-examining whether or not they want to surrender their national citizenship to the pie-in-the-sky “Europeaness” of which the academy is apparently so fond. The problem is when the elites presume to create and foist upon free men “super-organisms of non-kin who work together for common purposes,” they invariably fail to ask the common men and women who will fall under the reign of such entities whether the common purposes of the governors are, indeed, the common purposes of those who are to be governed.

When those two sets of interests are not the same, the super-organism is doomed to fail. It was so in 1776 and it is so today.

Finally, I suspect that the reasons that prompted the results in the UK on Thursday are more deeply ingrained in the American people today than the elites imagine. The Democrats, with their concentration on unisex restrooms, bureaucratic meddling in fundamental personal issues of health care and education and social engineering, are in for a surprise in November.

Listen once more to Professor Sestanovich. “And for the United States? Page one of Friday’s New York Times—with all its talk of system-wide dysfunction—offers a warning. American institutions are too much like those of the EU, which is why both the U.S. and Europe are full of people saying ‘give us our country back!’”

Gruntled said...

How does your argument differ from Jefferson Davis'? (I mean that as a serious question.)

Michael McCarty said...

I'm going to have to do this in two parts.

Despite your parenthetical assurance, my gut warns me that you are setting me for the typical "you love slavery, you racist, bigoted Republican" response so beloved by today's American Left. However, I'll try to respond to what is really a very valid intellectual question, and I will do so from a purely historical and constitutional point of view, as did many Southerners (although I'm not sure that Davis did so personally) in the run-up to the late unpleasantness of 1861-65.

Caveat: I'm not certain whether Professor Sestanovich would see the situations much differently from a purely intellectual perspective, although I do not speak for him and do not read him to think that the results of last Thursday's referendum were a good thing, merely an understandable one.

Short answer: Not much.

Longer answer: The two situations are similar. The States which ratified the Constitution of 1787 did so after a long summer of negotiations meant to create a central government of enumerated and limited powers in order to protect the States and the People from a predatory central government, while gaining some very necessary uniform economic benefits. Large States were beneficiaries of the creation of the House of Representatives. Small States gained equality (of a sort) in the Senate.

The checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches were further designed to ensure that the Federal government was grandly inefficient. The Congress was never designed to crank out law after law, taking from the States and the People the freedoms they had just gained. People today who decry the "do-nothing" Congress are historically and constitutionally ignorant: Congress was designed to do as little as possible.

The central government was designed to do only those few things that are the natural responsibility of a national government: providing for the defense of the Nation, establishing a unified foreign policy, establishing and maintaining national roads to enhance internal trade, creating a post office, creating a single national currency, and otherwise leaving government to the States and the People. By concentrating on keeping peace through a strong national defense (when needed), keeping other sovereign nations from bothering the American people, and fostering trade and economic development, the National government would free up the States and the People to control their own destinies as they saw best.

Please bear with me. To be continued.

Michael McCarty said...

Part II

The best evidence of this mindset comes in the form of the Bill of Rights, demanded by most States as a condition for ratification and to affirmatively limit the central government from infringing on the rights of a free people: freedom of speech, of press, of (not from) religion, and freedom to seek redress of grievances; preservation of the inherent right to self-defense and to revolution as a last resort [cf, most of the State constitutions of the time, including the Constitution of the State of New Hampshire (1784), art 10 which is still in force (“Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.” June 2, 1784]; and, most significantly, amendments 9 and 10, the enumeration and reservation amendments.

I am an historian by education. My honors history professor at Illinois State University, Dr Roger Champagne, was a Beardian, and we were introduced to Professor Charles A. Beard (An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913)) early on.
Beard posited that, in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the Constitution was a counter-revolution, motivated primarily by the personal financial interests of many of the Founding Fathers who had financed the Revolution and who sought to protect personal property (especially bonds) and economic standing. One needs only consider the Constitutional guarantee that the newly formed nation would pay the war debts incurred by the various States.

Beard fell out of favor in the second half of the 20th Century (except, perhaps, in the hearts of those of us who thought the world of Roger Champagne). One could argue that at the time of the centennial of the Civil War, the economic determinism of both Charles and Mary Beard did not comport with the liberal turn of historiography.

The Beards had had the temerity to demonstrate that the Civil War had little to do with slavery, abolitionism, and issues of morality, except as a diplomatic ploy of the Lincoln administration as it attempted to keep Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy. Furthermore, they did not accept that such secondary issues as states rights or American nationalism had much to do with Northern victory in the war.

Rather, they saw the Civil War as an economic battle by which the capitalists, laborers, and farmers of the North and West drove from power in the national government the planting aristocracy of the South. High tariffs and protection of capital were paramount interests. Consider the 14th Amendment, so beloved in these modern times. Consider especially, Section 1: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

To be continued.

Michael McCarty said...

Part III

Note the subtle shift in the second and third sentences from “citizens” to “persons.” Recall that this amendment was adopted as the transcontinental railroad was being built, a railroad financed by Federal land grants to the railroads of one square mile of land, alternating sides of the right-of-way, for the entire length of the road. States had begun to look for ways to overcome those grants and to confiscate the land for their own purposes. Because a corporation is not a “citizen,” but is a jural “person,” the 14th Amendment had as one of its principle purposes the protection of the railroad corporations. (Citizens United was only a logical extension of that legal principle.)

And, as so often happens in the academy, Beard’s theories are once again gaining professional admiration. See, Robert A. McGuire, To Form a More Perfect Union: A New Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution (2003).

Fast forward to 2016.

The European Common Market also came from the ashes of war, a post-WWII Europe. The idea was to get rid of internal barriers to economic recovery so as to make post-war recovery as quick, efficient, and profitable as possible. So far, so good.

But, as happened in Washington, DC in a post-Civil War age, so did the Common Market begin to expand into a proto-central government for Europe. (From the very beginning, many academics in Europe dreamed of a “United States of Europe”, a sense of “European-ness” as one eminent American scholar has recently spoken of approvingly.)

And, as happened in the United States—especially during the New Deal—a huge bureaucracy began to grow and spread within the new European Union, claiming power for itself at the expense of its sovereign member States. When bureaucracies are developed, the tenant bureaucrats begin to do the only thing they know how to do. They usurped power, created rules for the member States and their citizens, and generally acted as if the people of Europe had already asked for a huge, all-encompassing central government, at the expense of the sovereignty of their native countries. Compare this to Lee’s anguished decision that he loved the United States, to which he had devoted his entire adult life, but, in the end, he could not draw his sword against his "Country"—Virginia.

So, compare Davis to Brexit? The only differences are small, but terribly important. The right of a State, especially one of the 15 States or Commonwealths which had been independent sovereign States prior to joining the Union in 1789 (the 13 colonies, plus Texas and California)—was effectively settled in the negative by a failure to add the right to secede to the Bill of Rights and a bloody civil war. The South may have been more correct in its assertion of a right to unilaterally terminate a relationship which it had unilaterally entered, but it lost that argument on the field of battle where might does make right, or at least settle an argument.

The UK has a better argument because it has a right to leave under Article 50 of the treaty that created the EU. In this case, 20/20 hindsight favors the people of the UK.

Sorry it was so long. To paraphrase Nanny McPhee: "You did ask."

Michael McCarty said...


Please forgive me one last comment. From a purely intellectual and economic point of view, Brexit is probably a bad idea for the UK. My 17 year old son who has an absolutely brilliant grasp on all things European has raged against the result, and I can understand his reaction because he is wonderfully intellectual.

As I have tried to explain to him, Brexit was not economically or intellectually driven. It was emotional and emotions can rarely be explained to the other side of any question. Frankly, the ineptitude of the "Remain" advocates stuns me. Still, the natural emotional tendency to respect nationalism, to protect the sovereign rights of ones' native land is a very powerful drive and purely intellectual argument will have a tough time overcoming it. Dr King could have very dispassionately spoken of the natural hope of a parent that his children and other children would someday live together peacefully....but oh, "I have a dream!" is what gets the blood stirring.

What I attempted to do in responding to your question was to explain the constitutional genesis of emotional underpinnings of the Leave proponents and to compare them to the constitutional emotional underpinnings of the ante-bellum South...and perhaps the current Trumpists.

Very rspy,


Gruntled said...

It is puzzling why the sovereignty of a "nation" so obviously artificial as the United Kingdom (the artificiality is in the very name) generates such emotions. I think it is natural for people to come to think of their political units as spiritual unities. Likewise, I think it is natural for people to try to transform universal religion to the tribal god of their political unit. Cosmopolitanism and Christianity as ideals live to fight against these natural tendencies. But the fight is weighted emotionally on the side of tribalism.

Barry said...

I recall an early lecture and reading in my freshman year at Centre on the ramifications of ethnocentricity. I found the concept fascinating, and it has explained to me much of human behavior. Humans tend to naturally identify with many levels of us against them. As you stated, it becomes religious in practice. It is responsible for some good and much evil.

Michael McCarty said...

I would never choose to equate "cosmopolitanism" and Christianity (unless yet a second star rose and it just never made the press because Kim K said something that need reporting). Still, there is a a very significant kernel of truth, worthy of discussion, in your observation about sovereignty and nationality.

What you abhor about love of country is what makes such devotion so much stronger and so much more understandable. A so-called cosmopolitan society, such as that found in the petri dishes of New York City, and Los Angeles, of London, of the academy, results in a society so diluted that the every value, idea, belief, and cultural phenomenon is deemed to be of of equal merit and worth. Perhaps that is very pleasing to some, but it does not lend itself to broad, unified acceptance of the sort that makes sound moral judgments, such as the UK's gallant stand against the horrors of Hitler's fascism, one in which "duty's claim and Country's call" overcomes academic wishfulness and one-world wishy-washiness.

Cosmopolitanism, "Europeaness," and other similar constructs will never claim the same loyalty or devotion--even devotion unto death-- that a Churchill, a Nelson, or a Decatur can awaken in the human soul. And I doubt that a survivor of the Highland Division's magnificent attack at El Alamein would ever buy your "artificiality" argument.

G-S. said...

The British don't call themselves European. They are "better" than that. It makes me wonder to which continent they think they belong.

Mac said...

Now that is an interesting question.

I have certainly never thought of myself as a "North American" or a "western hemispherean", and, at the risk of being like the New York liberal who assured anyone that would listen that “Ronald Reagan will never be President. I don’t know a single person who would vote for him.”—I don’t think many people will ever self-identify with any sense of devotion or loyalty to a continent—except the Ozzies, God bless 'em.

But then, I have always identified with the young man about whom John Thomason wrote:

They tell the tale of an American lady of notable good works, much esteemed by the French, who, at the end of June, 1918, visited one of the field-hospitals behind Degoutte’s Sixth French Army. Degoutte was fighting on the face of the Marne salient, and the 2d American Division, then in action around the Bois de Belleau, northwest of Chateau-Thierry, was under his orders. It happened that occasional casualties of the Marine Brigade of the 2d American Division, wounded toward the flank where Degoutte’s own horizon-blue infantry joined on, were picked up by French stretcher-bearers and evacuated to French hospitals. And this lady, looking down a long, crowded ward, saw on a pillow a face unlike the fiercely whiskered Gallic heads there displayed in rows. She went to it.

“Oh,” she said, “surely you are an American!”

“No, ma’am,” the casualty answered. “I’m a Marine.”