World

Brexit and the Necessity of Democracy

Brexit supporters celebrate the results of the EU referendum outside Downing Street in London, June 24, 2016. (Neil Hall/Reuters)
Brexit is proof that a democratic mandate can overturn the “inevitable.”

Four years ago, the most important political event in the Western World since 1989 happened: The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

Every single institution in Western public life was against Brexit. Of course, every single government in the European Union itself, including Britain’s own government, then led by David Cameron and his gang of “Tory modernizers.” The President of the United States was against it, intervening to say that a post-Brexit United Kingdom would be in the “back of the queue” when it came to trading with the United States. The international institutions were against it, with idiotic threats about permanent downgrades of credit, the disappearance of the financial sector from London, and immediate depression. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, predicted that a vote for Leave “could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilization in its entirety.”

And what happens when the universities, the established Church, the government, the media, the leading figures of the opposition, and the bureaucracy of Brussels want something? They get it. It might take a second referendum in Ireland, or an end run around France. But you’ll vote until you turn in the Establishment’s preferred result, and then the question will be deemed answered for at least a generation. Maybe forever.

But democratic peoples can find a way.

The European Union is a utopian project, a series of endless corporate giveaways, and an escape hatch for failed politicians. So of course the entire fashionable oligarchy supports it.

Opposition to the European Union was deemed “populist,” which is the Establishment’s word for déclassé and illegitimate. But the vote four years ago proved that Brexit was not just a “populist” cause but a democratic one.

Democracy has its critics going back to the ancient Greeks. And many modern conservatives look at it with dismay. They fear that a rabble can, on a whim, overturn the great and often misunderstood customs and institutions that guard our liberties. That is sometimes true.

But the institutions in many Western nations have largely been captured by a self-seeking class that feels no duty to posterity, has only conditional loyalty to their respective nations, and respects no principle that gets in the way of attaining personal wealth. This is as true in Britain as it is in the United States. The same managerial class that would forbid Americans to criticize the mob for destroying America’s cultural artifacts is the same that forbids too-harsh criticism of China doing the same in Kashgar. The consultants at McKinsey will put up a #BlackLivesMatter post on Instagram and still party with the Chinese Community Party in the shadow of concentration camps. There’s no principle involved — except keeping a profitable status quo going.

This Establishment flatters itself as democratic even as it rages at the results of elections in Italy, Poland, Hungary, the United Kingdom, and America. But it’s not democratic, which is why those who lead it, whether prime ministers such as Tony Blair and David Cameron, presidents such as Barack Obama, or Chancellor Angela Merkel, constantly refer to the “direction” of history itself, and moral arcs of the universe. This is a rhetoric of inevitability, and iron laws, irresistible forces — it’s the rhetoric of Communism, really.

But Brexit is proof that a democratic mandate can overturn the “inevitable.” It’s a proof that democratic peoples still have free will. And it’s a sober proof that the Establishment is almost always projecting and lying. They accuse their opponents of their own misdeeds. Brexit did not sink the United Kingdom into Depression. In fact, the United Kingdom was growing faster than Germany until recently. Membership in the European Union is no prophylactic against disaster. The end of Western political civilization is still possible, and we’ll know it has come when democratic events like Brexit really are made impossible.

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