Agree or disagree (I frequently do both) with what he has to say, the British philosopher John Gray is almost always worth reading. This New Statesman article on, so to speak, the tectonic shifts underlying Britain’s Brexit vote is no exception (and it’s worth reading in conjunction with the Ross Douthat article on the Davos ‘tribe’ to which I linked on Sunday). Don’t dwell too long on what Gray has to say on the Tory leadership race (if that was a temptation). The story has moved on. Michael Gove is learning the hard way that shedding too much blood can make the path to 10 Downing Street more than a touch slippery…
But back to Gray. He is, I’ve always thought, a profoundly unillusioned thinker, with little time for the curious notion that there is a ‘right side’ of history. ‘The old progressive playbook’ offers, he maintains, no guide to what is currently unfolding.
So, to Brexit:
Realising that the promises of European reform that had been made were empty, [the voters] opted for a sharp shift in direction….
As it is being used today, “populism” is a term of abuse applied by establishment thinkers to people whose lives they have not troubled to understand. A revolt of the masses is under way, but it is one in which those who have shaped policies over the past twenty years are more remote from reality than the ordinary men and women at whom they like to sneer. The interaction of a dysfunctional single currency and destructive austerity policies with the financial crisis has left most of Europe economically stagnant and parts of it blighted with unemployment on a scale unknown since the Thirties. At the same time European institutions have been paralysed by the migrant crisis… Europe’s image as a safe option has given way to the realisation that it is a failed experiment. A majority of British voters grasped this fact, which none of our establishments has yet understood….
Gray believes that the EU itself is undergoing ‘an accelerating process of unraveling’. He casts an eye not only on the worsening crisis in Italy [I posted a bit about that here], but on the union’s deeper fissures. He speculates that Brussels’ response to Brexit might “may be a last-ditch spurt of further integration” towards a “transnational state” of the type that Britain used to block:
Yet with so many countries harbouring powerful anti-EU movements, any sudden move to greater integration will be self-defeating. In an attempt to shore up a failing status quo, the Brussels elite may end up destroying it.
It is true that there are again those calling for another great leap forward, but, if I had to guess, those who really steer the EU will go more cautiously, sticking with the impasse they know, and hoping to weather the storm that is likely to get quite a lot worse, a storm from which there is no obvious shelter.
Read the whole thing, stiff drink in hand.