Friday, June 24, 2016

Post Brexit: The Eternal Contradictions of Politics

Yesterday, June 24, 2016, the voters in Britain elected to leave the European Union. I think it is time to recall Enoch Powell, of the "Rivers of Blood" speech, who said that the European Union could never work because there is no European demos.

He meant that a pan-European state required, to succeed, a pan-European people.

However, the Brexit election showed that there isn't a British people either. The English voted to get out of the EU but the Scots voted to stay in. England and Scotland have been Britain since the Acts of Union in 1707. But of course the Act of Union was a lie; it was the forcible joining together of two dynastic states, and the English and the Scots have quarreled ever since.

France? Put together by force. Germany? Force, in the wars provoked by Bismarck against Denmark, Austria, and France. Italy? A forcible takeover of the south.

The United States? Conquest of North America, followed by a rebellion by hot-heads against the Brits, followed by a split between North and South that ended in a bloody Civil War that restored the Union but divided North and South for a century.

My point is that nations and peoples do not just happen. There is always politics, and politics is violence. Every nation is some guy's power project. The European Union is the power project of a trans-national elite that decided after World War II that it would end the wars of nationalism by imposing a superstate over the eternally warring nation states. The current liberal project of a diverse America is a power project to end the dominance of white males and replace it with a new demos of women, minorities and immigrants who would vote for big government and empower Democrats to rule forever.

The point is that these power projects sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. Sometimes the political activists create a new demos and rule forever. Sometimes they fail and get thrown onto the dust heap of history.

But here is the problem. When the power projectors successfully establish their power project and create a demos the demos expects something in return. They expect the ruling class to protect them from the swirling winds of power in the world. But what that means in the modern world is protection from the verdict of the market. That's what labor unions are for; that's what crony capitalists are for. They go to government for a sweet application of force to protect them from the market.

So everyone is is favor of freedom; but everyone wants to be protected from harm. Everyone wants the right to work and trade anywhere in the world. But they don't want everyone to come here and compete with them in the labor market. And they certainly don't want foreigners to come here and use government benefits that ought, by right, to belong to people born here.

So the Brits want to get out of Europe and restrict immigration and keep the NHS for Brits. But what about trade with Europe and the rest of the world?

So Trump wants to restrict immigration and bring manufacturing back home to America. And Make America Great Again.

But the point about the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years is that, one way or another, the established powers were unable, time after time, to stop the "trade-tested betterments" that various nobodies launched upon the market. So we got the Great Enrichment in spite of ourselves. If you listen to people, they tell you that they don't want to have to change and they are saying that they want government to protect them from the rest of the world. They want the goodies the market brings them, but not if the goodies put them out of business. So people want the betterment of the Great Enrichment, but not if they have to change.

I like to say that the decisive change of the modern era is that Gerald O'Hara's comment that "land is the only thing that lasts" is no longer true. In the old days you occupied land with your chimp troop, or agricultural empire, against the world, because land was life and the very definition of survival. But not any more. Today you can buy and sell food on the global market as grain travels around the world in giant 100,000 ton grain ships. Today what matters is the innovation of new products and technologies, new applications of technical knowledge.

But we humans are still living in the old world of Gerald O'Hara. We still believe in the permanence of land, even as we all move to the city and the suburb and work in offices rather than down on the farm.

Ever since the start of the industrial revolution we have been dealing with the problem of rural people moving to the city with their rural, tribal culture and confronting the urban, bourgeois market order. The Muslim hordes that are presently terrifying us all are just the latest wave in the migration to the city.

The migrants to the city come to the city with their culture of land, of defending their land from all outsiders. and they look to a powerful patron to protect them from the pirates and the pillagers that want to plunder their tribal lands. Only the city does not work like that. The city is not a world of separate landed estates; it is a world of trust and exchange and innovation.

How people adapt to the bourgeois culture of trust and innovation, and learn to be not that interested in power, is the great story that is never told.

Meanwhile we live in a contradictory world in which we all work in a world of trust the stranger, but we still want politicians to bash the stranger. That's a contradiction that won't change any time soon.

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