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Letter: In Reply to McManus—Misunderstanding Brexit

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These are the facts and historical context that any fair-minded and rational critic should consider before lambasting the majority of Brits who chose to forgo membership in the European Union.”

Editor’s Note: It has been brought to our attention that this letter contains an error. Plato, in the words of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, believed that, “The best form of government, which he advances in the Republic, is a philosophical aristocracy or monarchy, but that which he proposes in his last dialogue the Laws is a traditional polity: the mixed or composite constitution that reconciles different partisan interests and includes aristocratic, oligarchic, and democratic elements.”  

Letter Published July 24th

Thank you for the offer to write a response to the criticism of my letter “In Reply to McManus—Misunderstanding Brexit.” Each time I put my fingers to my keyboard I realized that I might be in danger of doing more harm than good—of further propagating the discord that permeates political discourse today. If Professor McManus and company are more obsessed with my interpretation of Plato’s writings from 2,500 years ago than they are with the central theme of my piece (that in politics there is no right or wrong, just different principles and perspectives), then perhaps I was just wasting my time? This is especially true given that as commentators, we are participating in a discourse platform whose mission is to create, “a new and independent voice to the current media landscape, which has become too partisan and polarizing.”

It’s a shame and deeply ironic that, far from encouraging writers to embrace the principle that there are “few dangers more pernicious than the urge to become an obedient, unthinking member of a one-size-fits-all ideology,” platforms like Merion West can be subject to the axiom of unintended consequences: that a commendable and bold venture can be misappropriated as a platform for writers who, far from embracing the founding principle, actively seek to defend or propagate their dogmas?

This is disheartening for a platform that actively encourages its contributors to have an open mind. Surely now is the time for thought leaders and influencers to move beyond the traditional framework of “left and right,” “capitalism and socialism,” “conservative and progressive.”

Merion West has been audacious enough to try and break new ground by developing a channel for those with the intellectual integrity to write essays that consider both sides of the issue, that are non-partisan, that reject the toxic nature of the “we’re right and anyone who disagrees is wrong” brigade.

As contributors and readers, we (and I include myself in that) should strive to honor that ambition. For as Plato wrote: “Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.”

Letter Published July 14th

Sitting under the “rockets’ red glare” on July 4th, witnessing the patriotism and pride of so many Americans, irrespective of their respective political affiliations, I could not help but puzzle over the general animus and disdain that much of the American mainstream media and academia hold for Brexit.

How could so many media outlets and thought leaders in a country forged in the flame of Independence, with an enduring commitment to be a united nation of “free and independent States,” be so dismissive of another nation’s democratic decision to take back control of its own destiny?

A recent op-ed in The New York Times declares that the, “United Kingdom has gone mad….and can’t even decide how to kill itself.” In the pages of this very journal, a regular essayist, Matt McManus (though he, himself, is Canadian), argues that Brexit, “has been calamitous for the economy.” These allegations are worse than unsubstantiated hyperbole; they are the sort of “fake news” that President Trump trades in.

The facts tell a different story. The British economy has the highest levels of employment in modern history and the highest levels of Foreign Direct Investment of any EU country. Indeed, UK PLC enjoys better growth than Germany. The reality is that, despite predictions by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (an unrepentant “Remainer”) that a “Leave” vote would cause an “immediate and profound” economic shock with “rising unemployment and a recession,” the sky has still not fallen.

The facts show that none of the doomsday predictions have come true. So why is it that the establishment continues to frame the most existential British political quandary of our time as being an issue of “right” or “wrong”?

It isn’t.

Those in power will always prefer the status quo, so trying to frame such a critical socio-political issue in terms of who is right and who is wrong is not only intellectually lazy and dishonest; it is also politically disingenuous.

The issue that divides Britain isn’t that one group is wrong. It is that one group holds a different set of principles and values to the other. Neither set is misanthropic nor malevolent.

Many “Remainers” believe in the power of collectivism—that individuals and their nation state should put aside their innate values and beliefs in the interest of a greater good. They believe that the world would be a better place as a one planet collective where separate creeds, tribes, and cultures coalesce into a world that sings, “in perfect harmony.” The appear to desire a federated world guided and controlled by a mothership that guarantees “liberty, equality and fraternity” for every single individual.

This is a bold and noble aspiration. It is an ambition that should not be ridiculed as naïve or progressive. Rather, it should be respected for being inspiring and aspirational. After all, it makes sense to address the threats of climate change, excessive and irresponsible capitalism, international tax loopholes, extreme religions, international terrorism, the impending challenges of a world dominated by networks that democracies no longer control, and intelligent machines that may be uncontrollable.

“Leavers,” on the other hand, tend to believe in the power of individual rights with mutual responsibility. They believe that nation states should be run by directly elected and accountable representatives who have control over a country’s borders, laws, security, currency, economic policy, taxation, and trade. Leavers often value cultural identity, national values, and patriotic personality in a world of diversity and individuality. A world of independent yet interdependent nation states.

This concept of “mutual individualism” has been promoted by philosophers across the ages. Plato promoted the liberal democracy of Athens as the most appropriate form of government primarily because he understood that a need for identity and equality lies at the core of human-beings. 

 If appealing to the principles at the heart of the United States “Declaration of Independence” and Plato’s promotion of liberal democracy isn’t enough, perhaps the Brexit naysayers in America should inhale some more facts. Facts that give the 17.4 million “Leavers” confidence in the future success and prosperity of a Global Britain freed from the shackles of the European Union. 

Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world. Do Brexit’s critics really believe that other nations or trading blocks will not want to trade with the U.K. under mutually favorable terms?

 Britain is a nation that:

  • has one of the most respected and proven armed forces, intelligence services, and diplomatic corps in the world.
  • is the leader of The Commonwealth, a coalition of 53 independent countries with a congenital legal system and a population of 2.4 billion people, almost five times larger than the EU, with 60% of the population being under 29. An economic powerhouse, with a GDP approaching $10 Trillion and a growth rate that is nearly three times higher than that of the EU. 
  • enjoys a reputation as one of the most influential arts and creative cultures in the world.
  • has the most respected and revered legal, governance, and democratic architectures.
  • is home to four of the top ten universities in the world (when the U.K. leaves, the European Union will be left with no universities in the top ranking).
  • has a capital city that is one of the world’s leading financial and international business centers as well as one of the most desirable tourism destinations. 

If all these inherent socio-economic advantages are not enough to alleviate the hysteria of the doubters, perhaps the fact that the British native language just happens to be the lingua franca of the globe will add some comfort to their negativity.

Yet I still hear the clarion calls of cynicism and doom, so let me chronicle an analogy that is closer to home for certain American crapehangers. Imagine that fifty years after signing NAFTA, a small group of politicians and bureaucrats determined that along with free trade, Canada, the United States, and Mexico should also create the North American Union: a federated nation with its own Supreme Court, central bank, common immigration policy, common agricultural policy, centralized foreign policy, free movement of people, its own flag, its own national anthem. The leaders of this supranational body would not be directly elected by citizens, and these leaders harbored a brazenly stated ambition of unified armed forces and a centralized fiscal and taxation policy.

Does anyone seriously imagine, let alone believe or propagate the idea, that the same people who clasp their hands to their chests and replicate the bombs bursting in air every Independence Day would embrace such a union?

Yet, this is the history of today’s European Union. It was commissioned originally in 1950 as a “European Steel and Coal Community” to create a trading bloc that would act as a well-meaning prophylactic against Europe’s history of war, just in case the formation of NATO wasn’t protective enough. The ambition for a federated union morphed first into a free trade area known as the European Economic Community (EEC), which Britain joined in 1973. Then the EEC ultimately gave birth, via the Lisbon Treaty, to a political union with its own constitution and led by the European Commission, a body whose members are not directly elected or accountable to the citizens or voters in any of the member states. And it is the only body that can write or withdraw primary legislation. At no stage since joining in 1973 have Britons been given any vote in this relentless march towards European federalism.

These are the facts and historical context that any fair-minded and rational critic should consider before lambasting the majority of Brits who chose to forgo membership in the European Union—or, similarly, before sympathizing with the minority who preferred to remain.

Yet, beyond facts and history, “Leavers” simply embraced the principle of an independent nation state. They voted with their hearts as well as their heads and wallets. Their choice echoed history and was formed in a crucible of emotion, not just in the logic of debate. Great Britain is today an “emocracy,” a term coined by Ayaan Hirsi Ali to reflect the reality that politics is as much about ideas, principles, and values as it is about policy, facts, and reason.

With that reality in mind, it seems fair and reasonable that when debating the binary choice given to the British people in the biggest plebiscite in their history, their democratic choice is respected. A clear majority chose to “leave the European Union”— clearly stated on the ballot card. The government of this majority explicitly committed to , “implementing their decision.” This was a Parliament elected by 80% of the country on manifestos to deliver Brexit, and MP’s voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU voluntarily.

Despite the subsequent betrayal by those MPs in Westminster, those in America who side with the minority should not dismiss the majority of British voters as being “wrong.” “Leavers” just have a different set of principles and values from those who chose to vote “remain.” “Remainers” may believe their principles and values are better. They may be right.

However, a majority was motivated by a different—yet equally considered—code. What is the point of a liberal representative democracy if not to champion and reflect the principles and values of the majority?

 That principle should be respected and held to account every day in the “land of the free” and surely never more so than when celebrating and championing Independence Day?.

Clive Pinder is a retired entrepreneur in the healthcare space and also served as a Borough Councillor in the U.K.

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