Where does Britain Brexit to?
The debate over the meaning of Brexit is still raging. It is hard to explain the fact that the full force of the British establishment, both on the left and right, lost the June 23 vote to remain in the European Union. There were strange bedfellows indeed as bankers and labor unions, academics and politicians, leftists and conservatives, Scots and Irish, all stood together to prevent the messy separation of this artificial union.
Brexit cannot be reduced to economic terms, since there are undeniable benefits in belonging to a larger trade bloc. The overbearing regulations of Brussels, while great and abusive, also cannot fully explain the break, since the United Kingdom has an even greater army of bureaucrats doing the same thing. The immigration issue did play a major part in the vote – not only because of the numbers, but also because of what it is doing to the nation.
The debate struck something deep inside the British soul. In fact, that something was the British soul itself. This was not a mere economic or political dispute discussing benefits or trade advantages. What is at stake is what it means to be British.
Brexit represented a battle of visions both impalpable and unpredictable. On one side were the partisans of the present material establishment that typically avoids messy philosophical matters. They are oriented toward money, business, entertainment, and progress. To them, Brexit was mystifying, since union merely represented business as usual.
On the other side were those frustrated by their inability to express themselves as a people. Its partisans challenged deep assumptions that were moral and dealt with the meaning of life. They are nostalgic for something missing that cannot be covered up by mere economic growth. It was one of those classic clashes between the stomach and the heart, where the heart won.
The failure to address these issues of the heart weighed heavily in the referendum. The loser was Brussels’s soulless administration and rigid planning that have long stifled the British soul. The vote reflected an equally soulless immigration policy that intermixes a Babel of peoples without consideration for the loss of identity and culture. In the quest for politically correct diversity, national unity and identity were sacrificed and even crushed.
Clearly, Brexit signals to the world that there are certain things worth more than economic advantages. One of these is the fundamental need to belong to a nation. A nation by definition is a cultural, social, economic, and political unity unable to be included or federated into any other one. It is only a nation, not distant administrative bodies, that can further the common good, which ensures the peace of the community, allows virtuous coexistence, and favors the material and spiritual good of all in the community.
People also have an existential need to have a history, constituted in a past that must not be forgotten. Life assumes meaning when a people can constantly retell its story and follow the path of its own narrative. The nation should offer examples of men and women worthy of imitation who exemplify and embody the meaning and ideals of their people.
Thus, the significance of Brexit extends far beyond the British Isles, because it challenges the mandates of the postmodern world. Massive supra-structures like the European Union quietly absorb those national narratives that are so important to the true development of peoples. They integrate everything in a grand non-narrative devoid of any plot and meaning beyond the mere economic and political mechanics of working together. They offer no examples save those of faceless bureaucrats that embody nothing.
While Brexit represents a certain victory, it also presents a conundrum typical of the times. Postmodern life has so emptied out national narratives of their meaning that it becomes difficult to return to the order that will restore them. It presupposes that Britain must now debate the important issues of the heart that have long been neglected. The important question is not the actual Brexit, but rather, now that the British heart is astir again, where Britain Brexits to.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.