As global equities markets tumble and gold soars, the world outside the United Kingdom tries to make sense of just what our British cousins did last night. There are many narratives. UKIP Leader Nigel Farage is calling it “our independence day.” U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump says it’s a precursor to his own election in November. Many opponents are dismissing it as a racist backlash against immigrants and refugees.
Maybe it is a little bit of all those things. Maybe it is something else completely. Whatever else it may represent, one thing is undeniable for opponents of central economic planning, giant international bureaucracies and global crony capitalism: Brexit is hated by all the right people.
One doesn’t have to be an expert on European politics to instinctively understand that if the governments, the central banks and all their connected crony capitalists are howling there will be Armageddon if you do X, it is virtually always in your best interest to do X.
And howl is just what they have been doing, with a nonstop campaign to scare the daylights out of British voters should they consider withdrawing their consent to Brussels. As MEP Daniel Hannan pointed out, they haven’t been unwilling to just make things up in their desperation to intimidate the people into a Remain vote.
As an American, I can’t help thinking about George W. Bush’s scare-tactic speech to convince Americans to support TARP back in 2008. Public outrage had sufficiently worried Congress to vote against the bill the first time around. Bush’s speech, littered with many of the same pseudo-economic canards thrown at British voters today, convinced enough Americans to relent that Congress eventually felt safe ramming it through.
This time, it didn’t work.
For those dismissing the vote as the kind of “nativist” bigotry they say inspires the Trump movement in America, there is that inconvenient other little fact that the UK is the second largest net payer in the EU, next to Germany. Critics of the EU predicted, long before the rise of Nigel Farage, Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen, that the EU would fail when the net payers grew tired of subsidizing the net payees. British citizens just confirmed their prescience.
Ironically, the “nationalist” movements sweeping across the West are the precise opposite of nationalist movements in the 20th century. Then, nationalism was a centralizing force, antagonistic towards local government. Now, it’s a decentralizing force, taking economic and political power away from larger political units and returning it to relatively more local ones.
What it is not is necessarily a conservative, liberal or libertarian movement. Individual nations and even the local cultures within them have myriad visions for what they believe society should look like. The Trump movement longs for traditional conservatism, with its protectionist tariffs, government-funded infrastructure and restrictive borders. The secessionists movements in Vermont and Quebec, Canada sought to create socialist societies. And the “Texit” movement, well, they just want to be Texans.
Neither will Brexit be a panacea for all British ills. It is likely they will make mistakes in the short term, like most secessionist movements have in the past, including the Americans in 1783. But it will be Britons making their own mistakes and living with the consequences, something they have now demanded their right to do.
Whatever Brexit ends up looking like in the short and long terms, one can’t help remembering a night 27 years ago, when the people in a city in Germany decided they’d obey their masters no longer and knocked over a wall. Oh brave new world, that has such people in’t!
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.