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We'll Take Our Countries Back and Make Them Great Again!

For the likes of Boris Johnson, currently UK’s most popular politician and a leading figure of the Brexit revolt, “The European Union has become too remote, too opaque and not accountable enough to the people it is meant to serve.” But how about the UK itself? How close are 10 Downing Street or Westminster to the working class folks of England’s industrial north? How representative is Britain’s Eton-educated ‘political class’ of the people they are meant to serve? And if Boris Johnson is lauding the British people for deciding to take control of their own future, why not let the Scottish people do the same? 

Consider also this statement by Mr. Johnson: “There is simply no need in the 21st century to be part of a federal system of government based in Brussels that is imitated nowhere else on Earth”. Nowhere else? How about the federal system of government based in Washington DC? Haven’t we heard enough in recent months about “Washington politicians” not listening and being out of touch, failing to protect people’s jobs or health, building bridges to nowhere, lying about WMD as a pretext for funding CIA covert operations and wars abroad? 

The truth is that Brexit, and Trump, and Bernie Sanders are symptoms of something more systematic than a bunch of nostalgic traditionalists in British “rural areas and market towns” forming a "Stop the world, I want to get off" movement, as Robin Oakley wrote in his CNN column last week. What we are facing today – in Europe and the US – is a twin crisis of the “nation-state” and of democracy in a globalizing world.


CITIZENS OF THE WORLD UNITE!

Much of the Brexit rhetoric was about regaining control over national borders and reigning in migration from the Middle East and Africa. But the terms “nation” and “national” - given their genetic connotation – are becoming less and less convincing in the 21st century. Belgium, Spain and Switzerland may be extreme examples, but most European “nations” of today have their genetic roots in hundreds of tribes that had once roamed across Eurasia. Moreover, white Europe is no longer all that white, having seriously compromised its racial purity through past colonial adventures and dependence on migrant workers. 

Even less convincing is the notion of “national borders” given our collective realization of their totally arbitrary nature. The elimination of (artificial) political barriers to the movement of people and goods was probably one of the most welcome features of Pax Europaea. But, (colonial) borders are being increasingly questioned everywhere else, in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, destabilizing existing political regimes and unleashes waves of migration across borders. 

Having emerged in the 19th century, nation-states served a purpose – helping break the old royal and imperial order and providing an alternative narrative around which to organize societies and deliver law and order. Yet, being programmed to claim exclusive ancestral rights to territory and pursue ruthless linguistic and cultural homogenization, nation-states inevitably clashed with their own societies and each other, producing two world wars, innumerous attempts at ethnic cleansing, genocide, and hitherto unprecedented bloodshed. 

Starting with the League of Nations, the 20th century has seen several efforts to establish regional and global frameworks to resolve conflicts and promote cooperation among nation-states. Spearheaded by regional powers, multilateral organizations, philanthropists and corporations, these efforts rest on the premise that the nation-state has become TOO SMALL to handle any of the global challenges facing humanity in the 21st century - from war and conflict to climate change, to disease control, to innovation, to effective taxation (as vividly illustrated by the Panama papers), to business development and global migration. 

At the same time, and rather paradoxically, nation-states have become TOO BIG to be able to accommodate demands for cultural and economic autonomy coming from regional groups, ethnic and religious minorities. Such local groups increasingly find themselves outnumbered and “not listened to” within existing nation-states, providing a strong impetus for independence movements, separatism, civil wars and frozen conflicts, and (mostly) unrecognized states. 

The sovereign nation-state paradigm is not yet dead, yet all signs point to the fact that it is living its last days. On the one hand, nation-states face ever increasing pressures to succumb to externally imposed rules of the games (financial, economic, environmental, etc.). On the other, they are strained (and, literally, torn apart) by internal demands for greater linguistic, cultural and economic autonomy, federalization and outright secession. 

Perhaps one of the greatest political challenges of the 21st century will be to engineer a smooth transition from the old system of fully sovereign nation-states (already proven to be ineffective) to a new political order allowing to maximize local freedoms subject to global constraints – related to e.g. wealth and income inequality gaps (the engine of mass migration), energy security and environmental degradation. 

And while the institutional intricacies of the emerging new political order are yet to be worked out, it is clear that it will draw its legitimacy from the ability to solve problems, not (imagined) common ancestry or God’s mandate.


iVOTE AND iDECIDE DEMOCRACY?

As much as Brexit can be understood as an expression of voter anger against the EU bureaucracy, it was also an exercise in direct democracy, a revolt against patronizing ‘experts’, traditional political parties, and, generally, Britain’s social and economic elites. 

The ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘anti-system’ sentiment is not confined to British politics. As argued by Elizabeth Drew in The Trumping of American Politics, “revulsion at government and traditional politicians” is a central theme of contemporary US politics, hitting the ongoing presidential contest “like a tornado”. 

This revulsion is very much evident in developed democracies, where political parties and professional politicians appear to represent nobody but themselves, creating demand for outsiders, such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are ready to take on Washington (and London, and Brussels). 

The institutional machinery of representative democracy, once perceived to represent and reflect, now comes to be seen as standing in the way of, and distorting, the popular view (or views). Even in established electoral systems that have been designed to prevent the emergence of new parties (such as the US and UK), individual politicians find it profitable to directly appeal to the party base, actively ignoring the established “elites”. 

In new democracies, such as those in Eastern Europe, political parties have become a joke, and parliaments are the least trusted public institutions. Ad hoc parties come and go, change names and ideology, morph into ever shifting political alliances, not living long enough to develop a bureaucratic apparatus, membership, etc. etc.  

Clearly, the migration debate has sharpened the differences in the political preferences between the ‘simple folks’ (who don’t see the benefits of globalization), and national political establishments and pundits (who claim to care about the ‘long term’ and the ‘big picture’ but fail to get their views across). Yet, the migration debate alone will not be able to explain the drawn out process of erosion in people’s trust of conventional democratic politics, political parties and professional politicians. 

Democracy draws its inspiration from ancient Roman and Greek texts, which present it as a system of government “for the people and by the people”. While democracy may be unattainable in its pure idealistic form, recent advances in communication technology make it much easier for the ‘simple folks’ to shop for information and actively engage in policy debates way beyond occasional voting. In other words, technology enables more direct forms of democracy and of democratic participation in state affairs.

On the one hand, modern technology allows people to communicate with each other, find support for their ideas or interests, and get organized. In this way, it greatly reduces the role of intermediaries (professional politicians) in the political process, enabling people to “take their countries back”, not only from Brussels and Washington, but from the political establishment as such. 

Naturally, the political class comes under the fiercest attack in the EU and US context where ‘democratic’ decision-making appears to be particularly far removed from individuals and communities, however, this is just the beginning. I believe that similar demands for autonomy and more direct democracy will be raised within existing nation-states. And, very importantly, this trend is irreversible.

On the other hand, advances in technology greatly reduce the role of party organization in the political competition process. It no longer takes a massive grassroots machinery and party bureaucracy to start a new political movement and win votes. All it takes is a message, one impressive speaker, Facebook and Twitter accounts, a good crowdfunding platform, and a skilled campaign manager. Well, almost.

Not all of this is good news. With the fixed cost of establishing a new party going down over time, the political market will see a lot more entry and cut-throat competition, resulting in the ‘simplification’ of political messages (xenophobic walls and borders, jobs, free healthcare and education for all). Indeed, there is a danger that representative democracies, with their ability to filter, 'check and balance', will give way to illiberal direct democracies, suppressing minorities, building walls, etc. This danger is real and a lot of thought should go into developing a proper institutional response, as discussed, for instance, in Kenneth Rogoff’s Britain’s Democratic Failure

*     *     *

While working on this article, I wrote to my former teacher, Ronald Beiner, whose Democratic Theory class I took back in 1991. This is what he wrote in response: 

“It's been a very bad week for those who complacently assume that things will necessarily get better if elites are humbled and direct-democracy energies get liberated. There's no guarantee that populist politics won't inflict atrocious things on the world, as they have in the past. Right now, things are looking pretty scary: Trumpism, Brexitism, the resurgence of the radical Right in Continental Europe. We have to have our eyes open to all those real dangers and think hard & seriously about effective institutional responses. I'm not sure what those might be, but I suspect that at the moment the political classes in Western democracies are also scratching their heads trying to figure it all out.”

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Levan Pavlenishvili on Monday, 27 June 2016 15:09

a revolt against patronizing ‘experts’, traditional political parties, and, generally, Britain’s social and economic elites. - this is a part I really do not get. I think it is simple as it is people went against EU bureaucracy and as Guy Verhofstadt said: against delivering too little, too late.

Brexit should be seen by EU as an opportunity to reform instead of punishing Britain for decisions they do not like in Brussels, or Berlin. I do not think there is anything wrong with nation states I think it is a very natural way of consolidation, that has been there for many thousand years (I still do not agree with your hypothesis of nation states being created in 19th century). The real problem lies in inability of modern politicians, especially increasing number of leftist populists all around the Europe to take the bold action for reforms, deregulation and freedom of movement.

Modern technologies give us incredible opportunities to deregulate sectors of economy that have been traditionally governed by state institutions (such as power sector etc. ). They also give us opportunity to spread our culture and way of life much easily, so there is no need for protection of culture, or ethnicity they are self protected with this new ways of spreading once word. Brexit does not show that it is an attempt of English to lock themselves in the shell, nor it is a class war, only thing it represents is peoples will to see more action, more boldness and more energy among the politicians and decision-makers.

a revolt against patronizing ‘experts’, traditional political parties, and, generally, Britain’s social and economic elites. - this is a part I really do not get. I think it is simple as it is people went against EU bureaucracy and as Guy Verhofstadt said: against delivering too little, too late. Brexit should be seen by EU as an opportunity to reform instead of punishing Britain for decisions they do not like in Brussels, or Berlin. I do not think there is anything wrong with nation states I think it is a very natural way of consolidation, that has been there for many thousand years (I still do not agree with your hypothesis of nation states being created in 19th century). The real problem lies in inability of modern politicians, especially increasing number of leftist populists all around the Europe to take the bold action for reforms, deregulation and freedom of movement. Modern technologies give us incredible opportunities to deregulate sectors of economy that have been traditionally governed by state institutions (such as power sector etc. ). They also give us opportunity to spread our culture and way of life much easily, so there is no need for protection of culture, or ethnicity they are self protected with this new ways of spreading once word. Brexit does not show that it is an attempt of English to lock themselves in the shell, nor it is a class war, only thing it represents is peoples will to see more action, more boldness and more energy among the politicians and decision-makers.
Eric Livny on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 01:11

Levan, the fact that nation-states came into existence in the 19th century is not my invention or hypothesis. Most theories see the nation state as a 19th-century European phenomenon, facilitated by developments such as state-mandated education, mass literacy and mass media. However, historians also note the early emergence of a relatively unified state and identity in Portugal and the Dutch Republic.
In France, Eric Hobsbawm argues, the French state preceded the formation of the French people. Hobsbawm considers that the state made the French nation, not French nationalism, which emerged at the end of the 19th century, the time of the Dreyfus Affair. At the time of the 1789 French Revolution, only half of the French people spoke some French, and 12-13% spoke it fairly, according to Hobsbawm. During the Italian unification, the number of people speaking the Italian language was even lower. The French state promoted the unification of various dialects and languages into the French language. The introduction of conscription and the Third Republics 1880s laws on public instruction, facilitated the creation of a national identity, under this theory.

Levan, the fact that nation-states came into existence in the 19th century is not my invention or hypothesis. Most theories see the nation state as a 19th-century European phenomenon, facilitated by developments such as state-mandated education, mass literacy and mass media. However, historians also note the early emergence of a relatively unified state and identity in Portugal and the Dutch Republic. In France, Eric Hobsbawm argues, the French state preceded the formation of the French people. Hobsbawm considers that the state made the French nation, not French nationalism, which emerged at the end of the 19th century, the time of the Dreyfus Affair. At the time of the 1789 French Revolution, only half of the French people spoke some French, and 12-13% spoke it fairly, according to Hobsbawm. During the Italian unification, the number of people speaking the Italian language was even lower. The French state promoted the unification of various dialects and languages into the French language. The introduction of conscription and the Third Republics 1880s laws on public instruction, facilitated the creation of a national identity, under this theory.
Eric Livny on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 01:12

The text from the second sentence onward is supposed to be in quotation marks

The text from the second sentence onward is supposed to be in quotation marks
Martin Smith on Monday, 27 June 2016 16:25

What follows your magnificent end I only just noticed. It is totally superfluous and far from being in the same top league as the original article. Listen Eric. When you are conducting the orchestra you are king. You can do it and it is marvellous. But odd oboe try outs in the refreshment room or dressing room do not belong in the concert hall. Keep these for Facebook, or work them up into a second article, equally wonderful (but its too soon for that!). I am deeply sorry what might have been as good almost as Ferdinand Mount's magistral article which you have probably seen (though less complex) has so signally - in the end - fallen short, by this thoughtless addendum. Never mind! I am so glad I encouraged you and that for a time, you rose to really empyrean levels. The Muses will return. It is art and thought, it is not cheap and mean social science. That just serves great writing, great historical thinking, and a deep compassionate concern. The fact that for a season this is tangential to Georgia can be overlooked. You have those last three qualities in abundance...!

What follows your magnificent end I only just noticed. It is totally superfluous and far from being in the same top league as the original article. Listen Eric. When you are conducting the orchestra you are king. You can do it and it is marvellous. But odd oboe try outs in the refreshment room or dressing room do not belong in the concert hall. Keep these for Facebook, or work them up into a second article, equally wonderful (but its too soon for that!). I am deeply sorry what might have been as good almost as Ferdinand Mount's magistral article which you have probably seen (though less complex) has so signally - in the end - fallen short, by this thoughtless addendum. Never mind! I am so glad I encouraged you and that for a time, you rose to really empyrean levels. The Muses will return. It is art and thought, it is not cheap and mean social science. That just serves great writing, great historical thinking, and a deep compassionate concern. The fact that for a season this is tangential to Georgia can be overlooked. You have those last three qualities in abundance...!
Simon Appleby on Monday, 27 June 2016 18:01

Brexit should not be seen as a lifting of the drawbridge and Britains isolation from the world. Britain, the worlds 6th biggest economy and the second largest in the European region, runs a huge trade deficit with the Continent, and punishing tariff treatment from the EU after exit would hurt European businesses far more than those of Britain. As a country with a fertility rate below replacement, there is bipartisan consensus that a controlled immigration policy is in the national interest, and having absorbed migrants for centuries (the Huguenot Protestants and French royalists come to mind as early examples from outside the Empire, and the Cantonese from Hong Kong and Caribbean migrants more recently from within the Empire ), the British will continue to do so in their own way.

Until the Second World War, any subject of the British Empire, be they black, brown, yellow or white, could travel pretty much anywhere else in the Empire they chose, if they could afford the ticket. Notwithstanding occasional aberrations like Australias White Australia policy against Oriental subjects of the Empire (championed by the labour movement), migration and travel of non-European subjects between colonies and dominions was pretty robust. The huge Indian community in Hong Kong and the Chinese community in Malaysia and Singapore (originating in Britains Treaty Port cities of southern China) are good examples. Movement of Commonwealth citizens in and out of the UK was relatively free until the 1970s, but progressively waned to a trickle when Britain threw its lot in with a bloc with which it shared little in terms of law, custom or language.

The Royal Commonwealth Societys recent poll found that there was strong support for re-introduction of free movement of peoples between UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and it is not unlikely to resume after Britains exit from the EU. In case that seems like a White Mans Club, non-Anglo Saxons make up a substantial proportion of all four countries populations.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-13/australia-canada-nz-support-eu-style-free-movement-poll-says/7242634

For expedited travel entitlements to be extended to the rest of the Commonwealth, step by step, would be a major project but not impossible.

With Europes economy no larger than it was a decade ago, and with the 2.5 billion people of the 52-member Commonwealth beckoning as a massive, fast growing market ruled for the most part by versions of English Common Law and in the English language, Britain is poised once again to regain its crown as a free-trading colossus. The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council found that businesses from Commonwealth countries find the cost of doing business with other Commonwealth firms 19% lower compared to dealing with non-Commonwealth trading partners, due to the same language and very similar legal systems.

http://thecommonwealth.org/sites/default/files/inline/Commonwealth%20Trade%20Review%202015-Full%20Report.pdf

With Free Trade Agreements with China, India, Japan, Korea, ASEAN, Australia/NZ, Canada and possibly NAFTA within grasp in the next few years (which would have been impossible within the EU), Britain is now preparing to open itself to the world far more than it has for the past four decades, economically and socially, but on its own terms.

Brexit should not be seen as a lifting of the drawbridge and Britains isolation from the world. Britain, the worlds 6th biggest economy and the second largest in the European region, runs a huge trade deficit with the Continent, and punishing tariff treatment from the EU after exit would hurt European businesses far more than those of Britain. As a country with a fertility rate below replacement, there is bipartisan consensus that a controlled immigration policy is in the national interest, and having absorbed migrants for centuries (the Huguenot Protestants and French royalists come to mind as early examples from outside the Empire, and the Cantonese from Hong Kong and Caribbean migrants more recently from within the Empire ), the British will continue to do so in their own way. Until the Second World War, any subject of the British Empire, be they black, brown, yellow or white, could travel pretty much anywhere else in the Empire they chose, if they could afford the ticket. Notwithstanding occasional aberrations like Australias White Australia policy against Oriental subjects of the Empire (championed by the labour movement), migration and travel of non-European subjects between colonies and dominions was pretty robust. The huge Indian community in Hong Kong and the Chinese community in Malaysia and Singapore (originating in Britains Treaty Port cities of southern China) are good examples. Movement of Commonwealth citizens in and out of the UK was relatively free until the 1970s, but progressively waned to a trickle when Britain threw its lot in with a bloc with which it shared little in terms of law, custom or language. The Royal Commonwealth Societys recent poll found that there was strong support for re-introduction of free movement of peoples between UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and it is not unlikely to resume after Britains exit from the EU. In case that seems like a White Mans Club, non-Anglo Saxons make up a substantial proportion of all four countries populations. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-13/australia-canada-nz-support-eu-style-free-movement-poll-says/7242634 For expedited travel entitlements to be extended to the rest of the Commonwealth, step by step, would be a major project but not impossible. With Europes economy no larger than it was a decade ago, and with the 2.5 billion people of the 52-member Commonwealth beckoning as a massive, fast growing market ruled for the most part by versions of English Common Law and in the English language, Britain is poised once again to regain its crown as a free-trading colossus. The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council found that businesses from Commonwealth countries find the cost of doing business with other Commonwealth firms 19% lower compared to dealing with non-Commonwealth trading partners, due to the same language and very similar legal systems. http://thecommonwealth.org/sites/default/files/inline/Commonwealth%20Trade%20Review%202015-Full%20Report.pdf With Free Trade Agreements with China, India, Japan, Korea, ASEAN, Australia/NZ, Canada and possibly NAFTA within grasp in the next few years (which would have been impossible within the EU), Britain is now preparing to open itself to the world far more than it has for the past four decades, economically and socially, but on its own terms.
Martin Smith on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 03:08

Yes, but not at the expense of wrecking the global economy. Anyway I disagree with you. Europe means culture and solidarity eg with Pasternak, Walesa, and all subject to tyrannical regimes. Even Urban's Hungarians here. It is a philosophical idea going back to Greece. After World war 2 it became one of humanity's greatest achievements, and remains so, politically... It puts Putin off. Going back to the economic things you say, well fine on paper,, but there is no-one even remotely capable of taking all this on and making it happen back in the UK, and fending off all the flak as well. It would need a Churchill to do that...(even assuming your crystal ball was spot on target...!)

Yes, but not at the expense of wrecking the global economy. Anyway I disagree with you. Europe means culture and solidarity eg with Pasternak, Walesa, and all subject to tyrannical regimes. Even Urban's Hungarians here. It is a philosophical idea going back to Greece. After World war 2 it became one of humanity's greatest achievements, and remains so, politically... It puts Putin off. Going back to the economic things you say, well fine on paper,, but there is no-one even remotely capable of taking all this on and making it happen back in the UK, and fending off all the flak as well. It would need a Churchill to do that...(even assuming your crystal ball was spot on target...!)
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