Never fear at The Financial Times the Brexit hysterics are becoming more and more strident as the date of the vote approaches: Mr. Schama produces a model of it’s kind, although more historically and intellectually sophisticated: complete with a shameless coda that features the murder of Jo Cox whose British Values of tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness are strangers to the pages of a publication, that celebrates with ethical abandon the threadbare apologetics for a failed Free Market, and it’s pernicious seepage into the now abandoned practice of the primacy of civic life, replaced by worship of the entrepreneur as economic, historical, political, ethical singularity. See Wendy Brown’s ‘Undoing the Demos’ from MIT Press:
For an antidote to Mr. Schama’s polemic read Amartya Sen’s ‘The dark shadow: The Brexit proposal springs from panic and would certainly be terrible news for Britain’s economy – but it carries a threat even greater than that.’ Though I disagree with Sen and Schama there is much to admire, respect and even assent to in Sen’s approach in terms tone, argument, and style. Some selective quotes are revelatory:
The remedies that are needed (on which I have written elsewhere: see “What happened to Europe?”, the New Republic, 2 August 2012) would need policy changes and institutional reforms, but not any rejection of the idea behind a united Europe.
That political unification has fallen way behind the ill-thought-out financial moves is a sad fact. The EU’s policy priorities need to be scrutinised and reworked – a process to which Britain can contribute, and from which it can benefit along with other Europeans.
The message of Brexit would have huge implications, given where the world is at this time. The Polish philosopher Leszek Koakowski has rightly asked, “If we would like the EU to be more than just a place for money temples of banks and the stock exchange, but also a place where material welfare is surrounded by art and is used to help the poor, if we want freedom of speech, which can be so easily misused to propagate lies and evil, as well as be used for inspiring works – then what is to be done?”
There was no conflict between innovative British ideas and broader European thinking, nor between British and European identities (there is no reason for us to be incarcerated in one identity – one affiliation – per head).
The proposal of Brexit is born out of panic, and it is as important to see that the reasoning behind the panic is hasty and weak as it is to recognise that wisdom is rarely born of fright. In his Nexus Lecture, called “The Idea of Europe”, given a dozen years ago, George Steiner wondered about the prospects for Europe playing a leadership role in the pursuit of humanism in the world. He argued: “If it can purge itself of its own dark heritage, by confronting that heritage unflinchingly, the Europe of Montaigne and Erasmus, of Voltaire and Immanuel Kant may, once again, give guidance.” Brexit would certainly be a bad economic move, but the threat that it carries is very much larger than that.
Sen is as usual an eloquent defender of the Enlightenment Tradition, and he quite sensibly touches on the primary question of the lack of democracy in the EU in his essay. Mr. Schama relies on the ‘faceless bureaucrats’ trope, but the issue of the democratic reform of the EU was not even considered by Mr. Cameron, as an advocate/defender of the Neo-Liberal status quo.
For cogent and enlightening comments on The Failure of the Elites , another rhetorical/political staple at this publication, read this interview titled: ‘Michael Sandel: “The energy of the Brexiteers and Trump is born of the failure of elites”The political philosopher on markets, morality and globalisation.’ The last question of the interview and it’s telling answer:
JC What are the limits to markets? And what is the alternative to market triumphalism, especially when moderate social democracy is in crisis?
MS The only way of reining in the uncritical embrace of markets is to revitalise public discourse by engaging in questions of values more directly. Social democracy has to become less managerial and technocratic and has to return to its roots in a kind of moral and civic critique of the excesses of capitalism. At the level of public philosophy or ideology it has to work out a conception of a just society, it has to work out a conception of the common good, it has to work out a conception of moral and civic education as it relates to democracy and empowerment. That’s a big project and it hasn’t yet been realised by any contemporary social-democratic party.
A revitalised social-democratic response to the power of markets would also try to come up with institutions for meaningful self-government – forms of participatory democracy in an age of globalisation, where power seems to flow to transnational institutions and forms of association. It’s important also to find ways to promote participatory democracy. This requires political imagination and political courage. It’s a long-term project that remains as a challenge, but until we make some progress in that bigger challenge, I think that democratic politics will still be vulnerable to the backlash that we’re witnessing, with Brexit in Britain, some of the populist political movements in Europe, and Trump in the United States.
There is an alternative – but the alternative is to go beyond the managerial, technocratic approach to politics that has characterised the established parties and the elites, to reconnect with big questions that people care about.