Reading today: Blimey, it is Brexit!

Reading Anthony Barnett’s excellent series of essays for Open Democracy on the deep history of the European project, and the situation that’s brought us to this referendum, written in the runup to the 23rd and its immediate aftermath.
 
I know for a lot of people the mood of the day is still disappointment and anger, but anyone interested in a progressive response to where we are now as a nation might find his writing well worth a look. Not least because the analysis on offer takes us well beyond the tired cul de sac of ‘racist thicko’ tropes.

Thanks poor people, for wrecking a generation’s future. No?

75percentInteresting that people are now saying ‘Thanks old people, for wrecking a generation’s future’.

Ashcroft’s poll suggests it was just as much C2DE voters (ie the poor) who swung it for leave as older people. The unemployed mostly voted Leave. Two-thirds of people living in council houses voted Leave. People with lower levels of education voted Leave.

What about ‘Thanks thickos, dole scroungers, council house types, manual workers, for wrecking a generation’s future’?

Anyone?

No?

I thought we were better than this

Perhaps more even than the dog-whistle racism from some quarters I’ve been appalled at the eagerness of many in the commentariat and even the European Commission to link poor Jo Cox’s murder with the referendum, based on facts that are sketchy and ambiguous at best and in some cases practically before her body was cold.

The police leaks and rumour-mongering are shaping up to a deliver a very poor chance of a balanced investigation into why this obviously disturbed person could have done such an awful thing. We have no facts yet, not really, and yet the politicisation of an appalling event has preceded full pelt. I have found it disgusting.

There is an ugly atmosphere developing in the country. Its emergence long precedes the referendum and the sometimes unpleasant views the campaigns have brought to the surface. These are symptoms rather than causes. The dignified thing to do would have been for everyone to step back, disentangle the referendum and murder and let the police do their job. But no, the political opportunity was too great.

If this proves decisive in swinging the referendum it will have been won for the worst of all reasons: on the back of moral panic, not reason, driven by an opportunistic exploitation by profoundly cynical opponents of democracy of a gifted woman’s murder and her young family’s bereavement. Every bit as bad as immigration-based fearmongering. I went into this campaign full of optimism about the potential for a democratic renewal after freeing ourselves from the dead hand of technocracy, but I’m starting to worry that it’s too late. I truly thought we were better than this.

“But how can you be for Brexit when [insert names of unpleasant politicians] are too?

As a Leaver, I agree that there are some arseholes on the Leave side. I think the context for this perception needs a bit of study though.

The EU is the political manifestation of a consensus among the elites of a number of countries about what politics should look like. An ever increasing number of questions are, quite intentionally, removed from democratic scrutiny and managed technocratically via treaties and laws instead of via negotiation, engagement with the public, or any kind of open debate. Big questions handled in this way include, for example, the consensus view that the right mode of government must be socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

To put it another way, the EU is a technocratic (ie non-democratic) means of narrowing the range of acceptable political options within member states to minor variants on the same centrist consensus. You only have to look at the oft-repeated fear of ‘populism’ within the European Parliament to see that. There is a profound fear of electorates, of giving electorates too much power and of them doing rash or ‘extreme’ things.

Now, perhaps you agree with that and perhaps you don’t. Personally the centrist take is pretty well-aligned with my interests and personal views. But the problem I have with using technocratic means of narrowing the Overton window is that removing from public the scope to debate or indeed democratically alter fundamental aspects of the type of government wanted or needed turns what should be a benign, self-sustaining consensus on what constitutes ‘moderate’ government into something altogether more suffocating and authoritarian. (I also think it’s a major contributor to the modern perception that ‘they’re all the same’ and it doesn’t matter who you vote for. Because, increasingly, it doesn’t, as all politicians are constrained within the same narrow band of what the EU consensus considers acceptable political policy.)

That quiet, smiling and superficially democratic suppression of any political view deemed to deviate too far from the consensus – either leftwards or rightwards – is reflected in a similarly stifling social pressure that declares that All Serious And Nice People hold views within a narrow range that corresponds to the centrist political consensus. People whose political views fall within that range tend to be supportive of the EU, because they see it as a safeguard of their moral outlook against the vaguely dangerous forces of ‘populism’, ie those riotous, under-educated plebs who persist in holding political views that don’t quite fit. Why would we want to give any encouragement to fascists or communists? Surely we’ve worked out the right way to do politics in the centre and that’s that? Similarly, at the level of culture and beliefs, surely the social consensus condemning racists, anarchists and other outlier views is a good thing?

So in a very real way the European centrist consensus has created the EU as a mechanism for keeping unruly electorates on the political straight and narrow. And the same mindset has set busily about painting anyone whose views fall outside its acceptable range as mad, dangerous, evil, racist, destructive and otherwise generally Not Our Type. In a word, arseholes.

On the whole my own views are pretty centrist. But I don’t think it’s healthy to shut discussion down like this. We shouldn’t stifle political diversity, even when it’s unpalatable: it pushes more extreme views underground and gives them a sense of grievance. You only have to look at the steady rise of right- and left-wing protest movements across Europe to see this in action. And by the same token we shouldn’t silence arseholes: we should debate them, and let their unpleasant views bury them. But fundamentally I welcome viewpoint diversity, because I think it’s a sign of a healthy civic society. And that means allowing scope for there to be a few arseholes – gasp – sometimes even politically aligned with me in some respects.

It’s really important to recognise that the eurosceptic movement – and it is a movement, that goes way beyond left and right, as well as way beyond the UK – is as much about fighting for political and viewpoint diversity in general as it is about the specific grievances that more right- or left-leaning eurosceptic groups have with the EU.

Reading today: We can’t keep the bad guys out; the turn against Marxism; the maintenance of civilisation

Rosa Brooks for Foreign Policy writes on how we can’t keep the terrorists out.

Cressida Heyes for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses the retreat of radical left politics into the American academy as a possible motivator for its focus on identity rather than class issues.

Sam Harris and Douglas Murray discuss migrants, terrorism, Anglicanism and Jack Monroe (podcast, 1:56).