“The real moment of success is not the moment apparent to the crowd,” said George Bernard Shaw. In fact, breakthroughs occur long before they’re perceived. In the last few weeks, Brexit has broken across the globe like a tsunami – but, of course, it is really the result of tectonic shifts in politics, economics and technology that the world has been undergoing for roughly 50 years. These events foreshadow even larger, axial shifts that we’ll recognize over the next 50 years. This is thus a moment in history worth stopping and pondering.
I’ve already sent around the post-Brexit piece I penned in the vote’s immediate aftermath – literally, the morning after. In the past week, I’ve written three more pieces, extending the argument and tying it back to what I’ve been writing over the past several years about this coming phenomenon.
In The Real Brexit Fallout, I wanted to tease out the implications of my oft-stated argument that, “Within a generation, governments will operate in a largely open marketplace for their services.” This raises various, inter-related practical and theoretical problems:
What happens to provision of public goods (things that basically have to be shared, like police protection, national defense or parks and green space)? What happens to provision of “public bads” [like government regulation]? And what happens about inequality (the reduction of which, since it generally has positive spillover effects for everyone else, is coming to be recognized as a traditional public good – paying for which many, if not most, folks want to opt out of, just like public bads)?
German Chancellor Andrea Merkel provided part of the answer in her day-after-Brexit declaration that, “Those who want free access to the European domestic market will have to accept the basic European freedoms and the other rules and duties which are linked to it.” I think this portends the answer we’ll reach as a society as to the “free-rider” problem with public goods: “Of course, if you’re not willing to pay, maybe you shouldn’t be able to use the public roads, miracle drugs or Internet developed largely at taxpayer expense.”
In the final piece of my Brexit trilogy for US News, The Angry vs. The Ascendant, I push back on the overly-simple but now-fashionable argument that Trump and other Republicans are making, that we’re seeing a worldwide revolt against “the Elite.” (Look for a staple of next week’s GOP convention to be attacks on the Clintons, liberals, Mexicans, blacks, and even the poor as part of this oppressive “elite”….) The divide in the world today isn’t between a small elite and an oppressed 99% – it’s basically an even split between those who are part of a “connected” world and those economically left behind. The former live under a system that “isn’t really ‘social-ism,’ as that term has been used historically (although it might help explain the unusual prominence of ‘socialism’ in this year’s presidential campaign) – it’s more like social-ish.” This is rendering all other existing arrangements – including nations and governments as we know them – obsolete:
For the social-ish, borders of all sorts, not just the physical kind, are breaking down – and that’s good…. [T]he internet generation’s belief that privacy comes from ubiquitous transparency, not firewalls, probably also describes the future of physical and cybersecurity, as well, where distributed technologies are likely the future of everything.
But “those angry people outside … don’t feel the same way.” My most recent post, The Great Realignment – for Europe Insight, which asked me to write as a result of my recent speech on all this in Copenhagen – notes that these right-wing populist movements are not anti-government (which is why the conservative elite of the GOP is so alarmed by the Trump phenomenon): “Tea Partiers who rose up against Obamacare because, well, Obama, at the same time railed that the government should keep its hands off their Medicare.” The aggrieved Trump, Brexit, Le Pen and other angry white voters around the world are so angry because “they are turning to the fading nation-state system they have known, and derided, all their lives to provide newly-appreciated ‘rights’ to economic security and protection against their newly-found feelings of victimhood – and finding that, for them, these are no longer there.”
As always, I welcome your comments below.
Thanks to American Airlines delaying my Thursday evening flight home by 6 hours, I pulled an all-nighter and was able to follow the Brexit returns and morning-after impacts from London in real-time. I immediately dashed off a piece for US News. It went live this weekend. Given the history-in-the-making nature of this vote – and its impact on all the issues on which I write and teach – I wanted to share it with you right away.
Below is an expurgated version for quicker reading; to read the complete version, The End of Democracy as We Know It, click here.
Many observers are interpreting Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in much the same terms as Donald Trump. “Basically, they took back their country. That’s a great thing,” Trump said. In a written statement, he went on that the British “have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy.”
The British vote indeed may be a good leading indicator of where elections are headed in the U.S. later this year and in Europe the next – but what it indicates for the longer term is probably exactly the opposite of what these commentaries, and insurgents like Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and the Brexiteers, represent.
Britain has taken the first step in tearing apart one of the world’s major transnational organizations. It’s clear that others will soon follow and that the “Leave” vote in Britain was driven by the same anti-globalization, anti-immigration anger that has swept over not only the whole of Europe but also our own country. So, at first blush, these would appear to be – as Trump and others have heralded it – the first waves of reasserting national sovereignty and the firmness of borders (not to mention border walls).
Think again. The waves are cracking and demolishing all walls, not building them up.
The immediate effects of the Brexit vote include not only calls for further nation-state exits from the EU, but also resurgent sub-national claims to exit from their nation-states. The Scots – who voted overwhelmingly to Remain – almost tore Britain apart two years ago and are now almost certain to do so by 2018. They are not alone.
In sum, the nationalist resurgence of 2016 is not the new normal. It is but a way station on the road to the larger crack-up.
The U.S. itself is not immune. That should be the clearest lesson of the U.K. vote. That vote was very segregated: London as well as Britain’s historically more European-oriented satellite states strongly supported the “Remain” position; other parts of the country – those not enjoying the benefits of global trade, finance and elite educations – overwhelmingly wanted to leave. The different tribes of Britain – defined now more by their opportunities and, thus, their, global connectedness than by historic ethnicities – are going their separate ways.
The same is true here. This country is deeply divided into two ideologically homogenous but wholly incompatible blocs. These blocs are also almost entirely geographically independent. Given the snarling animosities of this year’s campaign, it is highly likely that talk of actual separation will rise after November. Since Obama’s election, conservative enclaves and states have increasingly raised the specter of seceding; lefties – which increasingly means the globally-connected urban, coastal elite – increasingly will be willing to let them. As borders and territory everywhere come to matter less and less to the economic and political elite, but more and more to the Left Behind, it is unlikely that the U.S. will be spared this phenomenon.
That means not just the end of nations as we know them, but also of democracy as we know it. I don’t mean that I expect totalitarianism to wipe away democracies everywhere. Instead, the choices that matter will be those between such entities, not within them. People will “vote” with their feet, their markets or their clicks. The old science of politics will be a thing of the past.
The “End of History” is so over. This is the beginning of a whole new chapter.
As always, I welcome your comments below.