Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union is already threatening to unravel a democratic bloc of nations that has coexisted peacefully together for decades. But it is also generating uncertainty about an even bigger issue: Is the post-1945 order imposed on the world by the United States and its allies unraveling, too?Or more pithily, from Timothy Garton Ash:
Britain’s choice to retreat into what some critics of the vote suggest is a “Little England” status is just one among many loosely linked developments suggesting the potential for a reordering of power, economic relationships, borders and ideologies around the globe.
Slow economic growth has undercut confidence in traditional liberal economics, especially in the face of the dislocations caused by trade and surging immigration. Populism has sprouted throughout the West. Borders in the Middle East are being erased amid a rise in sectarianism. China is growing more assertive and Russia more adventurous. Refugees from poor and war-torn places are crossing land and sea in record numbers to get to the better lives shown to them by modern communications.
Accompanied by an upending of politics and middle-class assumptions in both the developed and the developing worlds, these forces are combining as never before to challenge the Western institutions and alliances that were established after World War II and that have largely held global sway ever since.
The unhappy English have delivered a body blow to the West, and to the ideals of international cooperation, liberal order and open societies to which England has in the past contributed so much.I think this just an extension of the apocalyptic rhetoric we heard from Remain politicians before the vote, and which made them seem so unbelievable. If the "Post-War West" was not in a crisis in 1970, before Britain joined the EU, why is in crisis now? I don't see why there has to be continual movement toward "ever greater union" in Europe; why can't we just say, "that's enough union for now," or even "that's a bit too much and we should back off"? The EU is a grand project for Europe's future and a noble experiment in assembling an empire without force, but it is also a practical, bureaucratic operation that frankly hasn't ever worked very well. Perhaps instead of freaking out over the rejection of the grand project, people should instead ask how to make the details of EU governance work better.
I am not saying that I think everything is awesome in Europe. Europeans suffer from the same economic problems as Americans, viz., stagnating incomes for everyone but the rich, and increasing inequality, besides the deep Euro-inspired recessions in the south. More important, they suffer from the same loss of confidence in the future that troubles many Americans, a sense that things are slipping away rather than looking up.
Many people, especially older people, have reacted to the combination of economic stagnation and social change with a belligerent nostalgia for times they remember as simpler and better. I believe that is foolish, but it is certainly understandable. Nationalism is a powerful force partly because people find it comforting to belong to something huge and strong, and to celebrate their collective achievements. Instead of moaning about this, perhaps liberal internationalists should ask what they can do to assuage the underlying anxieties.