Pandaemonium

BRITAIN, EUROPE AND THE REAL CRISIS

jacek yerka europa

The decision by British voters last week to leave the European Union has brutally exposed two features of contemporary British politics. The first is the depth of popular disaffection with mainstream political institutions. The second is the paralysis of the political class in the face of this disaffection.

The Brexit victory was buttressed by a coalition of disparate social groups. Traditional Conservative supporters in the shires and the suburbs have long been suspicious of the European project. Few were surprised that they voted in large numbers against EU membership. What shocked many politicians and pundits about the referendum result was the extent of hostility in traditional Labour Party heartlands, in the North of England, in the Midlands and in the Welsh valleys.

A key slogan of the Leave campaign was ‘Take back control’. It was often derided as hollow and meaningless by Remain supporters. For many sections of working class voters, however, whose world seemed to have been turned upside down by forces they could not shape, it was a sentiment that resonated deeply. ‘One of the biggest failures’ of contemporary mainstream political parties, the American philosopher Michael Sandel recently observed, ‘has been the failure to take seriously and to speak directly to people’s aspiration to feel that they have some meaningful say in shaping the forces that govern their lives’.

In 1950s Britain, manual workers accounted for 70 per cent of the male workforce in Britain. Nearly ten million people belonged to trade unions. The Labour Party had strong links to the working class. The so-called ‘postwar consensus’ – the cross-party acceptance of Keynesian economics, the public ownership of industries and services, and the welfare state – allowed union leaders to influence government policy. All this helped incubate in working class communities a sense of identity and solidarity, and fostered a belief that ordinary people could shape the political process.

All that is no more. The postwar consensus was shattered in the Thatcher years through the entrenchment of free market policies. Britain’s manufacturing industry has all but disappeared. Public services have been savaged, and austerity imposed. Trade unions have been neutered. The Labour party has cut most of its roots to its traditional working class base. Society has become much more atomized and more riven by identity politics. The world seems much more precarious. The forms of social organization that once gave working class lives identity, solidarity, indeed dignity, have disappeared.

And where once labour movements could bring down governments, today the working class has become largely an object of contempt and derision – ‘chavs’. For politicians and journalists, council estates are synonymous with fecklessness and criminality. ‘Their clothes, accents, taste in music, and just about everything about them were ridiculed’, the journalist Natalie Bloomer has observed. ‘Shows like Jeremy Kyle and then later Benefits Street treated them like entertainment to be laughed at.’ ‘The only other group to receive such a vicious press’, she added, ‘are immigrants’.

All this has left many feeling angry, voiceless, politically abandoned and detached from mainstream institutions and culture. It has also helped redraw the political map. The main political faultline today, not just in Britain but throughout Europe, is not between left and right, between social democracy and conservatism, but between those who feel at home in – or at least are willing to accommodate themselves to – the new globalised, technocratic world, and those who feel left out and disempowered. It is a faultline perfectly expressed in the EU referendum vote, particularly in England.

titian europa

The reasons for the marginalization of the working class have been economic and political. But many have come to see it primarily as a cultural loss. As people have become disenchanted with politics, and as class-based politics in particular has become deprecated, so the language of culture has become increasingly important as the means through to make sense of society and social relations. The same social and economic changes that have led to the marginalization of sections of the working class have also made it far more difficult to view that marginalization in political terms.

As economic and political change is perceived as cultural loss, so those regarded as culturally different come to be viewed as threats. ‘Taking back control’ has become translated into a desire to protect borders, defend national culture and keep out immigrants. The failure of the left to address properly either the democratic deficit, both at home and at the European level, or the sense of social dislocation felt by many sections of working class, has meant that a progressive desire, within many working class communities, for a democratic voice has become intertwined with regressive arguments about immigration, nationalism and protectionism. Feeling abandoned by the left, many traditional working class voters have abandoned the ideals of the left, looking instead to populist politics as a means of regaining a voice, of seemingly taking back a modicum of control.

And yet, in the wake of the referendum vote, rather than address the fundamental reasons for popular discontent, those on the other side of the political faultline have responded with same kinds of attitudes that led so many to vote Brexit in the first place. Supporters of the Remain camp have raged against the ‘idiots’ and ‘racists’ easily swayed by xenophobia and lies. Many have demanded a second referendum to overturn the result of the first. They have urged MPs – the majority of whom support British membership of the EU – to block any moves towards Brexit in the best interest of voters who know no better. They have, in other words, treated the working class, and the democratic process, with the same contempt that first created the chasm between the political elite and large sections of the electorate.

The American journalist Matt Taibi observed the similarities between the response to the Brexit vote and to the rise of Donald Trump. In both cases, many commentators have diagnosed the problem as one of ‘too much democracy’. As the British-born US commentator Andrew Sullivan put it in an influential essay about Trump, ‘Elites matter’ because they are the ‘critical ingredient to save democracy from itself’. ‘If you think depriving people of their right to make mistakes makes sense’, Taibi sardonically observed, ‘you probably never had respect for their right to make decisions at all’.

The only consequence of all this can be to make the disaffected even more disaffected and to fuel support for the populists and the far right. Two figures who have made much of the running in the past few days have been UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Marine le Pen of the French Front National. The latter even had an op-ed piece in the New York Times, applauding the ‘courage’ of the British people to ‘embrace their freedom’ and calling on the rest of Europe to launch a ‘People’s Spring’. It may be repugnant to see the leader of a far-right, racist party appropriate the language of freedom and liberty. She is only able to do so because parties like the Front National have been allowed to march on to the terrain, and to speak to the constituencies, that the left has abandoned. Groups such as UKIP and the FN draw upon racist support. But many others are drawn to such parties not because they are racist but because these seem to be the only organizations willing to give voice to their disaffection.

Goya The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

In Britain, not only has a wide swathe of the electorate become disaffected from the political class, but the political class itself seems to have disintegrated. The Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned. The Chancellor, George Osborne, has been barely seen since last Thursday, despite both the stock market and sterling plummeting in value. Only when the Conservative party chooses its new leader, and hence Britain’s new Prime Minister, in September, will the negotiations over British withdrawal even begin.

The Brexit victors seem equally shocked and unnerved. Boris Johnson, favourite to replace Cameron as party leader and Prime Minister, had the demeanour, in his post-referendum press conference, of someone who had lost, not won. He then disappeared from public view, not even showing up for Monday’s Parliamentary debate on Brexit. Those Leave campaign leaders that have put in a public appearance have done so largely to disavow the promises made during their campaign, from reducing numbers of migrants coming to Britain to spending more money on the NHS.

The most spectacular implosion has, however, been in the Labour party. Three-quarters of its MPs supported a motion of no confidence in the leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has refused to resign and may face a formal leadership challenge. Some dissenters are talking of splitting off from Corbyn’s Labour party and creating a new organization. A party that has already lost wide swathes of its voters now threatens to tear itself apart, possibly terminally.

Britain currently is a nation seemingly without a functioning government or a credible opposition, and unable to formulate any policy to help navigate through its current crisis. That crisis, though, is not simply one of Brexit. It is of economic and social policies that have devastated communities and left them feeling voiceless. It is of politicians who would rather scapegoat migrants than address problems of austerity and the democratic deficit, and who then have the gall to condemn disaffected voters as racist. It is of a left that has abandoned its traditional working class constituencies, and one which sees internationalism more in the top-down structures of the EU than in the creation of pan-European solidarity built from the bottom up, to defend the peoples of Europe – and beyond – from the regressive policies of both nations states and of the EU.

These are not simply British problems. They are issues that now face every European nation. It is not how London and Brussels negotiate their messy divorce arrangements, but how we, as peoples across the continent, navigate through the deeper, more fundamental crises, of solidarity, justice, democracy and dignity, of how we challenge regressive attitudes and regressive policies, in the name of a more elemental, more universal, European ideal that will determine what becomes of Europe in the coming years.

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A shorter version of this essay was published in the Swedish newspaper Expressen.

The images are ‘Europa’ by Jacek Yerka; ‘Europa’ (or ‘The Rape of Europa’) by Titian; and Goya’s etching ‘The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters’.

23 comments

  1. Just as there would be a chaotic lashing and bashing about on the sudden opening of Pandora’s Box, the disaffected vote is lashing and bashing at any nearby target. The malevolent ether of the Box’s denizens has been leaking out in fits of objectionable smells over the past few years, surfacing in different societies. The Brits, however, have done it. Unlatched, the horrors fly forth.
    In the midst of this growing chaos it matters not that some forlorn creature called Hope lies quivering at the bottom of the Box. We will not likely be around, or at least in a mood, to welcome its ministrations.
    Jane Jacob’s five indicators have all turned negative. The next Dark Age is slowly, inexorably coming.
    The Technocrats will look upon the situation and say, “No it’s not. I can still repair this that and the other thing.”
    The uber-rich will say, “So what. I’m covered. I have my own security patrol, guarding my mansions. Being run by my over-paid Technocrats. Oh. Can someone make some more fuel for the generator?”
    There will be zealots who loudly proclaim the coming of, something or other.
    And the rest of us will soon accommodate. One day after the next, we will accept the slow spiral, until it becomes a slide.
    Was there a writer in Sumer saying this? Or in Egypt, Athens, Rome, Angkor Wat…

    • Joy, I think voters in Wales, for one, might be surprised to learn that they lived in England🙂. Seriously, I have already looked at the question of the difference between the votes in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and suggested,

      If we take account of the vote across the UK, rather than simply in England and Wales, the picture that emerges is one of disaffection with the political establishment that expresses itself in different, often contradictory, ways in different regions…

      .

      In different regions of the UK… the revolt against the political establishment expressed itself in both pro- or anti-EU forms. Or, to put it another way, different people in different regions give different expression to the desire to ‘Take back control’.

  2. Peter Splinter

    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis. That said, measures to keep the UK in the European Union would not be the denial of democracy that you suggest. Although the question on the ballot was about leaving or remainig in the EU, the post-factual debate of those options gives reason to believe that for many voters the vote cast had little to do with a considered decision about whether or not to leave the European Union. Democracy is about much more than voting. Geoffrey Robertson might have the best suggestion in a bad situation when he calls on MPs to assume their responsibilities as MPs and vote in Parliament against the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (The Guardian, 27 June).The EU side show has demonstrated the real issues that you highlight. The sideshow and the damage that it has and will continue to inflict should not be allowed to to continue to eclipse the real issues – including as they pertain to the European Union.

    • On the idea that MPs should reject the popular vote and vote against British withdrawal from the EU. They have, of course, legally the right to do so. But imagine the opposite case: that there was a Remain victory in the popular vote but that the majority of MPs were on the Leave side (it is not difficult to imagine such a scenario, given that UKIP may well take a swathe of Labour seats in the Midlands and the North at the next election). And suppose that Leave MPs were to use the same arguments that Remain supporters are doing now to justify ignoring the popular vote – that referendums are not a good means of resolving such issues, that Britain is a representative democracy so MPs should have the final say, that Remain voters did not really understand the issues, etc. How would Geoffrey Robertson, or the others demanding that MPs ignore the referendum result, respond then? I have no doubt that they would be outraged, that they would talk darkly of UKIP MPs subverting the popular will, etc. Robertson’s argument is rooted in an instrumental view of democracy: that democracy, or a particular form of democracy, is good if it produces the right result, but bad if it doesn’t. Robertson is not alone in this – an instrumental view of democracy is a feature of our times. I have no doubt that many Leave supporters, now applauding participatory democracy, have an equally instrumental view, and would damn a democratic verdict that in their eyes was wrong. But an instrumental view of democracy is not a democratic view at all. If one’s view of the democratic process is dependant upon the result of that process, then one is not a democrat.

      • There are three respectable arguments for regarding the vote as an insufficient reason for leaving. One is that the margin is not commensurate with the change proposed. Another is that it has been demonstrated that the promises offered (I am being polite here) by the Leave campaign could not be fulfilled;specifically, we cannot both restrict immigration from the EU, and have access to its Common Market. The third, related to previous two, is that it may well be that now, in the light of more information, millions of Leave voters have changed their minds, or even that some of them (one springs readily to mind) wanted to vote Leave to express an attitude or strike a pose, but didn’t really want Leave to happen.

        These are independent of the constitutionalist argument, which is that since the UK’s entry to the EU required Parliamentary approval, so must its exit, and the Burkean argument that the duty of MPs is to use their judgement in the light of all the facts, of which the result of this (legally non-binding) referendum is only one.

        • Edit: three respeictable arguments that do not place instrumentalism ahead of democracy. (The two in he final paragraph do not address this, but place constitutionalism ahead of democracy.)

        • 1. Since the Uk constitution is an accumulation of law, then the referendum as a reflection of popular sovereignty is now absorbed into the uk constitution.
          2. This episode of popular sovereignty was mandated through an electoral promise and in particular the European Union Act 2011. Under the latter, the UK parliament does not have the authorisation to pass legislation that is contrary to the referendum decision due to the ‘referendum lock’ clause.
          https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2012/01/12/mike-gordon-the-european-union-act-2011/
          3. The EU Referendum Act 2015 as an act of law mandates popular sovereignty as an extention of parliamentary sovereignty.
          4. It has been suggested through a recent survey that 3 million remain voters would now vote leave considering that economic collapse has failed to materialise.

        • Paul

          One is that the margin is not commensurate with the change proposed

          Before the referendum, Nigel Farage had suggested that were Leave to lose narrowly (as most people were predicting at the time), then there would be a moral case for another referendum. Had that happened, and had Farage demanded a revote, I would have opposed it. As indeed would all those Remain supporters now demanding either a new referendum or for Parliament to ignore the verdict. My view is consistent (my view of the democratic process is not dependent on the actual result), unlike the views both of many Remain supporters and of Farage. That is why both possess an instrumental view of democracy.

          You might argue that leaving the EU is a bigger decision than staying in. But that is simply to load the dice in favour of one decision as opposed to the another. For those opposed to the EU, staying in may well be as big a decision as leaving is for those who support the EU. And loading the dice in this fashion is precisely why so many feel that their voices don’t count compared to those who have the ‘right’ views, and why there is such disaffection with mainstream parties and institutions.

          What I would say, though, is that the vote was close (it was not an ‘overwhelming mandate’ as some are suggesting), and there are clearly deep divisions in the country. It would be democratically wise to acknowledge, and to take account of, those divisions, and the depth of feeling on both sides (though not my simply ignoring the verdict of the vote).

          Another is that it has been demonstrated that the promises offered (I am being polite here) by the Leave campaign could not be fulfilled; specifically, we cannot both restrict immigration from the EU, and have access to its Common Market.

          Yes, Leave campaigners lied. But if you can show me an election in which false promises have not been made, I would be very interested. And if the result of every election in which lies were told were to be ignored, we would be living in an anarchist paradise.

          In any case, the specific false promise you mention was common to both sides. Central to the argument of many Remain politicians was the idea that it was possible for Britain to stay in the EU and also to limit freedom of movement. It was, after all, a central theme to David Cameron’s ‘reform package’ he negotiated with the EU just before calling the referendum. It was also the Labour Party’s position – in the week before the vote, a series of senior Labour figures, led by deputy leader Tom Watson, similarly argued that it would be possible(and necessary) to limit freedom of movement while remaining a member of the EU. Politicians on both sides of the EU debate have long been making false claims about controlling immigration, claims that have exacerbated fears about immigration while also giving legitimacy to Leave arguments. If anyone really wanted to challenge the false promises, they should have challenged the myths about immigrantion. It’s the unwillingness of politicians, including Remain politicians, to do so, that helped make people receptive to the false claims.

          it may well be that now, in the light of more information, millions of Leave voters have changed their minds

          There is evidence that some may have changed their minds, but to claim that ‘millions’ have is to make the same kind of inflated claim that you (rightly) criticize in point 2.

          These are independent of the constitutionalist argument, which is that since the UK’s entry to the EU required Parliamentary approval, so must its exit, and the Burkean argument that the duty of MPs is to use their judgement in the light of all the facts, of which the result of this (legally non-binding) referendum is only one.

          Parliament certainly has a legal right to ignore the popular verdict. The debate is about whether it possesses the moral warrant to do so.

  3. For me the eu debate came down to the ongoing debate between community values and rights (communitarianism) and individual values and rights (liberalism) with the eu promoting a 20/80 mix. The referendum result produced a 52/48 mix and therefore due to community rights being seen as slightly more important than individual rights we left. Consequently any brexit settlement and future UK policy should (and will) reflect this 52/48 mix of community and individual rights.

    For me and viewed from this perspective, a large part of those that wished to remain were actively trying to deny brexiters their community rights by castigating them as racist and xenophobic. This verbal abuse and oppression amounted to inciting hatred and has been happening for decades in that liberals have been actively suppressing communitarians whether through verbal abuse or economic impoverishment. Now that the communitarians have won the argument and asides from a small amount of revenge politics from hard core communitarians, the liberals still seem to be trying to get their (liberal) way by trying to contest the result. What is alarming about this anti-democratic behaviour is that these same anti-democratic tendencies have been apparent throughout their period of rule, whether through the eu or during this campaign. It makes me wonder to what extremes liberals will go to try and have their liberal way.

    However the result will remain and so rather than more liberalism we are now entering a period of liberal communitarianism which reflects the 52/48 result as opposed to the communitarian liberalism that reflected the 20/80 mix of eu rule.

    This is what we Brexiters wanted and is now what we have got – a better balance between community and individual rights and responsibilities.

  4. Rachel

    I love your work Kenan but I’m not convinced by the glorification of democracy embodied in a referendum. We’ve just seen how demogogues can say anything at all without risk of any consequences they would have faced if they’d lied so baldly in elections. Parliament is a more democratic and I still hope it will find a way to overturn it step back from Brexit. It should never have been put to referendum.

    Also Kenan, doesn’t it strike you as unacceptable that the millions of EU citizens who make their lives here, some for decades, were denied a vote? Many people never got British passports because they never thought they’d need to. They didn’t know that henceforth all their daily social relations would be defined by Britishness. Considering those millions (many of whom are working class themselves) this looks more like a plebiscite against immigration rather than an exercise in class power.

    • The important feature of the debate that liberals have been actively denying is the fact that tbe debate was more about communitarian rights which have been subjugated as inferior under eu liberal rule but in reality they are something that needs to be balanced. However in the past the tendency has been for liberalism or the rights of the individual to trump the rights of the community. Consequently people havent been given a choice as to whether they want liberalised migrants in their communities or not . And Id go further and argue that communities have actually been vilified and impoverished for daring to claim their community rights.

      The eu referendum has been the only instance whereby communitarians have been allowed to express themselves through a legitimate democractic process considering that eu enlargement was foisted upon the people with no democratic mandate.

      The eu as it has evolved has takenba much more liberal over and above its communitarian roots, especially since the Maastricht treaty which was fundamentally liberal in nature and has affected virtually every aspect of our lives in one way or another.

      For me communitarianism is indeed rooted in the national to some extent but more importantly it is a localised expression of community identity. In national terms, the notions one nation or the big society were Tory notions of communitarian policy. In this respect, communitarian values are having a common and shared sense of belonging, of being in a space together, sharing similar values and history, working together as a community, thinking about resilience and sustainability, feeling connected to the land and a sense of place, ultimately where social capital derives and a sense that we are all in it together. Liberalism obviously hollows out community rights and uncontrolled liberalism causes resentment as is depicted by people from the more non-metropolitan areas and sub-nations like Cornwall.

      Overall I am suggesting that Brexiters are more community orientated and voted Brexit because they wish to retain a strong sense of community identity from which to ensure resilience and sustainabity. An overall aim is to ensure a compact between all stakeholders including businesses, civic society, state/local authorities and trade unions to work together for the prosperity of all. This requires collaboration and management of ecological and human resources in order to work within carrying capacities of different systems with a view of maintaining some amount of resilience. This I argue is the main rejection of uncontrolled immigration and why racism emerges since uncontrolled liberalism is inherently disruptive as can be seen with the progressive reduction of community related indicators in the human development indexes published by the ONS. Ultimately communitarianism is a more managed approach to the life/death relationship that underpins life. Whereas liberalism is a more unmanaged approach that tends to end up as a highly competitive environment which the moneyed can weather easily enough but the unmoneyed cannot. However if communities are strong and resilient then people are less reliant on money and so being poor doesn’t matter so much.

      In this respect, incontrolled immigration can be legitimately rejected, as can an establishment elite that wishes to enforce liberalism. With regards eu national acquiring uk citizenship, then this was always a choice between whether that individual came to Britain for liberal or communitarian reasons. If the latter then the eu nationals I know did acquire uk citizenship.

      In this overall context a democratic referendum was obviously essential.

    • Rachel, as I wrote in my response to Peter Splinter above, there is a problem with our attitude to democracy if that attitude is determined by the result of a democratic process. You write that ‘Parliament is a more democratic’. But suppose the popular vote was for Remain and a parliament with a Leave majority ignored that mandate – would you still feel the same way?

      I did not say that the Leave vote was an exercise in class power; it would be silly to suggest that. What I wrote was that many working class voters have become disaffected from mainstream parties and institutions because they feel abandoned by them and hence rendered politically voiceless. The fact that the EU referendum may be a ‘plebiscite against immigration’ does not make it any less democratic (though, in reality, that would be too simplistic a view; those who voted Leave did not do so simply because of hostility to immigration, though that certainly played a major part).

      I am an advocate of more liberal immigration policy. But I would say two things about that. First the EU does not have a liberal immigration policy, but a deeply regressive one. Its creation of a Fortress Europe plays to the image of a continent under siege. Is it any wonder, then, that there is widespread hostility to freedom of movement? And politicians that supported Remain have been as responsible as Leave politicians for creating an anti-immigration climate. Second, liberal immigration policies can be enforced only by winning public support, not in spite of public opposition. The failure lies not in people who fear immigration, but in those of us who would argue for a more liberal policy but have not won the argument.

      That said, Steve Gwynne’s argument about ‘communitarian rights’ is meaningless. If you want to argue that the vote in the Midlands or the North of England or the Welsh Valleys was a ‘communitarian vote’ against the EU, you could equally argue that the vote in London, or in Scotland or in the nationalist areas of Northern Ireland were ‘communitarian votes’ for the EU. Neither claim would have any merit.

      Yes, working class communities have been disrupted, their sense of identity undermined, and their political voice marginalized, but that has little to do with immigration. As I have made this argument many times before (for instance, here and here and here and here and here and here and, indeed, in this article too), I am not going to rehearse it again, except to say that immigration has become the symbol of the loss of a sense of community and of a political voice, but is not the cause of it.

      • Hi I would respectfully disagree with your largely liberal analysis.
        1. Your emphasis on immigration in itself obfuscates my original claim that the eu debate was about the conflict between communitarian values and liberal values. Obviously ‘uncontrolled’ immigration is an aspect of liberalism and as such was and is rejected by communitarians because liberalism advocates ‘uncontrolled’ immigration as opposed to ‘controlled’ immigration. Your arguments do not seem to make any distinction between the two whatsoever. As a consequence your arguments are decontextualised as Goodhart argues.
        2. Your readiness to hide liberalism as the source of ‘uncontrolled’ immigration produces your liberal opposition to populism and your readiness to erroneously conflate populism with communitarianism. Thus not only are you hiding your advocation of liberalism in your advocation of immigration despite acknowledging that atomization, the hollowing out of communities and working class alienation are a result of liberalism but also you are hiding communitarianism in what you consider to be a rejection of immigration. Obviously you trying to seperate out social and economic liberalism in your argumentation but when contextualized then the two always go together since the basis of social liberalism is to facilitate the four economic freedoms of economic liberalism. Hence Goodhart’s dennouncement of your eccentricity. In effect, you are trying in vain to seperate social and economic liberalism and simultanously failing to win the argument for ‘uncontrolled’ immigration. Obviously you have taken on an impossible challenge especially when you choose to ignore communitarianism by conflating it with your perceived populist rejection of immigration.
        3. Bremainers were not advocating eu communitarianism since no thing exists. What exists is a fraternity around liberal ideals hence communitarian liberalism. Uncontrolled immigration is obviously an aspect of eu liberalism and was and is rejected by communitarians which you conveniently label as populists due to your need to push your liberal conceptions of uncontrolled immigration.
        4. Community-related indicators are contained within the UK’s Sustainable Development Indicators produced by the Office of National Statistics and show a significant downward trend. Similarly the British Attitudes Survey produces similar results. Your choice to ignore these sources of information but instead use the results of these metrics to convince yourself that people need converting to liberalism because they are driven by illogical and illiberal disposition towards populism is another example of how you conveniently conflate populism with communitarianism for your own liberal agenda. This kind of thinking is not only damaging but also subverts communitarians to some low moral position which is a technique often used by advocates of liberalism. In the same breath you might even start saying bigot, racist or xenophobic which are obviously terms that are meant to produce feelings of guilt simply for valuing community over the individual. However, this just shows your inherently anti-democratic attitude since why can’t communities simply choose when they want stability and continuity and when they want change. Your attitude and your arguments around the meaningless of immigration numbers is obviously an attempt to deny communities a choice.

        • You write:

          Your emphasis on immigration in itself obfuscates my original claim that the eu debate was about the conflict between communitarian values and liberal values. Obviously ‘uncontrolled’ immigration is an aspect of liberalism and as such was and is rejected by communitarians because liberalism advocates ‘uncontrolled’ immigration as opposed to ‘controlled’ immigration. Your arguments do not seem to make any
          distinction between the two whatsoever.

          There are many difference between liberals and communitarians, but the idea that the key distinction is that one supports ‘uncontrolled immigration’ while the other supports ‘controlled migration’ is bizarre. There are few liberals I know who favour ‘uncontrolled immigration’. And, as I have observed many times, the EU itself is anything but a supporter of freedom of movement except in a narrow and restricted sense. ‘Fortress Europe’ is not the best advertisement for unrestricted movement.

          But let us have a look in practice at the distinction between ‘controlled’ and ‘uncontrolled’ migration. There is currently freedom of movement within the EU, which critics label ‘uncontrolled migration’. Migration from outside the EU, on the other hand, is migration over which the government has full control. And given the government’s manifesto pledge to reduce migration to the ‘tens of thousands’, it has tried particularly hard to reduce non-EU migration, including adopting the kind of ‘points-based system’ favoured by critics of high immigration. So what has happened? Last year uncontrolled net migration from the EU was 184,000. Controlled net migration from outside the EU was 188,000. More migrants, in other words, came though the controlled barrier than through uncontrolled barrier, despite the government trying particularly hard to reduce those numbers. What this shows is that unless the government wishes truly to harm the economy, its control of migration is limited – which is why, after the referendum result, leading figures from the Leave camp lined up to deny that they ever suggested that migration could be reduced. The distinction between ‘controlled’ and ‘uncontrolled’ migration is not as straightforward as many, including you, assume. It is a useful distinction for making a polemical point; it is less so in real life.

          As a consequence your arguments are decontextualised as Goodhart argues.

          Well, here is my debate with David Goodhart over his book British Dreams, so you can make up your own mind as to whether my arguments are ‘decontextualized’: My original review; Goodhart’s response: And my three-part response to his response, here, here and here. (Goodhart has promised to reply to this, but has not done it so far).

          Thus not only are you hiding your advocation of liberalism in your advocation of immigration despite acknowledging that atomization, the hollowing out of communities and working class alienation are a result of liberalism but also you are hiding communitarianism in what you consider to be a rejection of immigration.

          Since you are familiar with my debate with David Goodhart, you must presumably know, too, that this is a hollow attack on views I don’t hold. For, as I pointed out to Goodhart, I have long been a critic of liberal views of individualism but I am equally critical of communitarianism as a reactionary critique of liberalism, resting as it does on a Burkean conception of the nation. As I pointed out in my debate with David Goodhart, it is not the only kind of critique of liberal individualism:

          ‘There are many ways one can understand the relationship between the individual and the community of which he or she is a part. To reject the Hobbesian view of the isolated individual and to acknowledge the individual as a social being does not mean that one also has to adopt a kind of Burkean view of society and of the ‘continuity of history’. A Burkean, or a communitarian, thinks of a community as constituted through history and bound primarily by its past, ‘an idea of continuity, which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space’, as Burke himself put it. Values, in the Burkean tradition, are defined as much by place and tradition as by reason and necessity. We can, however, acknowledge the social embeddedness of individuals, but think of such embededdness in a different way, in terms not of the constraints of history but of the possibilities of change, in terms not of tradition but of transformation. Movements for social transformation are defined less by a sense of a shared past (though most draw upon history traditions) than by hopes of a common future.

          These two ways of thinking of communities and collectives usually co-exist and are often in tension with each other. The idea of a community or of a nation inevitably draws upon a past that has shaped its present. But the existence of movements for social change transforms the meaning of the past, and of the ways in which one thinks of identity. The idea of ‘Britain’ means something very different if it is defined primarily in terms of what we want it to be rather than of what it has been.’

          Obviously you trying to seperate out social and economic liberalism in your argumentation but when contextualized then the two always go together since the basis of social liberalism is to facilitate the four economic freedoms of economic liberalism.

          The logic of your argument that one cannot separate economic and social liberalism is that to be a critic of economic liberalism one must also be socially illiberal. So presumably you, as a critic of economic liberalism, must also be socially illiberal, in the sense of opposing racial and sexual equality, free speech, etc. Now, I don’t imagine that you are necessarily illiberal on these issues – but the fact that you may not be does reveal the silliness of the claim that one cannot separate social and economic liberalism.

          Bremainers were not advocating eu communitarianism since no thing exists. What exists is a fraternity around liberal ideals hence communitarian liberalism.

          Earlier you claimed that ‘the eu debate was about the conflict between communitarian values and liberal values’. Now you talk about something called ‘Communitarian liberalism’. A bit of consistency would help.

          This kind of thinking is not only damaging but also subverts communitarians to some low moral position which is a technique often used by advocates of liberalism. In the same breath you might even start saying bigot, racist or xenophobic which are obviously terms that are meant to produce feelings of guilt simply for valuing community over the individual.

          It’s obviously escaped your notice that I have been defending Leave voters against charges that they were all bigots, racists and xenophobes…

          However, this just shows your inherently anti-democratic attitude since why can’t communities simply choose when they want stability and continuity and when they want change. Your attitude and your arguments around the meaningless of immigration numbers is obviously an attempt to deny communities a choice.

          Again, it seems to have escaped your notice that I have been defending the idea that we should accept the democratic verdict of the EU referendum, and that I wrote (in my reply to Rachel above) that ‘liberal immigration policies can be enforced only by winning public support, not in spite of public opposition.’

        • To be fair I think your arguments around uncontrolled/controlled immigration do not fit reality since as you point out yourself immigration inbthis country has far from been controlled which obviously fits with an economic liberal ideology that seeks to grow gdp through migration led growth.

          With regards your other rebuttals, to be fair Im still developing my thinking but now I realise there is an obvious dynamic between liberalism and communitarianism or the individual and the community. I dont particularly subscribe to purist views of either (which incidentally you did not provide for your understanding of liberalism) but see them as a collection or body of ideas.

          This is my response to a recent guardian article about the brexit backlash against globalisation. Part of this response was derived in response to George Monbiot’s call for a Progressive Alliance ….

          The trouble with this fundamentally economic growth outlook which forms an inherent aspect of liberalism is that it is ecologically destructive.

          Similarly labelling forces opposed to ecologically damaging economic liberalism of which social liberalism is a part as populist, nationalist or nativist is false. What we are actually considering here is the balance between liberalism and communitarianism.

          However liberalism is fundamentally flawed since if all living things had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness then we would all starve. This is why liberalism inherently leads to uncontrolled competition and the formation of media magnates and backroom corporate deals and why individualism or social liberalism hollows out communities and leads to atomisation, identity politics and consumerism. In this respect liberalism has been a good thing in terms of deconstructing traditional community identities based on patriarchy and class but this creative destruction now needs to be rolled back in order to allow community identities to be reformed on the basis of a sustainable future built on community democracy and community resilience.

          This is the true nature of the backlash against globalised liberalism. It is inherently destructive and whilst it is a useful ideology to deconstruct and reform communities as a social change tool, at some point it is necessary to withdraw the use of this tool in order to allow communities to reformulate around different principles which in this sustainable development era needs to be community democracy and community resilience. As such, yes the competition of liberalism is as important as the cooperation of communitarianism but each needs to be recognised for the benefits and losses they bring in order to create a sustainable future.

          ….
          This balance between communitarianism and liberalism and the role of this dynamic in terms of managing social change is what I was implying regarding my critique that you were decontextualising the debate. I apologise that this was said without actually giving a stated reason. It was more of an intuitive argument if these are allowed. However I hope you better understand where I am coming from as my own thinking evolves in terms of arguing that populism etc do not adequately describe the social change function that is occuring as a result of the dynamic between communitarianism and liberalism and how this dynamic creates continuity or change. If these two variables were mapped as a cross then we can start describing the interaction between two continuums, one communitarian, one liberal, with weak (soft) at one end of each continuum and strong (hard) at the other. Hard liberalism and soft communitarian will produce social change more quickly than soft liberalism and hard communitarian. Effectively we have social change policy levers which can be effective only if people are aware as them as such (and not ideologies pursued for their own sake) and applied democratically. In tbus respect I am neither but both to varying degrees in response to my perceived need.

          I hope this now better explains liberal communitarianism (soft liberal hard communitarian) and communitatian liberalism (soft communitarian hard liberalism).

          Obviously I fully appreciate your attitude towards democracy whether in relation to the eu or the eu referendum result. I too voted leave for the same reason in tandem with the need for more community orientated values and rights which the eu treaties do not accommadate.

          Thanks for replying.

      • Redbridge

        I agree with your second paragraph, about EU immigration policy. There’s nothing to defend, and it’s hateful that we were forced to choose between two terrible options. But the 23 June vote excluded those millions of EU nationals who live in Britain, many as part of families, many for decades (in contrast to the Scottish independence referendum which was open to anyone living legally in Scotland). It was only after I understood this that I realised I had to vote, for my many friends who did not have that right, whereas before I’d wanted to abstain. Don’t you see a problem?

  5. As Joy MacNaughton already hinted, it’s not very sound methodology to write sweeping social theory as a generalisation of the English result, when the Scottish result was so different.

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