Brexit Makes a Point

In the latest issue of Commonweal, Andrew Bacevich compares the alarum over the Brexit vote to that of Y2K (remember?--all our computers would go kaplooey and with them the world's electrical grid). The alarum, he suggests, may be yet another example of "overwrought handwringing." While not predicting an outcome, Bacevich analyzes why the vote was neither irrational nor the work of pettifogging populism.

One argument jumped out at me, what he calls "transnational optimism." "Sustaining this worldview is an ideology of sorts, one with enormous cultural, economic, and political implications. In the realm of what Americans once quaintly referred to as 'private life,' that ideology favors radical autonomy, rejecting constraints related to sex, sexualiy, and gender. Yet this rejection of constraint coexists with--and even reinforces--a broader conformity. Nominally celebrating tolerance, diversity, individual empowerment, and personal choice, the ideology is committed in practice to maximizing market efficiency...." And on to the EU and why the English might prefer a "British Britain" rather than one confected by the EU in the name of market efficiency. Bacevich sees Brexit as an opportunity for the EU to "reasses and adjust." Of course, others see it as a first step in the possible demise of a noble experiment.

As The New Yorker, used to say citing short squibs from British papers, "There will always be an England." But will there always be an EU?

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels is a former editor of Commonweal. 

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