In a few hours we'll know whether the United Kingdom will remain a part of the European Union. The U.S. media has been full of arguments against "Brexit." Here are two good pieces in favor of it—one from the left (by a Briton who teaches political theory at Harvard) and one from the right.

Richard Tuck, writing in Dissent, argues that "the British left risks throwing away the one institution which it has, historically, been able to use effectively—the democratic state—in favor of a constitutional order tailor-made for the interests of global capitalism and managerial politics."

As the jurisprudence of the EU has developed, it has consistently undermined standard left policies such as state aid to industries and nationalization. Constitutional structures that are largely outside the reach of citizens have, in the modern world, tended almost invariably to block the kind of radical policies that the left has traditionally believed in. The central fact about the EU, which the British governing class has never really got its head around, is that it creates a written constitution and ancillary juridical structures that are extremely hard to alter.[...]

Many of my English friends on the left reply...with despair: nothing can now be done to change the situation, the forces of globalization are too strong, the political culture of Britain is too conservative. Membership of the EU offers shelter, despite its patent lack of democracy and its basic sympathy with capitalism. But this is to rationalize defeat. There have been times in living memory when the left in Britain could assert itself successfully, but those were times when it understood the nature of Britain’s political structures and could use them. The lack of political possibilities perceived by so many people today is the result of quite specific decisions, above all to enter the EU, and I see no reason why reversing that decision would not open up real possibilities for the left in Britain again.

At the Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty, an American conservative, also endorses Brexit:

Europe is a tangled failure of undemocratic bureaucracy. The European Commission, which makes an alarming number of laws Britons must abide by (perhaps as much as 60 percent of them in recent years), is an unelected body. The European Parliament has no mechanism for repealing laws, no properly organized opposition at all. As many Leave campaigners never tire of pointing out, plenty of commissioners are chosen to serve only after they have been defeated in their own national elections. Men like Neil Kinnock lost successive elections in Britain, only to get a promotion to the European Commission.

At every level, the EU lacks the kinds of institutionalized opposition or checks on power that are the hard-won victories of the people in their national parliaments. You see it in the impotent European Parliament that acts as a rubber stamp for the Commission, or the unanswerable and supreme European Court of Justice. The history of the EU is a history of making countries vote repeatedly on treaties they have rejected until they accept them.

The argument, then, is not so much between the left and the right as between those who are committed to democracy and those who regard it as a luxury that Europe can't always afford in a time of economic globalization and rising rightwing populism. Some opponents of Brexit simply ignore the EU's lack of democratic accountability, focusing entirely on the xenophobia of some of Brexit's conservative supporters and warning that British independence will threaten Europe's peace and prosperity. Others acknowledge that the EU is (by design) not a very democratic institution, only to brush this fact aside because...peace and prosperity.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

Also by this author

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

© 2024 Commonweal Magazine. All rights reserved. Design by Point Five. Site by Deck Fifty.