Democracy

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If only David Cameron hadn’t promised a referendum (he might well have won the last General Election without it)

If only Jeremy Corbyn had campaigned for Remain more passionately (how different the outcome might have been if Gordon Brown had been in charge)

If only it hadn’t rained in London yesterday (turnout for Remain might have been higher)

If only Scotland’s political leaders had campaigned more passionately (turnout in Scotland might have been higher)

If only the referendum had been only about Brexit (it was inevitably an opportunity for the expression of other frustrations – a protest against austerity, authority, inequality, poverty and alienation)

If only Vote Remain had campaigned more positively (‘project fear’ was the wrong approach)

If only Boris Johnson was less ambitious.

If only MPs hadn’t lost the trust of the people during the expenses scandal (expert opinion is now routinely despised and all MPs’ sincerity doubted)

If only Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande had offered Britain more

If only the EU had been better at promoting its virtues and demonstrating its democratic credentials

If only the media had been more honest about the EU’s virtues and less intent on misrepresentation and the promotion of lies

Democracy is the least bad way of arranging human affairs on a large scale, and there is no purer form of democracy than asking the opinion of the people in a referendum, even if the question that is asked is more complex when taken in its full historical and political context than its simple form might suggest. But however we might analyse the reasons why Britain voted for Leave, the will of the people was finally expressed through a simple binary choice and it must be respected.

All the same, I think less of my countrymen for the decision they have made. It was a naïve, foolish, and selfish decision and I wish the question had never been asked, that the referendum had never been called. I hope that despite Brexit the EU will remain intact, but I fear that British parochialism may be contagious.

Philosophers for Brexit

I read on the news this morning that Britain’s military establishment (or, rather, Britain’s former military establishment) has come out in favour of Brexit. Dozens of former generals have signed a letter arguing that what matters when it comes to defence of the realm is NATO not the EU.

Historians have come out for In. Actors, artists and other luvvies have come out for In. Economists have come out for both, of course, but what should we expect? It is the fashion for groups of all kinds to hold hands and write to The Times in favour of either In or Out. Where do campanologists stand? Ornithologists? Kleptomaniacs? Nymphomaniacs? Meteorologists? Numismatists? Philatelists? Dog lovers?

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But another very important group has also nailed its colours to the mast today. Less well reported, but surely of greater import,  is a letter in today’s edition of Mind, the journal of the British philosophical establishment, signed by members of Britain’s philosophical community (note that there is no such thing as a former philosopher, unless you mean a dead one). They have come out, albeit quietly, for Out. Entitled ‘But it doesn’t mean anything’ the letter decries the philosophical assumptions on which the EU is built.

Brian Goodlittle, Reader in Philosophical Energetics at Bradford University says, ‘I was approached by the editor of Mind and was asked to sign this letter. I did so enthusiastically. I am fundamentally opposed to the continental drift of modern European philosophy. It favours meaningless nonsense so it’s not actually philosophy at all. I favour the bracing style of British Empiricism. It admits no blather, no metaphysical indecency. During the Second World War British Empiricism was one of the fiercest weapons in our intellectual arsenal. It had few uses on the front line, admittedly, but it helped us to break the Enigma code and, with the help of the Yanks, to build the Bomb, whilst the Nazis were literally dreaming up nonsense. It would be a disgrace if we gave in now to continental so-called philosophies such as phenomenalism, existentialism, structuralism and other forms of poppycock. French philosophy, in particular, is a load of merde, in my opinion. It reeks of garlic and doesn’t make a single iota of sense. Let’s face it, Mate, what does ‘European Union’ mean anyway?’

Another eminent philosopher, Fiona Fruitington, Professor of Radical Empiricism at Northampton University, has calculated that works of continental philosophy weigh on average four times as much as works by British philosophers. ‘Being and Nothingness,’ she says, ‘I would rather read a DIY manual on shelving. EU law is just the same. Voluminous, meaningless and impractical.’

British philosophy has for centuries been tethered to good old common sense. You can only understand a statement if it can be verified, Alfred Ayer told us (though he could never quite explain how this claim could itself be verified). Austrian born British philosopher Karl Popper turned the same idea on its head and said that something only makes sense if it can be falsified (science proceeds that way, he pointed out, rather than by verification, but he never clarified exactly how his own claim could be falsified).

The greatest of them all, my hero Ludwig Wittgenstein, said we must look at how we come to understand language and the meaning of the terms it contains. We must examine language ‘games’ in real human communities (though I don’t think he had the EU in mind). Continental nonsense, and most of what the EU has to say, he would describe as ‘language gone on holiday’, ordinary words extrapolated way beyond their safe and practical usage. The role of the philosopher, he believed, is to show the fly the way out of the bottle, the fly being the ordinary man or woman befuddled by EU terminology.

‘Ever greater union.’ What does ever actually mean, Wittgenstein might ask. How have we come to agree, as a community of minds, on its deployment? And how could we begin to understand the many meanings of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘subsidiarity’?

I have great sympathy for philosophers, but in the end I’m not with them on this. When it comes down to it the vast majority of them don’t know how to boil an egg.

 

Two Questions

I spent the weekend in the UK – in Brighton, London, Basingstoke and Salisbury (when you live most of the time in another country your visits home are a mad exhausting and bibulous rush to see all your friends and family). Whilst rushing (and drinking) I asked two questions about Brexit of everyone I met:

  • Will you vote to Leave or to Remain?
  • How do you think the vote will go?

 

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Most of those I asked are based in London,  so it’s hardly a surprise that the answer to the first question was generally Remain, though two of my friends and family hadn’t yet quite decided. Why would anyone want to leave? Interestingly, it wasn’t the argument about independence that attracted them (the ghastly Boris Johnson has already labelled June 23rd as Independence Day). They acknowledge that ‘independence’ is a chimera. Rather, the two issues uppermost in the minds of the doubters were:

  • The undemocratic, inefficient, meddling and corrupt character of the EU
  • Uncontrolled immigration

To which I can only reply that all human institutions are overly bureaucratic, inefficient, fallible and corrupt. Politicians are not the only ones who cannot know the future, and whose expertise is limited and judgement sometimes faulty. Whether you are a politician, or a businessman, an entrepreneur or a civil servant, you are likely to make some serious mistakes in your career. We should not expect otherwise. To cite the idiocies of the Eurocracy as a good reason to Leave, is foolish. We should stay and fight for reform, and accept that we will never fully succeed.

As for immigration, it is surely a cultural and economic stimulus. Most immigrants are young, and they invigorate us. At a friend’s wedding on Saturday evening I met a couple who farm vast tracts of land in the Midlands. They would be unable to bring in the harvest without immigrant labour. And where would our NHS be?

I don’t know if I managed to sway their opinions.

But it should come as no surprise that arguments made from an external perspective (as mine are, made from Prague) carry little weight in the UK. That the EU has entrenched peace in Europe, had impeded extremism (important now, given the direction of travel of Hungary and Poland), and has hugely improved the lives of the citizens of the new member states in ‘Eastern Europe’, is acknowledged as a GOOD THING, but as irrelevant to the argument. Moreover, that Brexit might trigger the dissolution of the UK, and perhaps even of the EU , doesn’t seem to register with most of the Brits I’ve spoken to. To me, of course, as an immigrant in the Czech Republic, and a businessman doing most of my business in the EU, it matters greatly.

As for the question of how the vote will go, almost everyone, including those who might vote to Leave, thinks that Remain will win, if narrowly. I am less sure. I can’t help feeling that the passion that ignites the Leavers will urge them to the polling stations, whilst those who would vote to Remain might simply stay at home and fiddle.

Betfair has odds of 3 to 1 (on) for Remain, which means, apparently, that Remain is the more likely outcome. Bet 3 pounds on Remain and you will get only one pound extra back. But recent opinion polls suggest it is a 50:50 question. I worry.