‘Be not too moral,’ said Henry David Thoreau. ‘You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.’
People who really live for change, the people who really care about their fellow man, are the people we never hear from, the ones who have no need to posture about ideologies, who have no need to lecture others about ‘tolerance’.
Political correctness is the ideology which props up a dangerously false niceness. It is the marketing strategy of the power hungry, the propaganda of the bully, who wishes to whitewash his reputation. Thus we have pictures of Harvey Weinstein wearing a ‘pussy hat’ and joining female celebrities on the Women’s March last year.
The point is not the hypocrisy. Anyone with ideals is manifestly hypocritical. The point is the way virtue is used as part of a power strategy, a way of securing status and abusive control over others through the manipulation of reputation.
Reducing good morals to a set of tick boxes or making complex ethical dilemmas into matters of sloganeering, robs human life of an essential part of its evolving value. Human agency requires a confrontation with competing goods. To do good, we must live with conscience, come to understand our own sinful natures and meet face to face with the capacity for evil in each of our own souls.
Political correctness is the creed of the godless. It turns moral action into a simplistic algorithm, an automated exchange of inputs and outputs. It requires no wrestling with demons, no dark night of the soul, no solitude of contemplation. And most of all, it comes at no real cost to the moral agent who lives by such a creed.
Jesus Christ said ‘I come not abolish the law, but to fulfil it’. The shift from rule-based religious dogma into the emancipatory truths of the Christian gospel, is a shift from prescriptiveness towards the moral growth of the individual self. In other words, Christ came to teach that it is not the washing of hands or the observance of ritual propriety that makes us a good person, or which secures our place in heaven. Rather it is quality of our souls.
Good behaviour does not emerge from simple algorithms of ‘niceness’. Good behaviour emerges from a cleansing of the spirit. Good actions are the fruit of a good soul, they are not ways of buying our way into heaven.
This too was the message of Krishna to Arjuna, as he stood poised on the fatal edge of battle. How can I do good, Lord, if I am to kill my brethren? Krishna’s answer was that it is the quality of one’s soul, the cleanness of one’s consciousness that marks a truly holy man, not the simplistic dogmas of right and wrong found in worldly life.
Some may defensively say that this is a license to rudeness and power-grabbing in itself.
Like the fascist misuse of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Not so. It is merely a reminder that we do not become good, we do not find salvation, in simplistic moral prescriptions. The proof of this is to be found in the way abusive people use politically correct language to cover up the truth of their souls. Or the way vicious killers use the rhetoric of human rights to add a veneer of respectability to their murderous exploits.
ISIS understood the power of political correctness. Not only did they use hipster-quality video propaganda and publish their own glossy and attractive magazines, they also exploited the cognitive dissonance that would affect the bourgeois minds of western observers, by seeming to add PC behaviours to their barbarous tactics.
At one point, as they were executing gay men by throwing them off the rooftops of buildings – as cheering mobs slavered at the brutality below – jihadis would hug the men before hand, offering the supposed milk of human kindness as a precursor to brutal execution. This nasty fake compassion is a direct product of politically correct morality, and shows how sadistically it can be exploited.
If we were able to rise above PC prescriptiveness, we would feel no cognitive dissonance. We would not be susceptible to the confusion tactics of ISIS propaganda. It is the fact that we have reduced morality to a set of simplistic soundbites, that makes both genuine moral discourse impossible, and evil people able to market their dangerous ambitions as essential to human emancipation.
What’s so wrong about peace, love and understanding? Nothing, as long as it is not just skin deep. Very often the most moral among us, are not the best at marketing their own virtue. Anyone can talk about charity and goodwill, the real test of our humanity comes when it is not convenient for us to do so, and when talking about morality becomes irrelevant to a genuine moral outcome.
Sixty Years at Tate Britain is a journey through the events of British post-war history, seen refracted in the prism of work by artists from 1960s to today.
The opening blurb tells us that each piece in the collection is a response to narratives and issues such as ‘immigration, feminism, racial and sexual identity, AIDS activism, music and club culture’.
The show is explicitly political, and political in a very particular, post-modern sense. The Britain presented here is not the Britain of Churchill, empire and high gothic ambition. Each piece appears to have been chosen for its explicitly non-historic, anti-patriotic sensibility.
Jon Savage’s Uninhabited London series is a strong example of the kind of searching, slightly nihilistic eye that this exhibition wants to celebrate.
His pictures show empty back streets, overpasses, rail bridges and derelict housing blocks, all in black and white and all of them devoid of human activity or the comfort of identity.
The photos were taken between 1977 and 2008, in and around North Kensington and west London, and they show a London still peppered with bomb sites, still reeling from the damage of war.
This could be East Germany as much as London. There is no civilisation here, but only concrete and the carcasses of Victorianism, the bland, hard edges of dreary development.
This is a London that is somewhat unrecognisable today. However, following the horrors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in Kensington, you do catch yourself searching for anything that might resemble that building. There are skylines with high rise blocks, and the general texturelessness and loneliness of the landscapes presented here does speak to this recent trauma.
However, much of these areas have probably been gentrified now, and the London we see through Savage’s eyes is only one side of the city – there is no creativity, no bustling energy of optimism. All you are allowed to see is the forgotten, vacant lifelessness of desolate alleys and parking lots.
The pictures themselves, however, are clean, well composed, and show a technical control for depth of field that allows for maximum impact in conveying the shape and form of the city Savage was trying to present.
Cunt Scum (1977) by Gilbert and George, presents a similar face of London. We are still seeing a dour, post-war Britain, only this time with slightly more explicit political flavour.
Gilbert and George give us the prophetic images of what we will come to know as ‘Thatcherite Britain’. Working men in crowds, Bobbys on the beat, homelessness, inner city high rise developments.
The photographs used are not as technically pristine as Savage’s, but the over and under-exposed quality of the shots deliberately contrast the stark light and grim shadow of a Britain gutted of its identity.
If anyone still has doubts about the power of Abstract Expressionism, and the thrust of its techniques, they should look no further than Ataxia – Aids Is Fun (1993), by Derek Jarman.
Almost certainly the most moving of the works in this exhibition, Ataxia hits the viewer in the most vulnerable aspects of the subconscious. No amount of description and campaigning can compete with this image of the fragmentation of the nervous system caused by AIDS. It is a terrifying work, that leaves no one in any doubt about the meaning.
AIDS was not just a cull of gay men, it was, and still is, a tectonic natural disaster for every individual affected. This painting is hard to look at – violent, uncompromising and entirely precise.
Hommage a Chrysler Corp. (1957) by Richard Hamilton, is possibly the most technically impressive part of this show. A masterpiece of negative space, and a proto-Pop Art achievement, the work explores the sexuality of women and motorcars – a staple of pop culture already by the time it was painted.
In this painting you see so much of modernity captured in the slick curves and urbane textures – everything from Kerouac, to the Velvet Underground to Madonna’s aggressive slut-empowerment in the early 1990s.
As a primary source, this painting will communicate to future historians unspeakable truths about the post-war age in the west, so much more than the nihilistic trends that emerged from the 1960s.
Michael Fullerton’s portrait of disc jockey John Peel (2005) opens this patchy exhibition, and it’s a brilliantly understated and traditional work.
A reference to the portraits by Thomas Gainsborough in the 18th century, this work captures the loveable paradox of Peel. He was on the frontlines of counterculture for the best part of four decades. However, he was a national treasure, as well-known and loved as the Queen herself, by the time he died.
Painting him in this way, allows the viewer to see Peel and all that he represents, through a lens of continuity and cultural endurance. The other works in this exhibition lack this sense of connection.
Peel’s love of the underground was not a post-modernist quest, but rather and desire to keep the tradition of British art alive and thriving. To be counter-culture, for Peel, was not to be anti-culture. He was a kind of spiritual patron, rather than an iconoclast or revolutionary. We see Peel here where he belongs, in the Pantheon of British creative innovators and leaders, not as some snotty champion of disaffection.
Fullerton’s portrait reminds one of Robert Goodloe Harper Pennington’s Oscar Wilde portrait (1884) also showing in the Tate. The same deep colours, the same ironic, but accessible creative expressions on the subjects.
There is a deliberate dislocation of Britain from its past in this exhibition which seems designed rather than simply observed.
Taken on their own, each piece has something important to say about this country. However, there is a disingenuous agenda in the collection, as if the only things relevant to post-war Britain were issues of immigration, sexual health, gay rights and feminism.
Britain is a divided nation, and in some sense that divide runs down the fracture between a historic past, and a post-Thatcherite economic identity.
Explicit in the form of this collection seems to be the assertion that nothing of Britain’s past is fit for purpose, nothing about the identity formed over centuries up until the 1960s speaks to the issues that face the country today.
Sixty Years presents a cultural orthodoxy which is itself archaic and mismatched to the reality of the times. The creative disgust of punk and post-modernism are far more connected to time and circumstance than their advocates would have us believe, and the idea of being liberated from the past is no longer the seductive, working class utopian vision it once was.
Far more powerful, would be an exhibition that tried to link the fractured world seen in the works of Savage and Gilbert and George, with the through-line of art history in Britain.
The moral eye of this exhibition is bankrupt, and the forms have become fetishes.
This dislocation was painfully available to us in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Protestors and rabble rousers leaped upon the deaths of impoverished families, as if they were somehow catapulted back to 1981, to a world of miners strikes and the Falklands war.
In trying to present a distinctly modern Britain, this exhibition comes off as suspiciously nostalgic for a time when a clear, Marxist model of social forces was convenient and offered clarity in an era of confused, class emancipation.
Sixty Years goes out of its way to avoid any sense of continuity. For a worldview obsessed with identity, that very concept of identity itself seems incredibly impoverished. Beauty is seen as something representative of the evil establishment, a veneer of the old guard.
It may or may not be true that the classical beauty and Victorian baroque of British art is linked to its imperial past. However, what Sixty Years shows is that the fractured aesthetic of sex-club fetishism and class-war concretism is dangerously anachronistic and ill-fitted to meet the challenges of contemporary Britain.
Even seen as a retrospective, this exhibition is curiously limited, confined to one narrow view of Britain’s recent history. For all its celebrations of alienation and working class anxiety, the world view implicit here could only emerge from someone on the affluent sidelines of the culture, frustratedly clinging to an academic model of urban Britain that is simply not relevant any more.
Sovereignty is about more than just power. It is the agency and moral purpose of a culture.
Just as a human being needs a sense of meaning to survive, nations and societies need a sense of sovereignty to survive. And if we are to feel safe and flourish within a stable community, we all need to be part of a nation or a society.
Some associate the word ‘sovereignty’ with the ‘divine right of kings’, or with tyrannical rule, or they look at society and say that any idea of a common purpose must be a myth, a propaganda tool for the many vested interests that exploit the needs and desires of the common people.
There is no doubt that sovereignty has been used for these purposes throughout the centuries, and vested interests continue to make a mockery of the idea of a common social purpose and meaning. But the existence of transgressions against an ideal does not render that ideal empty and immoral.
Part of the reason we know that the Iraq war was wrong, or that the 2008 crash was a violation of social values, is because these things failed to live up to a sense of common duty about what our society means and should be aspiring to.
Though history is full of examples of abuse of authority, this does not mean that the office of authority is inherently corrupt. Part of the heritage of British constitutional development, for example, is the way that competing interests have amended public government over centuries to ensure that the various parts of society are represented.
From Magna Carta down through the reform acts and the women’s suffrage movement, society has evolved so that the constitution and the office of sovereignty is both broad enough to represent the diversity of citizens, and specific enough to ensure that certain tangible rights exist for everyone regardless of identity.
To say that the British constitution is a product of imperialism is simply ignorant. In fact, one of the tensions that brought an end to imperialism was the grassroots movement on home soil against what was clearly a form of hypocrisy about democracy and the rule of law. At home, every citizen had the same rights in terms of right to trial and a right to vote. However, in the colonies, the model government was tyrannical and in most cases proudly undemocratic.
As citizens at home started to claim their rights, expanding suffrage and ensuring access to health and education, the disparity of citizenship between colonial subjects and native Brits became untenable. It started to make a mockery citizenship itself.
Though the collapse of the British empire was complex and involved the domestic politics of subjected nations across the world, one thing that helped us to dismantle it, was the knowledge that claiming democratic rights at home while disregarding them abroad was devaluing the very moral value of society, and the authority that kept our justice system alive.
Sovereignty is the common purpose which binds the largest possible group of people together. When is a heap a heap? When is a society a society? There is no scientific answer.
There is however, a spiritual one. The office of sovereignty creates a symbolic representation of national values. This is something that has been degraded and scoffed at since the end of the Second World War. People blame the very idea of sovereignty and nationhood for the abuses of power that existed in Hitler and Stalin, and for the exploitative abuses at the hands of imperial ambition.
However, we cannot make the worst case scenario the test of nationhood. The practical truth of the matter is that we must live in community with each other, and there is a point at which a community becomes too big, or too inclusive to have a sense of common purpose and meaning.
Society has shown us that sovereignty can be expanded, that we need not depend on the tyrannical will of one man. However, history also shows that sovereignty has its limits. It needs boundaries to exist.
It is this tension between limits and inclusiveness that characterise democratic nations.
The most concrete example of this broad but well defined common national purpose can be seen in the American constitution. The very existence of it, regardless of what can be debated over its amendments, is a demonstration of common purpose.
The idea of a constitution is the idea that government should be limited, that the society exists for the flourishing of the individual. America’s Bill of Rights, states that all men are equal, and that citizenship exists in ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.
This is a notion that goes back to Aristotle, who believed that the health of the state is intimately related to the health and privileges of the citizen.
Though Aristotle would not have put a primacy on individual rights, and his concept of citizenship was infamously limited to a select group of wealthy men, the birth of an ideal exists that far back. The ideal being that citizenship is the means by which humans become truly human, and that citizenship must allow the flourishing of the individual if the existence of the state is to fully justify itself.
Sovereignty, then, does not represent mere power. It represents the ideals of citizenship, and the authority by which that citizenship is granted. The Queen’s recent visit to Manchester to visit the survivors of the bomb attack, and to commend the men and women who cared for those victims, is a perfect example of the spiritual values of sovereignty in action.
The Queen understood that these people had embodied the very best of what she exists to represent herself. Courage, love of fellow man, sacrifice and above all, endurance, the sustaining of human life through correct action.
In short, sovereignty is a matter of collective experience, cultural heritage and common values, all thrown into one. Sovereignty is strongest when it emerges over time, through the constitutional adaptation over time.
Critics might point to the rather top-down nature of the nature of American constitutional values, that the country was birthed by a document written by a select group of ‘white men’ and that it did not emerge from centuries of cultivation.
Perhaps that is true, but American independence could not be said to be ‘nation-building’ in the sense of the European Union, or the many neo-conservative failures in recent decades. What came first were the values, and the American constitution was created so that amendments and adaptations could be made, and they are in fact encouraged, by the inherent structure of it. The values are secure, but the way those values can be embodied is always open to dialogue and dispute.
Sovereignty is the authority of the ages. It is the legitimacy of power, as well just the mechanism of power.
The American constitution gets its legitimacy because it offers the most basic human needs as its fundamental value system. Its failure to live up to those values might erode the faith people have that the system has their best interests at heart, but it does not erode the legitimacy of those values themselves. That was what the Civil Rights Movement was all about. Salvaging the values of the constitution, from those who abuse it.
What’s wrong with the EU
In both the American constitution, and the British constitution, it is important to notice that economics did not create the country, however much economic interests powered the energy of change that helped those constitutions to emerge. Rather, the values, and the desire for the largest amount of peace for the largest amount people, were the main drivers in creating sovereign societies.
The core problem with the European Union is that it seeks to create a state, a very large, and comparatively centralised one, out of nothing but trade deals. It is nation-building at the hands of economists.
As opposed to the ideal embodied in Magna Carta, the 1688 Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Arbroath, and the American constitution, the European Union is a state built on economic ideology, rather than commonly held values.
You could argue that the European Human Rights Declaration acts a document of commonly held values. However, that document is the not the chief constitutional document. It exists separately from the EU. And as the disputes over the Lisbon Treaty proved, the apparatus of state legitimacy is an ongoing post-hoc activity. First came trade deals, second came the values of statehood.
Why is this a problem? Because the citizen is of secondary importance at best, to the economic ideology that happens to govern the foundational trade agreements. If a society exists for trade agreements first and citizens second, how can you say that there is a binding set of values and common interests?
What we saw with Greece, was the imposition of economic interests, and financial ideologies, over and above the needs to citizenship. For those who wish to the defend the legitimacy of the EU, they will have to accept that citizenship is not the chief concern, but trade.
If they admit to that, and they really must, then they cannot claim that the EU places a fundamental value in human life, but only in wealth creation.
One of the chief problems in putting this criticism forward is that most people regard harping on about citizenship and sovereignty as archaic, unrealistic, anachronistic even. Economics, says the over-educated mob, has always been the driving force of society. Citizenship and constitutions, we are told, have always been the propaganda of the bourgeois.
Even conservatives will use this kind of line of argument, not realising that they are simply regurgitating oversimplified Marxism and class conflict theory.
Perhaps it is time for a refreshed idea of what a society really is, and the mechanism that keeps it together. It is time to see economics as part of a wider evolution of social values, not the other way round.
These days to be switched on and ‘hip’ is to be devoid of any idealism, to affect a dreary disillusioned scowl, which has become a cultural shorthand for intelligence. This attitude, or pose, is the most prevalent among academic people, or in the sphere of media professionals. These atmospheres have seeped into the arena of middle management and administration – the civil service and commercial office spaces where the majority of graduates work.
Among genuinely working class people, or among more courageous entrepreneurs, you’ll encounter more optimism and, ironically, more openness to dissenting views.
In a discussion among nurses or construction workers, any criticism of Islam, for instance, or any talk of the myths of feminism, will not be met with the same scorn and reproach as they will be in council offices, real ale bars or newsrooms.
It’s a curious fact that the more educated one is these days, the less able one is to deal with new ideas or competing interpretations of everyday experiences. The paradox of this is made more strange by the fact that intransigence and consensus thinking is often accompanied by a smug, affected and simplified form of irony that rarely amounts to anything more than sneering and sanctimonious self-praise.
Go to a party or a gig or any social interaction involving 20-35 year olds, and you will encounter the ubiquitous educated cynic, the foot-soldier for consumerist nihilism, the type of person who unwittingly propagandises safe, consensus thinking while deluding themselves that their acerbic, non-conservative tone of voice puts them on the vanguard of independent thinking.
Most likely this person has a passing knowledge of Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx, without actually having engaged with these ideas in any deep way. Like owning a blues anthology and thinking you know everything about Blind Lemon Jefferson, this dilettantism makes people think they have the inside scoop on the folly of cultural values, regardless of what those values may be.
Everything is relative; Christianity is just as bad as Islam; America is just as bad as Russia; all love is reducible to a sexual agenda, and all beauty is a matter of opinion and most likely the product of some conspiracy of white men.
The blandness and despair concealed in this worldview is buried under the affectation of edgy scornfulness and sarcasm. The apparent irony gives the snotty cynic the sense of being cut off from the crowd – an ‘observer of people’, when in actual fact their nihilistic insouciance is an excuse for doing nothing, for conforming to the flow of consumer pressures and pop culture fashions.
This is what irony has become. As long as you pull off the odd wisecrack, and perfect a visage of imperishable non-surprise you can fool others and yourself that you are an independent thinker, without ever having to take an intellectual risk, or feel humiliated for taking an unpopular point of view.
True irony involves self-deprecation. Not the socially polite kind, but a deeply-held knowing of your intellectual limits.
Thinking independently means caring less about having the ‘correct’ views, and devoting one’s energies to the process by which those views are formed.
Disputation is not a sport. It’s not something to pass the time away, or a platform for showing off. It’s a way of making doubt and scepticism a kind of neural institution, part of the fabric of your inner world.
The real test of an independent mind is sacrifice for a higher ideal. It involves suffering. Commitment, in a word.
Scepticism is a habit of thinking, it is not an ideology in itself. If we allow doubt to become an end, rather than a means, then we start to celebrate meaninglessness.
Being a cocksure, manipulative and sneering teacher’s pet may garner cool points when you are down and out on the scene, but it also helps to cultivate a sense of moral capitulation too. Slavish nihilism is the lifeblood of the tyrant.
Trump is a buffoon. Farage is a demagogic narcissist. Fascism is bad. Unaccountable power is bad. So what?
I see no need to join the chorus of people online sharing their outrage about things that are obviously wrong. So I don’t do it. The exercise frequently ends up in being one of self-congratulation and superior scoffing.
Public life depends on the health of public debate. And public debate depends on the integrity of the language that pervades the public space.
Far worse than even the bloody crimes of Hitlerism, are the crimes of rhetoric that allow decent people to become monsters in the name of supposedly “good” and “charitable” causes.
I know that I am the least enjoyable to be around when I am behaving like a boorish, righteous moron just because I know I have God on my side.
This is the state of the Left. Just because we fight for fairness, charity and equality, does not mean we are beyond criticism.
In fact, it means we deserve it more than the worst Rightwing fascists, because it is all the more difficult to see our faults as faults, and our crimes as crimes.
To those who say I don’t criticise the Right enough, and reserve my anger only for the Left, it is for the following reasons:
1. The Left depends more on consensus for legitimacy of argument, rather than disputation. The Right haven’t had a consensus since the fall of the church in public life.
2. Free speech is my biggest guiding value, and the Left seems hell bent of reducing this to some product of white supremacy and western imperialism. That’s horse shit, as the history of dissent and civil rights proves.
3. It is one’s duty as an independent mind to dissent from the opinions of your own side. That’s the only way you can trust the legitimacy of your views. It’s not about being contrarian, it’s about being committed to truth.
4. I know the face of the fascist Right, and I admit, I have underestimated its power in the last year. That said, I genuinely believe the Left’s ideological fanatics are a greater threat.
5. The danger of Left wing revolutionary fanaticism is that it really believes it has compassion on its side. The Right admit their love of hierarchy and divine right to rule, wheres the Left argue that their rage and violence is in the name of equality and good will. Nothing more worrying and threatening than that.
6. I believe the Left has forgotten its roots. It’s become about middle class people giving credibility to their bourgeois grievances. The ideological love of the EU is a great example. If people were really concerned with the working class they would know that globalism is a big threat to communities and social order, and it turns us all into “human capital” rather than human beings.
7. I see it as good practice as a Leftist to make my mind up issue by issue. I failed to do this in my younger years, and I was wrong. To be against fascism, the best weapon is reason, not ideology.
8. The Left failed in its response to the France massacres over the last year and half. The reluctance to hold Islam responsible for the fanaticism of its current factionalism, is fake compassion. I notice that many on the Left don’t give Catholicism the same free pass.
9. I have changed my views only in so far as I no longer believe western democracy and constitutional values (equality under the law) is the product of, or necessarily connected to imperialism. I notice that many on the Left still cling to this conflation. In truth, the constitutions of western liberal democracies are the only things standing between the world and tyranny, however flawed, corrupt and war-mongering their supposed advocates have been.
10. I don’t and never have actually, subscribed to Marxism. What little I have read of Marx, I respect him the way Muslims respect Christ, not as The Prophet, but as one among many dissenting philosophers whose voices were needed to end aristocratic tyranny.
I am an Oscar Wilde, William Morris leftist, and I believe beauty is truth and truth is beauty.
I am a classical liberal, and to say that does not make me a conservative. Far from it. Nor does it make me “alt-right”.
If the only way you assess someone’s progressive social conscience is by whether they virtue-signal, and rant against Trump and Nigel Farage or not, then you have a very simplistic view of politics. Politics becomes just a fashion statement.
There are plenty of issues that I don’t talk about online. Plenty of things I feel very passionate about, that I don’t feel the need to profess.
From the decline the Scottish fishing industry, to the justice system in Pakistan, I have many things I care about, but am not able to contribute anything change-worthy to.
The Left’s shift of focus to identity politics endangers public life itself. If we can’t disagree with each other, we don’t have a society.
This is a battle that I not only want to fight, it’s the number one battle I know I am fit for. I know I have the tools and the skills, the ideas and the passion enough to defend liberty over ideology.
There are many other battles worth fighting, and many other liberal issues to shout about.
However, this is the one area in which I know I can have the greatest effect. If I seek to challenge the seductive, intoxicating virtuousness of ideological thinking, then I am making the world a better place in the only way I have a hope of doing so.
I can’t get rid of the Trumps of this world. Neither can you. But we can stamp out the desire for simplistic political causes among ourselves, and thereby hold public life to a higher standard in the process.
“The liberty of man in society is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what the legislation shall enact, according the trust put in it. Freedom for man under government is not for everyone to do as he lists but to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; to have a liberty to follow his own will in things where the ruler prescribes not, and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary Will of another man.” John Locke
The voice of the people is the voice of God. As the Romans knew all too well, that voice is never measured or cognisant of worldly comforts and stability. The people, and the Gods, speak with tongues of dynamite, like the voices of trapped souls exploding from the underworld.
During the course of the debate over whether Britain should pull out of the EU or not, two central confusions seemed to exist. These had nothing to with economics, and everything to do with political philosophy.
The first was a confusion about internationalism and globalism. The two ideas seem to be synonymous in people’s minds, particularly those defending the EU.
The second, was a general misunderstanding of the meaning of sovereignty. To those in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, sovereignty was an archaic idea, a kind of party-pooping throwback concept that has no place in the peaceful, future-loving consensus of European state-building.
Internationalism and Globalism
Global capitalists tend to defend absolute unregulated free trade, and the free movement of labour, with the rhetoric of unity and open-mindedness. They claim their economic interests correspond to global solidarity.
Globalism, however, is an ideology, a principally economic one designed to keep wages down and maximise profits for big business. It seeks to erode the natural regulative effect that national borders and democratic sovereignty put up against rampant imperialistic capitalism. It’s a new form of imperial, privateering capitalism – expansionist, faceless and with no thought for the public order provided by communitarian, grass-roots culture.
Internationalism on the other hand, is the recognition that working class people across the globe share the same fight to ensure they are not exploited. It actually has nothing to do with government. It’s entirely grassroots. If anything, the working class small-c conservative vote in favour of Brexit was a resounding declaration of solidarity with the workers of Greece and Spain who have been equally abandoned by economic mismanagement and corporate favouritism on the part of the Eucocracy.
Internationalism recognises the borders and national identity. It recognises cultural diversity. The great achievement of internationalism is not the erosion of these markings of identity, but the acknowledgement that regardless of tribe, colour and creed, human beings seek the same goals of equality and happiness and community wherever and whoever they are in the world.
The globalist class of the EU and the corporatists they represent, have hijacked the nobility of this ideal. Like the corporate empire builders of America who hijacked the libertarian ideals of the US constitution to legitimise their unregulated takeover of the country’s economy, the European globalists hijacked the Churchillian “never again” values of a peaceful Europe to give credibility to an expansionist market-driven ideal of public life.
The people have rejected this. Just as they did in Greece. Just as they did in Scotland. However the media-types and dislocated Londonistas try to play these worker-mobilisations off against each other, the fact is that grass-roots rejection of the the globalist ideal is springing up on the right and left sides of communities across the world.
Brexit is the beginning of a wake-up call. Democracy has spoken. And as history shows us, once it opens its mouth, it rarely shuts it again without a fight.
Sovereignty is intimately tied up with the concept of consent. All democracies are governments by consent. This is different from the arbitrary will of the crowd, or government by constant plebiscite. It exists as much in the institutions of law, due process and social management that perform the greatest good for the people, as it does in electoral votes.
As John Locke said, the legislature performs with power entrusted in the ruler, by the people. If that executive power is misused, or fails to perform for the good of the people, then the tradition of British liberty asserts that the legislature is no longer legitimate. The people have the right to build a new one.
The problem with the EU is that there was no semblance of a social contract. The mass centralisation of power, based on a trade deal between economic officials, was not in any way comparable to the establishment of a parliament like those of the great European nations. The EU has a judiciary, a parliament, and an executive and even a common security policy. It has all the trappings of a sovereign state, without one thing crucial factor: consent.
The European Commission constructs bills designed by officials, and then allows ministers of member states to review them. Parliament is a kind of second house, which reviews, amends, and suggests legislation.
The Commission does not govern by consent. It governs by consensus, a force which carries its own momentum, and which ignores the voice of the people, in favour of the juggernaut of ideology.
The free movement of people is a perfect example. The good of the people of a sovereign state was at best a secondary consideration to the good of big business, in the implementation of this policy. Economic growth put cultural and social pressures on communities, and by doing so eradicated their rights.
A government by consent prioritises rights – the basic needs of individuals and communities that are required for them to take command of their lives and propel themselves to their greatest potential.
The free movement of people pretends to do this for desperate workers in desperate parts of the world, but very often it serves only to prop up low-wage service industries, exploit poverty, and trap people in debt and servility.
If a government is governing by consent, it must prioritise due process, individual liberty under the law, public health, and community. It is the ideology of the day to think that you can’t have these basic rights unless you have a lucrative, explosive economy growing at the rate of a virus.
But this ideology contravenes the heritage of British liberty. The sovereign’s duty is to the welfare and happiness of the people first, and the economy later. The economy serves the community, not the other way round.
The EU, as opposed to any abstract notion of a united Europe, is fundamentally opposed to sovereignty. By “pooling sovereignty” you destroy it. Because consent becomes consensus, and at the very best you acknowledge that the will of the people takes second place next to the the momentum of consensus.
Within the EU, there is not even a pretence at a social contract. Legitimacy is assumed by the rulers, not entrusted to them by the people. In the interests of consensus, countries and their voters are expected to get in line, or be banished – as Britain will be from now on.
You cannot build a truly sovereign state out of the foundations of trade deals. This is the fundamental flaw in the European project.
Those who claim that centralisation and state-building are not the core aim of the European Union are living in a fantasy land.
If a political body has a judiciary, a parliament, a flag, a national anthem, a security policy, makes laws that can overrule local justice systems and has aspirations towards building an army – that is an outfit with pretensions towards statehood.
That the EU can claim to govern with consent is fatuous. The rights of the people have very little to do with trade tariffs and product regulations.
Consent is about entrusting the happiness, health and liberty of the people in the hands of a parliament that can be held to immediate account. The people vote against parliament if they disagree with proposed legislation. No such accountability exists between the European Commission and the people of Europe. You will be hard pushed to find the word liberty anywhere in the bureaucratic, executive documents of the European Union.
Without sovereignty, or the consent of the people, what is a state? It is not a state, in fact. It is an empire.
The general liberal conception of what the EU is, seems to to rely on mistaking European unification with a utopian vision of geopolitics.
Difference, bad. Sameness, good.
The tantrums and outrage still echoing through the halls of Westminster, and still plastered over every progressive’s social media profile, all converge on the belief that the eradication of national sovereignty and borders brings us closer to ending all wars, forever. This gives the bruised Remainers the aura of righteousness. Even in defeat, this ideology of world peace, is dangerously imperialistic.
In the parliamentary system as exhibited in the British heritage of civil rule, there is no claim to unity, world peace, or a brighter future. There is no supervenient ideology, however noble and progressive.
The virtues prized by the common people are embodied in the machinery of sovereignty. British people have themselves often wondered why there is no official constitution, like that of the USA, here in the UK. But there is a beauty the to the parliamentary system without it.
The core constitutional value is government by consent. The public good, and the public good only, is what legitimises power. The British have greater common sense than to try and stand for abstract visions like world peace, global stability and unity at all costs.
The hot mess of parliamentary contest and equality under the law are good enough for the simple common sense of the British people. This was proven by last week’s historic vote.