Britain

David Warsh: RIP: Great Britain, 1688-2016

SOMERVILLE, Mass.

My English friend first noticed the tendency years ago when English football hooligans began wearing the red and white Cross of St. George to matches in preference to the Union Jack. The latter ensign dated from 1606, when James I ordered the blue and white St. Andrew’s cross of the flag of Scotland to be sewn onto the English banner to represent his dual monarchy. For the next hundred years the striking new design was seen mainly on the masts of his British majesty’s ships at sea.

Not until 1688 did the English parliament get into the act, when its members invited the Dutchman William of Orange and his English wife to become King William III and Queen Mary II, fending off the restoration of hierarchical Catholic governance under James II.  Crowned in 1685, James was chased off the throne and out of the country in 1688.

This was the “Glorious Revolution,” long cherished by the English as supposedly peaceful, aristocratic and consensual. It has been persuasively reinterpreted recently as “violent, popular and divisive” by Yale historian Steve Pincus and extensively illuminated by Deidre McCloskey in her Bourgeois Trilogy as the first truly modern revolution, precursor to the American and French experiences.

This was modernization based on a Dutch model, not a French one, writes Pincus. It included a broad array of inventions associated with becoming a nation-state: republican governance; elected representatives of the citizenry; the rule of law; bourgeois values of various sorts, especially the fundamental and widespread curiosity we now describe as “scientific”; and, not incidentally, the strong army and first-rate navy required by a nation bent on global domination. The Union Jack became Britain’s official flag only after both parliaments passed Acts of Union in 1707.

Elizabeth, England’s first Protestant queen, had begun her rule in 1558. For the next 250 years, Britain battled Spain, the Netherlands and France for control of Europe, North America, and the sea, finally emerging  mostly victorious in 1815. Long before, writers including Edward Gibbon and Adam Smith had begun comparing its hegemony to that of the Roman Empire.

The Victorian era, broadly construed, lasted for a century, but as early as 1890 it was becoming clear that the empire had become overextended.  In The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline 1895-1905 (Princeton, 1977), Princeton historian Aaron Friedberg argued that the Boer War, in South Africa, exhausted Britain’s willingness to tax itself to pay to maintain its status as the world’s dominant power.

Two long and bitter wars with Germany in the 20th Century further sapped Britain’s human, military and financial capacity.  An attempted military intervention, with the aid of France and Israel, against Egypt in Suez in 1956 succeeded militarily but failed utterly politically and diplomatically. Gradually its naval forces were pulled back from Singapore. Hong Kong remained a commercial enclave long after it ceased to be a naval strong point; its sovereignty and governance were handed over to China in 1997.

What remained, until last week, was Britain’s capacity for moral leadership.  Britain had declined to join European Coal and Steel Community in the years after World War II.  French President Charles de Gaulle then fended off its attempt to join the European Economic Community (“the Common Market”) that emerged in the late 1950s. Britain finally entered the EEC in 1973, but opted out of the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which abolished most border controls among member states. The landmark Maastricht Treaty of 1992 created the European Union and the concept of European citizenship, E.U. passports and the free movement of labor among the member nations. Subsequent treaties have extended the principle of central European government from its seat in Brussels, and expanded membership to 28 member states.

What happened last week was not just Britain’s retreat from Europe; it was the abandonment of the project that began in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a dream of empire that turned out be a spectacular success.  Britain now will return to being the island nation celebrated by Shakespeare as “this fortress built by Nature for herself/ against infection and the hand of war.”  None of us who were raised on this story can be less than sad at the news; those who have labored in its service are heartbroken.

What happens now in Britain? Martin Wolf, economics columnist of the Financial Times, put it succinctly: Britain has prospered inside the E.U.  but it will not do as well outside.  It seems doubtful that London can remain the same immensely powerful global financial hub it has become – central banks such as the Bank of England have power only by dint of governments’ authority to tax.

Elites are fuming; they can hardly believe their comfortable way of life has been put at risk; so are the young, who voted overwhelmingly (75 percent of 18-24-year olds, 56 percent of 25-50 year olds) to remain.  

Can the vote be reversed?   British law may offer some exits.

My English friend first noticed the tendency years ago when English football hooligans began wearing the red and white Cross of St. George to matches in preference to the Union Jack. The latter ensign dated from 1606, when James I ordered the blue and white St. Andrew’s cross of the flag of Scotland to be sewn onto the English banner to represent his dual monarchy. For the next hundred years the striking new design was seen mainly on the masts of his British majesty’s ships at sea.

Not until 1688 did the English parliament get into the act, when its members invited the Dutchman William of Orange and his English wife to become King William III and Queen Mary II, fending off the restoration of hierarchical Catholic governance under James II.  Crowned in 1685, James was chased off the throne and out of the country in 1688.

This was the “Glorious Revolution,” long cherished by the English as supposedly peaceful, aristocratic and consensual. It has been persuasively reinterpreted recently as “violent, popular and divisive” by Yale historian Steve Pincus and extensively illuminated by Deidre McCloskey in her Bourgeois Trilogy as the first truly modern revolution, precursor to the American and French experiences.

This was modernization based on a Dutch model, not a French one, writes Pincus. It included a broad array of inventions associated with becoming a nation-state: republican governance; elected representatives of the citizenry; the rule of law; bourgeois values of various sorts, especially the fundamental and widespread curiosity we now describe as “scientific”; and, not incidentally, the strong army and first-rate navy required by a nation bent on global domination. The Union Jack became Britain’s official flag only after both parliaments passed Acts of Union in 1707.

Elizabeth, England’s first Protestant queen, had begun her rule in 1558. For the next 250 years, Britain battled Spain, the Netherlands and France for control of Europe, North America, and the sea, finally emerging  mostly victorious in 1815. Long before, writers including Edward Gibbon and Adam Smith had begun comparing its hegemony to that of the Roman Empire.

The Victorian era, broadly construed, lasted for a century, but as early as 1890 it was becoming clear that the empire had become overextended.  In The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline 1895-1905 (Princeton, 1977), Princeton historian Aaron Friedberg argued that the Boer War, in South Africa, exhausted Britain’s willingness to tax itself to pay to maintain its status as the world’s dominant power.

Two long and bitter wars with Germany in the 20th Century further sapped Britain’s human, military and financial capacity.  An attempted military intervention, with the aid of France and Israel, against Egypt in Suez in 1956 succeeded militarily but failed utterly politically and diplomatically. Gradually its naval forces were pulled back from Singapore. Hong Kong remained a commercial enclave long after it ceased to be a naval strong point; its sovereignty and governance were handed over to China in 1997.

What remained, until last week, was Britain’s capacity for moral leadership.  Britain had declined to join European Coal and Steel Community in the years after World War II.  French President Charles de Gaulle then fended off its attempt to join the European Economic Community (“the Common Market”) that emerged in the late 1950s. Britain finally entered the EEC in 1973, but opted out of the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which abolished most border controls among member states. The landmark Maastricht Treaty of 1992 created the European Union and the concept of European citizenship, E.U. passports and the free movement of labor among the member nations. Subsequent treaties have extended the principle of central European government from its seat in Brussels, and expanded membership to 28 member states.

What happened last week was not just Britain’s retreat from Europe; it was the abandonment of the project that began in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a dream of empire that turned out be a spectacular success.  Britain now will return to being the island nation celebrated by Shakespeare as “this fortress built by Nature for herself/ against infection and the hand of war.”  None of us who were raised on this story can be less than sad at the news; those who have labored in its service are heartbroken.

What happens now in Britain? Martin Wolf, economics columnist of the Financial Times, put it succinctly: Britain has prospered inside the E.U.  but it will not do as well outside.  It seems doubtful that London can remain the same immensely powerful global financial hub it has become – central banks such as the Bank of England have power only by dint of governments’ authority to tax.

Elites are fuming; they can hardly believe their comfortable way of life has been put at risk; so are the young, who voted overwhelmingly (75 percent of 18-24-year olds, 56 percent of 25-50 year olds) to remain.  

Can the vote be reversed?  Apparently just possibly.  Hit this link.

There is a distinct possibility that Scotland will choose to remain in the European Union. In that case the Union Jack may actually come apart. Those ancient flags will reappear:  the azure Saltire, worn by Scottish soldiers fighting in France in the 14th Century; the red-on-white St. George’s cross, brought back in the 12th  from Malta after the Second Crusade.

Meanwhile, what about the rest of the world?  That is a much more complicated story. You can expect to hear plenty more about it in the coming months, beginning with the other huge multi-national organization based in Brussels — the sprawling military-industrial complex known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

David Warsh, a longtime economic historian and financial columnist, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

There is a distinct possibility that Scotland will choose to remain in the European Union. In that case the Union Jack may actually come apart. Those ancient flags will reappear:  the azure Saltire, worn by Scottish soldiers fighting in France in the 14th Century; the red-on-white St. George’s cross, brought back in the 12th  from Malta after the Second Crusade.

Meanwhile, what about the rest of the world?  That is a much more complicated story. You can expect to hear plenty more about it in the coming months, beginning with the other huge multi-national organization based in Brussels — the sprawling military-industrial complex known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

David Warsh, a longtime economic historian and financial columnist, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

Chris Powell: Leaving E.U. essential to protecting British sovereignty, democracy, culture

 


Recognizing that the objective of the European project, ever-closer political and economic union, meant the destruction of democracy, sovereignty and the country’s very culture, Britain has voted in a great referendum to withdraw from the European Union.

The majority arose from a remarkable combination of the free-market, limited-government political right, the core of the Conservative Party, with the working-class political left, the core of the Labor Party, both party cores repudiating their leaderships as well as the national elites.

The result has enormous implications for the United Kingdom, starting with whether it can remain united, since Scotland -- formerly the most industrious and inventive province in the world, now perhaps the most welfare-addled -- probably will make a second attempt to secede, figuring that free stuff is more likely to flow through continued association with the E.U. than with England, which is growing resentful of the freeloaders up north.

But there are enormous implications for the world as well. The E.U. project has  never won forthright ratification by the people of its member states and indeed has sometimes refused to accept rejection by them. Indeed, the whole E.U. government is largely unaccountable. So the British vote quickly prompted demands for similar referendums in France and the Netherlands, where conservative populist movements have been gaining strength.

The politically correct elites are portraying the British vote as a "xenophobic" response to free movement of labor across the E.U. and particularly as opposition to the vast recent immigration into Europe from the Middle East and Africa. This immigration is widely misunderstood as being mainly a matter of refugees from civil war. In fact this immigration has been mainly economic and it has driven wages down in less-skilled jobs while increasing welfare costs throughout Europe, which explains the British Laborite support for leaving the E.U.

But it is not "xenophobic" to oppose the uncontrolled and indeed anarchic immigration that the European Union has countenanced. For any nation that cannot control immigration isn’t a nation at all or won’t be one for long. Since most immigration into Europe lately has come from a medieval and essentially fascist culture and involves people who have little interest in assimilating into a democratic and secular society, this immigration has threatened to destroy Europe as it has understood itself. Britain has been lucky to be at the far end of this immigration, but voters there saw the mess that it has been making on the other side of the Channel. They wisely opted to reassert control of their borders.

Their example should be appreciated in the United States, which for decades has failed to enforce its own immigration law and as a result hosts more than 10 million people living in the country illegally and unscreened. Fortunately few of this country’s illegal immigrants come from a culture that believes in murdering homosexuals, oppressing women and monopolizing religion. But the negative economic and social effects here are similar to those in Europe and properly have become political issues.

The main lesson of Britain’s decision may be an old one -- that nations have to develop organically, arising from the consent of the governed and a common culture, and that they can’t be manufactured by elites. Having defended its sovereignty and indeed liberty itself against Napoleon and Hitler, Britain now has set out to defend them again. So rule, Britannia -- Britannia, rule thyself.

From “Rule Britannia’’:

The nations not so blest as thee

Must in their turn to tyrants fall,

While thou shalt flourish great and free,

The dread and envy of them all.

Chris Powell is a political writer and also the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Llewellyn King: Blame stupid English nativism for E.U. vote debacle

The English appear to have laid down the burden of sanity. They have voted to leave the European Union.

It was never about Great Britain; it was always at its kernel about England. There was always a primal, nativist, historically seated English antipathy to Europe and by extension to the European project.

I should know. You could say I was there in the beginning.

Way back in the early 1960s, as a young journalist, I worked for Lord Beaverbrook, the Canadian-born newspaper publisher who led the early fight against the European Economic Community, also called the Common Market. There were then, in 1962 and 1963, just six members and the rival outfit, the European Free Trade Area had seven.

I believed that when Britain finally joined what is now the European Union in 1973 that a decade earlier we had been wrong. And I believe that leaving the European Union today is terribly wrong, a ghastly self-inflicted wound that will hasten the end of the United Kingdom, encourage a surge in right-wing bigotry in Europe, and leave no one -- not one individual in any country of Europe -- better off, particularly the residents of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In the wreckage that now has to be sorted out across the Atlantic, two lessons stand out: first, referendums have no place in a representative democracy and second, today's political parties, across the world, no longer represent the feelings of their electorates. In Britain, as in America, and most recently in Italy, it is now apparent that the old left-right divide does not address a smoldering anger that affects the democracies of the world.

Give angry people something to smash and they will smash it. The angry English have just smashed up the place where they live. It is ineffably sad for those who have followed Europe’s attempt to come together, to boost trade, and to end war in on the continent.

During the long and campaign leading to Thursday’s vote, every shibboleth about sovereignty, faceless bureaucrats, money transfers and European skullduggery was trotted out.

When the facts do not fit, harken back to another time: That is easy enough to do in England with its storied history. They never said it, but the triumphant Leave campaign implied every day in every way: We’ll make England great again. Donald Trump could have ghosted the Leave campaign.

When Britain joined the Common Market in 1973, the country was often referred to as the sick man of Europe. Today, Britain is the world’s fifth-largest economy and it has been the strongest advocate for free markets and free trade in Europe. Not only will Britain be setting a new course, but so will the European Union.

Europe, including Britain, has a massive migration problem that fed the anxieties of the English, particularly in the depressed north of the country. But Europe has yet another problem that will not go away: The euro has failed. Britain wisely never adopted it, but the 19 countries of the Eurozone are paying a high price. Weak economies on the southern flank of Europe, most notably Greece, cannot devalue to make their goods and services more salable and the strong economies, most importantly Germany, are the beneficiaries of a weak euro in their exports.

The British vote will spur reforms in Europe and if they are not fast enough and far enough-reaching, the European Union itself will break apart. Italy is an early candidate to bolt, but so are its southern neighbors.

It is not Europe as a free-trade area they should be trying to escape, but rather its benighted currency. Consider: If the euro was fazed out and the old currencies were to reappear, Germany would have an increasingly hard currency, the mark, and Italy and Greece, with the lira and the drachma, would produce goods and services that were very affordable to their customers.

But that is not Britain’s problem. It has to find new markets and a way of living with the strictures of European trade without a voice in the writing of those strictures.

Political folly has led Britain to be lesser. “Little England” and Little Englanders always have been pejoratives in British political invective. Today the Little Englanders are triumphant, having chosen insignificance and poverty over importance and wealth. Shame.

The British (read English) electorate has signed on to a dream. The nightmare begins now. 

Llewellyn King, host and executive producer of White House Chronicle on PBS, is a longtime publisher, columnist and international business consultant. This piece first ran on Inside Sources.

Robert Whitcomb: What to do with those islands near Europe

 

On a business trip to London in the ‘80s, I saw a billboard for an airline at Heathrow Airport that proclaimed “Best Route to Europe’’. I asked a cabbie: “Aren’t we in Europe?’’ He answered: “No, Sir, we’re in England’’.

Whenever I visit Britain, I never feel  I am in “Europe,’’ but rather in something closer to the U.S. or Canada. It  isn’t just the language;  it’s in the manner of the people and the look of the place.  London reminds me of Boston (Mass.), Nottingham of Worcester (Mass.).

On June 23, British subjects will vote on whether the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) should quit the European Union (the exit called the “Brexit’’). There would be pitfalls (for a while) in doing so but advantages too.

The pitfalls: Harder for British people to get jobs on the Continent, less flexibility for big U.K. companies in doing deals with Continental companies and snags in coordinating sometransnational anti-terrorism security measures with E.U. members. 

Still, while Brexit would hurt the U.K. economy  for several years it would strengthen it for the long term.

It would give the U.K. more control over its own affairs, thus letting it better maintain its best qualities,  especially its love of liberty;  its quirky individualism; its entrepreneurialism; the strength and stability of its institutions, including its glorious Common Law, the astonishingly adaptable language that England gave the world and that 1.5 billion people speak now, and its special relationship with America.

For all their flaws, no nations have benefited the world as  much as have the United Kingdom and its offspring the United States.  The U.K.’s cultural/political/economic characteristics made that possible.  Further absorption into the homogenizing, bureaucratizing and centralizing European Union, mostly run by  unelected, if highly professional and well-meaning, administrators, threatens to dilute these strengths.

The late historian Robert Conquest wrote: “within the West, it is above all the English-speaking community which has …pioneered and maintained the middle way between anarchy and despotism.’’

Brexit would probably encourage the U.K. to tighten ties with its most important offspring – America -- with which it shares so many values -- and with the 53-nation Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth,  to help offset negative economic effects of Brexit.

I used to live in France and  am a fan of the European Union – for the Continent.  For all its regulations, bureaucracy and social engineering, the E.U. has, all in all,  helped make the Continent more prosperous and humane and war in Western and Central Europe much less likely.

That the E.U. has  made it much easier for citizens of E.U. countries to travel and work where they want within the Union has usually been a boon. But it also has made it easier for terrorists and other criminals to operate freely over a wide area, which has increasingly worried the British. Thank God for the Channel!

The biggest near-term threats to the E.U. come from the  gangster Vladimir Putin’s aggression and from Islamic pathologies,  which wreak terror attacks and refugee floods, but confronting them is mostly NATO ‘s job, not the E.U.’s. And the United Kingdom will remain in NATO, whether or not it leaves the E.U.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of  the glories of “multiculturalism,’’ the fact is that Western culture has brought more prosperity and human rights to the world than any other.   No wonder almost all refugees want to flee to the West. We need to do everything possible to boost the  broader Western World through, for example, such projects as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a huge free-trade area  in the mutual self-interest of the European Union, the U.K.  (Brexit or not) and the U.S.  

But in such cooperation, let’s not dilute the best idiosyncratic elements of Western Civilization’s parts.  The U.K., in the long run,  would do better as a friendly partner of the E.U. than as a member. Its  history, its enduring psychic separation from Europe, its  curious blend of insularity and worldliness (much of the latter stemming from the British Empire experience) has served itself and the world well.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com) is overseer of newenglanddiary.com and former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune.