United Kingdom

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: The case for American knighthoods

I may have a faded English accent, but I am a true blue American, and I have been for five decades. I do not think that everything that comes across the Atlantic from Britain ought to be adopted here.

I do not believe that there is any virtue in driving on the other side of the road. And I do not believe that every British television program is unassailably wonderful.

While I think that the House of Commons is a fabulous entertainment, but it is not necessarily the best way to govern the United Kingdom, particularly in this time of nationalist stress. I have lived in London, but I do not yearn to take up residence there again.

However, there is one feature of British life that I think would benefit the United States substantially: the introduction of an honors system to reward exemplary people in our society.

What titles we have in the United States are clung to. Former senators still call themselves senator; governors, governor; and ambassadors, ambassador. A few Ph.D.s persist in calling themselves Dr., and most people would like to have a title other than Mr., or Ms. in front of their name. Even firmly republican countries in Europe, like France and Italy, have clung to their aristocratic titles.

Well, we do not want an aristocracy here, but it would be grand if we could single out contributions to our well-being with a nifty title. Various eminent Americans have been awarded honorary titles, but they can not use them. What is the point of a title, if you can not call a restaurant and say, “Sir John Doe, here. I would like a table by the window.”

Here are some exceptional people who I would make honorary knights or dames:

Arise, Sir Brian Lamb, creator of C-SPAN and a massive contributor to television and the understanding of American politics.

Arise, Sir David Bell, a dedicated general practitioner, who treats victims of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, in the northwest corner of New York state. Bell has tended indigent patients since the disease broke out in the village of Lyndonville, N.Y., in 1985.

Arise, Sir Joe Madison (The Black Eagle), activist and broadcaster, who has championed the cause of justice for African-Americans and has fought modern slavery in Africa.

Arise, Dame Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony, who is a visionary conductor and a great contributor to the public good through her promotion of American music and classical music, her mentorship to young musicians, and her founding of OrchKids, a music education program for inner city Baltimore children.

Much of the British system of honorary titles should be left in Britain. Twice every year, on the Queen’s Birthday and at New Year, a list of new honorees is published, and long-serving but unrecognized civil servants and military personnel hope to be on the list. The types of honors include: Knights and Dames, The Order of the Bath, Order of St. Michel and St. George, Order of the Companions Honor, and Orders of the British Empire.

Just in case you are getting confused, these honors do not include the ancient titles of duke, marquess, earl or lord. But the monarch does mint a title now an again, like Her Highness Duchess of Cambridge, conferred on Prince William’s wife, Kate.

No, you have to keep the honorary title simple: knight or dame, awarded for exemplary achievement or service. On my honors list I would include distinguished people in the arts and sciences, educators, entrepreneurs and inventors, humanitarians, retired politicians (provided  that they promise not to run for office again). I think we should have Sir Bob Dole, Lady Olympia Snowe, and, if she were alive today, Lady Barbara Jordan.

On my watch list for recognition are Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Wynton Marsalis and Dean Kamen. If you would want to recognize someone in journalism, Sir Llewellyn King has a nice ring.

Llewellyn King (lking@kingpublishing.com) is a long-time editor, writer, publisher and international business consult. He is also exeeutive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.

The Scots: Reality or romance?

For Scotland to secede from the United Kingdom would be the triumph of romance over political and economic reality. Scotland is a windy, wet and cold place. The weather will feel a lot worse if they spin themselves off.  They think they'll be able to build a bigger, better welfare state on the proceeds of North Sea oil and gas. But that stuff will run out.

And why stop there? ''Freedom'' for Wales, the Isle of Man and Cornwall! Liberate the  whole Celtic periphery! Detach Brittany from France and Galicia from Spain, too! (The Irish Republic is quite all right.)

Vladimir Putin must be happy at the prospect of these little regions in Western Europe splitting off and thus inevitably weakening the Western Alliance.

I'm a quarter Scottish ancestry myself (McKay and Simpson among the family names). There were some productive people in the crowd, including the physician James Young Simpson, but also a large quota of  crazies and alcoholics  (or, to be more precise, crazies self-medicating with booze ).

They used to recite Robert Burns ad nauseam, though I always liked his line, translated from the weird Scottish dialect:

"Oh would some power the gift give us, To see ourselves as others see us.''

 

-- Robert Whitcomb

 

Et Vive le Quebec libre!