We may have just witnessed the largest geopolitical earthquake (outside of Syria) since the invasion of Iraq. Some international relations focused thoughts are in order.
In my last post I argued against Brexit, but without really making a pro-EU case. It was a choice of the lesser of evils in many ways, two factions of the ruling class arguing about how best to propagate themselves. Most people will end up screwed in or out of the EU. But all politics is in some sense lesser evils, and this is inevitable. There are some countries that might be better out of the EU, Britain, I do not think, is one of them. After all, I have long believed the EU is more prone to ignorance and crisis than the United States, and wrote an entire previous article on how the complacent assumptions of cosmopolitanism would be its doom. After all, the smug tweed jacket red trouser wearing Little Englanders (who we in St Andrews disparaged as ‘Tweeders’) were always going to support whatever gets daddy a bigger dealership.
Postmodern identity politics began this rampant assertion of identity uber alles, and like all postmodern ideas, they were poison to the left that spawned them, leading to acute and even terminal cases of Tumblritis and anti-intellectualism. But even more importantly, all postmodern ideas eventually migrate to where their true Heideggerian home inevitably belongs-on the right. Where they manage, somehow, to become even worse. The pathology of victimhood, standing out due to accidents of birth and parentage, and other factors, merge perfectly with the conservative idealization of the past and the dominant ethnic group. The language of persecution gives people who are targets of comedians and writers the platform of martyrdom for…well…being in power and getting the criticism one gets for that.
And as that process unfolds, its the identity-obsessed right which holds all the cards in today’s developed world, as it dovetails perfectly with nationalism. A Brexit could lead to a vote on a Frexit. Not one likely to succeed, but even a vote in France could really bring out a new future for European nationalism beyond what is now inevitable. Even if not, the EU will work to save itself by reversing many of its current policies, becoming an awkward hybrid of preexisting unsustainable neoliberal sensible-serious-centrism with various populist movements. It is always amusing how migrants get the blame for the very obvious economic policies of the higher ups. Such tendencies could either save the union or break it up further depending on the strength of backlash. History is not a progressive story. It comes and goes, periods of integration conflict and merge with periods of division. It is clear we are entering such a more divided period now. In some ways it was the inevitable result of just how many gains the United States made from World War II onwards. Fueling world globalization was also destined to fuel backlash eventually. There has never been a narrative of history which goes only one way, save technology, and even that level of success is still dependent on a variety of factors in the humanities that wax and wane.
Not to mention the suddenly interesting issues that might come up with British military bases on Cyprus, the Falklands, and above all Gibraltar. Also overlooked is how Russia, once the backer of leftist European groups to sow dissension in western alliances, is now the tacit backer of rightist movements. Putin admires and is admired in turn by all kinds of figures from Trump, Le Pen, to Farage. The geopolitical ramifications, even without the economic issues, are large.
My personal concern, I will admit, is about the future of Scotland. A country which was my home far longer than England was, and was my home for almost as long in my adult life as America has been. As someone who once reluctantly backed the Union cause in the Scottish referendum, changing circumstances, as they always should, require one to change with them. I now support Scottish independence. For if we are to enter a world of resurgent nationalism, we can at least foster the right kind of nationalism.
Scotland has the right kind of nationalism, as far as these things go. The Scottish referendum was open to all citizens who lived in Scotland and closed to Scots abroad or in other parts of the UK. This is because Scotland has a geographic rather than strictly ethnic sense of solidarity. As a Edinburgh taxi driver once told a friend of mine, ‘Being born in Scotland doesn’t make you Scottish, dying in Scotland makes you Scottish.’ It was meant in jest, but shows some aspect of the attitude. Most UKIPers are the people you would expect, whereas the SNP has people from all over the ethnic and socio-economic spectrum. Considering also that Scotland has made a proportionally stronger push to tackle issues of environmental sustainability than the rest of the UK, it further bolsters a growing idea of mine-that the constructive form of nationalism of the future will be environmental and geographic.
Granted, this will not be most forms of nationalism, which will remain atavistic and self-destructive as usual. But if one country gets it off the ground a new example that could attract different coalitions could come into being.
Countries I thought were wise to stay out of the EU for specific reasons of the challenges they face are Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. Perhaps they should consider forming a league of their own based around arctic and sub-arctic issues in order to be better at dealing with resource and biodiversity crisis not likely to be we will understood by eurocrats. If such a thing occurred, Scotland could always break out of the UK and join such a group using Shetland and Orkney as its ins. Perhaps even carve a niche by joining both it and the EU and act as the vital bridge nation between them. It is speculative to be sure, but in crisis there is usually opportunity for those of strategic vision.
But it would be my personal hope that increasing division and nationalism, should it come to pass, could at least have a strain focused on the future rather than an idealized past. A future of being environmental stewards custom tailoring policy to biome, land, and sea. One thing is for sure, with ecological catastrophe already upon us, some civic dedication to keeping where we live livable is an inevitability. I can only hope that Scotland or some other country has the chance one day to pioneer such a turn.