Saturday, June 25, 2016

Vive de Gaulle!

Three months ago when I began listening to Dominic Sandbrook's doorstopper duology on Britain in the '70s (State of Emergency, Seasons in the Sun), I didn't think I'd be sitting up listening to the Winter of Discontent and rise of Thatcherism while furiously reloading the BBC while witnessing the biggest crisis Britain has faced since the Thatcher regime. It's funny how life works sometimes.

Just to be on the safe side, I'm not reading any books on Nixon or Hitler between now and November.

As for the Brexit ... well, that's certainly a thing that happened. My main takeaways from the fiasco:

De Gaulle Was Right

Britain was actually a latecomer to the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the modern European Union. It's not that British leaders didn't want in, but during the early days of the EEC, Charles de Gaulle held immense sway in admissions, and he absotively, posilutely didn't want Britain joining. His animosity wasn't simply lingering resentment over British backstabbing in WWII. No, de Gaulle recognized that the British, and especially the English, have a strong aversion to transnationalism (at least transnationalism that doesn't involve them bossing brown people around) and would inevitably get cold feet and wreck any sort of European community they joined.

But, alas, de Gaulle wasn't immortal. After he retired, his successors began the process of admitting the UK to Europe. And the Brits, for their part, immediately set about trying to prove de Gaulle right by launching the first Brexit referendum in 1975, barely two years after joining. But Britain was in the post-imperial doldrums, and being part of the EU was better than being a failed empire by itself, so the referendum failed.

But now the Brits have decided to hold a rematch for no good reason, and this time the Little Englanders won.

And somewhere the ghost of de Gaulle is screaming, "See, I fucking told you so!"

The Ghost of Neville Chamberlain Can Sleep Easier

Thanks to David Cameron's moronic decision to bring EU membership up for a vote, Neville Chamberlain will no longer be the go-to example of an ineffective and bumbling British Prime Minister. Even the Left can retire Margaret Thatcher as their favorite bogeywoman.

Congratulations, Davey! You'll go down in history as the Prime Minister who fucked a dead pig and wrecked Europe's economy!

What a twat.

We May Yet See the Final Dissolution of the British Empire

My Caledonian and Hibernian brothers find themselves in desperate straits. Both wish to remain within the civilized embrace of the European brothers, but their barbaric Anglo-Saxon overlords insist upon dragging them out. Already there are mutterings of secession. Should they succeed, the barbarians will be left with Cymru as the whole of their empire. Soon the Celtic peoples shall reunite and rise up and push the hated invaders from the shores of Britain. Let the Anglo-Saxons return to the frigid wastes from whence they came! Let the Gaets and Suiones deal with them.

The Wheels of History Are Beginning to Turn in Europe Once More

At the end of World War II, the nations of Europe looked at each other and said, "Let's not ever do that again." They set about constructing a post-historical enclave against the world. The early going was tough thanks to the United States and Soviet Union putting Europe in the crossfire of a stupid and esoteric political feud, but the Western Europeans managed to create the first iteration of the system that's become the modern European Union. Once the Soviet Union fell apart, the Europeans picked up the pieces and created what appeared to be a genuine post-historic paradise. There were a few lingering conflicts around the edges -- the Troubles in Ireland, the Balkan wars -- but even these were resolved by the turn of the century.

But over the last couple of years, the flaws in the plan have become obvious. Europeans could get along with each other, but they couldn't wall themselves off from the rest of the world. They kept taking part in adventures outside their domain, either dragged along by the United States, or cleaning up messes in their former colonies. But these adventures weren't enough to stop crises from spreading in Africa and the Middle East (and in some cases -- particularly those instigated by the United States -- the adventures exacerbated the problems). Refugees poured into Europe in increasing numbers. Political revolutions in the Near East created new threats. And a resurgent Russia, nervous about EU expansion into its old sphere of influence, started pushing back.

And now Britain drops out of the EU. Even if this turns out to be a one-off event, it signals that the current European system is just as ephemeral as the Peace of Westphalia and the Concert of Europe. Rather than an End of History, Europe has been having a brief respite. Nationalism and its attendant ills are not gone from the continent. Once Britain -- and England especially -- sobers up, they're going to be mighty pissed about what they let slip away, and the Farages of the country will twist that into some stab-in-the-back myth.

This isn't the end of the problem. This is the beginning.

The EU Must Make Britain Feel Pain

If the European Union wants to keep other countries from following Britain, it must make Britain pay for the Brexit. The Leave campaign tried to convince everyone that the status quo would remain the same -- Britain would be able to keep all the cushy trade deals that came with EU membership while shedding all the obligations people don't like. If that were to actually happen, why would anyone want to remain in the EU?

So, when it comes time to negotiate Britain's departure, the EU should take the house, the car, the kids, the dog, the TV, the furniture and the wedding ring too. If Britain wants to keep anything, they must renegotiate from scratch, and the EU should drive a hard bargain.

In the Long Run, We're All Dead

In grand historical terms, though, this is all meaningless. If the EU manages to survive, Britain's brief membership will be a footnote. If the EU collapses, its whole existence will be a footnote. Most of us would be hard pressed to explain what the Hanseatic League was, and that lasted for centuries. Two hundred years from now, all of the EU's history up until this point will barely warrant a paragraph in school textbooks. Even if worst comes to worst and Europe descends into another orgy of bloodshed, this will be a boring prelude that makes students' eyes glaze over.

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