Philosophers On Brexit

Philosophers On Brexit


Last week, a majority of voters in the United Kingdom supported Brexit, the proposal for Britain to leave the European Union. The referendum’s outcome was a surprise to many elites, journalists, and academics, and even some pro-Brexit voters are experiencing “bregret” (aka “regrexit”). A petition has been circulating to run a second referendum, but exercising that option has apparently been ruled out.

The victory of the “Leave” campaign has been attributed to various factors, including xenophobia, lies by its proponents, voter ignorance (though see this), fear of a loss of “Britishness,” and economic resentment. It has already been blamed for eliminating $2 trillion dollars worth of value in global markets, and costing the UK $350 billion, which “transformed the country overnight from the fifth largest economy in the world to the sixth.”

What should we make of this result, and of the processes and conditions that led to it? To help think about and discuss these matters we have invited a number of philosophers and political theorists to share some brief remarks. As with previous installments in the “Philosophers On” series, these contributions are not comprehensive statements, but rather focused thoughts on specific issues, meant to prompt further discussion, here and elsewhere.

Contributing are:

This particular edition of Philosophers On was suggested and put together by Helen De Cruz. My thanks to her, and to all of the other contributors, for participating in this discussion.

The idea of the “Philosophers On” series is to explore the ways in which philosophers can add, with their characteristically insightful and careful modes of thinking, to public conversations about current events, as well as prompt further discussion among philosophers about these events. All are welcome to join the discussion.

Please share the post with others, and feel free to provide links in the comments to relevant philosophical commentary elsewhere.

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Rebecca Bamford — Pursuing the European Experiment while Addressing Disenfranchisement and Discrimination

Many Leave campaigners and/or voters think that failure to act on the vote to Leave would be undemocratic. Giles Fraser claims that the result has given the UK its democracy back; as the great leveller, he writes, democracy doesn’t give the rich or well-educated extra voting power — the people have spoken, and we should listen. However as Kenneth Rogoff points out, to accept that decisions reached by majority rule are always democratic involves a perversion of the term ‘democracy’; because Leave was actually backed by only 36% of eligible voters given the 70% overall turnout (72% according to the BBC) and no checks and balances were put in place beyond achieving simple majority, the referendum result is more “Russian roulette for republics” than democracy.

It has been claimed that the referendum has enabled people from historically deprived areas such as the North-East of England and South Wales to make their voices heard in Westminster. When multiple generations experience poverty, underfunding of education, health, and other social services, and lack of economic opportunity, and there are few opportunities to be heard, rage and protest are logical. A real effort is needed to empower the disadvantaged and vulnerable throughout diverse UK communities. Yet it is also indefensible to engage in racism and/or xenophobia. Inequality has helped to open up space in which discrimination against UK citizens of color, non-EU immigrants, EU citizens of long residence in the UK, and new immigrants and refugees, is flourishing — even despite that immigration has been shown to benefit the UK economically and socially. Not all Leave votes were motivated by xenophobia and/or racism — but discrimination has been given fresh endorsement by the referendum, as indicated by increasing reports of hate speech and violence. We can call out racism and xenophobia at the same time as we tackle disenfranchisement and inequality: these two important aims need not conflict.

Listening to one another is crucial. However, a simple, very narrow, majority is poor grounding on which to base claims about democratic will. We could affirm the protest indicated by many Leave votes and pursue relevant new policies, while considering ways of Remaining. While EU reform is arguably needed, leaving the EU may do little to solve the substantial problems affecting UK communities in the short and medium term, and may exacerbate these. There are nonelitist reasons for exploring ways to Remain, ones that attend to the UK’s colonial history and its legacy. These include: promoting the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland, peace in Europe (which we should not assume is guaranteed), peaceful trade and engagement with non-EU nations in e.g. the African Union, combatting fascism and violence, and securing access to funds and infrastructural support for development programs, academic research, the arts, workers’ rights, employment opportunities, and student learning across diverse EU nations. Fostering economic stability over the next five to ten years is vital, to avoid disproportionately burdening already disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The integrity of families of mixed EU nation/UK families must also be safeguarded: the referendum has raised serious concerns about residence status both in the UK and in the EU. People urgently need meaningful reassurance.

We should also not write off European unity as something worth pursuing. Writing on Nietzsche’s relevance to the referendum, Hugo Drochon argues that for Nietzsche, unification with Europe facilitates a stronger voice in world affairs, helps to avoid petty nationalist politics leading to war, and enables the UK to contribute to ongoing development of a new European culture. Free movement of people across nations facilitates the experiments with values and ideas, and the development of a new culture, that Nietzsche advocates – for example, by exchanging ideas through familial and collegial networks increasingly distributed across EU nations. On this basis, leaving the EU seems more likely to promote social stagnation, violence, and war than cultural development and peace. The Friedrich Nietzsche Society’s 2016 conference, this year jointly organized with the Nietzsche-Gesellschaft, will attend to European futurity by analyzing Nietzsche’s notion of ‘good Europeans’ in e.g. Beyond Good and Evil, and his hopes for boundary-transgressions and new syntheses. I mention this example to further reinforce the relevance of Nietzsche’s philosophy to exploring the future of Europe, but also to illustrate the kind of free, collaborative, exchange of ideas and values that Leaving inhibits.


Jason Brennan — Brexit: A Bad Choice for a Referendum

Sixty years of empirical work show that the mean, median, and modal level of basic political knowledge among democratic electorates is low. Not surprisingly, attempts to measure more advanced scientific knowledge also find that voters know next to nothing. Some defenders of democracy claim that ignorance doesn’t matter, because voters will make random errors that will cancel each other out. Empirically, this turns out not to be true. In fact, even once we control for demographics, low-information and high-information voters have systematically different policy preferences. For instance, low-information voters favor protectionism and oppose immigration, while high-information voters favor free trade and reduced restrictions on immigration.

Whether Britain should leave the EU or not is a complicated question. To have a reasonable opinion about that question, a person would need to have extensive social scientific knowledge. Most UK voters lack this knowledge. Further, because individual votes make no difference, individual UK voters have every incentive to vote expressively, to use their votes to signal their anger or resentment rather than to vote for what they justifiably believe would promote the common good.

For that reason, to decide Brexit by referendum is a bad idea. Putting the decision in the hands of UK voter is putting the decision in the hands of a body that is probably incompetent to decide that question, and which is not incentivized to decide it in good faith. Fortunately, the referendum isn’t binding, and the UK might instead put the decisions in the hands of a more competent body. The best form of democracy is one that uses checks and balances. We want elites to keep voter ignorance under control, but voters to keep elites from just using power for selfish ends.

I’ll end with a comment about democratic theory. Ten years ago, I avoided philosophical democratic theory as if it were rancid meat. The problem is that the way many philosophers talk about democracy seems to bear little resemblance to how democracy actually works. The field of democratic theory would be much better if, say, Achen and Bartels’s Democracy for Realists were standard reading.


Sophie Grace Chappell — Political Deliberation under Conditions of Deception: the Case of Brexit

Is deliberation binding when its results are arrived at by deception? As a question in the individual case, we have no difficulty at all in seeing that the answer to this question is “Of course not”. Ever since Plato, perhaps longer, it has been commonplace to make an analogy between individual agency and the agency of the political community. Plato, of course, did not see the political community, as a whole, as a deliberator in our modern democratic sense; and right now it is certainly tempting, for any British political philosopher, to have more sympathy than usual with Plato’s sort of benevolent paternalism. Still, the point is obvious enough. If individual deliberation is regarded, as it clearly should be, as invalid when it has been warped by deception, there is no reason why political deliberation should not equally be invalidated by deception.

The question is how to implement this principle: not in a Platonic dictatorship, but in a modern democracy. What I would like to see on the statute book is a law that where an electoral success has been obtained by a campaign any of whose central campaigning claims was demonstrably factually false, that electoral success is struck down.

This proposed law avoids trouble about counterfactuals. It doesn’t require that a false campaigning claim be such that, had it not been made, the election would not have been won. What it requires is—as above—centrality. Which campaign claims are central? Is an election result appealable because a campaigner says, wrongly, that Ludlow is in Staffordshire, or that the normal price of a pint of milk is £2, or some other such trivial blunder? Centrality is a matter of judgement for the courts; but that strikes me as a healthy feature of my proposal, not a problem for it.

The proposed law doesn’t exclude false promises. But no good law about political deception can, for two obvious reasons. First, it will usually take too long for it to become clear that a false promise has been made for it to be legally remediable by the striking-down of the election result. (If Mr A does not fulfil his electoral promise to do X before his fifteenth year in office, he is not necessarily a false promiser until then; nor if he is cast out of office in year fourteen.) Secondly, sincere politicians sometimes have to break campaign promises for perfectly good reasons; we have to allow them that room for manoeuvre, and the price of allowing it is that we allow insincere and lying promises to go unpunished in the way I am proposing. False promises will, then, still have to be punished in the traditional way: at the ballot box in the next election.

So what might this proposed law mean, in the case of the Leave the EU campaign? The Leave campaigners could not be liable under it for promising, falsely as they now admit, to spend £350m a week on the NHS. But they might be for falsely claiming that this money was available. Similarly the Leave campaigners could not be liable for promising to cut immigration. But they might well be for claiming that Turkey’s accession to the EU was imminent. In both cases, what the courts would have to test was whether these campaign claims could reasonably be held central to the Leave campaign. And as I say, that would be a matter for the courts to decide; though in one case at least it does not seem a hard decision, given that the false claim in question was written on the side of the bus.


Helen De Cruz — Being Friends with a Brexiter?

I am an EU citizen—a Belgian—and I work at a UK philosophy department, Oxford Brookes University. Until now, I found the UK welcoming, I was attracted to UK academia because it combines excellence and openness. This changed dramatically last Friday, when I woke up to the news that Brexit won by a narrow majority. Most people around me – my friends in Oxford, my family, my FB friends, twitter followers, and fellow academics, were devastated. However, there were also some friends in my social media feed who were gleeful and rejoicing: Yes, we did it, we voted leave! Taking back control!

My first impulse was to unfriend those people (see this post by Rebecca Roache on the dilemma). But wouldn’t that be reducing my circle of friends to an echo-chamber? This raises the question of how we can maintain friendships in the light of serious, deep moral disagreement (see also here). As David Wong has argued, it is important to find a modus vivendi with people you disagree with on substantial moral matters, especially if there is still enough common ground to accomplish joint pursuits together.

However, that does not mean we should accommodate no matter what. As Wong points out, if you are part of a disempowered group that is the target of the disagreement, you are under no moral obligation to accommodate. For example, if you are a trans woman, and your friend is someone who believes that trans women aren’t real women, or you are a black person and your friend alleges that there are racial IQ differences, it seems pretty straightforward that under such conditions you can’t agree to disagree. Because in such situations, your identity, your legitimacy, is what is at stake.

For this reason, I believe EU citizens living and working in the UK are under no obligation to endure cheery Brexit updates in their social media feeds. The debate was dominated by immigration and fear of migrants. When questioned, UK voters cared more about immigration than their economic wellbeing. I got leaflets in my mailbox about how Turkey is set to join the EU (colored a threatening red), with its 78 million population, and threateningly, Syria and Iraq were displayed in orange, as if they would soon follow suit as well. Moreover, EU citizens working and living in the UK were barred from a vote that impacts them and their future in this country very much. We could only await the outcome.

The sophisticated Brexiter who says “For me it was about getting away from the Eurocrats”, or “For me it was all about sovereignty”, have with their vote still joined their voice with those who would rather see their economy go to pieces than welcome more migrant workers, added their vote to a decision that was hailed by extreme-right, racist parties in Europe, and with a nasty rise in racist incidents along the lines of “go back home” immediately in its wake. In spite of the goods of having friends you can morally disagree with, this strikes me as a bridge too far. You cannot have your Brexit cake and still expect to dine with your EU friends.


Lisa Maria Herzog — Saving an EU Worth Saving?

As a European from “the continent” (as the British say), I’ll here focus on what the Brexit vote means for the EU. Before June 23rd, some uttered the hope that a Brexit would allow the EU to get rid of a reluctant member that blocks important reforms. But anti-EU sentiment is also on the rise in other member states, and it is not clear whether such a vote could not have happened in other countries as well (remember the Austrian presidential elections).

What can the EU learn from the Brexit vote and where should it go from here? A first problem is the way in which the EU, with its common market, has pitted two groups against each other. For lack of better terms, I’ll call them the “movers” and the “stayers”, but I mean mentality as much as actual behavior. For movers, who are typically young, well-educated, and cosmopolitan, an open market is a wonderful field of opportunities. For stayers, who either cannot or do not want to leave their homes, an open market is a threat, because movers will arrive and social structures will change, threatening what stayers consider their established rights. There are many things that are wrong with EU economic policies, but one is that they have been based on a facile assumption that most people would be movers, and would, for example, move abroad for jobs. But many people, for good or bad reasons, do not want to move or cannot move. In fact, Europe would lose much of its charm and its cultural diversity (and maybe what social stability and cohesion it still has) if all its citizens turned into rootless cosmopolitans. We need a new social contract between movers and stayers in which we acknowledge the complementary value of both. This is a matter of mutual respect, but also of tangible economic advantages. Maybe it is now time to think about a European safety net (for human beings, not banks) that creates at least a minimum of economic security for all its citizens.

A second problem is communication—between the EU and its citizens, but also about the EU (this is only one data point in this context—but one that seems to confirm that communication really matters). “Brussels” has become a synonym for distant bureaucrats ushering technical directives, out of reach for normal citizens. While there may be an element of truth in this, it has also become a cliché that has survived many attempts by EU bureaucrats to create better channels of communication. I don’t claim that things are beyond improvement, but we should also keep our expectations realistic: an institution like the EU will never be able to communicate and act as quickly as a village council.

What also seems to be crucial is that nationalist politicians stop blaming the EU for pretty much anything that ever arouse people’s fears and angers, from bad weather to the deteriorating tastes of cucumbers. Often, they neither differentiate between the EU and other processes (globalization, structural change, etc.), nor do they consider the fact that the EU usually acts through its members states, and that they hence carry part of the responsibility. With such friends, who needs enemies? The political communication with and about the EU needs to become fairer to what is good and bad about the European project. And it needs to stop pitting national sentiments against European ones. Why can’t there be proud British or Dutch or Hungarian people within the EU? When did we last hear the Union’s motto, “United in diversity“? Some regions (e.g. Scotland, Bavaria, Catalonia) seem to have managed to create such combined identities. Those who care about the European project—and if you look at Europe’s war-torn history, how can you not?—need to think about how to convince not only the cosmopolitans, but also those who care about national identity.

In the end, however, communication will only convince people if it also has effects. In other words, the EU needs not only better communication, but also more democracy. How exactly this can be brought about—whether to strengthen the European Parliament, to return some competences to national parliaments, or to create a second chamber made up of national MPs—is up to debate, and that’s the debate we now need to have. My fear is that the EU will be so busy, in the next few years, to organize its divorce from the UK that there won’t be much time for other reforms that are urgently needed: to improve its social justice balance sheet, but also to become better at communication and ultimately more democratic. And yet, to me this seems to be the only way in which the EU can be saved, reformed, and remain worth fighting for. Good luck to all of us, and good luck to Great Britain as well!


Kristina Meshelski — No Way Out

You might believe that in an ideal society there are no nation-states, and thus no borders preventing any individual from living or working where they please. And of course the less reason people have to kill each other the better. In this sense the European Union seems like a step in the right direction —opening borders and establishing a common market and currency certainly created very valuable freedoms for countless individuals. But it also came at a high cost. It took away the member nations’ control over their own monetary policy, which has allowed the wealthier countries to strong-arm the less wealthy countries into accepting austerity measures that seem designed to benefit the wealthier countries more than the less wealthy countries. The UK of course is not one of those strong-armed countries; if anything it is the opposite. But ironically this meant that it seemed safer to contemplate leaving, because they were not obviously desperate for the EU benefits. We see with the Brexit vote a case of people rejecting something that was a benefit to them, in the name of taking back control over….something.

It is common to put this criticism of the EU in terms of democracy; as if the problem is that the European Central Bank is unelected. But this is not what is wrong with it—I don’t think that individuals must have the right to vote on interest rates and things like that. Rather what is wrong with it is that it is not fully committed to its own reason for existing, the joining of nations for mutual benefit. When you make something, buy something, or sell something you are engaging in a cooperative activity without which your individual transaction would have no meaning. The EU has never fully embraced this idea. To the extent that it redistributes wealth it does not see all its members as equally entitled to share in the surplus profits, nor was it ever set up with the authority to do this.  It aims to establish a free market within the member countries to make it easier for greater profits to be made, but it does not simultaneously allow everyone a share in those profits. These profits are not thought of as benefits of cooperative activity, they are thought of as something individual earners are entitled to, and so when given back in the form of subsidy it becomes something that the receiver should be grateful for, as if they were not an equal participant in the enterprise to begin with. If redistribution is accepted without the underlying justification, then it will serve to entrench a fundamental status hierarchy, and this status hierarchy seems to be a big part of what voters reject when they reject EU membership.

But the mistake of those voters is to think that they regain status by leaving the union. Voting to join or leave a union like the EU does not in itself make the EU’s control of its members more or less legitimate, no more than accepting a job in a sweatshop makes its treatment of you legitimate. Global free markets exist with or without the EU, and so the duty to recognize the cooperative activity of all participants as necessary and deserving of compensation is there already. By rejecting their EU membership, UK voters do not thereby gain the status they seek—the real work must be done in building a global economy based on reciprocity.


Martin O’Neill — Brexit and Intergenerational Justice

The results of the Brexit referendum have thrown the UK into a period of social, political and economic turmoil. There are many aspects of this vote that one could address. The vote followed the lowest-quality political campaign in recent British history, as newspapers with their own pro-Brexit agenda (often favouring the interests of their wealthy proprietors, such as Rupert Murdoch’s Sun) regurgitated a steady stream of misdirection, obfuscation and outright lies.

The vitriol of the campaign, in which opportunistic pro-Leave politicians such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson at least tacitly acquiesced with a campaign that frequently veered into outright racism, was disturbing to anyone who might have better hopes for democratic debate. One pro-Remain politician, the Labour MP Jo Cox, was brutally murdered in the street by a gunman who appears to have had close links with a range of far-right and neo-fascist organisations. Hundreds of incidents of racial abuse being directed at UK residents, both those from the EU and those from outside the EU, have been reported in the days since the referendum result was announced. And the stability of the Northern Ireland peace process, one of the absolute successes of British politics in the past twenty-five years, has been thrown into question (and without much consideration on the British mainland).

But I’ll concentrate on just one issue in this post, the issue of the intergenerational injustice of the Brexit vote.

The votes cast in the Brexit referendum split 48.1% for Remain and 51.9% for Leave. But the distribution of votes had a strong generational skew. Post-voting polling carried out by Lord Ashcroft’s polling company suggests a significant victory for Remain among younger voters. Ashcroft’s figures suggest that voters aged 35-44 voted Remain by a margin of 52% to 48% (the reverse of the national result), whilst 25-34 year-olds broke 62% to 38% for Remain, and the youngest voters, in the 18-24 age range, supported Remain by a ratio of almost 3:1, with a split of 73% for Remain to only 27% for Leave. Unlike the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the vote was not granted to 16 and 17 year olds, whom one would expect to have supported Remain by a similar overwhelming margin to those in the age group just ahead of them. The strongest support for leaving the EU was to be found among the country’s oldest voters, with the 65+ age-group supporting Leave by a margin of 60% to 40%.

There are at least two issues here, one more procedural and one more substantive. Given that voting turnout among the young is always much lower than among older voters, it is not at all clear that a narrow victory of 52% to 48% for Remain actually shows that majority opinion in the country (as opposed to a majority of those voting) favours leaving the EU. The response here may be that younger voters have nobody but themselves to blame if they have failed to turn out to vote in sufficient numbers. But it should be remembered that it is often simply more difficult for younger people to register to vote, given that they are more highly mobile and less likely to have been in one settled address for a considerable period of time. Moreover, this comes after the Conservative government of David Cameron had introduced changes in voter registration to make registration more difficult. Under the old system, any one person living at an address could register anyone else in the household (e.g. in a shared house, one resident could register the others), whereas under the new system each person had to register individually.

The more substantive issue is whether it could be normatively justifiable for those who will be less affected by the consequences of such a huge decision to impose it on those whose interests are more extensively at stake, and who strongly favour a different outcome. Yet that is certainly what has happened. If Brexit becomes a reality, and if the principle of free movement is abandoned, then the young people of Britain, who are pro-European and pro-EU by a substantial margin, will have seen what they might have believed to have been their birth-right – their European citizenship, which grants them the right to work, study, or, let’s imagine, fall in love, settle down and raise a family in any of the 28 EU countries – taken away from them. It will have been taken from them given the voting decisions of age cohorts who will, in general, not be as significantly affected by this loss of European citizenship. One question here is whether this injustice calls for any kind of institutional response as regards the design of voting systems, or the stipulation of thresholds for major constitutional changes, but whatever answers might be given to such questions, it is impossible plausibly to deny the magnitude of the injustice that has been done to the young.


Regina Rini — The Tragedy of Political Identity

Already Brexit has begun to trigger other political realignments. 150,000 people signed a petition calling for London to secede from Britain and re-join the EU. More realistically, Scotland seems likely to have a do-over on its unsuccessful 2014 independence vote. The citizens of London and Scotland voted to stay part of Europe, and some are now ready to place this identification ahead of their loyalty to the UK. Perhaps this should be expected, in an era when we all bear multiple overlapping political identities. One person may simultaneously be a citizen of the borough of Tower Hamlets, the municipality of London, the country of England, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union of Europe. When these layers of identity conflict – or are made to conflict by others – we are forced to decide. The question is how.

There is no natural reason why the nation should be the political entity with which we most identify. Our concept of the nation is a contingent historical artifact, rooted in medieval Europe and brought to individual consciousness by the mass mobilizations of 19th century warfare and 20th century liberation struggles. As the latter cases show, sometimes identifying the self with the nation can be a tool for political progress. But of course those are only the good cases. In many ways, the project of the European Union has been an effort to submerge the militaristic undertones of national identity in the cosmopolitan solidarity of a multi-ethnic, multi-national superstate. Europe has all the trappings of political identity: a capital, a flag, an anthem. But Brexit shows that this aspect of the European project has not yet succeeded. For many people, it is still national identity that holds greatest allegiance. And if political identity is an act of will, then this is a choice they are free to make.

Anguished Remain voters have taken to social media to symbolically renounce ties to Britain. The ring of European stars on a blue field fills temporary profile pictures. I think that many of us have implicitly adopted a consumerist model of political identity. A person is a European in the way that she is a proud Apple user. Brand identity stands for personal traits, of forward-thinking, of hipness, of clean politico-aesthetic lines. I don’t mean this point to sound dismissive or unsympathetic. All of us, in prosperous democratic places, have grown used to unlimited individual choice. Our public display of these choices is how we mark who we want to be, and others’ reactions to them determine who we actually are. In this environment, it is only natural that the resolution of our layered political identities would follow a path carved by brand loyalty.

But in politics, the consumerist model is a false one. We do not have unlimited individual choice about our political affiliations. The practicalities of geography and economics tie our identifications together inextricably. So with Brexit. The citizen who identifies first with Britain and the citizen who identifies first with Europe cannot both have their identities fully realized. However the vote went, at least one group would find itself involuntary excluded, or included, among an identity community not of is choosing. This is the essential sadness of democracy in an era of layered identity. We can be who we are only at the cost of depriving other citizens their own completed selves. For those of us who find the European project valuable, both intrinsically for Europe and as a guide for political evolution across the world, Brexit is a particularly sad moment. But its more fundamental lessons did not depend on the vote’s outcome, and have not been resolved in any way.


Eric Schliesser  — Brexit: A Political Transformative Experience

A Political Transformative Experience (hereafter PTE) is an experience that is both epistemically and politically transformative. This idea is inspired by L.A. Paul’s work on Transformative Experience. PTE arises in situations where collective agents (e.g., social activists, financial regulators, voters, etc.) think of themselves as authoritatively controlling their choices by collectively projecting themselves forward and considering possible futures and their plans are undermined by cognitive and epistemic limitations (that is, epistemic uncertainty). In particular, it is a political theory of unforeseen consequences in which those consequences change political actors in ways they could not have willed.

Thus, PTE, has four components: (i) it’s a collective choice (e.g. the referendum) by which I also mean that even if individuals (collectively) compose or constitute the choice no individual is able to decide; (ii) the transformation of the collective agent because of this choice (leaving the EU; accompanying changes on the nature of citizenship as well as patterns of travel and settlement); (iii) the unforeseeable consequences that are due to the choice (e.g., perhaps, the break-up of the United Kingdom; the implosion of the peace-process in Northern Ireland, different kinds of political coalitions in England/UK, changing economic outcome patterns;—your guess is as good as mine); (iv) the fact that ahead of the choice one might sense or know that there would be (some non-trivial) unforeseeable consequences due to the choice.

In addition, as Laurie Paul emphasized in correspondence, (v) the collective outcomes can be epistemically transformative at the collective and at the individual level. Finally, (vi) the outcome is transformative on the identity of the collective (treating the country as an individual) and can transform the individual (citizens)

These (i.e, (i-vi)) are compatible with (a) some intended consequences of PTE being entirely foreseeable (e.g., more border controls, higher risks of protectionism, etc.) and (b) some unintended consequences of the choice being foreseeable to (outside) experts (e.g., henceforth the U.K. is a small not very wealthy country no more important than, say, South Korea). In addition, a TPE is compatible with (c) some of the choosing agents within the collective having different expectations for example, some understanding the choice as a leap of faith and others not (and degrees among this).

Brexit is, thus, a Political Transformative Experience. (I have discussed the causes and meaning of Brexit here and here.) For the UK the outcome(s) will be identity-changing as well as (I predict) epistemically changing.  And for individual citizens the outcomes of Brexit could be identity-changing as well as epistemically changing.

A whole bunch of consequences on the political identity of the Brits (and the Europeans) that are occasioned or caused by Brexit are now shrouded in mystery. I close with an example. Let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that war is central to collective identity, and that security is a key background component of collective national identity with the military a central collectivity-shaping institution. Now consider that Britain plays a non-trivial role in the Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (see, especially, here)—a topic that was almost entirely ignored in the public, referendum debate. It is possible that after Brexit, the United Kingdom and European nation states will continue to consider themselves ‘allies’ (within NATO, say); it is equally likely that Britain and the Union will understood each other as rivals increasingly unwilling to contemplate shared sacrifice.


Discussion welcome.

UPDATE (6/29/16): Posts by philosophers and other academics elsewhere:

(Note: As per the comments policy, while pseudonymous posting is permitted, no handles may contain the word “anonymous” or “anon.” If not logging in via a social media account, a working and accurate email address is required; email addresses are not publicly displayed.)

 

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Anastasia Serpière
Anastasia Serpière
5 years ago

Why are all the contributions from “Remainers”? Do not get me wrong, I wanted Britain to remain in the EU… But I would have liked a different perspective. Perhaps all philosophers have the same political view(s)? Report

postdoc
postdoc
Reply to  Anastasia Serpière
5 years ago

As Chomsky has said, ‘intellectuals have always been servants of power.’ Report

JDB
JDB
Reply to  Anastasia Serpière
5 years ago

I agree with Anastasia that it would have been more interesting to have some alternative perspectives represented. I don’t agree with David Jones below that this is surprising, though sometimes the ideological narrowness of these posts is disappointing.

I wonder whether this is a combination of (1) accurately reflecting the (ideologically narrow?) profession itself and (2) people who defend minority views being unwilling to contribute. For example, on the post, “Philosophers on the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Ruling,” comments by “Carlos” and “Conservative” objected that there weren’t any conservative positions featured. The reply was: “I did indeed invite one proponent of the view you describe. That person was not able to contribute in the given time frame.” I wonder if something similar is the case here.

That being said, like Helen De Cruz says, “there were … some friends in my social media feed who were gleeful and rejoicing,” and some of these were philosophers, so I can’t imagine it would be that hard to solicit pro-Brexit opinions.Report

Bartlomiej Lewandowski
Bartlomiej Lewandowski
Reply to  JDB
5 years ago

But to tell the truth – I never heard any philosophical statement from the Leave size through the whole campaign. Unless you count the Main Kampf as a philosophical statement. Most of the Leavers discussions and the whole tone of their campaign was on that level. It is actually very sad, because there were some sensible points which could be highlighted as a reason to leave (like inefficiency of EU structures, seemingly purposeful discouragement to participation of common people in decision making process through open commissions, etc). All these reasons, however sensible and logical are not what would sway the vote of ‘commoners’ – immigrants case did the job. And no proper philosopher would sign his name under that kind of campaign. Even if he would make the logical and sensible arguments, he would be seen as the person who stood in line with the racists. Not appealing perspective. Moreover most of the philosophers are university workers, many of them from abroad. Universities are a big beneficent of the EU money – it is doubtful that they will see that kind of money from the government. This means that philosophers (as well as all other uni workers) had a big incentive to stand on the Remain side. Report

David Jones
David Jones
Reply to  Bartlomiej Lewandowski
5 years ago

‘I never heard any philosophical statement from the Leave size through the whole campaign. Unless you count the Main Kampf as a philosophical statement’

This is a very unhelpful contribution.

I think a *slightly* better point, buried under your hyperbole, is that a reasonable Leaver might find themselves standing on the same side as racists.

As I’ve already mentioned, a consequence of EU Membership for the UK has been an effectively racist immigration policy. So both sides have a racism problem – unless you have a solution for the discriminatory entry requirements the UK has in place. But it is a concern and I wonder how much it should influence a voting decision.

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David Jones
David Jones
5 years ago

Anastasia, I was surprised that no leavers were represented. There are some. I have to suppose it was deliberate.

So let me start – with Popper’s views on democracy and his suggestion that the important thing is not who rules but rather, ‘how can we so organise political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage’. And then ask 2 questions to consider whether the EU is a set of institutions that would satisfy Popper:

1) ‘What’s the most important policy that the EU (under its various names) has ever reversed, in its whole history?’

2) Who was the most important EU politician who has ever been removed by a vote of the people?’

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Schliesser, Eric
Schliesser, Eric
5 years ago

Just for the record, the view I presented above is agnostic on leave vs remain. While I share in the aspirations of remain, I have argued elsewhere that at this point an EU would be better off without England.Report

SocraticGadfly
Reply to  Schliesser, Eric
5 years ago

I tend to agree, or at least within the current relationship, and I think Brussels agrees too, hence it already saying ‘hurry up, ‘no super-Norway,’ etc.Report

JDB
JDB
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

“Now that that’s been said, I would prefer that we leave the question of editorial policy aside for now and focus on the issues at hand.”

I suspect that the fruits of the editorial policy make folks on a particular side of these issues less likely to “focus on the issues at hand” than they might be otherwise. This further harms the usefulness of the discussion for people interested in substantive debate, rather than a reinforcement of the think pieces and memes that many of us are already inundated with via social media and elsewhere.

But since we’re not supposed to discuss editorial issues any further here, perhaps you can someday host a “Philosophers On Philosophers On,” in which opponents of your editorial policy can air their grievances.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  JDB
5 years ago

Well, here’s a thought: if you think that there are positions missing from the post that ought to be included, why not lay it out here rather than gripe at Justin about it? If you know of someone who should’ve been invited to contribute, why not pass their name(s) to Justin or invite them to comment here? Report

JDB
JDB
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

Hi JT! You ask, “Well, here’s a thought: if you think that there are positions missing from the post that ought to be included, why not lay it out here rather than gripe at Justin about it?”
On the griping: Like a few others, I was interested in the editorial decision, and I then wanted to emphasize one of its downsides. This Internet comment thread was the sensible place to do both of those things, given that it’s a thread on the post in question. Justin took the editorial questions seriously and kindly replied (thanks, Justin!). On laying out a position: I’m not competent to lay out a serious position on this topic (on any side) – *hence my (and others’) complaint.* That being said, even if I was able to do this, that wouldn’t be relevant to whether the choice not to include a Leave perspective in the main post is criticizable. It still would be, and this would be just the place to say so! And in any case, in highly trafficked places (popular blogs, online major news articles, etc.), internet comments are poor replacements for omissions in main posts.

You also ask, “If you know of someone who should’ve been invited to contribute, why not pass their name(s) to Justin or invite them to comment here?”
Those are perfectly fine things to do – I see no reason why someone shouldn’t do them, though I also see no reason why someone ought to do them.

Thanks for your helpful feedback on my internet comments!Report

JT
JT
Reply to  JDB
5 years ago

Bye JDB, I’m afraid you comments have been too ‘helpful’ for me. If you need me, I’ll be talking about the actual matter at hand elsewhere on the thread.Report

JDB
JDB
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

Hi again JT – you should comment on whatever you find interesting, whether it be Brexit, a blog’s choice of solicited discussions, or other people’s Internet comments. Such an embarrassment of riches!Report

FM
FM
Reply to  JDB
5 years ago

“Those are perfectly fine things to do – I see no reason why someone shouldn’t do them, though I also see no reason why someone ought to do them.”

The fact that you’re looking for a more philosophically rigorous discussion seems like a perfectly good reason you ought to do them.Report

Pendaran Roberts
Pendaran Roberts
Reply to  JDB
5 years ago

‘I suspect that the fruits of the editorial policy make folks on a particular side of these issues less likely to “focus on the issues at hand” than they might be otherwise.’

Agreed. Why should anyone who supports leave contribute to a blog post as one-sided as this? It’s like presenting someone with a stacked deck of cards and asking, ‘why won’t you play me?’

Justin, if you wanted rigorous philosophical discussion of these issues, you should have been more impartial. Report

EDT
EDT
5 years ago

Regarding the issue of immigration both Jason Brennan’s Brexit: A Bad Choice for a Referendum and Rebecca Bamford — Pursuing the European Experiment while Addressing Disenfranchisement and Discrimination raise a similar point, about immigration; to wit that opposition to immigration appears to be empirically unsupportable and thus the result of either ignorance or prejudice.
With the important caveat that certainly much opposition to immigration is rooted in prejudice and racism, it is worth considering the role of economic class and perspective here. There is empirical evidence (ex: http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/briefings/labour-market-effects-immigration#kp2) seems to point that immigration tends to have a negative effect on low wage workers and a positive effect on medium to high wage workers. Given this it seems the assumption that it is prima facie irrational to oppose greater immigration especially if you are a lower wage worker, seems questionable. That the benefits overall outweigh the harms overall is cold comfort if you are the one being asked to bear the harms while the benefits accrue to others (who are already better off than you)Report

Myops
Myops
Reply to  EDT
5 years ago

As well as these distributional questions (which are often glossed over), it’s a mistake to think about the reaction to immigration in economistic terms. I have many friends who voted Leave, some of whom did so in part for reasons of immigration, and I do not think they were moved primarily by economic concerns. There is such a thing as a national culture, and it turns out that many people value their own and feel that beyond a certain point it is threatened by immigration. I am not sure that they’re right; but then again, I’m not sure that they’re wrong, and I certainly don’t think they are being irrational. Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Myops
5 years ago

Whose culture? Which immigrants? How is it under threat? I’d love to hear a plausible answer that avoids the obvious responses to these questions.Report

Redwoods
Redwoods
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

Not to say that Myops (or his/her friends) is right in the case of England, but I do think that such a phenomenon is *possible* (although I think it is rare and often just a made-up problem to be used as propaganda).

Do you know anyone from Oregon? Some of them have a problem with what they take to be loud, obnoxious, melodramatic Californians (particularly southern Californians) moving in. Some Oregonians are concerned that those moving in from California are bringing their loud, fast-paced lifestyle with them and sort of killing the mellow mood Oregonians have cultivated (at least west of the Cascades).

As someone who enjoys peace and quiet, I’m sympathetic to the Oregonians here. And there doesn’t seem to be the same sort of hate element that there is with Islamophobia (where Islamaphobes think that Islam is inherently some evil plague to be crusaded against wherever it is). Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Redwoods
5 years ago

Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest that there are never grounds to worry about how newcomers may affect the culture of local communities or even something as vague and nebulous as national identity (and I agree that, especially in the national case, such worries often amount to little more than “made-up problem[s] to be used as propaganda”). Another example of the kind you raise are worries about the gentrification of traditionally minority, often poor, neighbourhoods. I meant only to raise doubts about the claims being made in this particular case.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

Hm? I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying England doesn’t have a distinctive culture? Of course there are regional cultures within England, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t also a distinctive English national identity. And it seems obvious that this national identity would be under threat if a lot of people from very different cultures immigrated to England.Report

svante åberg
svante åberg
Reply to  Ben
5 years ago

Are you a philosopher? You say “obvious”. Maybe you see things that not are that clear to others.

Skickat från min iPadReport

Ben
Ben
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

These questions seem rather easy to answer…

“Whose culture?”

British people’s culture. And who are the “British”? They are, for the most part (although of course not only), the descendants of people who settled on the British isles some 12,000 years ago. In the same way, Japanese people are, for the most part, descendants of people who settled on the Japanese islands about 2500 years ago, and Japanese culture is the organic product of these people.

” Which immigrants?”

Everyone who is not British or doesn’t have a British upbringing or attitude.

“How is it under threat?”

British culture is under threat from immigration in the sense that if enough non-British people settle on the British islands, British culture will lose its distinctive identity. In the same way, if 900,000 Chinese people settled in Japan, there probably wouldn’t be much left of Japanese culture after a few years.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Ben
5 years ago

*900,000,000 of course

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JT
JT
Reply to  Ben
5 years ago

Um. First, it should be noted that ‘English’ and ‘British’ are not synonymous–go tell a Scot that they’re ‘English’ and see what happens. ‘Britain’ refers to the United Kingdom, which is the union of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Second, I don’t know why you think that the British are “for the most part” composed of the direct descendants of the British Isles’ original, prehistoric population. Before the Anglo-Saxons arrived from Europe, Britain was ruled by the Romans. After that, they were invaded by the Normans, also from Europe. Later, during colonial and post-colonial Britain, there was an influx of people from all over the world, including the Middle East and Asia, bringing to the Isles some of the things most commonly associated with the British, like tea, curry, and kebabs. Third, your analogy to the effects of Chinese migration on Japanese culture elides the fact that the Chinese have already had a huge influence on Japan, as a result of their long history together, the most notable example of this is Kanji, one of the written forms of Japanese, which was adapted from Chinese. And last, your analogy suggests that the worry is about mass migration to the tune of nearly a billion people, which is an absurd worry given that there are currently only ~3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

Totally agree.Report

Moose
Moose
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

Pedantic point: strictly speaking, Great Britain refers to the island comprising mainland Scotland, England and Wales, though it’s normally also taken to include some of the smaller surrounding islands, like the Hebrides. The UK (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is a political union, which also includes Northern Ireland. So Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain, but it is part of the UK (which is the reason some people grumbled about the name ‘Team GB’ for the Olympic team, when it’s officially known as the ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic Team’).

So, for example, if Scotland became independent, it would leave the UK, but would still be part of Britain.
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nrebol
nrebol
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

This bit by Stewart Lee 2 years ago is pretty much the best illustration of your point (especially from about 3:30 in).

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x23yv5y_stewart-lee-on-immigration-paul-nuttall-and-ukip_funReport

JT
JT
Reply to  JT
5 years ago

nrebol, that was a great clip, thanks!Report

svante åberg
svante åberg
5 years ago

the introduction/invitation to philosophers to write (and readers to read) seems to be heavily political biased. Is that good philosophy? Is it philosophy at all?Report

SocraticGadfly
5 years ago

Beyond Sophie, nobody mentioned Plato. John certainly had room to note the Plato of the Republic and how that would connect to low information level. But, how much worse is it in any democracy that;s not direct vote, to let citizens have a referendum subject to politicians demagoging them, vs the demagogic politicians voting themselves? After all, Boris Johnson is himself arguably a low-information voter on Brexit, if he’s not a massive liar. On the US side of the pond, I can hold up many a Member of Congress as a rank idiot.Report

SocraticGadfly
Reply to  SocraticGadfly
5 years ago

Jason, not John, sorry.Report

C'ZAR BERNSTEIN
C'ZAR BERNSTEIN
5 years ago

There are pro-Brexit philosophers. They aren’t difficult to find. Why, then, aren’t there any Brexiters represented here? Could it be because one of the pro-Remain contributors ‘suggested and put together’ this blogpost? Will we have another one ‘suggested and put together’ by and for pro-Brexit philosophers? Report

MDH
MDH
5 years ago

Since I am British and work at a continental university I, 1. was, quite unjustly, denied a vote and 2. may face considerable upheaval as a result of this referendum. So I’m not wildly happy about the result. However, I would question some of the thinking from the contributions.

Rebecca Bamford – gives us the old ‘it’s not a real majority’ chestnut, well-known to anyone who has read the Guardian’s comment section since the last general election. A 70% turnout means 30% of people didn’t care, couldn’t be bothered or couldn’t decide. Would the result be somehow ‘better’ if these people had been forced to vote? However small the percentage of total eligible electors was for Leave, it was greater than the percentage for Remain.

Jason Brennan – since deciding on who should govern the country is a vastly more complicated question, with many more options, than the referendum, this is an argument against all democratic elections. I would suggest this was a far more informed vote than is usually the case at general elections , where tribal loyalties are all important.

Sophie Grace Chappell – what would happen in a referendum where both sides were guilty of deception? Presumably a re-run. How long would you be prepared to wait to discover whether the claims of one side were actually borne out or not? I don’t think having courts decide on the veracity of such claims is a very practical suggestion.

Helen De Cruz – why do you see this as a ‘moral’ disagreement?

Martin O’Neill – This is the really crazy one. Where to start? The beginning of your contribution is a ‘bitter remainer’s’ greatest hits playlist. You mention Murdoch – but the Times was for remain. You mention Jo Cox – sad, but completely irrelevant. You mention ‘vitriol’ as though it came only from one side. But more importantly, you write ‘it is not at all clear that a narrow victory of 52% to 48% for Remain actually shows that majority opinion in the country (as opposed to a majority of those voting) favours leaving the EU.’ Well, of course it’s not. It was a vote. The result shows the votes. What did you expect?

Most importantly, I think the central inter-generational injustice argument is badly flawed. It’s open to a reductio ad absurdum objection – where only children would be able to decide anything because the effects would fall more on them then their elders. It also seems to beg the question by assuming that the outcome will be negative in the long term. It might equally be argued that older voters have accepted short term pain in their lifetimes in order to secure a better future for their offspring. Where is the injustice then?

On the general point, it isn’t clear to me why those most affected should have more say. Partly because we don’t know who will be most affected and partly because those who are affected may have far less understanding of the issues than others. Would it be just for older voters who sincerely believe leaving will be good for the country to vote remain just because they know their children are doing so?

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EDT
EDT
Reply to  MDH
5 years ago

Speaking of the inter-generational justice argument, it does seem open to a fairly obvious counterpoint, in a way other inter-generational justice arguments (like climate change) are not. You could argue that given that the older the voter the more experience they would have had of the pre-EU United Kingdom, (so before 1972) they are more informed than young people in their 20s to 30s to whom the EU is the only status quo they can remember and thus lack real experience of the alternatives.

I’m not sure I’d buy such a line of argument but it does seem to be the obvious flip-side of “the elderly/older voters” are blinded by false nostalgia argument, and thus should probably be addressed in a piece on inter-generational justice.Report

Tyler McNabb
Tyler McNabb
5 years ago

Between this post and the philosophers on gay marriage post, I think there is good evidence to think that Nous doesn’t care about representing different views and allowing its readership to decide where they stand on the views presented. In fact, the editor admits as much when he states, ‘Yet I’ll admit that I do not aim directly for “balance,” understood as the inclusion of defenses of all views—after all, there are some rather stupid views; however, sometimes balance is an outcome of seeking a range of intelligent views.’ I suppose I am curious on if the editor thinks that being for Brexit or traditional marriage are such views that are too ‘stupid’ to represent. The left in academia are in a really scary place. You can’t question the current dogma or else you risk the possibility of being burned alive as a heretic, err, I mean fired, belittled, or not being invited to contribute to articles like this one.

Two quick things:
1. Though I really appreciate a lot of Helen’s work (and she has been super kind to me!), I must kindly disagree with her here. Two people can agree to disagree on something that is fundamental to both of them. This is the point of religious and political tolerance. I am friends (good friends) with Muslims, pluralists, agnostics, and atheists! In the case with my Muslim friends, being a Christian exclusivist, I think that if they ultimately die without Christ, they will go to hell. Similarly, they feel that I’m going to go to hell if I don’t denounce my worship of Jesus and follow Muhammad. I’m pretty sure if you can agree to disagree about someone spending an eternity in hell, then people can agree to disagree about the definition of gender or marriage or if the UK should leave the EU. If we can’t do that then I think the whole original liberal project of having people of different faiths and beliefs living together in harmony is set to fail.
2. I don’t think the best arguments at all were represented for the Leave side. I understand that there are some racists on the Leave side but it doesn’t follow that one shouldn’t vote Leave or that there aren’t interesting arguments which as philosophers we should focus on and address. Report

David Jones
David Jones
5 years ago

Well, thanks for the (faintish) praise :). This remark caught my eye:

>’…should temper our beliefs that a large modern state would be much more accountable than a collection of modern states.’

The issue for me wasn’t exactly accountability…more error-correction. As it happens we have that rare thing, a real-world example – the UK’s withdrawal from the ERM in 1992, compared to Greece remaining in the eurozone. That seems to me to be a fairly good instance of an example of error-correction in UK policy and the absence of error-correction mechanisms in the eurozone. And the Conservatives lost the subsequent general election.

Economists across the spectrum – from Friedman to Krugman – warned against the euro. Against best expert economic advice (remember the fuss about experts during the referendum campaign?) it was introduced – and expert advice was ignored because its function was primarily political, not economic. And the error still hasn’t been corrected, and – pace accountability – nobody in the EU responsible for the decision has been removed from office.

So there it seems to me is a pretty good answer to the charge that a large modern state wouldn’t be more accountable than a collection – though I think the issue isn’t the size, or modernity, but the fact that EU structures have little in the way of these error-correction mechanisms. The EU fails Popper’s test. Mind you, so would the referendum

Helen de Cruz, above, is either being unfair to Brexiters or is simply ignorant of the immigration policy we have in the UK as a consequence of EU membership. She says:

>’The sophisticated Brexiter who says “For me it was about getting away from the Eurocrats”, or “For me it was all about sovereignty”, have with their vote still joined their voice with those who would rather see their economy go to pieces than welcome more migrant workers,’

So: firstly, this ventriloquising of the sophisticated Brexiter is hardly accurate. It doesn’t, for example, begin to address my point raised in my first post, above.

But secondly: because both major parties, Conservative and Labour, at the last election promised to limit net inward migration and because they couldn’t do anything at all about EU migrants they were obliged to concentrate on migration from non-EU countries. And so the effect, in practice, of open migration from the (mostly white and relatively wealthy) EU has been to concentrate limits on the (mostly non-white and relatively poor) non-EU – which means, largely, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. The UK still has higher migration from non-EU countries but it’s nevertheless only those countries that have hoops to jump through when trying to immigrate.

It’s for this reason that my Bangladeshi colleague supported Brexit, as did a fair proportion of people with family in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who live in my part of the UK, the West Midlands. De Cruz may wish to unfriend my colleague on Facebook. I’ll keep chatting.

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Hans Oberdiek
Hans Oberdiek
5 years ago

He isn’t a philosopher, but I think he makes a case for BREXIT on the grounds that the EU lost its way:

http://www.salon.com/2016/06/29/dont_blame_brits_for_the_brexit_the_eu_strayed_from_its_roots_in_post_war_unity_to_become_a_neoliberal_technocracy/Report

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

Helen De Cruz writes “The sophisticated Brexiter who says “For me it was about getting away from the Eurocrats”, or “For me it was all about sovereignty”, have with their vote still joined their voice with those who would rather see their economy go to pieces than welcome more migrant workers, added their vote to a decision that was hailed by extreme-right, racist parties in Europe, and with a nasty rise in racist incidents along the lines of “go back home” immediately in its wake. ”

If we examine our fellow voters for *any* political party, we are liable to find we have joined some who have abhorrent attitudes. E.g. amongst the green party we might find those who promote or participate in violent acts of terrorism to support animal rights. That doesn’t mean that you share those views.

From your language “the sophisticated Brexiter”, I infer (perhaps wrongly) that you think that these voters are in fact themselves racist but are sophisticated enough to use a beard of other more socially acceptable reasons. Either way, that was certainly the tone of much debate around the subject prior to the election. It is that kind of attitude to debate that I think has put us in this mess. Silencing critics by accusing them explicitly or implicitly of being racist might stop them tweeting or indeed openly discussing their views in any context, but it won’t stop them voting as they please in the privacy of the booth. Whereas if you engaged with their actual reasons with polite debate, it might change their minds. Report

Rusty Shackleford
Rusty Shackleford
5 years ago

For those interested, http://www.counterpunch.org/ has a lot of Left Leave articles (some silly but others interesting) and a handful of their contributors are philosophically educated. Report

GS
GS
5 years ago

For all the calls for diversity on this blog, it is truly astonishing how little intellectual diversity is included in the “Philosophers On” series. Perhaps we should rename it either the “Philosophers in support of” or the “Philosophers against” series? And perhaps we should also stop pretending to value diversity.

A comment on the content: I found it alarming that De Cruz’s post implied that she valued social media to the point where things said on it have become serious. I despise the fact that some people have come to the point where they take their online lives seriously, to the point where they “unfriend” people (what a trivial use of “friend”!). Of course, this is just a report about my own psychological response to the popularity of online shenanigans, so it is not much of a critique. I’ll also note that I am “friends” on Facebook with transwomen, and have expressed that I do not think that transwomen are “real” women (for feminist reasons), yet I’m still friends with said transwomen. Philosophical views should not dictate (actual) friendships. (This is not to say that I did not enjoy De Cruz’s post, I did. I just disagree with some aspects of it.)Report

SCM
SCM
5 years ago

I’d just like to reiterate what many of the people commenting above have noted, that Brexit is essentially Justin’s fault.Report

Annie
Annie
5 years ago

An excellent debate. Thank you to all who have contributed, both in the article and comments section. I may be no wiser, but I am better-informed.Report

Moose
Moose
5 years ago

There are lots of good reasons to be critical of the EU. For one, TTIP strikes terror into my heart. For two, the neo-Liberalism of the EU, for instance in its treatment of Greece, is serious and worrying. I also think that it would be extremely difficult to enact the significant reforms needed to get rid of these sorts of problems, to the extent that I think it very unlikely that it will happen in the near future. However, this is only a reason for the UK to leave the EU if you think that these bad things about the EU outweigh the good things about it, and if you also think things are likely to be better for the UK if we leave. I don’t think this, but even if you did, it just seems crazy to me to think that the UK leaving the EU under the present circumstances, for the reasons given by the leave campaign, and led by the people currently leading us, could possibly be anything but a terrible idea. The idea that the UK is going to become more left-wing because of this farce just doesn’t seem like something that serious people could actually endorse.

So, although I think there are good left-wing reasons for disliking the EU, and even sensible left-wing cases to be made for leaving it *at some point, under some circumstances*, I don’t think there are any serious left-wing cases to be made in support of what has actually happened.Report

SJ
SJ
5 years ago

I have to say I’m slightly disappointed by the philosophical analysis. I know these are only short reflections, but they seem to proceed as if there isn’t a voluminous philosophical literature on the European project, its strengths, and its weaknesses. We’re acting as if a book entitled ‘The Crisis of the European Union’ wasn’t published in 2011 by one of the most famous philosophers in the world, Jurgen Habermas, one chapter of which was entitled ‘The European Union must decide between transnation democracy and post-democratic executive federalism’. The European project embraced the latter. It goes much much deeper than simply a lack of communication, or an extra smattering of democracy here and there. It is a fundamental question about whether the EU is a popular movement by design or bureaucratic movement by design. It is clear the EU chose the latter. And it is also clear that this has no appeal to huge swathes of the population across Europe, not just in the UK, indeed not especially in the UK: people in European institutions are preparing for France to leave as well; not as a possibility, but as an eventuality. This isn’t empty speculation on their part. Don’t be surprised when it happens. Report

SteveB
SteveB
4 years ago

As a lay person searching for help in deciding what to do and how to behave after the referendum, I am disappointed to see similar (if more polite) denigratory commentary here as in some potentially less considered forums rather than helpful analysis.

Ideally, all informational input would be either unbiased or at least balanced with counter argument where such exists. However, that is in my experience rarely possible. What people like me need is considered input from experts (unfashionable these days I know) that we can unpick, use as the basis for new perspectives and add to our understanding.

The reason I believe this (Brexit) is an important moral issue is because it might be a moral issue. By that I mean, with little clarity on what Brexit is, beyond departure from the EU, we can only anticipate what the outcome may be or, do nothing and wait for it. If what Brexit represents is a switch from outward to inward looking, from inclusion to exclusion, we to us or even me, then I believe there is an urgent need to try and unpack this and head off any tendencies that may spiral out of control.

I have been told by family members and friends; ‘we don’t want them here’ (them as yet undefined), ‘we don’t want t be told what to do by foreigners’, ‘I hate Cameron (substitute any UK politician here except oddly Nigel Farage). Some of the people I interact with have what I believe are racist tendencies which I have hitherto been unaware of or have ignored because they have never acted on them to my knowledge. Are these expressions racist? Racist or not, I find them deeply unsettling and most importantly, they have now acted on them.

Brexiters who use more vocabulary in their commentary (I make no inference about intelligence) refer to restoration of sovereignty so we can make our own laws as we see fit. So far, the only legislative changes I have seen referred to are on immigration but, no-one has made clear what controlled immigration looks like. Unfettered by any calming influence or the need to seek wider democratic consensus, what other legislation are Brexiters considering? Might we see challenges to our media that reduce the quality of future information? Greater freedom of control in the hands of the few with influence (here I refer to the Brexit means Brexit faction) could result in all sorts of issues that have a profoundly moral dimension.

On trade, we intend to unshackle ourselves from the partnership that contributes almost half our economic activity and aspire to ideally retain that and grow through new relationships or, in the worst case, replace what we lose with new deals. However, there are reasons those new deals have been a challenge in the past. Not least, the nature of the regimes that seek to deal with us. If we find the EU unimpressed with our terms and have to go cap in hand to China, Russia and others to fuel our economy, what legitimacy are we conferring on their policies and behaviours. Again, this is a complex issue of morality.

What of the personal accountability of those who hold/seek office in terms of the what they say to the electorate. I could go on about aspects such as foreign policy in human rights and aid but, I think you get my dilemmas.

4 in 10 people in my local area and half of those across the country have displayed behaviour which to me seems deeply disturbing and, if not positively channeled, potentially very dangerous for the future.

My final quandary is, who the hell gives me the right to feel so vexed and feel I can make judgements on people who have simply exercised their democratic right and won? Shouldn’t I just roll over and forget about it?

Philosophers please, help not squabbling…

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