"Voting for Brexit demonstrates a frightening lack of imagination"by / June 20, 2016 / Leave a comment
Conservatives are supposed to appreciate the status quo. It’s the radicals on the left who want to tear things down. Edmund Burke, the grandfather of modern conservative thought, taught us to recognize the value of that which already exists. Jacobins and Bolsheviks are willing to destroy the established order in the hopes of creating the perfect society. Burke was wiser than that. You don’t just tear down an edifice because you notice some imperfections. It could well be replaced by something worse.
Neither you nor I know what will happen if Britain leaves the European Union on 23rd June. Perhaps it will all work out brilliantly. We will continue to trade happily with Europe, a manageable number of immigrants will come to our shores, Spaniards will still let us live in Malaga, the French will still let us work in Paris. Or maybe not.
Remember when Tony Blair and George Bush lobbied for the invasion of Iraq? They promised a new democratic and moderate Middle East. The occupation would pay for itself. Streets in Baghdad would be renamed Tony. Saddam was a tyrant; anything that replaced him would certainly be better.
At the time, these claims did not strike us as implausible. One could indeed imagine a scenario in which the invasion of Iraq would have led to a regime kinder and gentler than the Ba’athists. Nonetheless, I opposed the war. I figured the risks outweighed the benefits. That’s the Burkean in me. Even those of us who opposed the war never imagined the horror that has resulted from Bush and Blair’s blithe invasion. The consequences were worse than our worst nightmare. The world is more fragile than we think.
The International Monetary Fund tells us Brexit could plunge the world back into recession. Scottish nationalists tell us it could cause the dissolution of the United Kingdom. Financiers tell us it will damage London’s standing as a global city. Businessmen tell us it will hamper their ability to export. None of us know what will happen. Perhaps the doomsayers are wrong. Or perhaps they are being optimistic.
My personal history tells me to be cautious. I am half-Lebanese and I remember when Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, with its sophisticated and cosmopolitan populace, it was a favoured Jet set destination. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton used to vacation there.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, my Aunt Janine, a society beauty and a patron of the arts, was also a militant Arab nationalist. I remember, in 1972, hearing her rail against Lebanon’s Maronite rulers. She despised them for denying their Arab heritage, for disdaining the Arab cause. She, and her fellow Pan Arabists, demanded their downfall, by force if necessary. In her tasteful flat, she called for revolution.
Three years later she got her wish. More tears are shed for answered prayers. Soon, her civilized city became a byword for anarchy and violence. Soon she recognized even misguided and incompetent rule was better than civil war. Beirut had been the financial, insurance and media hub of the Arab world. It is no more. The Lebanese are still paying the price for the lost seventeen years of war. On her deathbed, my aunt wept that she had dedicated her life to a lie.
I’m not saying the EU is perfect. Far from it. But its existence has coincided with a vast improvement in the lives of most Europeans. The men who established the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 lived through two unspeakably brutal wars. Their primary goal in tying the continent together economically was to make a general European war less likely. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Today, war in Europe is unthinkable.
Brexit could mean the end of the EU. It could mean the end of the UK. Some ideologues tell us that could be a good thing. Maybe. Maybe not. Is it really worth taking a chance? In the words of Dirty Harry, a .44 magnum in his fist: “do you feel lucky, punk?”
Hyman Minsky, the only economist whose reputation improved after the financial crisis, said “Success brings a disregard of the possibility of failure.” Stability, and the confidence it engenders promotes recklessness. It is years of tranquillity that impel us to take stupid risks. Ideology trumps caution. Voting for Brexit demonstrates a frightening lack of imagination.