Ten thoughts on Brexit
Wow. There’s a lot here for sociologists (or anyone else to think about). A few things.
Britain voted to leave the EU by a slim margin – but not as slim as one would expect. The headlines are already blaring with words such as surprising, shocking, earthquake.
Should we be surprised?
Only if we look at Britain without comparing it to its European neighbors.
Three. It remains a complicated question how much the UK will actually be able to leave Europe. For example, Switzerland, a sort of ideal version of autonomy to some, is actually not that autonomous from Europe.
Why is this happening? Trump and his counterpart in Britain, the U.K. Independence Party (ukip) leader Nigel Farage, didn’t emerge from nowhere. Both are wealthy men who affect an affinity with the common people, and who have skillfully exploited a deep well of resentment among working-class and middle-class voters, some of whom have traditionally supported left-of-center parties. Certainly, a parallel factor in both men’s rise is racism, or, more specifically, nativism. Trump has presented a nightmarish vision of America overrun by Mexican felons and Muslim terrorists. ukip printed up campaign posters that showed thousands of dark-colored refugees lining up to enter Slovenia, which is part of the E.U., next to the words “breaking point: The EU has failed us all.” But racism and nationalism have both been around for a long time, as have demagogues who try to exploit them. In healthy democracies, these troublemakers are confined to the fringes.
See also PPST’s wonderful symposium on Trumpery, with stuff from Ruth Braunstein, Alexander Barder, Cedric de Leon, and Andrew J. Perrin. The Brexit comparisons are clear.
Seven. The age differences in support for Brexit are striking, and also parallel Trumpism.
Eight. All of this raises complicated questions about the role of experts in a democracy, something sociologists ought to think about both because those are our kinds of questions and because we like to think of ourselves as experts. These are longstanding debates in science studies as well. Nonetheless, it’s worth thinking about the relative anti-democratic benefits of things like bureaucracies and technocrats. Sometimes life’s a lot easier if boring people run the show.
Nine. The show Hamilton got some heat for extolling a guy who was in many ways anti-democratic. That’s an important critique, and Hamilton was deeply flawed in ways a musical might well forget. Yet it’s also worth remembering that Hamilton et al. recognized problems not unlike the ones we face here in writing The Federalist Papers.
Ten. It’s not just about race and xenophobia. But it is about race and xenophobia.