Independence Day

The day has finally come—after three-and-a-half years, Great Britain is finally leaving the European Union.  The British people are regaining their sovereignty and will begin their way back to enjoying their traditional English liberties.

The European Union is an overweaning, elitist, supranational tyranny.  It is a progressive dream, which is why the Leftists are melting down over Brexit, and attempted to thwart it for so many years.  Progressives today—just like progressives in the early twentieth century—are gaga for technocratic rule and elitist dominance.

It’s not about “democracy”; if it was, they would have accepted the outcome of the 2016 referendum.  Democracy only matters to progressives when it advances their ends.  That’s why progressives hold elections and referendums—repeatedly, if necessary—until they get the outcomes they want—and then the matter is settled forever.  If that doesn’t work, courts or the bureaucracy will effectively veto the voters’ “incorrect” choices.

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Lazy Sunday XXIX: The New Criterion

Conservatives, especially conservative writers and publishers, tend to get so fixated on policy wonkery and political debates, we sometimes lose sight of culture.  One reason I appreciate blogger buddy photog’s blog, Orion’s Cold Fire, so much is that he makes room for reviews of sci-fi novels, Twilight Zone episodes, and the like.

One publication that makes culture the centerpiece of its mission is The New Criterion, which takes the idea of reviewing the best in art, literature, music, and drama very seriously.  I recently re-subscribed TNC after having a lapsed subscription for a couple of years, and I’m eager to get my first issue in forty-eight weeks.

With that in mind, this week’s Lazy Sunday is dedicated to pieces the writers at The New Criterion inspired:

  • Civilization is Worth It” – This piece discusses an excellent audio version of a piece about Rousseau’s ideas regarding civilization (that is to say, Rousseau argued civilization was the cause of all of our problems, and we were better of dancing around naked in caves).  It’s definitely worth a listen.
  • E.T.A. Hoffman & Romanticism” – This very short post covered a charming little essay about E.T.A. Hoffman, arguably the founder of the Romantic movement in literature, as well as a brief discussion of the consequences, both positive and negative, of the Romantic temperament, and the idea of the brooding, troubled artist.
  • The League of Nations” – Trans- and supranational organizations were all the rage in the twentieth century, and the League of Nations was the first—and the biggest flop—in this do-gooding, globalist trend.  The League of Nations was famously ineffective, which just meant we’d be saddled with an even worse organization, the United Nations, after the League failed to prevent the Second World War.  Now the European Union is creating a tyrannical empire of Belgian bureaucrats in the name of preventing a tyrannical empire of German bureaucrats from trying to conquer Europe again.  Yeesh.
  • The Good Populism” – The counter to the aforementioned tyrannical transnational organizations is good, healthy populism, the kind of middle-class, conservative revolutions that brought us the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Donald Trump (among others).  Super historian and classicist Victor Davis Hanson makes the case for the “good populism,” as opposed to Bernie Bro socialistic populism, in this piece, one of the most popular TNC published in 2018.
  • New Criterion on Principles in Politics” – What’s more important—principles or victory?  That’s not exactly the gist of this piece, but it does examine the tricky debate taking place among the Right currently about how to handle deranged Leftists.  What are the limits of principles?  The David French model of always surrendering—but being polite while doing so—is clearly not an effective way to uphold conservative principles.

That’s it for this Sunday.  Enjoy some erudite cultural criticism!

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: Cold Turkey

As the fate of Brexit still hangs in the balance, it seems apropos to look back to a post I wrote shortly after the successful Brexit vote in 2016, “Cold Turkey” (by the way, why is Turkey in NATO again?).  As I wrote then, all of these objections—what’re we going to do about the Irish border, for example—are distractions.  Yes, they might require some sorting out, but just rip off the Band-Aid.  People will find a way to make money.  Europeans will be itching to keep their business in Britain—remember, London is one of the world’s financial capitals—and will find ways to get business done.

The devil’s bargain of the European Union was simple:  give up your freedom and national sovereignty in exchange for sweet government bennies.  The British people chose the better, harder option:  they voted for freedom (and probably government bennies on their own terms, just without European largesse).  Of course, the British people never got to opt-into that bargain; it was thrust upon them after the bait-and-switch of the European Common Market—a good idea!—morphed into an unholy, supranational tyranny.

So, here is 2016’s “Cold Turkey.”  Like any addiction, the best approach is to “just say no”:

Last week, approximately 52% of Brits voted to “Leave” the European Union in a national referendum.  They did so peacefully and democratically.  Already, 23 June 2016 is being hailed as Britain’s “Independence Day.”

I’ve written several posts about Brexit recently (herehere, and here).  Last Friday’s post, which I wrote as the results were coming in Thursday evening, explored why liberty–a vote for “Leave”–was worth the price of temporary economic disruption and, too, of giving up certain “benefits” bestowed to EU citizens.

(A quick aside:  I still find it interesting that a supranational organization that originated as an economic free trade zone evolved into an entity capable of forcing twenty-some-odd nation-states to pool sovereignty; didn’t Europe fight two world wars to prevent Germany from ruling the Continent?  But I digress.)

Based on several comments on my Facebook page, and from personal conversations, it seems that some of my pro-Remain friends and colleagues missed this point, or very candidly admitted that national sovereignty and liberty are not worth the price of sweet EU bennies (one colleague–a reluctant Brit–discounted the entire “Leave” campaign as fundamentally xenophobic and racist, implying that those alleged qualities alone invalidated the entire movement).  To the latter contingent, I can only hope we can agree to disagree.  To the former, allow me to address some points.

“[D]idn’t Europe fight two world wars to prevent Germany from ruling the Continent?”

One poster discussed at length that Brits have “become VERY accustomed to the benefits,” and that, whether they are in the EU or not, they “will still be governed, regulated, and heavily taxed by their own government but no longer enjoy the goodies that come with EU membership!”

Consider, if you will, a drug addict.  Let’s say someone addicted to heroin seeks treatment and begins taking daily doses of methadone.  Would we say, “Oh, well, sure he’s off heroin, but he’s still chemically dependent on methadone, and now he’s missing out on the sweet high that only heroin can provide”?  Or would we continue to encourage this recovering addict to kick his methadone habit, too, and restore a sick, dependent body to healthy independence?

Quit me cold… and don’t let me in the European Union.

Generous government benefits–whether they come from the EU or the British government–might come with some nice “perks” (every pro-Remainer I’ve talked to seems preoccupied with the ability to travel freely through Europe, something most of us plebes haven’t had the luxury of doing without a passport; this, to me, seems to be the definition of a “First World Problem”), but those “goodies” come at a price.  The British people have freely said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Naturally, there will be those who will start jonesing for cheap travel opportunities to economically depressed parts of Southern Europe, where they can live out leisurely, government-funded retirements.  There will also be everyday people who still find themselves frustrated by high taxes and tight regulations, and missing out on certain opportunities afforded them by EU membership.

“The Brits have thrown off one level of bureaucracy because… they realized it was not worth the cost.”

But is the solution more regulations and higher taxes?  The Brits have thrown off one level of bureaucracy because, despite the redistribution of wealth it brought (which mostly went away from productive countries like Britain and Germany and to profligate nations like Greece), they realized it was not worth the cost.  One of two things will now happen:  either Brits will demand further deregulation and reform of their own government, which will further ease their burdens and lower costs; or they will make an oft-repeated mistake and demand more redistribution and more taxpayer-funded goodies.

Crucially, though, the choice will be theirs to make.

Leaving the European Union will be like tearing off a bandage.  It will hurt like hell initially–we’re already seeing the effect on markets, which can’t stand uncertainty–but the pain will be fleeting (as I’ve argued in my earlier posts on the topic).

Similarly, any nation facing heavy regulations and stifling taxes can pursue a similar course–if it hasn’t become too hooked already.  “Austerity” failed in Greece not because it demanded that the Greek government stop paying janitors wages comparable to skilled tradesmen; it failed because the Greek government couldn’t kick its habit (and because austerity required tax increases, not stimulating decreases).  The nation–and the Greek people–have become so dependent upon handouts, they can no longer function without huge bailouts from wealthier nations.  That dependency will only perpetuate the cycle of addiction.

The best approach is not more dependency–more bureaucracy, more social programs, more taxes–but quitting cold turkey.  Rip off the Band-Aid, then get back to being free… or end up like Greece.

Hungarian Border Wall is 100% Effective

Pundit Dick Morris has a short piece on his website, DickMorris.com, about the Hungarian border fence.  It’s a quick read, but here are the key excerpts:

Along its 109-mile border with Serbia, Hungary has built a 13-foot-high fence featuring concertina wire (barbed wire in circles). It took six months to build (July-December of 2015) and cost $106 million. It was built by contractors and 900 Hungarian soldiers.

The fence consists of three rows of razor wire with a sturdier 11.5-foot-tall barrier inside….

And the Hungarian fence works! Before the barrier was built, in September of 2015, 138,396 migrants entered Hungary over the Serbian border. Within the first two weeks of November, the average daily flow had dropped to only 15 people.

Hungary and its populist-nationalist leader, President Viktor Orban, have faced a great deal of backlash and scorn from the progressive, bureaucratic autocrats of the European Union for their border control and immigration measures.  But Hungary is intent on keeping itself culturally Hungarian—it cannot effectively absorb the millions of potential migrants that began pouring into Europe from Syria and North Africa a few years ago.

President Orban is often cast as some latter-day Hitler, but he’s merely doing his job:  he’s putting the people of Hungary and their interests first, behind the interests of foreign vagabonds.

While researching this post, I learned that the European People’s Party—an umbrella party of “center-right” parties (as many outlets described it) running in the European Parliament’s elections this May—is barring Orban’s Fidesz Party from participating.  Apparently, part of their concern is that Orban’s Fidesz Party has posted humorous ads depicting George Soros and Jean-Claude Juncker (the Leftist super-villain billionaire and the President of the European Commission, respectively), suggesting the two are in cahoots to control Europe.

Well… aren’t they?  Isn’t the “center-right” European People’s Party supposed to represent a challenge to the Eurocrats (if anyone knows, I’m only asking semi-rhetorically)?

Two takeaways:

1.) Leave Viktor Orban alone.  He’s helped protect his country at a time when other European nations turn blind-eyes to Muslim rape gangs.

2.) The original point of this post:  President Trump can follow the Hungarian model and build an effective wall on the cheap.  Granted, we have more than 109 miles, but copy-paste that approach along our long border with Mexico, and could get the job done quickly and efficiently.

Open borders and progressive politics are the real dangers to liberty and prosperity, not an unabashed nationalist in Central Europe—or one in the United States.  Build the Wall, Drain the Swamp, and Leave the European Union!

TBT: Brexit: The Antidote to Supranational Tyranny

The first indication that a major sea-change in Western politics was underway was the historic Brexit vote in June 2016.  The mere fact that Britain voted to leave the European Union boosted nationalist movements in Europe, and reflected the growing discontent of Britons with the policies of their elites.  That frustration manifested itself outside of Britain, and seemed to presage—at least in hindsight—Trump’s unlikely, underdog victory in November of that year.

The following is my first piece on Brexit, dated 13 June 2016.  I wrote it in response to a student’s inquiry.  That launched a series of pieces on Brexit that I will—eventually—compile into an eBook, the title of which will draw from a phrase I coined for this article:  “supranational tyranny.”

In essence, I argued then (and still argue now) that Brexit was, at bottom, a referendum on national sovereignty.  Issues like trade and immigration, while quite important, were merely the outgrowth of that fundamental issue.  Brexit, in so many words and in so many ways, simply asked, “Can a country make its own decisions about its own destiny?”  Like so many fundamentals, that we even have to ask the question demonstrates how far postmodern deconstructionism has taken us.  Regardless, the people of Britain resoundingly answered, “YES!”  The vote to leave was not an endorsement of xenophobia or anything else:  it was a vote for national sovereignty.

The European Union was a classic bait-and-switch:  Britain joined under the pretense that it was entering an economic free trade zone.  That morphed—it seems, based on the EU’s charter and its goal of “ever closer union”, deliberately and by design—into the supranational, undemocratic behemoth it is today, with decisions largely dictated from Germany and its toadie, France.  When the people lost the ability to control their own borders and immigration policies—the bare-bone essentials of what constitute a “nation” and “national sovereignty”—they seized the opening and voted for liberty and sovereignty over continued acquiescence in exchange for goodies.

Here is June 2016’s “Brexit:  The Antidote to Supranational Tyranny“:

I’ve been planning to do a few pieces on the question of “Brexit”–whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, or to remain a part of it–but originally intended to wait until the 23 June referendum drew closer.  However, over the weekend I received this e-mail from a student:

A summer vacation well spent.
In case you can’t read the e-mail, here’s the text in full:
Dear Mr[.] Cook (Self entitled defender of Rock & Roll),
I know this isn’t the average email you get from a student, political. However, with one of the most impactful votes to effect [
sic] the US economy to take place in just 11 days, June 23, I would like to ask how you felt on the United Kingdom’s vote on whether to stay in the EU or leave it. US news has refused to cover this major event due to irresponsibility and foolishness. Just wanted to know your thoughts on this vital subject.

(Please note that I am blessed to teach some very bright students.)

Brexit is a hugely complicated issue; however, viewed through the lens of national sovereignty versus the dubious claims of supranational organizations, the ultimate solution is, in my mind, a no-brainer:  the people of Great Britain should vote “Leave” this June.

Now for some preliminary disclaimers, lest I be burned in effigy:

To any British readers, please do not presume that an upstart, boorish American is preaching at you about what to do with your national destiny.  If the situation were reversed, I’d rightfully scoff at any attempts from “Europeans” to tell my country how to function.  However, I ask that all readers approach my arguments for Brexit in a philosophical and rational way; that is, treat them in the context of one mind reasoning from a set a premises, not as an American lecturing foreign nationals about their sovereign politics.

(British readers–if you exist–please feel free to leave your comments, reflections, reactions, and bitter recriminations below; I respect and welcome your perspective, which is far more accurate and attuned to the realities of the situation than my own.)

I’d also like to acknowledge the influence of a book review I read over the weekend in the 9 May 2016 edition of National Review(Volume LXVIII, No. 8).  The review, written by John Fonte and entitled “The EU’s Soft Utopia,” is of the book The Totalitarian Temptation:  Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe by Todd Huizinga, a long-time observer of European Union politics.  I highly recommend you seek out this review.  I intend to read the book soon.

 ***

Now that those pleasantries are out of the way, I’d like to lay out my case, clumsy though it may be.  My remarks are adapted from those I sent to the young man above.

The Brexit issue is one of huge importance to the US, the UK, and Europe, and while it has not been covered heavily in the mainstream media, I’ve read a number of articles about it in both National Review and the Weekly Standard.

The question of whether or not to vote “Remain” or “Leave” really depends on your perspective and your goals, or what you think the European Union is supposed to do.  The EU itself tries to appear unsure of its goals, but its mission clearly states that it seeks “ever closer union” of the various member nation-states.

The EU began life as essentially a large economic free trade zone that gradually expanded, and which then adopted a common currency in the late 1990s (a move, we now know, that was fraught with peril, especially as it is very difficult for disparate nations at different points of economic development and national sovereignty to share a single currency effectively; see also Greece).  My perception is that the EU wants to become, ultimately, the “United States of Europe”; indeed, this goal is straightforwardly expressed by many pro-Europe observers.  The question, then, is this goal desirable or not?

 The United States of Europe, where six-weeks paid vacation is a basic human right.

It certainly has elements that are attractive.  In theory, a politically unified Europe becomes a powerful check against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Many of the “far-right” populist parties in European nations (France’s National Front, Germany’s Alternativ für Deutschland, etc.) are gaining traction now due to the flood of (often violent) Islamic “refugees” into Europe, and many of those groups view Putin’s ultra-nationalistic Russia warmly (some, too, are allegedly bankrolled by Russia).  Moving toward greater union would help resolve the economic problems the euro faces, as it would allow the EU to change monetary and fiscal policy in its member states, which would no longer look like America under the Articles of Confederation, but would instead look more like America under the Constitution.

At least, that’s how we’re supposed to view it.  Unfortunately, that comparison quickly falls apart under scrutiny.  The constitutional order our Framers carefully constructed in 1787 functions verydifferently than the European Union conceived of by its architects.  The EU is largely run by an unelected, globalist-progressive bureaucracy that is both unaccountable to the peoples and sovereign member states of Europe, and which has already acted to oust democratically-elected leaders (see also:  Italy).  Sure, there’s the European Parliament, which is currently (and ironically) dominated by members from Euroskeptic parties like UKIP, but it has only limited functions and can essentially only vote to block decisions made by the European Commission, itself made up of unelected commissioners.

The EU, then, cares not for democratic input, national sovereignty (and, therefore, borders), or federalism.  A United States of Europe would be a heavily centralized unit that might allow some state sovereignty in some limited areas, but would ultimately have vast, unchecked control over its members, with little regard for what the people in those member states want (just look at Germany and Angela Merkel’s increasingly unpopular–and arguably dangerous–stance on the refugee crisis).

So, while a large, intact European Union would present a unified front against Russia, it would also be a largely undemocratic front against the United States.  Some have argued that the EU is necessary to keep NATO viable, but I don’t buy this argument.  NATO has functioned well, if somewhat inconsistently, with a couple of dozen or so sovereign states for decades.  If Britain votes “Leave,” how would this dynamic substantially change in the long-run?

A United States of Europe would be a heavily centralized unit that might allow some state sovereignty in some limited areas, but would ultimately have vast, unchecked control over its members, with little regard for what the people in those member states want….”

Ultimately, the Brexit vote is a referendum on national sovereignty.  If national sovereignty has any meaning and significance for the people of Britain–and for the world–British voters will resoundingly vote “no” to the EU.

Would such an outcome have ripple effects politically and economically?  Absolutely.  Britain might struggle temporarily because of the (admittedly) huge institutional and economic disruptions, but it would soon rock back to its feet, as it would find itself freed of the EU’s overbearing economic regulations and rules.  Britain is also well-positioned to leave, as it prudently maintained the British pound, and could very likely continue to accept euros for everyday economic exchanges.

The European Union might callously block trade with Britain, but Britain’s large financial and consumer markets would quickly erode any such vindictive measures.  President Obama has darkly warned that Britain would be at “the back of the queue” for future trade deals, which would be a slap to the face to the Churchillian, Anglo-American “special relationship.”  Our next president would, if he or she is wise, quickly embrace a “most-favored nation” treaty with Britain to keep trade open and affordable between our nations.

Putin might take advantage of the situation temporarily, but Europe and Britain would likely come together rapidly in the face of any Russian aggression.  Putin is wily and will take any advantage he can, which is all the more reason for the Obama administration to put aside its pro-EU stance and to support an independent Britain should the British people vote “Leave.”

Just because Putin might benefit doesn’t mean that Brexit is ultimately a bad idea.  A “Leave” vote would, in a paradoxical way, be healthy for the EU, as it would likely lead to the exit of nations that have no business being under the euro, such as Greece and Spain.  It would also inspire and embolden other nations to push for greater transparency, accountability, and democratization from the European Union’s leaders and institutions.

Most importantly, though, it would strike a blow against the totalizing, globalist elitism of the EU bureaucracy.  Brussels might see itself as enlightened, progressive, cosmopolitan–and, as a result, more humane–but it’s still authoritarian and anti-democratic-republican in the way it functions and pursues its vision.

Therefore, while I recognize the potential geopolitical and economic risks, I sincerely pray that the good people of the United Kingdom will strike a blow for republican self-government, national sovereignty, and liberty, and vote “Leave” this June.

The time for Brexit is now.  Like ripping off an old bandage, the initial pain will sting, but only briefly.  The old wound will heal, and a new, freer nation will enjoy the fruits of its sovereignty.

The League of Nations

For the past five years, Western civilization has been observing and memorializing the Great War, what we now call the First World War. That war was so destructive, it single-handedly cost the West its mojo. Before the war, Western civilization was supremely confident, believing in the rightness and righteousness of its own ideals. After it, self-doubt and nihilism gripped the hearts of once-great nations.

Some of that antebellum self-confidence was founded on the sandy foundation of positivist idealism, and some of it on the misguided internationalism that tied European nations together in a strangling, inflexible web of secret alliances and global brinksmanship. But for all its faults—and the mostly pointless slaughter of millions of young men on the battlefields of Europe—the West was (and is) the best.

Friday, 25 January 2019 quietly marked another milestone in the rolling commemoration of the Great War: the opening, 100 years ago, of the Versailles Peace Conference, the gathering that planted the seeds for the Second World War. New Criterion published a short essay on the anniversary that discusses the maneuvering at the Conference with lively detail; it’s even more impressive when you realize the author, Daniel M. Bring, is still in college.

The League of Nations was the precursor to the United Nations, and the godfather of various supranational entities. In that context, it is rather inauspicious, and is the root of many evils. It was a stunningly ineffective organization, too, that failed to uphold its obligations to collective security.

The United States famously did not join the League, as the Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which included membership in the organization. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts led the charge against ratification, arguing that Article X of the League charter would compel the United States to join in foreign wars that may have little bearing on actual American interests.

Such a degree of foreign policy realism would be refreshing in today’s political climate; as it was, Lodge’s reservations were entirely consistent with American foreign policy dating back to George Washington and John Quincy Adams. The United States did not formally make peace with Germany until 1921, with the signing of the Treaty of Berlin.

Without American support—and in the wake of the global Great Depression—the League of Nations floundered and failed. To quote Bring:

In discussions of (especially, recent) history, there is much said by historians about hindsight and counterfactual scenarios. What if the United States had lent its strength to the League’s success? What if the League had levied more effective sanctions and even executed military countermeasures? But in the end, these hypotheticals cannot change the past.
“All that matters is that which occurred. Within thirty years from the League’s creation, tens of millions, both soldiers and civilians, were dead in a second great war.”

The post Second World War global order has endured reasonably well, with its broad commitment to global security underpinned with American might. That order flourished, however, in the face of the long Cold War and the mostly-united fronts of a long ideological struggle with Soviet Communism. In the absence of such a major external threat—radical Islamism notwithstanding—the raison d’etre for open-ended, supranational regimes is largely gone, and such organizations are ineffective at best or tyrannical at worst.

The United Nations is a clown college for Third World dictators and their lackeys. The European Union is an undemocratic dystopia under German rule (didn’t we fight two world wars to prevent that outcome?). NATO (perhaps inadvertently) antagonizes Russia by extending into the Baltic region, and American lives are obligated to prop up those very regions should Russia interfere. Further, NATO is only truly effective with American backing and support—a major sticking point for President Trump, who wants member nations to meet their obligations to funding it (and they even balk at that minimal request).

Nineteenth-century isolationism no longer appears to be a viable option for the United States, but constant interventionism and multilateralism come with all the costs and none of the benefits of empire, and severely stretch America’s blood and treasure. An earnest reevaluation of the effectiveness of our international institutions is long overdue; kudos to President Trump for questioning the orthodoxy and probing new possibilities.

As part of that re-examination, let us look back to the idealistic, but unhappy, failure of the League—and the costs its failure entailed for humanity.