BREXIT: Populism and Democracy: Part 1

By William K. Black
June 24, 2016     Kansas City, MO

The UK vote in favor of BREXIT has stoked the fears of the New York Times to a fevered pitch.  Their greatest collective fear is the rise of “populism.”  The NYT fashions itself the last redoubt of “serious people” under siege by the rabble.  BREXIT is an opportunity to drive home to the rabble the folly of failing to fall in line with the policies of the serious people featured in the NYT.  The moral of the story is a simple one – when the electorate in a democratic election ignores the technocrats the result is an economic and social catastrophe.

Even for the NYT, however, their attacks on the UK electorate for daring to vote for BREXIT were extraordinary in their intensity and multiplicity.  At least seven articles, each of them negative about the UK voters, were featured in today’s paper.  (I had no strong views on the vote.  I think reasonable UK voters could disagree on the desirability of BREXIT.)

This is the first in a seven-part series discussing each of these seven articles decrying BREXIT.  I focus on the unintended aspect of each article, for each demonstrates the contempt that a broad range of elites have for the voters and democracy.

Jochen Bittner

Jochen Bittner’s column is entitled “Brexit and Europe’s Angry Old Men.”

“It’s a victory for ordinary, decent people who have taken on the establishment,” declared Nigel Farage, the head of the U.K. Independence Party. Rubbish. It was a victory for people who have neither the guts nor the imagination to take on the downsides of globalization. Yes, globalization and Europeanization have taken their tolls, both on traditional forms of democracy and on traditional job security. But instead of tackling these problems, the Farages of the world have started the next ideological war.

That is a very strange and nasty paragraph.  It’s fine to criticize Farage, but disparaging the majority of UK voters as having “neither the guts nor the imagination to take on the downsides of globalization” unintentionally reveals the dishonesty and arrogance of the EU elites.  (Also, the word “globalization” has no useful definition in this context.  Was the adoption of the euro an example of globalization or regionalism?)   What is Bittner’s basis for claiming that BREXIT “started the next ideological war?”  There was no war – there was a peaceful vote.  There was no clear “ideological” split on BREXIT – the membership of the two traditional parties in the UK split internally and largely on non-ideological grounds.

Bittner says that whatever he means by “globalization and Europeanization” have “taken their tolls, both on traditional forms of democracy and traditional job security.”  That is an extraordinary concession, and appears unambiguously harmful.  What is “non-traditional job security?”  Bittner implies it exists, but the reality is that it is job insecurity.  What is “non-traditional democracy?”  Bittner doesn’t tell us, but he implies it is how the EU functions to ensure that that the EU elites rather than people make the decisions about how to run their lives.  “Traditional democracy” and “traditional job security” are two of the greatest triumphs of what Bittner terms the “enlightened, rational tradition of Europe.”  They required centuries of struggle by the citizenry and workers against the closely allied political and financial elites.  Many citizens and workers died or were blackballed or maimed in those struggles.  Why would he think the public would continue to sit passively while failed elites took an ever-increasing “toll” on democracy and job security?  Even if he thinks the public might “stand idly by” while its best traditions were repeatedly eroded, why does he think the public should do so?

Why does he think that openly displaying his contempt for those who support “traditional democracy” and “traditional job security” by labeling them as “sclerotic” “angry old men” “who have neither the guts nor the imagination to take on the downsides of globalization” demonstrates his superior “imagination” in “tak[ing] on the downsides of globalization?”  His contempt blinds him to the fact that the pro-BREXIT voters were displaying their “guts” when they took on elite opinion and refused to be intimidated by the “Project Fear” campaign.

Bittner has zero willingness to consider those who voted for BREXIT fellow-citizens, proclaiming that “We can no longer think of reconciliation between the opposing views of destruction and progress.”  Bittner implies that people who voted for “traditional democracy” and “traditional job security” support “destruction” while people who are willing to see “traditional democracy” and “traditional job security” further eroded represent “progress.”  Bittner is at least logically consistent – he plainly has no respect for the tenets of “traditional democracy” or even traditional empathy, civility, or respect for the majority of voters who differed with his views.

Bittner also seems to think that the voting majority was unaware that he views them with contempt and wishes to do everything possible to prevent the majority’s views from determining policy.  The reality is that the majority that voted for BREXIT was acutely aware of the elite contempt for their views and for “traditional democracy.”  That contempt is the single most important reason why a majority voted for BREXIT.

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