Brexit: A Decision By A Democracy


Picture from here (somehow the Twitter embedding didn’t work).

So, Brexit. A democracy has spoken. The will of the people being sovereign, or so says the theory which all love and cherish, the decision made by The People is therefore good and true. And it is good and true because what is desired by The People defines the good and the true.

Thus those who disagree with Brexit are therefore bad and hold to what is now known to be false. Thus opponents are either evil or ignorant. They are on the wrong side of history. They are also anti-Democratic. Opponents are nothing better than populists.

Brexit is the Law of the Land, and therefore it cannot be questioned. Questioning it is tantamount to hate speech. And since many who voted for Brexit were people of color and women, questioning this sovereign decision is racist and sexist.

Yet since there are so many malcontented Britons and, yes, Americans, displeased by the result of election, it must be that they are oblivious to their gross and manifest sins against Democracy. Or we are right to wonder if these folks truly love Democracy as they claim.

Here is the curious thing. Remain voters wanted to use Democracy to force Britain to be placed under the rule of the EU, a non-democratically elected body of rulers, regulators, and bureaucrats and an organization that could not be appealed (easily) to by ordinary democratic means. Essentially, then, Remains wanted to use majority rule to cause a usurpation of The People and install an complete authoritative government—its completeness perhaps one that eventuated not immediately but in the near future—a government that would bar The People from electing to escape their bonds.

Why? Remains, on the whole, are distrustful of The People and worry The People will blunder on matters of fundamental importance. This is why Remains use words like “populism” and “nationalism” to describe their enemies, and why they engage in ridiculous fallacies like the Wrong Side of History. Yet “populism” is by definition Democracy, the sovereign popular Will of The People. And it is Democracy Remains claim to love. But this love is proved false, as we saw above. Well, it was always obvious that what was loved was not The People, not the popular will, but the goal, the destination.

The Remains are not wrong to distrust The People; they are only wrong in considering they are somehow removed and above them. Defining the true and good by simple majority vote is, as the Remains fear, bound to lead to grief. Not always, of course. Even monkeys throwing darts can pick a winning stock. But eventually. A mere glance at popular culture and the elevated place it holds in our lives, or at the constituents of Parliament or Congress, is enough to confirm this.

In Brexiting, The People did make the right choice. Not in choosing Democracy, but in choosing to flee authoritarianism. This was a soft, distant, and motherly authoritarianism, true, but what caused the most pain was that it was anti-Tradition and anti-Spiritual, a system whose only real goal was the system itself.

There is another connotation of “populism”, besides the one of intemperance and the weakness of mob rule, and that is love of Tradition, a love which often leads to love of country, or “nationalism”. That’s the connotation opponents of Brexit had in mind when casting aspersions, and it is this definition which is as ironic as it is funny.

Why? Democracy, again by definition, is impermanence. Democracy is the acknowledgement that whim rules. What was good and true yesterday is bad and false today, but which might be good and true again some day in the future, depending on which way the vote goes.

So what we see here in the reaction to the Brexit vote is a felt and unacknowledged understanding that Democracy itself is the problem. Leavers wanted to return to the permanence of Tradition; Remainers sought to be embraced more strongly by the permanence of authoritarianism. Both sides want the voting to stop. Though the Leavers scored a minor victory, since nothing fundamental has changed, impermanence is still with us. Since Democracy itself was left in place, since the Highest Authority that can be imagined is still the impermanent volatile changeable People, the vote tomorrow, whatever it is, will once again change everything.


  1. Michael Dowd

    Brilliant analysis helping us understand why history tends to repeat itself.

  2. Rich

    One and a half million people want to have another go:

    Perhaps using one democratic process to undermine another is not a paradox but just the nature of the beast.

    (In case you were confused like me, there is no rule in existence to “trigger” another referendum. They want to add one retrospectively.)

  3. Gary in Erko

    The re-Brexit petition wants a new rule to require a 60% majority with a voter turnout of over 75%. The naughty irresponsible plebs of Britain need to wash behind their ears and do it again and again until they get it right. The trouble with democracy is that sometimes the wrong people are permitted to vote, so to compensate rules must be changed.

  4. JH

    What a wonderful, loser-friendly world! In addition to the fun of complaining and labelling others, losers, e.g., opponents of same-sex marriage, get the consolation prize… the truth is on their side. And winners get to proclaim their righteousness.

  5. Steve E

    Gary: Brexit should agree to the re-Brexit proposition of a 60% majority starting with the premise that the current Brexit decision is the starting point. Sauce for the goose…

  6. Ray

    The EU demonstrates that the actual mission of the bureaucracy is to increase the size and power of the bureaucracy. The stated mission is irrelevant. What they really want is power.

  7. MattS

    It should be pointed out that the referendum on Brexit was non-binding and means nothing until ratified by the UK Parliament.

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    complex bureaucracies, built upon simplistic ideas

    Some comments here:

    And what is wrong with a bureaucracy that forbids restaurants from serving olive oil in bowls or refillable containers? Overreaching much?

    The problem with the EU is and always was that it is neither a nation nor an empire. Discussed here:

    A naturally constituted nation … arises “when people speak the same language, hold the same stories and histories dear, see others as logical potential mates for their children, practice the same religion, and celebrate the same festivals…”

    An empire is “a collection of tribes, peoples and naturally-constituted nations who share in common only that they have the same conqueror. It can be quite stable as long as the it respects to a large degree the laws and customs of the conquered.”

    There are exceptions. The Swiss share the same stories and customs as mountaineers, but they speak different languages and practice different religions. But when statehood is imposed by fiat, as in the case of Belgium, two centuries can go by without the Flemings and Walloons coming to terms simply because they are actually Dutch and French, but Catholic. And the Danubian Monarchy lasted a long time despite its polyglot nature by recognizing Hungary as co-equal to Austria — but she never took the same step with Bohemia or the Southern Slavs and in the end there were too many nations within it, despite the persistent celebration of diversity that the Hapsburgs engaged in.

    A nation can tolerate immigration provided the immigrants ‘buy in’. This is easier in places like the USA, where the shared nationality is based on a set of principles, less easy in those places where it is based on ethnicity. A newcomer to the US can get all teary-eyed over Valley Forge and Concord Bridge, but an Algerian in Paris is somewhat less likely to cheer the victory of Charles the Hammer over the muslim invaders.

  9. Geezer

    The re-Brexit petition wants a new rule to require a 60% majority with a voter turnout of over 75%.

    Should such a new rule require a 60% majority with a voter turnout of over 75% to approve the rule itself?

  10. John M

    Would Britain’s inclusion in the EU have passed with a 60% majority and 75% turnout?

  11. Steve E

    MattS, when the Prime Minister in a parliamentary democracy resigns over the loss of a vote you can rest assured that it means something.

  12. Gary

    The re-Brexit petition wants a new rule to require a 60% majority… The petition itself must get a 60% majority too, right? No?! Wait! What???

  13. Frederick Colbourne

    “The re-Brexit petition wants a new rule to require a 60% majority with a voter turnout of over 75%. Should such a new rule require a 60% majority with a voter turnout of over 75% to approve the rule itself?”

    The time to change the rules is before the game begins.

    Besides, whichever party did so would probably suffer during the general election.

    UK parties can win an election with 35% of the vote. Minority governments occur when a third party gets 20% of the vote. In the last election UKIP (UK Independence Party) polled 15%.

    So the numbers suggest that there would be enough defections to UKIP for the party to hold the balance of power after the next general election.

    I read that 200 out of 300 polling districts voted Leave. (The 300 might have been England and Wales only.) A second referendum is politically too risky for both The Conservative and Labour Parties.

    Finally, voter turnout for Brexit was 75% compared to less than 50% for some general elections. Tony Blair won an election with the votes of only 15% of eligible voters.

    So the worst case scenario must be considered by the political elites.

    Could a second referendum trigger a voter revolt in a general election?

    Such a revolt might return UKIP, if not to power, to the position of one of three leading minority parties, possibly the party with the most seats?

    We just have to wait and see. But what we have seen is that the English who have deposed Cameron still have the bloody-mindedness that decapitated one King Charles and caused King James to flee for his life to France.

  14. Nate

    I for one would be very interested to see a post about alternatives to Democracy. A return to aristocratic landholding republicanism? A ‘limited monarchy’? What options do we have given the current state of out politics and institutions?

  15. Milton Hathaway

    As a US citizen, I’m not sure what to make of Brexit. I’m not inclined to make sweeping generalizations, as the vote wasn’t a landslide (i.e., if one person in 25 changed their vote, the result would have been inverted).

    Of all the charts and graphs, I found this one most intriguing:×757.jpg

    And in that chart, the “Capitalism” bar in particular, for two reasons: 1) it’s close to a 50-50 split, and 2) the conspicuous absence of a “Socialism” bar. What does that mean? (I’m not sure, but it doesn’t strike me a cause for optimism.)

    But anyway, it seems that Europe often leads the way – first to embrace dramatic changes, and first to regret them. At the moment, Europe is reassessing or retreating from a number of ideas that the US ruling class is still rushing headlong toward.

    I have decided that American Exceptionalism is largely due to our Federalism-style of government, that, in the past at least, has pushed decisions down to the lowest level practical, resulting in a large measure of accountability. That style of government appears to be the best match we humans have ever found to the peculiarities of human nature, and has yielded dramatic advancement in the quality of life unmatched by any other form of government ever devised.

    Over the last century, American Exceptionalism seems to be crumbling, and the change is accelerating. If it were other countries catching up that would be one thing, but it seems to be more of a decline on our part. Perhaps this is due our system of government succeeding so well that Americans have become arrogant, believing that there is something special about us as a people rather than our form of government, so we feel free to ‘improve’ it by centralizing power. At the same time, the underlying arrogance that prompts these ‘improvements’ removes accountability for failure. If you know you are right, what value is there in accountability? It just slows things down by empowering the naysayers.

    If Americian Exceptionalism is going to survive, which strongly benefits the entire world, the solution is going to be painful. We have to admit that our Constitution lacks sufficient checks and balances to keep the centralized segment of our government from grabbing more and more power, thereby crushing the distributed segments of our government. The centralized portion will not easily give up this massive power they have acquired; it will have to be pried from their grabby hands, at the point of a pen or the point of a sword.

    If we fail, all is not lost. As long as no centralized world government becomes so all-powerful that it can rewrite history, future generations will rediscover the recipe, and implement it in some freedom-loving corner of the world.

    “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” Thomas Sowell

  16. Mactoul.

    The EU could be an exception too. A nation exists when people say that they belong to it. Shared ethinicity, language etc have nothing to do with it. See for instance, polyglot and multiethnic India.

  17. Mactoul.

    “Democracy is the acknowledgement that whim rules. ”
    Briggs confuses representative democracy with direct democracy.
    Even in a direct democracy, the citizens are expected to think. Being persons, they can be counted on to.
    Monarchies are no less subject to being ruled by whim than a democracy.

  18. Mactoul – I was very sloppy when I expanded a bit on Brownson’s idea of a natural nation and put together the list of things that enable one to form, failing to spell out that not all of these things will be present in every case – a lack YOS made good in his comment.

    More important: “A nation exists when people say that they belong to it.” Are you intentionally echoing Rousseau here? I don’t know about you, but I never signed a contract, let alone *the* Social Contract, until I’d been an American for a couple decades. This is a criticism leveled at Rousseau from day one: that the idea that people in general somehow sign up or otherwise join a nation is a complete fantasy – except for the occasional immigrant, we just find ourselves part of a nation without any conscious thought or decision. Or do you mean ‘say that they belong to it’ in some less formal, unconscious, even, sense? Because, if that is the case, we’re back to what it is that makes a nation in the first place.

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