Friday, June 24, 2016

the Brexit vote is not legally binding

updated June 25, then at the very end July 2.

Britain has a chance to undo its self-defeating Brexit decision. All of this does not have to actually lead to Britain leaving the EU.

Everything I’ve read about the chaos now of the Brexit vote pertains to coping with the result. I’ve seen nothing in the leading press that indicates that anyone has good reason to believe that the Brexit vote is good for Britain. The Remain vote prevailed in major cities, among highly educated voters, and younger voters—along with all of Scotland. The Leave vote prevailed in English provinces, among the underemployed in metro suburbs, among lower educated voters, and among older voters.

The Bexit vote is not legally binding. If Parliament decided against invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, they would not be ignoring populist will, if such a decision is part of leadership that realistically addresses public needs. To decide differently is not the same as deciding against the populist will. Not invoking Article 50 would be contrary to only 3.6% more of the British population than voted to Remain (and would be congruent with the more-astute plurality of the public).

An elected representative (member of Parliament, U.S. Representative) has the duty to listen to her/his constituents, but also to take into deliberations all important factors—the aggregate advice of all who are represented, certainly. But preference for the better reasons is necessary. Not all views have equal merit, and probably not all important considerations are expressed by any bloc of voters. Democracy is not reducible to populism; we commonly dismiss governing-by-polls in day-to-day politics.

Firstly, Britain can prudently postpone Article 50 notification until after British elections, thus avoiding some chaos in the short term. Meanwhile, there is a chance to form a government that has good sense and would disapprove Article 50 notification, thus avoiding a lot of chaos. EU desire for speedy severance should be irrelevant to Britain.

The more effective argument wins in polls, but the better argument is not determined by popularity. For example, widespread xenophobia doesn’t become valid by being widespread.

As one NYTimes article today typically expressed, “globalization and technological changes have meant millions of people have seen their jobs marginalized and wages decline.” Obviously, “anger at distant elites, anxiety about a perceived loss of national sovereignty and, perhaps most of all, resentment toward migrants and refugees” created “a polarized electorate, nativism, [and] nationalism” which is typical of “the inward-looking politics that have swept across Europe in recent years.” “Lots of folks want to turn the clock back.”

But that’s no basis for public policy. Those are issues to be addressed intelligently, but not reasons for exiting a 43-year Project that Britain was integral to forming.

With all due regard for that 3.6% (much of which was undecided until the last hours—i.e., many votes were impulsive), if the British Parliament decided to not invoke Article 50, the global markets would immediately rally, recession would be avoided in Britain, and the global ethos of continental union would be strengthened. No economist could argue credibly that a decision to not invoke Article 50 would be bad for Britain, for the EU, or for the global politic.

If the wide-spread alarm over the Brexit decision was already causing a change of view in merely 2% of the British population (so-called “buyers’ remorse”), there's abundant good reason to not be surprised. (“ seems many Britons may not even know what they had actually voted for,” Washington Post, 6/25: “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it.") A petition at Parliament to have a new referendum has gained over 2 million signatures (over a million more than the voter margin for “Leave”).

EU leaders want a quick and painful exit—“feet to the fire,” they say—in order to dissuade other nations from thinking about leaving. But the greater incentive to not leave would be to see Britain quickly certify that it has made a bloody Error.

So, a crucial question is: If political wisdom isn’t reducible to what the mass polls indicate, what is the basis of political wisdom in good government when it should deliberatively decide differently than what the populist moment indicates? Addressing this question is what Habermas’ theory of democracy is about, in part, yet essentially.

If the Parliament were to decide against invoking Article 50, that would indeed compel difficult questions about the weight of populism in democracy. But due regard for tides and trends of popular opinion is not the entirety of good government. Notions of public good based in rationally strong leadership are directly pertinent to Habermas’ work.

Presuming that the Parliament will not make a decision to not invoke Article 50, a good question is: Why is populism allowed to rule unwisely when good governmental structures are well-established for ensuring better sense?

Needless to say, populism has ruled unwisely too often. What will be going on when the British Parliament lets itself be determined by a populist moment?

A key reason for a United States of Europe, I suppose, is that populism too readily reverts to parochialism, such that the good of a region is best served by formal union, all in all. This is a thesis about the nature of good government: The good of the people is not simply populist. Good government is grounded in the full intelligence of constitutional governing.

So, what is the nature of good government? What is the nature of political wisdom?

Below is some excellent pro-EU commentary on the event...

• June 24: “Tony Blair: Brexit’s Stunning Coup,”

• June 24: “Brexit and Europe’s Angry Old Men,” Jochen Bittner, NYTimes

...and some authoritative commentary from the PBS News Hour (in the U.S.):

• June 24: “What motivations led British voters to choose Brexit?

• June 24: “Will other countries follow the Brexit example and shun globalization?

• June 24: “Foreign policy experts anticipate Brexit’s global impact

July 2

I may list more later (there is so much, of course), then eventually apply it to Habermas’ views on difficulties of EU integration. During the weekend following the vote, I got rather obsessed with comment via the Facebook/Habermas Page, but I’ve removed that (archived it), since it’s antedated by events. I'll use the material for a Website project about the EU, congruent with Habermasian interests (which I need to better develop).