The recent vote by 52% of the British electorate to leave the European Union has sent shock waves around the World. Predictably, in these United States comparisons (often snide) were made to our own revolution. And, indeed, the British Isles have a huge hold on our national imagination, both for good and for ill. As much as we Americans may try to deny it, what happens in the British Isles is important to us – and not merely because the UK is our seventh and the Irish Republic our 20th largest trading partners.
More important are the historical, cultural, genealogical, and religious ties. If the last-named seems odd, bear in mind not merely that much of American Catholicism has Irish roots and venerates the memory of the English Martyrs, but that the Episcopal, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Unitarian denominations all have roots in either or both England and Scotland (we came up with the Mormons, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, and a host of even odder sects all on our own, but I wouldn’t boast about it!). Although the Spanish and French were here first, the fact remains that most of our governmental institutions owe their origins to Jamestown and Plymouth, not St. Augustine and Santa Fe. There is, of course, the little fact that our national language is English, and British literature has to be studied in tandem with American if we are to understand the latter. Oh, yes, and if you are a longtime PBS fan, you are probably familiar with some of the best of British television programming (we don’t see the real Yobbo stuff over, so the average literate American can be forgiven if he thinks Britain to-day is more like Downton Abbey than Coronation Street).
But there is of course that curious love/hate relationship with the Mother Country that tends to come out every July 4th and St. Patrick’s Day. This is why quite a number of Americans – many of them Catholics – passionately hoped that Scotland would break the Union back in 2014; never mind that the Scottish Nationalist Party are quite as horrible on social/religious issues as our own Democrats, and at least as Marxist economically. But just as American Anglophiles often mistake modern day England for what they see on PBS historical dramas, their brother Anglophobes similarly confuse Patrick Pearse with Enda Kenny, and Nicola Sturgeon with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Of course, the same sort imagine George III to have been a bloodthirsty tyrant, and denigrate the Queen as his heir. Such folk deeply wish to regard the Prince of Wales as either a New Age bubble head or merely a low-grade moron. That the reality in each of these cases is almost exactly the opposite makes no difference; these views are held by many an American with the same ferocity with which some hold that the Democratic Party is the natural home for Irish Catholics or the Republican for Prolifers. A deeply held prejudice can be broken down by neither history nor experience.
That same clarity of vision, when brought to bear on Brexit, yielded some interesting results. For some, Britain leaving the EU was seen in similar terms to our break with the British Empire – as in “Now the British are declaring their independence!” For other Americans, however, Brexit was seen as either an attempt by nostalgics to regain that Empire, or else sheer racism. Canada’s inimitable Prime Minister, Justin Bieber-Trudeau – as always, master of the relevant – weighed in by saying that if Brexit passed, he feared for the future of Feminism in Britain.
That fear of immigration effacing Britain’s native culture and foreigners taking British jobs certainly played a part in the thinking of many pro-Brexit voters – and I’ll leave it to others to fight over whether those fears are/were justified. But there was another point at least as important as those: the fact that the elites in Europe use fiats from Brussels to impose unpopular measures upon their hapless subjects in much the same manner as ours use the judiciary. Leaving the EU seemed to many to be away of escaping that grasp – a way out unthinkable for us, since there is no way to become independent f the Supreme Court.
Now, I must say that the European Union was born of a beautiful dream; a post-World War II dream by men like Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, and Robert Schuman (the latter two candidates for beatification), in which the nations of Europe, grounded in their common religion and heritage, would relive the vision of Charlemagne – who the trio saw as the father of Europe. The Archduke Otto von Habsburg, son of the saintly Bl. Emperor Karl of Austria embraced this vision, as has his son, the Archduke Karl, who made a rather unpleasant response to Brexit. Now, I have a great respect for all these folk – and especially the Archduke Otto, whom I knew slightly. I understand and appreciate very much the Archduke Karl’s views in the matter. Otto told the absolute truth when, for example, he declared that Europe extended not from Iceland to the Urals, but from San Francisco to Vladivostok. I would love to see some sort of Pan European polity along the lines these dreamers saw, and including not merely the Continent, but the daughter nations in the Americas, Australasia, and elsewhere as well.
But the reality is that that dream – at the moment, anyway – is as dead as the hopes of the framers of the United States constitution (itself the focus of much American Romanticism), or of such as St. John XXIII or Dag Hammarskjold for the United Nations. Regardless of the intrinsic merits of any of these three political structures (and the worth of each of the three is in itself a matter for further debate), the fact s that each has become a vehicle for the destruction of what made Europe and her colonists around the globe great: their Faith and morals. Whether each such dream was true or not, each had a beauty of their own; but that beauty has fled under the pitiless light of a horrible dawn. It is not Brexit, or the anti-UN crowd, or even such American neo-secessionists as the League of the South who created this situation, regardless of what one may think of their solutions.
Which brings us back to Brexit, and Britain’s departure from the EU, should it not be sabotaged. The markets and the pound swiftly stabilised after the vote, despite the predictions of the doomsayers. Retain remains the second biggest economy in Europe. Now, I am old enough to remember how betrayed many in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and elsewhere in the Commonwealth felt when Britain joined the EU back in 1972. Not surprisingly, many in those countries believe that now is the time to restore and rebuild the Commonwealth, and introduce free movement and trade between Britain and at least those three realms. Moreover, Ireland (Britain’s greatest trading partner) is already witnessing the rise of groups either or both calling for the country to perform its own “Irelexit” and/or to rejoin the Commonwealth. If the British leadership rise to the challenge and use some creative thinking, Brexit in the near future may well return Britain to a world importance she has not had in decades.
In this country, it has been obvious to at least a few observers, including myself, that there are many parallels between the Brexit and Trump campaigns (and, not surprisingly, the Donald, who was in Scotland when the referendum occurred, has praised it to the skies). Certainly, the two campaigns have appealed to the same sorts of resentments: fury on the part of many (often, but far from exclusively), young white males who feel marginalised and victimized by the social and economic policies imposed by their masters. Pace the current polls, I believe that Trump, powered by many of the same dynamics in America that brought Brexit to victory in Britain, shall take the White House in November.
This may not happen, of course, but even if it does – and even if Britain succeeds in the manner just mentioned – in the long run it shall be nothing like enough. This is because the political problems facing the West are symptomatic of the deeper illness that afflicts all our countries, from South Africa, Argentina, and Australia to Norway, Canada, and Russia. It is a crisis of soul, a religious crisis. What is required at the is stage are not more political programmes, but evangelisation – and not just an external one, left to official bodies of the Church, but one in which we all take part, in order to extend the Kingdom of Christ in to that small corner of the World wherein we ourselves live. The likelihood of priests of missionaries penetrating into our extended family, our circle of friends, our workplace, or our neighbourhood is very small. But you and I are there: and that is how the re-Christianisation of Western Society must take place, if it is to take place. Take place it must if our countries are not to collapse under the internal threat of population implosion and the external one of Islam.
Let our various nations finally or once again embrace Christ the King, and the manifesto of “Identita Europea” may well come true: “By encouraging an EUROPEAN IDENTITY we do not intend to promote a ‘western culture’ which absorbs and dissolves all diversities in a leveling attempt. On the contrary, our aim is to enlarge this identity beyond the European boundaries, thus recovering that large part of our continent ‘outside Europe’ – from Argentina to Canada and from South Africa to Australia – which looks at the old continent not as a distant ancestor but as a real homeland.” That is a Europe – Christendom – from which I would not only oppose Brexit, but even these United States seceding.
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