The decentralisation of political authority is, in itself, undoubtedly a victory for the anarchist cause. However, in the case of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, it may be strange to look at it this way, given the reasons for which the Leave side of the campaign won. The Leave campaign was grotesque (as was, in different ways, the Remain campaign), but the fears of those that ensured the former’s victory needn’t be the fears that shape the UK or the EU’s future.
Throughout the entire campaign, no one sufficiently influential stood up to make the left-wing case for Leave. The fact that Nigel Farage had so loudly spear-headed the contemporary Eurosceptic movement, combined with the British Left’s obsession with virtue-signalling and the worst forms of identity politics, meant they would rather stand up for pan-continental neoliberal technocracy, than be perceived to rub shoulders with a tweed-wearing xenophobe. The Brexit victory was undoubtedly a victory for a long-time emerging brand of right-wing anti-establishment politics. Rejecting the EU’s control of the UK’s borders was as much much about stopping European migrants from entering as it was about signalling their hatred of non-Europeans entering. Now the UK’s major news outlets have been reporting boosts in hate crimes since the referendum result. On the continent too, nationalists have been puffing up their chests and hoping to lead-up a campaign for referenda of their own. Now is the time to do whatever is necessary to ensure we do not go down that path.
We can help make sure an independent UK (and any other European state that leaves the Union) uses its new position to liberalise trade and migration with the entire world. Those that were in favour of Brexit must distance themselves more than ever from xenophobia and protectionism and reiterate the humanitarian case for leaving the EU – not to separate from the world, but to join it through the bonds of voluntary exchange and free movement. If the anarchists and classical liberals among the Leave voters do not take pains to emphasise the connection between leaving the EU and joining the world, we will be stuck between blue collar fascists, and the privileged, politically correct left – much as we are now, only this time there’s a power vacuum at stake.
Some think that Brexit is an unambiguous blow to the causes of free trade and migration, but I am more optimistic. Jacob T. Levy recently made the argument for why “there’s not a market-liberal case for Brexit.” Levy says that since the EU is a free trade and migration zone, leaving it means abandoning free trade and migration. However, this looks like an overly static view. Firstly, leaving the EU does not imply the UK will simply carry on as normal minus its economic ties with Europe. There are enormous incentives of both sides to continue free trade, and plausible avenues through which this could be pursued, including re-joining the European Economic Area (EEA) – which may or may not come with free movement attached. Secondly, this also looks like it ignores the context of the free trade and migration which is internal to the EU. While it is true that, as Levy notes, the EU does not permit member states to subsidise its domestic firms to create “national champions,” this is so that Brussels can optimise the level and scope of subsidisation at the European level. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), for example, results in British farmers being paid not to produce certain products in order to keep the price artificially high Europe-wide. Free trade within the EU is not about seeking the benefits promised by competition, but rather about imposing the costs of protectionism on non-Europeans producers.
Levy also makes the point that remaining in a union and threatening to leave can be more effective at checking the power of centralised authorities than actual ceding from said authority. This is an interesting thought which he substantiates in his work more broadly (see his original post for links). Indeed, the fact that the EU just announced its draft plans for a European military force may be a symptom of the restraint which the UK forced upon it. But again, I think this takes an overly static view: if it is the case that severely checking the political authority of the EU is a good thing, then in the long term we should be looking to eradicate it. Indeed the domino effect that Brexit has had on other groups seeking to push referenda on their governments may end up achieving that (and if it does not, surely the threat of these member states leaving will serve the same end as the UK’s did). In the short term, the net harm of unjust political authority can be ameliorated by imposing effective checks on it. However, when those checks themselves depend upon more long-term entrenchment of that authority, we should surely opt for the more radical approach – exit.
It is increasingly fashionable among libertarians who are involved in the formation of public policy to embrace technocracy on the basis that, at the moment, technocrats seem to favour neoliberal policies which may be viewed as, on net, positive from a free market perspective. But they are playing an extremely short-run game: to be successful in the long-run, it depends upon the technocrats one influences as having the same incentives they do now to pursue (partially) liberal policies. But technocrats do not care for liberty, they care for power, and they will only act in duty to the former so long as it serves the latter. We have futures, let us think more long-term, and take the steps necessary to dissolving the evil that is political authority.
We are now one tiny step further down that road than we were prior to the referendum. What is important now is that we do not allow things to go in the direction that either side of the mainstream Leave–Remain debate wants us to go in. Neither xenophobic isolationism, nor privileged do-nothing virtue signalling. Although many saw the result as a vote for Farage and Johnson, Parliament is still supreme and Farage does not sit in it. The apocalypse is not inevitable. We all have a role to play – now more than ever – in making the anarchist argument against political authority and in favour of free trade and movement.