The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Friday, September 16, 2016

Brexit, European Unity, and Culture

Brexit Vote: UK will leave the EU
 In a referendum on June 23 of this year, a majority of the people of the United Kingdom (and Gibraltar) voted to leave the European Union. Voter turnout for the referendum, popularly called "Brexit" (or British Exit), was high -- over 72% -- with approximately 52% of voters opting to leave. 

Although it's always dangerous to ascribe motives to voters, those in favor of leaving the EU seemed to believe that British sovereignty was at stake. They expressed concerns that non-elected EU bureaucrats were making and enforcing regulations affecting almost every aspect of people's lives, and that such decisions should be made by the people themselves. For them, membership in the EU is costly, intrusive, undemocratic, authoritarian; in other words, decisions affecting the UK should be made by the UK, not by unrestrained bureaucrats in Brussels. Some were also motivated by a desire to regain control over the nation's borders. Immigration, they believe, is out of control and causing unwanted changes to the nation's long-established culture. And others, looking to the future, saw no mechanism in place to limit the expanding power of the EU. They feared an EU transformation from an authoritarian bureaucracy to a totalitarian oligarchy.

Although I'm not British, I'll admit to siding with those UK voters who favored leaving the EU. I understand and in general agree with their reasons for voting as they did. After all, we Americans can certainly sympathize with British rejection of a foreign power who subjects them to "taxation without representation." 

Perhaps more importantly, I believe that a people, united by a common culture, has the right to self-determination, especially when it comes to accepting changes to that culture. I might well, however, differ with many of the UK's voters because I probably view the culture more broadly than they. I am not, therefore, a nationalist, and actually abhor nationalism because it tends to assume the nation state is the source of unity and ignores the unifying role of the broader culture, in this instance, the broader, and deeper, European culture.

For this reason, despite favoring an exit vote, I don't oppose the concept of a united Europe. The problem with the European Union as it currently exists relates to its self-awareness. Those who hold power in the EU don't understand the very source of the unity they extol. The EU seems to believe that European unity will result from economic and political integration. In other words, once all these former nation-states have the same currency and once their national and local governments become superfluous and are superseded by a united European government, the desired unity will result. Unfortunately, this kind of unity, based solely on economic and political ties, is doomed to failure. And I expect the decision by the people of the United Kingdom to be only the first of many similar decisions.

Charlemagne: Europe United in Faith
No common currency can unite a people. No unified government, no political system, can supplant the cultural unity that is at the heart of a people's identity. Unless, of course, a people loses all sense of cultural identity, something that will happen when the culture breaks down. Such a breakdown will occur when the people turn away from the very thing that formed their culture. For at the core of a culture is the cult, its religious foundation. European culture was formed over a period of centuries by men who did not rely solely on themselves or their own efforts. They relied on, they put their faith and trust in something far greater than the society or civilization of which they were a part. They relied on that which is above them, on the supernatural. They could say in faith: Diem hominis non desideravi -- I have not desired the day of man. They, instead, looked forward to the Day of God when all would be resolved, when God's plan for humanity would be fulfilled. But for many today, the day of man is the only hoped-for end. They have severed their cultural (religious) ties to the past and placed a near impassable barrier between them and those who formed the culture that formed today's Europeans. The barrier is a spiritual one and blinds them to their cultural ties to those who preceded them.

Sadly, the EU has also ignored these cultural ties. Its leadership has fallen prey to a kind of temporal bias which judges the past by current standards. Because EU leadership and bureaucrats disregard the role of religion, specifically Christianity, in the life and culture of today's Europe, they assume it had little or no role in the formation of European culture -- hence its omission from the once-proposed EU constitution. And because they ignore Europe's binding cultural roots, I believe the EU as it exists today will not last. Neither am I very optimistic about the future of Europe's nation states unless they experience a renewal of religious -- that is, Christian -- faith, unless they return in humility to their cultural roots. 

Before we dismiss this as improbable, if not impossible, we should recall that "with God all things are possible" and that we see the future only dimly. Jesus Christ is the Lord of History and can act in surprising ways through many unforeseen events. And we Americans, with our deep cultural ties to our European brothers and sisters, must hold fast to the faith that formed us as well.

Yes, indeed, we live in interesting times.

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