ARGUMENTUM AD IGNORANTIUM

"Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." (H. L. Mencken) 

Any mention of Brexit has become, for most people, a conversation stopper. The problem is that no one can put any sound or logical argument to what has become a confusing debate. The issue plumbs the depths of ignorance. Whether people are for or against defies logic, writes Chris White. 

Brexit has to be seen in the context of a wider philosophical debate. One that goes far beyond the future of Europe. That one cannot understand unless able to see the broad picture dates back to Ecclesiastes and has been a philosophical dogmatism down the ages. 

The end of the Second World War marked the beginning of serious change, and not just in Europe. It was a turning point for most of the world. In short we all now live in a global society that is, in simple terminology, finding its way. Arguably the EU is already an outdated concept with the World Trade Organisation becoming the logical debating forum for international relationships. But that too is another complicated debate requiring global expertise and loaded with philosophical issues.

More important, in the shorter term, is the lack of understanding surrounding Europe’s role and future among those who can see no further than the Brexit debate. This includes the traditional media that can no longer be considered a fourth pillar of democracy due to incredible failings. 

Recently a respected former colleague forwarded me an essay by economist and historian Martin Hutchinson. He uses detailed historical revolutions as examples to liken the EU to the Soviet Union. His point being to oppose a second referendum in the U.K.. It must be stated that he runs a political web site but his historical concept has a sound basis. 

But, without going into boring detail he misses an important point. Without doubt democracy is under serious threat across the world and, especially, in what was once known as ‘The West’. Almost all democratic countries have written constitutions but the United Kingdom has not. The consequences for a modern society of relying on a document drawn up under a tree in 1215 to limit the monarchs power might be a better debate to have than Brexit.

The real problems with a second referendum are the profoundly sinister implications for the British constitution. The fact that the arguments on both sides in the campaign for the first referendum were surrounded by allegations of lies and sinister funding is a warning. 

That changing parliamentary democracy to a system of public referenda without first ensuring checks and balances in a written constitution is a matter of profound concern. Countries that have referenda in their constitution usually have a requirement of, perhaps, 75 percent for a decision to be binding. The U.K. referendum of enormous constitutional importance was not even legally binding on the government depending instead on a defunct Prime Minister’s promise to “respect” the result. 

In his essay Hutchinson correctly lists revolutions but omits key facts, as do most arguments for and against Brexit. One salient point is that while the balance may have shifted against Brexit with well funded continuing campaigns it should be noted that, effectively, the leave campaign ended with the almost total collapse of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). The debate should calculate the possibility that the result following a new leave campaign might likely remain the same. Is this a good way to run a country?

Curiously, while likening it to the Soviet Union, Hutchinson does not highlight the structural imperfections of the EU. In 1984 a European Parliament official explained it to me by drawing a large triangle representing the Soviet Union with a small one on the hypotenuse described as the EU. The EU institutions then and now relate closely to the Soviet governmental model, namely a parliament with little power,  but which has increased somewhat since that time, a Commission of appointed officials reflecting the Commissariat and the Council of Minister’s as the Supreme Soviet. 

Now there is not necessarily a case to be made against the EU in that,  but one almost totally overlooked factor, not necessarily anti EU, is the Ventotene Manifesto of  Communist Altiero Spinelli, written in 1941 while imprisoned by Mussolini on an island. Spinelli (pictured below) became one of the fathers of Europe and has one of the European Parliament buildings in Brussels named after him. 

Spinelli 2

In the Manifesto he argues for European armed forces.  The current President of France Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have reached an accord on the need for a European army.  Most importantly Spinelli stressed the need for existing nation states the be broken up.  On the issue of European unity European unity he states:

 “The question which must be resolved first, failing which progress is no more than mere appearance, is the definitive abolition of the division of Europe into national, sovereign States.”

Why is this important? Note that a key institution of the EU is the Committee of The Regions which holds parliamentary sessions in Bruxelles. There is nothing wrong with that for those who support a United Europe but everyone should understand the philosophical objective of ever closer union. Why would Brittany want to be governed from Paris if the effective government were in Bruxelles? 

Few people involved in social media debate appear to understand how the EU actually works. British citizens living particularly in  Belgium, France, Spain and elsewhere are taking a second nationality. Not EU nationality, although it will be argued that as citizens of a member state they are EU! Motorists exercising free movement must return to their home country for their annual MOT. The EU has no comprehensive health system and those living outside the U.K. will find themselves, in or out of the EU, ineligible for the NHS, an extremely negative factor for pensioners. And so on and on...

Incredibly, no one in charge in the U.K. appears to have read the Lisbon Treaty on Freedom of movement. A key indicative extract states: “For stays of over three months: EU citizens and their family members — if not working — must have sufficient resources and sickness insurance to ensure that they do not become a burden on the social services of the host Member State during their stay. Union citizens do not need residence permits, although Member States may require them to register with the authorities. Family members of Union citizens who are not nationals of a Member State must apply for a residence permit, valid for the duration of their stay or a five-year period.” 

So why did former Prime Minister David Cameron go to Brussels asking for more? The problem for the U.K. is, surely, the lack of identity cards? 

The points raised here should not be taken as arguments for or against Brexit but for informed debate. Social media is becoming a force against democracy. It is being used by extremists across the EU and beyond to pursue their political objectives. Extremists in Sweden have dropped their demand for the country to leave the EU.  Instead they want closer cooperation with like minded parties in other countries and, according to newspaper reports, they do not want closer union but a Europe of nation states. 

To this one may add complex problems in Italy, France, Greece, Spain et al. On top of all this is the onset of a serious European economic outlook with Germany suffering from globalisation of trade and currently judged to be heading into deflation and recession.  Ill-informed comment on social media is playing into the hands of extremists. As Hutchinson might say: ‘Been here before’. 

That the EU has comprehensively failed to create a people’s Europe can add to the argument every which way. That Westminster has comprehensively failed is, arguably, a strong case in itself for a revised written constitution. In Germany decisions made at the EU level must be approved by the constitutional court. The U.K. could adopt a translation of Germany’s constitution, after all it is a substantially British product. 

©

Ventotene Manifesto: http://www.istitutospinelli.org/en/2016/12/07/il-manifesto-di-ventotene-in-tutte-le-lingue-dellue/

Martin Hutchinson: https://www.tbwns.com/the-bears-lair/ 

Lisbon Treaty: http://en.euabc.com/upload/books/lisbon-treaty-3edition.pdf

Structiures of the EU: https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies_en

German Constitution: https://dredf.org/legal-advocacy/international-disability-rights/international-laws/germany-constitution/

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Chris White

Chris White

Chris White is a former UK national newspaper journalist and was the founder and editor of a magazine focussed on EU affairs. 

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