After Brexit

Megan McArdle, in light of Brexit, writes:

There’s a lot of appeal to the internationalist idea that building superstates will tamp down on war. But there’s a reason that the 19th century architects of superstates (now known simply as “states”) spent so much time and effort nurturing national identity in the breasts of their populace. Surrendering traditional powers and liberties to a distant state is a lot easier if you think of that state as run by “people like me,” not “strangers from another place,” and particularly if that surrender is done in the name of empowering “people who are like me” in our collective dealings with other, farther “strangers who aren’t.”

The EU never did this work. When asked “Where are you from?” almost no one would answer “Europe,” because after 50 years of assiduous labor by the eurocrats, Europe remains a continent, not an identity. As Matthew Yglesias points out, an EU-wide soccer team would be invincible — but who would root for it? These sorts of tribal affiliations cause problems, obviously, which is why elites were so eager to tamp them down. Unfortunately, they are also what glues polities together, and makes people willing to sacrifice for them. Trying to build the state without the nation has led to the mess that is the current EU. And to Thursday’s election results.

If you look at a map of the world just a century ago, things were much more local than they are now. As McArdle points out, so many of the nation states of today—if they existed at all—were really closer to loosely bound territories or colonial territories.

The European project of uniting a continent may very well be the future of the continent’s politics, but it’s a still hazy vision of the superstate.

Americans share a national identity rooted in culture and language and a history largely sprouting from Western European soil. E pluribus unum worked, the melting pot worked, as much because of the nationalistic idea that was America as much as because most Americans were coming from the same place—more or less.

The vision of a federal Europe, it seems to me, has essentially none of the same charististics to roots its own experiment in creating one nation with many states.

None of this is original thinking, but it’s my way of sharing where my head is at the moment.