Everyone who voted, either way, in the UKs Brexit referendum of 2016 should read this book. Equally it will be extremely enlightening to those of you who are not U.K. citizens/nationals and want to understand Brexit a little better and to consider a philosophers view of identity, the nation state, English Common Law, secularism, globalisation, balanced environmentalism, freedom of speech. All of these are covered in one of the best books I have read in years.
The penultimate book published by Sir Roger Scruton before his death in December last year, Where We Are; The state of Britain now, is a forensic and philosophical examination of British identity in 2017 and only 18 months after the Brexit Referendum. And, it has taken me a while to realise that there is a subtle connection between THIS book and an earlier one, News From Somewhere I have reviewed previously.
To begin, Sir Roger identifies people as being from a defined “somewhere” or a relatively undefined “anywhere” with the latter being wealthy or educated enough to make anywhere their home, having no specific sense of place or identity, and being more in tune with globalisation than with the nation-state. He sees this as being part of the rationale for how people voted to remain in or to leave the EU in 2016. The more I think about this, the more I can personally see people I know who voted remain and are in careers or stages of life where they can move around the country or globe quite easily. Conversely I know people rooted in a community for family or employment reasons who wanted to leave the EU as quickly as possible.
“For many ordinary voters, however, whose networks are also neighbourhoods, the issue of who governs us, and from where, is real and urgent. For such people something was at stake that had been systematically overlooked by the politicians, and which was more important to them than all the economic and geopolitical arguments, namely the question of identity: who are we, where are we, and what holds us together in a shared political order?”
Having separated the “somewheres” and the “anywheres” he then describes how each group would perceive the value of say English Common Law/The Law of the Land vs EU Law, or a localised community vs virtual networking with the creation of British culture, customs, laws etc over centuries. Make no mistake, he quotes plenty of facts to support his opinions such as the similarity between the evil Corn Laws in Britain with modern day Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, as well as issues closer to home such as the wealth of the South East of England and London compared to the midlands and North of England especially caused by an imbalance in infrastructure, finance, housing, employment opportunity. Many of these facts were not only major contributors to how the referendum result emerged, but also to the landslide victory for Boris Johnson in the 2019 General Election.
Sir Roger pulls no punches with his critique of the initial formation and subsequent bureaucracy of the German led EU and stated a case that I had never previously considered:
“The Germans came away from the Second World War with a sense of their nation as so tainted by things done in its name that it was no longer possible to identify with it. The national sentiment that had kept people together through all the suffering inflicted by the Nazis had to be set aside, an object of shame and repudiation. Thence arose the impossibility of mourning their losses – the loss of their many dead, of their fairy-tale towns and cities, of their touching and beautiful homeland and its culture – so that the wounds of war remained unhealed, and the nation could not rise again in anything like its previous self-valuing form. They have seized on the idea of Europe as an inclusive project, membership of which will wash away the sins of nationalism, and include the German people in a shared and civilized community of being. The bond between the new Germany and the European project is an existential bond. Anything that threatens this bond will therefore be met by a life-and-death struggle. Their view is that the British have set an example that threatens us in our very being; they must therefore be punished lest the example be followed.”
As you read this review or even the book, remember that Sir Roger was not anti-Europe! He had received the highest honours possible from Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland for his efforts underground and alongside the resistance movements in those countries as they fought to overthrow the tyranny and occupation by the USSR. He was a patriot ….. to more than one country.
(Sir Roger Vernon Scruton, philosopher, writer and activist, born 27 February 1944; died 12 January 2020)