Summary: Anthropologist Maximilian Forte looks at aspects of Brexit seldom mentioned by the news media, and its long-term significance (beyond the immediate tantrums by institutional investors and traders). This is a follow-up to yesterday’s Brexit was logical, neither racist nor irrational.
By Maximilian C. Forte
From Zero Anthropology
Posted with his generous permission.
The European Union is now to be written as a postscript. Thanks to British voters, who were given an extremely rare chance to have a say on one of the biggest issues affecting their lives, who were allowed a rare vote on the fate of globalization and neoliberal practice, we are treated to the celebration of a world where sovereignty still matters. Far from a thing of the past, self-determination will now remake the world of the immediate future. The stern advice, dire warnings, commanding lectures, and even threats offered by a plethora of financial elites, economists, a whole range of academic experts and European and US political leaders, came to naught.
When it comes to taking back local control, for citizens to decide on which systems should be allowed to determine their life chances, when it comes to self-determination the UK has now gone to the front of the queue.
The status quo is the status quit. The key words are: out, leave, exit. Globalization’s tense is increasingly becoming past tense.
Convention has been up ended, and what was deemed unlikely, even impossible, just a few short months ago has instead come to pass. Elites, experts, commanders, and opinion-shapers of the ruling strata have all failed. They have been rejected. What was presumed to be inevitable about a global future, has now been proven false. The distrust and disdain of disillusioned voters, long sold false promises and told to suck it up when bitter reality struck, has finally taken the form of a decisive counter punch.
As I argued previously, neoliberal globalization has entered a terminal phase.
It is terribly rare that I have such good news to report. Critical of Eurocentrism as one may be, it is important to understand that there is a centre to world capitalism, and one of the core areas of this centre has experienced a stunning revolt, and largely without all of the fanfare of an Occupy movement, without the public spectacle of an Arab Spring, and without the frenzy of a Colour Revolution. Neither was this a politics of left versus right — this distinction became blurrier and less tenable in the UK as it has in the US.
In fact, some of the most compelling arguments for Brexit came from leftist publications (see: “Another Tamriel is Possible” and “The Socialist Case for Leave”), and from conservative business journalists (see “Brexit vote is about the supremacy of Parliament and nothing else: Why I am voting to leave the EU”).
June 23, 2016, is a date of world-historic importance, beyond its significance for the European Union and for the United Kingdom in particular. It marks the passage of the old “new world order” triumphantly proclaimed by neoliberals at the end of the Cold War, as they were about to launch on the first campaign to demolish Iraq.
The beginnings of the EU of course predate the global institutionalization of neoliberal economics, but as something of a CIA project, it had the markings of globalist hegemony from early on. Indeed, Barack Obama went to the UK and threatened those supporting a British exit from the EU (Brexit), telling them the UK would be sent to the back of the queue if they voted to leave:
“I think it’s fair to say that maybe some point down the line, there might be a UK-U.S. trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done, and the UK is going to be in the back of the queue — not because we don’t have a special relationship, but because, given the heavy lift on any trade agreement, us having access to a big market with a lot of countries — rather than trying to do piecemeal trade agreements is hugely inefficient”.
But they have voted to leave — clearly unimpressed with Obama’s warning — and there is nothing Obama, in his last months in office, can do to stop it. The arrogance itself was not surprising, it was an expression of command that comes with a sense of ownership — as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard explains in his article on the CIA and EU above, “the US has relied on the EU …as the anchor to American regional interests alongside NATO”. In such a context, “independence” becomes a bad word in elite circles.
While there is no need to recount all of the ways in which UK voters were threatened, let’s not forget how this vote was cast in geopolitical terms by the elite directors who would presume to shape mass opinion. Billionaire Bloomberg’s news organ charged Russia’s Vladimir Putin with intervening on the side of the Brexit campaign. Donald Trump supported Brexit, and perhaps coincidentally flew to the UK as the vote took place.
The pillars of the neoliberal global “order” also issued dire warnings against Brexit. The IMF said that “a Brexit could do severe regional and global damage by disrupting established trading relationships”. A former director-general of the World Trade Organization said Brexit would be a “huge blow” to the British economy — one wonders how life on earth was possible without an EU, for 99.99% of human history.
As for who might really lose the most from Brexit, the Wall Street Journal had no fear in giving a plain and direct answer: Goldman Sachs.
From its conception, the EU project was the height of democratic elitism and of hegemony by stealth. As one of its founding intellectuals, Jean Monnet, envisioned, “Europe’s nations should be guided towards the Super-state without their people understanding what is happening”. Instead, they have not only understood, they have decided.
Next time — with next time arriving in a matter of minutes — that you hear a campaigner loudly declare that “it’s time to take our country back,” it would be unwise to dismiss it. My own sense of the shape of things to come in the near future on this side of the Atlantic — as certain as I was back in September of 2015 that Donald Trump would be the next president of the US (but only found courage to write that in May of 2016) — is that while the Brexit campaign cannot be directly mapped onto Trump’s America First movement, they share much in common despite several differences.
What Brexit does do is put Hillary Clinton (and the “order” that she chose to represent) in the same frame with decline, defeat, and loss. Hillary Clinton now represents not a globalist inevitability, but an assumed future that is now a has been. Clinton’s world has just changed, and it has changed in the direction heralded by her adversary. History is now on his side, if we want to speak in such terms. Now it’s up to Hillary Clinton, and her powerful financial and militarist backers, to explain how their plan is tenable in a world environment that rejects it from the very centres of international political and economic power. Hillary Clinton thus represents what is in fact a losing proposition. It has lost.
Speaking of postscripts, here is Donald Trump’s “Statement Regarding British Referendum on E.U. Membership“. It’s really more of a prologue, and it demonstrates how Brexit is almost immediately beginning to shape the US election…
“The people of the United Kingdom have exercised the sacred right of all free peoples. They have declared their independence from the European Union, and have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy. A Trump Administration pledges to strengthen our ties with a free and independent Britain, deepening our bonds in commerce, culture and mutual defense. The whole world is more peaceful and stable when our two countries – and our two peoples – are united together, as they will be under a Trump Administration.
“Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people. I hope America is watching, it will soon be time to believe in America again.”
This time from the Council of Canadians. It seems that what protest and opposition on our end could not achieve, Brexit managed to finish off overnight (in all likelihood), and that is derailing plans for the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which would have so damaged vital Canadian industries that our enlightened government was already committing billions in public revenues to supporting those most hurt by it.
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Maximilian C. Forte is a Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa (2012) and Emergency as Security: Liberal Empire at Home and Abroad (2013).
Anthropology after empire is one built in part by an anthropology that is against empire, and it need not continue, defensively, as a discipline laden with all of the orthodoxies from which it suffers today. Indeed, the position taken here is that there can be no real critical anthropology that is not simultaneously critical of (a) the institutionalization and professionalization of this field, and (b) imperialism itself.
Anthropology, as we approach it, is a non-disciplinary way of speaking about the human condition that looks critically at dominant discourses, with a keen emphasis on meanings and relationships, producing a non-state, non-market, non-archival knowledge.
Posts about Brexit
- Politics of the EU: “Vanity and Venality” — by Susan Watkins (editor of the New Left Review).
- Brexit was logical, neither racist nor irrational.
- An anthropologist looks at Brexit: The World Changed Overnight — By Maximilian Forte.
- The reactions to Brexit show its true significance.
- Immigration: a cause of Brexit, denied by the Left.
For More Information
Other useful analysis of the Brexit vote.
- “Brexit Is Only the Latest Proof of the Insularity and Failure of Western Establishment Institutions” by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept. Sound thinking. But Greenwald projects his concerns and values onto the Brexit voters. For example, immigration was one of (or perhaps the) key issue; Greenwald never even mentions it.
- Politico’s excellent analysis: “The behind-the-scenes story of a failed campaign to keep Britain in the European Union” — note the large role of immigration.
- Next phase of the Trump revolution: rise of the new populism.
- What the press won’t tell you about Trump and populism — See Walter Russell Mead’s famous essay about Jackson.
- Why the Left is missing the rising populist movement.
- The Right struggles to understand Trump and populism.
- Liberals look at Trump and populism, but see only their prejudices.
- Racism is the dark side of populism. Will it divide and defeat us?
- Populism arises amidst workers abandoned by the Left, seeking allies.