Monday, June 20, 2016

"Consider What Nation It Is Whereof Ye Are" - Brief Thoughts on Brexit

Lords and Commons of England, consider what Nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governours: a Nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit, acute to invent, suttle and sinewy to discours, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of learning in her deepest Sciences have bin so ancient, and so eminent among us, that Writers of good antiquity, and ablest judgement have bin perswaded that ev'n the school of Pythagoras, and the Persian wisdom took beginning from the old Philosophy of this Iland. And that wise and civill Roman, Julius Agricola, who govern'd once here for C├Žsar, preferr'd the naturall wits of Britain, before the labour'd studies of the French. Nor is it for nothing that the grave and frugal Transylvanian sends out yearly from as farre as the mountanous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian wildernes, not their youth, but their stay'd men, to learn our language, and our theologic arts. Yet that which is above all this, the favour and the love of heav'n we have great argument to think in a peculiar manner propitious and propending towards us. ... Behold now this vast City: a City of refuge, the mansion house of liberty, encompast and surrounded with his protection; the shop of warre hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed Justice in defence of beleaguer'd Truth, then there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and idea's wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty the approaching Reformation: others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement. What could a man require more from a Nation so pliant and so prone to seek after knowledge. What wants there to such a towardly and pregnant soile, but wise and faithfull labourers, to make a knowing people, a Nation of Prophets, of Sages, and of Worthies. 

So John Milton exhorted the British parliament in 1644 in his canonical defense of a free press. And so too, perhaps, do the British people need reminding just a few days away from their historic vote on Brexit.

I have no original thoughts to contribute to the cause of Brexit--certainly nothing the indispensible Daniel Hannan has not said better. As for the prophesies of economic doom, it seems that should Britain be admitted to the European free trade area as is extraordinarily likely, then the costs of reduced trade volume, while non-trivial, are too small to conclusively militate in favor of Remain. And as for the scurrilous accusations that the case for Brexit is inextricably bound with the most sordid expressions of racism and hate, well, such vile thinking reflects the very worst of democratic sophistry.

The case for Brexit rests, ultimately, not on matters of trade policy or research funding or even immigration, but on the most foundational question of national sovereignty and self-rule. Despite wild, historically illiterate gesticulations to the contrary, Britain's freedom is not the gracious gift of faceless technocrats and bank clerks in Brussels. It is the hard fought accomplishment of millennia of intellectual and institutional brilliance. It was Britain, that remarkable little island, which invented freedom as the world has come to know it. And it is Britain which today must defend her precious "entailed inheritance" from the noxious temptation to succumb to a distant, bureaucratized despotism--"de jure a servant, but de facto a master."

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