Is Brexit a move toward British independence? Some Leave and Remain partisans may believe so, differing only over whether that’s good or bad.
But, as usual, things are more complicated. We should hope that, in one respect, Britain’s exit from the EU will create a kind of dependence that did not exist while it was still a member of the union.
To see how, one must take note of the original (classical) liberal case for competing political jurisdictions rather than one unified authority: competition tends to generate liberty and prosperity by lowering the cost of ‘exit’ – that is, of voting with one’s feet to relocate from more-onerous to less-onerous jurisdictions.
Legal and political scholars have long understood that decentralization of power in Europe accounts in large measure for its unique achievements both in terms of individual autonomy and prosperity. During the Middle Ages, instead of one superstate united with a single religious authority, Europe consisted in many small jurisdictions and a transnational church, each of which jealously guarded its prerogatives. In England, when kings tried to consolidate their power, they met resistance from barons and others who expected to lose from the centralization of power.
Although the players in this drama did not intend to liberate the common people, to an important extent, that was the world-changing consequence of this struggle, aided by direct popular resistance to oppression when opportunities arose. When the Middle Ages ended, this proto-liberal tradition, though under assault, was invoked in defense of liberty and economic progress. The result, imperfect as it has been and constantly in jeopardy from those who favor power over freedom, is what we call the western liberal spirit.
This post was published at David Stockmans Contra Corner by Sheldon Richman ‘ June 29, 2016.