One day, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage will be as famous as Luther and Schwartzerdt. Their many theses on the corruption of European democracy, which had become a veritable hierarchy of representations piled up on each other all the way from the electors to Brussels and beyond, found an echo in the generally despised English working class. Representative democracy in Western Europe is doomed to perpetuate the rule of the Centre, effectively of the one-party state. Only referenda on issues of the first magnitude can install structural change, as with the Johnson-Farage Protestant Reformation, colloquially known as Brexit. The predictably bitter reaction of the European political class to Boris’ swift appointment as Foreign Secretary was countered amiably with the bright Johnsonian aperçu that it was unremarkable that “some plaster would be coming off the ceiling” around the chancelleries of Europe. A bit of dust, to be brushed aside. It would be unwise to underestimate Johnson, a two-term mayor of London. His many ‘gaffes’, eagerly curated by the neoliberal press everywhere, differentiate him from the common run of humourless politicians, of whom Hillary Clinton must be the doyenne: banality’s best hope, the deaconess of dullness.
The Brexit vote seemed to breach the surface like a long-submerged whale, bringing the suppressed European identity issue up for air.
Boris’ Reformation would perhaps have found its Luther elsewhere, had he not inadvertently wandered from the true way and into the path of History. “Here I dissemble, I can do no other. — Ich kann nicht anders.” Marine Le Pen, the most obvious alternative candidate, is however unlikely to benefit from any such accidental referendum.
The Brexit vote seemed to breach the surface like a long-submerged whale, bringing the suppressed European identity issue up for air, perhaps forcing it onto the official agenda for the first time, even — at the extremity of its potential — putting an end to our stultifying age of social taboo and political omertà. Within hours of Johnson’s appointment as British Foreign Secretary and the scorn it engendered, events again overtook rhetoric with the terrorist outrage in Nice tragically returning Europeans to their core agenda: immigration, identity, security, defence.
All those who control the means of expression have for generations sedulously tended the system of taboos that is only now being democratically dismantled.
Using the social semaphore of the playbook sneer, opponents of Brexit ritually denounced the Leave campaign as vulgar and “divisive”; as though all political contests were not both vulgar and divisive by definition. What Europeans do find deeply divisive — and seriously unvulgar — is not the essentially technical issue of EU membership, but the visceral issue of membership and stake in their own ethno-cultural identity. The French, particularly, look about them for a national identity, and every day they have to look a little further, a little deeper. They see many groups characterized and indeed fortified by language, race, religion, culture and intense special pleading; but they sense no sanctioned right to bond to their own French, de race blanche, identity. Quite the contrary. The Français de souche cannot grant this right to themselves because they are still substantially both in office and in power: although constant care must be taken to ensure that the two remain a simple, self-evident conflation. The neoliberal theory of multiculturalism states that only when they ultimately lose power will the French be able to seize the same identity-rights as other groups: the right to self-identify; to form associations; to demand special laws to shield them from calumny and hurt feelings; the right to occupy mono-cultural spaces exclusively; to signify their Catholicism in public places; the right to curate and develop their vast European cultural inheritance without the rancorous chiding of the bien-pensants. In general, the right to discriminate and to exclude in their own interests. Not surprisingly, many Europeans want these rights now: hence the Front national. Hence also, in the American context, Mr. Trump. There are no abstruse concepts in play here.
Failed multicultural policy in the rich, moralizing West, which is its only fully-equipped engineering laboratory, represents a societal sunk cost of immense proportions, and a prospective cost that puzzles the imagination. In Europe, it pervades every aspect of national life in the cities and towns, fading from view somewhat only in the countryside. Centrist national governments, the apparatchiks of the EU, neoliberal journalists, moralists, theorists, jurists, clerics, the cosmopolitan bourgeois-bohème, even the present Bishop of Rome — in short, all those who control the means of expression — have for generations sedulously tended the system of taboos that is only now being democratically dismantled.
Any collection of sufficiently bizarre phenomena immediately goes in search of some plausible unifying paradigm. Brexit; perhaps soon, also Scotchit; the looming Hungarian referendum on the EU’s migrant settlement policy; the Chilcot Report and the opportunity it provides to haul Tony Blair before the bar of Parliament; the furious vote for the Font national; the unexpected success of candidate Trump: all of these developments are redolent of popular revolt against the globalized Superstate. And, of course, against the Superstate’s established church: the Church of Human Rights.