With the United Kingdom Parliament “prorogued” — suspended — and the Westminster circus leaving town for five weeks, pundits across the globe impulsively fill idle days speculating on Britain’s future.
Will the country “leave Europe” (silly question) with “no deal” (we may hope)? Has the parliamentary system, long the model for democracy everywhere, finally proved inadequate to the needs of the 21st century? Has the volatile Boris Johnson’s prime-ministership died aborning?
The answers to those last two questions, which should be obvious to the punditocracy but aren’t, are “No” and “No.” Parliamentary democracy, thank you, has for centuries survived greater crises than Brexit, if Brexit indeed were even a crisis! And Boris Johnson, notwithstanding the smarmy stream of Tory exiteers, should not be counted out, his very meteoric rise telling us what we need to know about his durability.
The lion in the room, not seen by the spectators, is this: A strong historical principle will have a vote. History has a way of speaking, of intruding by surprise, whatever happens this October between London and Brussels.
This is no theory of historical determinism, favored by the Marxist Corbynites mucking up the determination of British voters, who clearly said three years ago they want out of the European Union.
We often hear would-be statesmen on both sides of the Atlantic speaking, with great rhetorical flourish, of “the arc of history” (is it convex or concave?) or of the necessity of planting one’s political feet on “the right side of history,” as if history had a pre-approved side.
Still, we do know this: Self-respecting humans want their political powers-that-be to be arranged in a diffuse pattern. They want power distributed so that decisions directly pertaining to their lives be made close to home. They would even prefer that those political decision-makers be held accountable face to face.
This predictable behavior has a name. In Europe’s Catholic tradition, it is called the principle of “subsidiarity.” In its more Calvinist iteration, it is called the sphere of sovereignty. They mean the same: Only that which cannot be done on a micro scale should be done on a macro scale. Distant power-wielders must forever be domesticated and kept out of daily action, to be invited in only when smaller communities fail to address larger matters they can’t handle.
Even James Madison, sitting in his small Montpelier study surrounded by the works of the classic philosophers, drafting the U.S. Constitution and contributing to the Federalist Papers, sought to formalize this basic, humane understanding of political power. He knew that each generation would face the need to resist the natural political tendency to centralize.
Funny enough, the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht by name established subsidiarity as the general principle of EU law. But, as in our country, where the very word “federal” came to mean its opposite, the EU capital in Brussels grew to colossally busybody proportions, ignoring its founding principle altogether.
The once charming city itself, known for its Grand Place, its winding pedestrian streets, and its extraordinary cuisine, found its special character overshadowed by gargantuan, bulky, block buildings housing a swarm of Eurocrats with little writ other than to dictate the private lives of people across the continent and across the channel.
It all started with the laudable promise of freer commerce and travel across the continent. Sure enough, the Eurocrats soon intruded into all of it, even dictating to Ireland higher tax rates at precisely the moment when the once-penurious country enjoyed newfound prosperity by pursing a supply-side agenda.
The Eurocrats’ drive to manage the minutiae of everyday commerce spread in every direction and was not lost on Britons, who famously reasserted the principle of subsidiarity three years ago, only to find their own politicians slow, unwilling, or incapable of executing their will. Hence the rise of Boris Johnson.
And hence the serene standing, not far off-stage, of Brexit’s father, Nigel Farage, who personifies the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity, or the sphere of sovereignty, explains not only Farage’s considerable appeal, but also the rise of nationalist movements across Central and Eastern Europe.
Disdained by cosmopolitans, the nationalist movements are not always pretty, sometimes resurfacing ethnic clashes. But those movements, history tells us, are inevitable, demanding that faraway authorities stay faraway so that issues may be resolved locally, not exacerbated.
History, to hazard a reasonable calculation, favors the self-rule of subsidiarity. Brexit reasserts subsidiarity, and that is a beautiful thing.
Martha Boneta is a farmer and executive vice president of Vote America First. K. E. Grubbs Jr. served as communications director for former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and has held many posts as an editor and publisher of newspapers and magazines, including as director of the National Journalism Center.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.