Thomas Donlan of Barron’s says the potential departure of Britain from the European Union highlights the need for reform within the continental governing body.

The British have been nibbling away at the privileges of absolute government since the 13th century, and their unwritten constitution has absorbed all of the changes rather gracefully, with only one civil war, one parliamentary regicide, and one glorious revolution.

In the past 50 years, Britain went so far as to abandon its insular past. It joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and grudgingly went along as the community became the European Union.

Though the United Kingdom wisely rejected the euro, avoiding much of the monetary chaos that has plagued the EU, it has not avoided the Continental drift toward an economy managed by bureaucrats in Brussels.

Unfortunately, leaving Europe cannot mean leaving the bureaucrats. The EU now provides the closest thing to free trade that Britain is likely to enjoy with most of the 27 other members. Its exports to the other 27 are certain to be regulated by Brussels with the same passion for rules and uniformity that the EU handles trade with Switzerland.

It will prove difficult to change Britain without changing Europe. Britain can get by without Europe, just as Europe can get by without Britain. But Europe needs a midwife for a birth of liberty for its peoples in another glorious, peaceful revolution.

Leave or stay, the British decision could trigger a reappraisal of the costs and benefits of the union. Whether it leads to a big mess or a new dawn is up to all the Europeans.