by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
Timothy P. Carney does a good job explaining that the ill of “tribalism” blamed for the UK voting to leave the European Union actually applies to both sides of the issue. (Which naturally makes sense, even if the epithet-hurlers think they’re from the We Are All in Agreement That We’re Not Tribal tribe.)
“Tribalism” was one of the epithets hurled at the idea of Brexit. It is so backwards to strengthen your national bonds at the expense of cosmopolitanism!
I’ll grant this point in part. “Tribalism” is a good word for the desire to have a place and a people you call “us” — a place and a people distinct from other places and peoples. A slight majority of Brits wanted to be Brits, we learned. (One reason Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar voted to remain: considering themselves Scots, Irish, and Gibraltarians, they don’t really consider themselves Brits at all.)
But it’s all tribalism — the majority that won, and the minority that lost. Felix Salmon swims in his own tribe, but his tribe spans borders, and oceans. One Brit lamenting the Brexit wrote me about the stress this has caused his EU immigrant friends and neighbors.
Everyone lives in a tribe. This is good and necessary. The EU moved political power further away from home. More power, more concentrated, benefited the tribes of cosmopolitan elites — whose tribal bonds were Twitter, Facebook, journalism and education.
The EU took power from the tribes that were more based on place and language and history. These latter tribes had been largely deprived of their ability to shape the world around them. The elite tribes, on the other hand, had actually seen their political capacities multiplied.
Now the elites of the continent have lost some power to change the UK, and the elites of the UK have lost some power to shape the continent. Meanwhile, the populace, by bringing power closer to home, has regained some of the power it naturally ought to have.
I have written especially lately at my alarm over tribalism trumping hallowing fundamental rights, recognizing shared values, working together for the common good, and enjoying the many things in life beyond the limited reach of politics (when that is the arc of the tribe).