As the world turns medieval, clinging to Brussels will only spell our demise
Brexit isn’t a leap into the abyss because the darkness is already here. Our elite is too blinded with anti-populist delirium to notice, but the world has plunged into a new “medieval” era that has nothing to do with the 2016 vote.
Since the Second World War, decrepit Europe has cowered behind the American soldier while chastising his choice of battles and choking ungratefully on the scent of his sweat. But the much-resented interlude of American supremacy has quietly faded into a half-imagined Arabian desert dream. Nor will China, the stillborn superpower, replace the US. Instead, in stirring parallels with the centuries that followed the Roman Empire’s fall, we are entering a fragmented and unpredictable Dark Age, where no single power reigns and smaller nations must carve out their own fates.
The convulsions of violence that vibrate daily on our phones signal the increasingly frequent tremors of political earthquakes in East and West. It is tempting to view the white-supremacist shootings that have wracked the US in recent days solely as rampages of the mentally ill or mindless racist violence. The uncomfortable truth is that these are also frenzied orgies of malicious national grief.
Trumpland is being slowly crushed by debt, a shrinking job pool and imperial overexpansion. And as the American Dream sours in the country of milky plenty, the two most potent ingredients of its mythology – inexhaustible bounteousness and rugged individualism – are curdling into racially tinged zero-sum competition and a taste for destructive vigilantism.
Of course, it completely misses the point to blame the state of America on Donald Trump. He is the product not the cause of a disintegrating great nation. Infinite frontierism is seared into the American psyche. It drove the country's first forays into the Wild Wild West, followed by its conquests against evil dictatorships and in outer space. But the impulse has ultimately left America near-bankrupted by the costs of its colossal army and struggling to defend its interests abroad. Perhaps one day, academics uncorrupted by high minded contempt for Mr Trump will coolly analyse him as the first American President who dared to discuss his country in the context of limits, however inarticulately, urging Europeans to shoulder more of the burden in international peacekeeping and vowing to build a Mexican wall.
Meanwhile, more than 7,000 miles away, the Chinese Dream is also turning to dust. Protests raging in Hong Kong betray the unsustainability of the Chinese social contract, which demands unquestioning allegiance of all citizens in return for stability and a steady improvement in average wealth. Steroidic growth has already killed China’s hopes of being a superpower. It is condemned to the role of a vast chronically overproducing factory, haunted by its failed “ghost cities” and the graveyards of folded industry. Fraudulent national data will not be able to cover up the economic torments of its middle class and the country’s train-wreck of a financial sector for much longer.
At this volatile juncture in history, it would be a cataclysmic mistake for Britain to stay in the EU. We must have a nimble and coherent approach to unstable, authoritarian China, which is yet to cement its place in the global pecking order. We also need a supportive and close relationship with the United States as it transitions from superpower to significant power. Clutching at Brussels’ stiffened petticoat as it conducts foreign policy in its usual imperiously brittle manner would ensure we achieve the opposite.
Europe’s China policy is a disaster. While France and Germany are hawkish, southern states like Greece have signed contracts endorsing the Belt and Road project. Beijing’s primary strategy is to play European nations off against each other.
But if the EU is divided over China, it is unified in self-destructive, pathological hatred of America. The fact that Brussels is plotting to build an EU army, even though it has spent years happily leeching off American defence money is deeply suspect. Is it really about nobly protecting the international community from Trumpian capriciousness, following the latter’s decision to ditch the Iran deal, as Macron intimates? Or are we witnessing Europe’s bitter “colony complex” collide with its darkest fantasies of empire, the result of years spent slimily sponging off America, while spitefully scheming to one day rip away the rug?
The EU’s virulent anti-Americanism runs deep. Its conformist, sceptical, fashionably post-modernist elite abhor the liberty-loving, God-fearing good-v-evil Manichaeism of America. The grey suits who have drunk the Kool-Aid of bureaucratic union-building cannot comprehend the Levi-clad barbarians across the Atlantic who are so intoxicated with the notion of “freedom” that they won’t give up their guns, even at the risk of their own well-being. (A romanticism that perhaps traces back to belligerent, independence-loving British ancestors.)
This cultural gulf could prove deadly in the coming Dark Age. Industries of the future like AI and biotech, which function based on the centralised processing of data, could offer a way for dictatorships unimpeded by the small matter of individual privacy to innovate faster than democracies. Will the EU feel tempted to try to compete with China by replicating its authoritarianism? We are already being treated to disturbing glimmers of the future, as the EU moves to compel internet providers to store data on customers for years, and make it easier for authorities to cross-check biometric data; it has also passed copyright laws that could turn the web into an instrument for surveillance and control.
Ultimately, then, in this shadowy new age of doomed and dying superpowers, Britain has no choice but to light its own path.