Today is Brexit. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is historic. One way of thinking about its implications is to revert to history and culture: the Anglo-Saxons were never meant to be part of the continent. Over the centuries, they built on the fusion of Norman and Saxon cultures something unique, shaped by a unique legal system – the common law – and later by a Protestant sense of ministry – capitalism in the economy and constitutionalism in politics and governance.
Shakespeare famously put it thus: “This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,–This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
The motivation for Brexit expressed by its proponents is a kind of ethnic exceptionalism – the economic advantages of union were not enough to offset resentment at subordination to a micro-managing, regulatory authority in Brussels. Napoleonic civil law procedures and bureaucratic norms did not wear well with common law values and traditions.
The Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism’s Principles for Business and Principles for Government give value to internationalism and participation in global markets in order to provide value for customers, employees, investors and citizens. We would, therefore, advise the government of Boris Johnson to implement such principles from its new position of full sovereign autonomy.
Stepping back and looking at the big picture, Brexit should cause us to think about large dynamics in human civilization – what are the inter-dependencies among the economy, culture, politics and social structure? The complexities of these inter-relationships have attracted great minds – Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Antonio Gramsci, Keynes, Hayek and countless contemporary historians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists and political scientists.
What we can say with certainty is that each sector influences the others. A declining economy has political, social and cultural effects. A dysfunctional culture will lead to corrupt politics and lower economic growth. Social conflict will detract from just government and economic well-being. Totalitarian government will adversely impact culture and constrain economic innovation and efficiency.
The United Kingdom going forward will need to carefully balance its exceptional culture and political traditions with sound economic policy as part of a global civilization.