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From my experience with the author, I expected Matt Ridley’s piece on Brexit to be largely about trade and economics. And while those subjects loom large in his article, the more arresting ones to me were on nationalism and what Ridley sees — correctly, I think — as the ultimate goal of the EU:
Be in no doubt that if we vote to remain on Thursday, turning the continent into a country is the path we are on. […] If the continent is not to be crucified on the cross of a currency, then it must become a country. It must have a single government that automatically transfers tax revenue from the productive to the less productive parts of the country. […] [The EU’s undemocratic diktats fly] in the face of all that we have striven for and shed blood for over centuries, especially in Britain: that laws cannot be passed and taxes cannot be raised except with the consent of the people through their elected representatives. I say again: is this worth it? What is so fearful about the world today that we feel it necessary to be absorbed into such a risky project?
Nation building is a bloody business, perhaps the bloodiest there is. We’ve seen that play out in American and European history; we’ve seen it play out in Iraq these past few years; we’ve even seen it play out in popular fantasy entertainment.
This is not to condemn nationalism: Surgery is a bloody business as well, and a very salutarory one at that. Without a geographically, culturally, and economically sound polity that thinks of itself as pieces of the same body, liberty does not long endure: either the parts turn against each other, or predatory neighbors take advantage of their weaknesses. Ben Franklin (or Richard Penn, or whomever) wasn’t joking when he said that the options before the colonies were to hang together to hang separately. The trick is forming a group truly willing to do that if circumstances demand it. Even the deepest believers in spontaneously order should concede that willingness to die for others doesn’t often happen on its own fast enough to matter.
It’s an open question whether the United Kingdom can (or, indeed, should) stay united: The English, Welsh, Scots, and Northern Irish are all very different, but also have a long and successful history as a single nation. Whether they have anything to gain from joining into a single state — as the EU almost certainly must become under its current policies — with Germans, Italians, Frenchmen, Greeks, and Finns that they cannot get through free trade and a loose military alliance is far easier question to answer.