A Christian Renewal? What the Brexit Means for Traditionalists

 
king alfred
King Alfred

On the morning of June 24, the world awoke to a changed Europe. With the so-called ‘Brexit’ referendum, the UK voted to leave the European Union, and as such, the EU lost one of its most important member nations. Almost immediately, there were calls from France, Italy, and the Netherlands to hold similar referenda, jeopardizing the entire EU experiment.

While a number of scholars and commentators have interpreted the Brexit as indicative of the wave of nationalism that has swept Europe and much of the world, many have missed the significance of this wave for a resurgent conservative traditionalism in the West.

It is most certainly the case that the world is going through a radical realignment along nationalist and provincialist lines. From Bosnia to Chechnya, Rwanda, and Barundi, from South Sudan to Scotland, populations have been turning increasingly inward for civic and cultural identity.

But within these balkanizing tendencies is a process called re-traditionalization. Because globalization challenges the traditions and customs, religions, and languages of local cultures, it tends to be resisted with a counter-cultural blowback. In the face of threats to localized identity markers, people assert their religiosity, kinship, and national symbols as mechanisms of resistance against globalizing dynamics.

Few nations exemplify this connection between a resurgent nationalism and a revived religious tradition than the Russian Federation. There has been a self-conscious distancing from globalism by Russia, drawing inspiration instead from the ideals of a neo-Byzantium, what U.S. Naval War College professor John R. Schindler calls a “Third Rome” ideology, which involves “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.” From this admixture, Russia has emerged, in the words of a recent article, as “Europe’s most God-believing nation.”

And with this national revival comes a re-embracing of traditional moral values. Along with India, Islamic and African nations, Russians have publically and legislatively rejected what they consider the civilizational suicide of LGBT activism and feminism. Even many Eastern-European countries that feel threatened by Russia’s recent militarism, such as Georgia and Moldova, consider globalized secular values far more threatening.

Indeed, the current rise of nationalism throughout Europe is concomitant with a growing religious conservatism. In Europe, immigration ironically is making the continent more religiously conservative, not less; in fact, London and Paris are some of the most religiously dense areas within their respective populations. Since 1970, charismatic Christians in Europe have expanded steadily at a rate of 4 percent per year, in step with Muslim growth. Currently, Laestadian Lutherans in Finland and Holland’s Orthodox Calvinists have a fertility advantage over their wider secular populations of 4:1 and 2:1 respectively.

It is true that British national allegiances have yet to exemplify anything remotely akin to a Christian revival; indeed, church attendance in the UK has long been on the decline. Nevertheless, there seems to be a decline to this decline. Most people in the UK still think of themselves as Christian, and immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe, Catholic Poles in particular, have made Britain more, not less, religious. There has been an increase in evangelical church attendance, all the while Islamic birthrates in the UK are dropping to under three children per woman. All of this suggests that the Christian tradition remains a significant factor within British cultural identity and will only increase in the coming years if nationalist trends continue.

And continue they will. We should not regard this resurgent nationalism a temporary political fad. This is because globalization entails its own futility; as we have found with the attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East, few are willing to die for emancipatory politics, feminism, and LGBT rights. But the willingness to die for land, people, custom, language, and religions is seemingly universal. Though a formidable challenger, globalization appears to have no chance of overcoming such innate fidelities.

And so, it is certainly the case that the Brexit signifies the rise of nationalism in Europe, but it also suggests the inexorable revival of traditional values and norms. And while there are a number of current cultural peculiarities and paradoxes indicative of a stubborn secularism throughout the West, we can expect social and cultural trends to resolve such inconsistencies in favor of traditional beliefs and practices.

A renewed Christian Europe may not be so far away.

Members have made 41 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Josh Farnsworth Inactive

    This post should be on the main feed, pronto. Thank you for putting together the most cogent analysis I’ve seen so far regarding the long term implications of Britain’s vote and the likely ripple effect emanating from the vote.

    Highlighting the inherent limitations of globalization is exactly the thought my family members had when we discussed the implications of the vote:

    All of this suggests that the Christian tradition remains a significant factor within British cultural identity and will only increase in the coming years if nationalist trends continue.

    And continue they will. We should not regard this resurgent nationalism a temporary political fad. This is because globalization entails its own futility; as we have found with the attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East, few are willing to die for emancipatory politics, feminism, and LGBT rights. But the willingness to die for land, people, custom, language, and religions is seemingly universal. Though a formidable challenger, globalization appears to have no chance of overcoming such innate fidelities.

    In other words, nation-states die hard.

    One thing – I am skeptical of how significant Christianity is in the role of resurgent European nationalism, but the data points you bring up do support Christianity as being “a significant factor within British cultural identity.”

    Again, fantastic post. Thank you.

    • #1
    • June 27, 2016 at 9:24 am
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  2. Profile photo of Dr. Steve Turley Member
    Dr. Steve Turley Post author

    Thanks so much, Josh!

    • #2
    • June 27, 2016 at 10:14 am
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  3. Profile photo of La Tapada Member

    …few are willing to die for emancipatory politics, feminism, and LGBT rights. But the willingness to die for land, people, custom, language, and religions is seemingly universal.

    I found this an interesting insight.

    • #3
    • June 27, 2016 at 10:50 am
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  4. Profile photo of La Tapada Member

    We are seeing this move back toward traditionalism in the Anglican church. Anglican leaders and churches in Africa are pushing back against the direction set by the Episcopal church.

    • #4
    • June 27, 2016 at 10:52 am
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  5. Profile photo of Merina Smith Inactive

    I pray that what you say is true. I think, however, that the left knows perfectly well that revived national identity leads to to renewed conservatism, which is why they fight it tooth and nail.

    • #5
    • June 27, 2016 at 10:54 am
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  6. Profile photo of James Gawron Thatcher

    Steve,

    I have been pushing Brexit pretty hard. There are many many reasons that this change will be for the better. Perhaps yours is the best of them all. If you will forgive me:

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #6
    • June 27, 2016 at 11:16 am
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  7. Profile photo of Brian Wolf Thatcher

    From the OP: There has been a self-conscious distancing from globalism by Russia, drawing inspiration instead from the ideals of a neo-Byzantium, what U.S. Naval War College professor John R. Schindler calls a “Third Rome” ideology, which involves “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.”[1] From this admixture, Russia has emerged, in the words of a recent article, as “Europe’s most God-believing nation.”[2]

    In so far as Russians say they believe in God sure. However God is wrapped up in their national identity and they say that by wrote. Do they have an active faith? Do they follow traditional Orthodox teaching? Is the church message currently corrupted by the State ideology? The answers are no, no and yes respectively.

    The Russian leaders needed some kind of ideology to hold the West at bay and Orthodox infused Nationalism was their main alternative. However the Orthodox church is serving the needs of the Russian State not the needs of the people to draw closer to God. This is a major problem for the church.

    Take act of homophobic violence in Georgia and else where. These are not Christian reactions but just straight up homophobia mixed with nationalism. There was nothing Christian, however you define it, about the violence. In the incident in Tbilisi random foreigners were hunted down in the streets and beaten. Very Christ like don’t you thing?

    However you are on to something real when you talk about the demographic future. Religious people have babies, secularists do not have babies. Atheists birthrates in the West would lead to their extinction in three generations if they were all trapped on an island together. Unless there is sudden and completely unprecedented collapse in retention rates American and to lesser extent Europe will see dramatic increases in religious conservatives over the next 20 years. That is good news.

    A good movie to watch for the current state of Russian spirituality is Leviathan it is in Russian but subtitled and well worth a look.

    • #7
    • June 27, 2016 at 12:12 pm
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  8. Profile photo of Pencilvania Inactive

    Thanks for this optimistic and thoughtful article. I too would like to see it on the Main Feed.

    • #8
    • June 27, 2016 at 12:22 pm
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  9. Profile photo of Front Seat Cat Member

    Maybe when the pendulum swings back, whether Europe or here, it will bring a more balanced view and not return to extremism in any way. Russia is a bad example because they never embraced freedom and in fact, seem headed the other way – religion is a cover there – the state controls the church. The most spiritual and traditional people it seems, are in countries where it’s been lost or repressed – they will do anything to get to church, or protect their family traditions. Poland did that underground when they were taken over, and they emerged strong and intact. This is a good main feed story!

    • #9
    • June 27, 2016 at 1:30 pm
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  10. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    Nationalism, Traditionalism, all are double edged swords. The traditional christian Europe produced great things it also produced excessive levels of violence. There are many ethnic and religious grudges still unsettled throughout the continent. I think a more Christian and traditionalist Europe would be good, but one must be aware of and vigilant against those people and forces that seek to use this as a vehicle for other destructive ideologies, much like the universal liberal humanism that underlies the EU today became a vehicle for post-modernist Marxist nihilism.

    The question is can we make a world that has the best of all worlds, rooted in universal christian humanism dedicated to a classically liberal democratic government?

    • #10
    • June 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm
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  11. Profile photo of Dr. Steve Turley Member
    Dr. Steve Turley Post author

    Thank you all so much for these comments. They are much appreciated. The Russia example seems to be the more controversial part of my post. Keep in mind that the example was used to illustrate the central argument of the piece, which is the interrelationship between nationalism and traditionalism. Different nationalities will have different traditions, but of course Europe still exemplifies the influences of the thousand year era of Christendom, to which a nationalist Europe will in at least some significant ways return.

    • #11
    • June 27, 2016 at 4:21 pm
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  12. Profile photo of Brian Wolf Thatcher

    Dr. Steve Turley: Keep in mind that the example was used to illustrate the central argument of the piece, which is the interrelationship between nationalism and traditionalism. Different nationalities will have different traditions, but of course Europe still exemplifies the influences of the thousand year era of Christendom, to which a nationalist Europe will in at least some significant ways return.

    In the Russian case it is this I find controversial. From the OP: There has been a self-conscious distancing from globalism by Russia, drawing inspiration instead from the ideals of a neo-Byzantium, what U.S. Naval War College professor John R. Schindler calls a “Third Rome” ideology, which involves “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.”[1] From this admixture, Russia has emerged, in the words of a recent article, as “Europe’s most God-believing nation.”[2]

    This is true to a point but “God-believing” must mean something. What God are they believing in? If the effort here is saying that Russians are more religious now then they were during the time of the Czar’s that is not true at all. The Orthodox church is becoming a cultural institution again inside Russia but that does not seem to be tracking with belief in Orthodox theology and practice.

    If the point of the OP is that increased nationalism will go hand in hand with the increased practice of traditional culture that is true. But in my reading of the post you are claiming that traditional Christianity will also revive. That is not happening in Russia, Russian nationalism is primarily secular. Much as French Nationalism became largely secular after Napoleon. So the Russian example does not really support your point or do I misunderstand you?

    Also I do not think this is true either, “Even many Eastern-European countries that feel threatened by Russia’s recent militarism, such as Georgia and Moldova, consider globalized secular values far more threatening.”

    Far more threatening?! Not my experience in Georgia. Georgian care nothing for homosexuals and are horrified beyond belief that a transgendered person could exist and barely acknowledge Lesbians but they over all embrace European or Western values, and welcome the change. They want a more liberal society, a more open one, less corruption and they want modern music, clothes and foods. They are protective of what makes them Georgian but they don’t fear Western values over all nearly as much as they fear renewed Russian aggression. They are pretty sure they can take the vast amount of good from the West without accepting our weird obsession with gay rights.

    • #12
    • June 28, 2016 at 2:01 am
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  13. Profile photo of Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Welcome to Ricochet, Steve! Very glad to have you as a member.

    Dr. Steve Turley:Few nations exemplify this connection between a resurgent nationalism and a revived religious tradition than the Russian Federation. There has been a self-conscious distancing from globalism by Russia, drawing inspiration instead from the ideals of a neo-Byzantium, what U.S. Naval War College professor John R. Schindler calls a “Third Rome” ideology, which involves “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.” From this admixture, Russia has emerged, in the words of a recent article, as “Europe’s most God-believing nation.”

    Like others, I found this example… unsettling. Russia is such a broken culture and — from what I’ve caught — the Putinists are at least as good at moving the Russian Orthodox church toward them as the other way around. Short version: This is not the kind of Christianity I want to see in ascendence.

    Dr. Steve Turley:And continue they will. We should not regard this resurgent nationalism a temporary political fad. This is because globalization entails its own futility; as we have found with the attempt to bring liberal democracy to the Middle East, few are willing to die for emancipatory politics, feminism, and LGBT rights.

    Only if you define globalism in those terms and in the way the Left defines them. Globalism can, does, and should also entail small-l liberalism, free markets, etc. I have no interest whatsoever in a world monoculture, but I should would like to see a lot of the world adopt a great many of our values.

    • #13
    • June 28, 2016 at 7:03 am
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  14. Profile photo of Gumby Mark Member

    You are confusing trends in Eastern and Western Europe. Brexit, at least for the UK, is not the harbinger of a Christian renewal. I’ll repeat what I just wrote on a similar post on the Member Feed;

    I fail to see any connection between Brexit and religion or atheism. Brexit had significant support from both Conservative and Labour voters, and for a wide variety of reasons. And, even with Brexit, the UK remains a land of declining church attendance and restrictions on free speech (particularly of the religious, or at least Christian, kind). These trends have nothing to do with EU membership.

    • #14
    • June 28, 2016 at 7:36 am
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  15. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    The problem with globalization is that the larger the group, the smaller each individual becomes. Each individual has less and less influence … and importance … when the group gets larger. There comes a point where the group gets so large that it renders each individual meaningless. Economy of scale comes at the cost of meaning.

    Religion, on the other hand, is all about meaning. You matter to God. Your neighbor matters. Scale doesn’t come into the equation.

    Britishness matters to the Brits, just as being American matters to Americans. But globalization implies that none of those individual traits matter.

    • #15
    • June 28, 2016 at 7:59 am
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  16. Profile photo of Casey Member

    This is very interesting. Worth a think.

    • #16
    • June 28, 2016 at 10:57 am
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  17. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    James Gawron: I have been pushing Brexit pretty hard.

    I had suspected as much. But now it’s out in the open. 🙂

    • #17
    • June 28, 2016 at 11:08 am
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  18. Profile photo of Hypatia Member

    I visited the USSR in 1986 and 1988. In the great basilicas there were always groups of old, babushka’ed women, staring fixedly at the icons and chanting the Old Church Slavonic in reedlike soprano voices, though the churches were officially de-consecrated. It felt like being a ghost, or an invisible time-traveler: they didn’t even see us with our cameras and phrase books. They were culture-keepers, as the crones in a society often are. Looks like they held out as long as they were needed–now, as you say, the Third Rome is rising again.

    And, I hope you are right about a Christian revival. I will venture the proposition that, among the Revealed faiths, Christianity is the superior revelation (although I would not defend “The Church” for an instant). Judaism was originally tribal and has never proselytized. Islam was from the beginning a system of government as well as a creed and advocated violence toward unbelievers. Christ was exclusively concerned with the interior Kingdom of God.

    • #18
    • June 28, 2016 at 11:33 am
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  19. Profile photo of Dr. Steve Turley Member
    Dr. Steve Turley Post author

    These comments are wonderful, and much appreciated. Thank you for the warm welcome to Ricochet. I offer here but a few responses:

    First, again, the key argument of the article is the interrelationship between nationalism and traditionalism and the centripetal dynamics behind that relationship. The relevance of the classical liberal tradition is peripheral to such.

    Secondly, the Russian Federation is an example of this interrelationship. I would recommend particularly the insightful article by Russian scholar John Anderson, “Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church: Asymetic Symphonia” on the overlap of interests between church and state as the result of Russia’s nationalist turn.

    Thirdly, a number of studies confirm that since 1991, Russia has experienced something akin to a religious revival in relation to their Orthodox heritage, something that I have peripherally experienced. I must say that I find some of the comments above about contemporary Russian spirituality reductionist at best.

    Fourthly, as for a renewed European Christianity, the London-based demographer Eric Kaufmann has detailed extensively the demographic advantage of Evangelical and Catholic Christians over against their secular counterparts in the West, even over current Islamic birth rates. He, too, sees a genuine Christian renewal in Europe on the historical horizon. My study simply corroborates this conclusion given the nationalist/traditionalist interrelationship.

    • #19
    • June 28, 2016 at 11:50 am
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  20. Profile photo of KiminWI Member

    Dr. Steve Turley: Fourthly, as for a renewed European Christianity, the London-based demographer Eric Kaufmann has detailed extensively the demographic advantage of Evangelical and Catholic Christians over against their secular counterparts in the West, even over current Islamic birth rates. He, too, sees a genuine Christian renewal in Europe on the historical horizon. My study simply corroborates this conclusion given the nationalist/traditionalist interrelationship.

    I hope your conclusion is correct. I am part of the orthodox Anglican movement in the US and what I read of the church in England or Christianity across Europe is not encouraging. The missionaries report robust disinterest. I will hope that the birth rate, the trend toward traditionalism and fervent prayer will turn Europe back to the church.

    My less optimistic suspicion is that a healthy sense of national identity is conducive to the the traditionalism that the church nurtures. However, reestablishment of national identity that is blind to common religious underpinnings is not going to be protective of individuals and families. Nationalism, absent a mooring in higher values will turn ugly.

    • #20
    • June 28, 2016 at 12:01 pm
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  21. Profile photo of Dr. Steve Turley Member
    Dr. Steve Turley Post author

    I think you got it, KiminWI; nationalism and traditionalism are two different streams that inevitably come together given a common (globalized) enemy. The lag time, however, can be very ugly, as well as the particular nature of the tradition itself, such as the militant Shintoism of Imperial Japan. Which tradition is being renewed along with which nationalism matters greatly.

    • #21
    • June 28, 2016 at 12:09 pm
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  22. Profile photo of CuriousKevmo Member

    Pencilvania:Thanks for this optimistic and thoughtful article. I too would like to see it on the Main Feed.

    I too would love for this well reasoned piece to be true. But I’m not so sanguine….the vote was close. There will be a revote and another and another until they “get it right”.

    I see nothing around me other than the ever quickening pace toward tyranny. My kids think I’m nuts and I fear they won’t realize it until it’s too late.

    • #22
    • June 28, 2016 at 12:55 pm
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  23. Profile photo of CuriousKevmo Member

    KC Mulville: the larger the group, the smaller each individual becomes. Each individual has less and less influence … and importance … when the group gets larger

    This is genius KC. It’s mine now.

    • #23
    • June 28, 2016 at 12:57 pm
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  24. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    A welcome turn indeed.

    Secularism is a false and poisonous idea. It pretends politics and religion can be separated by more than institutional authority. Contrary to the unhistorical ideals of limited government (which I advocate), politics usually regards group ethics. Ethics is application of general moral principles to specific scenarios… and morals inescapably depend upon religion (fundamental, comprehensive definition of reality and our purpose in it).

    To some extent, globalism is natural and inevitable. Since the dawn of human history, civilizations have gradually (though not regularly) grown to encapsulate ever greater collections of individual and subcultures. The accumulation of technologies and knowledge across generations and the sharing of those gains through international trade mean the various peoples of the world have ever more in common. The spreading of monotheistic religions is an example.

    Globalism has no utopian endpoint. There will always be wars and revolutions which break up large alliances. But we have not yet reached the greatest possible integration of nations (unless God ends history tomorrow).

    • #24
    • June 28, 2016 at 1:24 pm
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  25. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    Put another way, I don’t object to the ever-increasing interaction of world cultures (though this does pose difficulties, like the temptation to philosophical apathy and hedonism). But I do object to attempts at world government.

    Limited, local government is the ideal of form to which we must strive. World forums should serve as facilities for temporary, conditional alliances and not seek to represent all of mankind.

    • #25
    • June 28, 2016 at 1:31 pm
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  26. Profile photo of Dr. Steve Turley Member
    Dr. Steve Turley Post author

    Excellent, Aaron. Hear, hear!

    • #26
    • June 28, 2016 at 2:22 pm
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  27. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    I’ve been paying attention to Russians and their Orthodox Christianity for a long time, probably since Solzhenitsyn was becoming disillusioned with America, and now am wondering if they have given up on monotheism.

    • #27
    • June 28, 2016 at 2:27 pm
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  28. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    Aaron Miller:

    Globalism has no utopian endpoint. There will always be wars and revolutions which break up large alliances. But we have not yet reached the greatest possible integration of nations (unless God ends history tomorrow).

    I think that one must distinguish between Globalization the technological driven phenomenon and Globalism an ideology formed around that phenomenon. Globalization is the product of our increased ability to communicate and travel and our increased need for resources. Technology and normal human behavior will drive this. Globalism is a political reaction to this phenomenon. To the extent that it is guided by basic principles of Classical Liberalism I think it is a positive thing.

    I think you should always expect a good deal of trade, travel, and cultural exchange between free nations, because those are the things most people are interested in and absent some laws prohibiting them people will engage in those activities.

    The danger in a heedless Globalism is that it will seek to integrate illiberal countries. Which will use global institutions to bolster their regimes and repress their people. This is the issue with the UN. If the UN was actually just made up only Liberal Democracies it would work better and be less destructive.

    In many ways the EU I think represents a good and honest attempt at Liberal Globalism. Its biggest flaw, which may undo it, is its lack of clarity. You are either a free trade zone or a nation you can’t be something in between.

    • #28
    • June 28, 2016 at 7:56 pm
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  29. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Valiuth: In many ways the EU I think represents a good and honest attempt at Liberal Globalism. Its biggest flaw, which may undo it, is its lack of clarity. You are either a free trade zone or a nation you can’t be something in between.

    The Euro is what created this neither-fish-nor-foul thing.

    • #29
    • June 28, 2016 at 8:02 pm
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  30. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    The Reticulator:

    Valiuth: In many ways the EU I think represents a good and honest attempt at Liberal Globalism. Its biggest flaw, which may undo it, is its lack of clarity. You are either a free trade zone or a nation you can’t be something in between.

    The Euro is what created this neither-fish-nor-foul thing.

    Yes indeed, and it is not clear that such a move was wise. It seems no one had fully thought through the implications. I can’t blame them for being optimists though. And a single currency has its benefits when it comes to internal trade.

    Could you have just had every nation live with two currencies? Their native one and the Euro? That seems a bit to me, but I don’t know enough about it to just dismiss it. I wonder if in a world with credit cards and instant banking over the internet if you even need that. When I go to Europe I just swipe my card and the bank takes care of the exchange on their end. I guess you have price uncertainty since the exchange rate is always fluctuating.

    Of course the biggest benefit of the EU is probably the ease of labor movement allowing the rich western countries to benefit from skilled eastern European labor at a cheap price. That though seems to have caused the biggest issue politically in the UK.

    • #30
    • June 28, 2016 at 8:15 pm
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