Sovereignty, subsidiarity, and the future of Europe: What the Brexit deal tells us about the prospect of the EU
But next, we turn to another story with huge worldview implications, most of which are simply not acknowledged in the mainstream media coverage. We’re talking about the world’s messiest divorce in history. It’s actually not between a husband and a wife, it is between Britain and the European Union, the so-called Brexit. British voters voted quite unexpectedly in the views of the political elites early in 2016, to leave the European Union for Britain to declare its economic independence and to leave the union that had so characterized Europe in the post-war period.
This was a declaration that Britain intended to exercise and to assert its national sovereignty. But that, of course, led to a huge array of the most complicated questions ever confronted in modern politics. How in the world would a nation like the United Kingdom, which has been so integrated into the European Union exit? The word Brexit, as it became popularly known, was actually a clever political neologism. It was a word coined out of the blue, a combination of Britain and exit, thus Brexit.
…political elites first of all in Europe, but also in the United Kingdom were absolutely confident that the voters in the UK would never vote to leave the European Union. But that’s exactly what they did.
It is really important to notice that the political elites first of all in Europe, but also in the United Kingdom were absolutely confident that the voters in the UK would never vote to leave the European Union. But that’s exactly what they did. This then precipitated to the biggest political crisis in modern diplomatic history. How would the United Kingdom leave the European Union? That’s still an unanswered question. It was declared earlier this week that the British government under Prime Minister Theresa May had reached a Brexit agreement with the forces in Brussels that are responsible for the European Union. It had to be a negotiated exit. This is how complicated the situation is.
Britain had been integrated into the immigration laws, integrated into the border laws, integrated into the economic policies, integrated within the custom system of the European Union. In essence, the European Union that came out of the ashes of the Second World War was an attempt to limit the sovereignty of those European states that would join the union and create a new super national authority, the European Union.
Now, as Christians, we need to pause for a moment and recognize there is a huge problem here. That problem is a violation of the principle of what is called subsidiarity. It’s always good for Christians to be reminded of this principle. Subsidiarity is a basic principle of Christian theology, deeply embedded in the biblical worldview. It tells us that truth and reality and health subside at the most basic unit possible. If that sounds abstract, let me clarify. This means that the greatest unit of meaning is in the smallest unit of structure, which is to say that marriage is actually the centerpiece of civilization. Marriage is not healthy because the civilization is healthy. A civilization is healthy because marriage is healthy.
Marriage, the union of a man and a woman creating a family as that man and the woman have children, that creates the unit of greatest importance to the civilization. The functioning of healthy families is something that is so indispensable that no government at any level can alleviate what is missing if the family is broken. That’s a pathology that is radically demonstrated in American society, and in so many other societies today.
Subsidiarity also tells us that the most important government action is not at the highest level possible, most abstracted from the real lives of people, but rather at the closest level possible. That’s to say, a city government is more likely to be responsive to people, than a supranational authority The United States is more likely as a government to be responsive to its people, than would be the United Nations. This is a basic principle. It’s written into our constitutional order in the system of federalism that marks our constitution. It’s also important to recognize that the intellectual elites both in Europe and in the United States, increasingly have rejected subsidiarity. They have instead argued for a certain kind of internationalism.
In the views of so many, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, bigger is always better. A global authorities better than a national authority, a national authority as far better than a state authority. That we need to note is not only the reversal of the constitutional logic of the United States, it is also the reversal of that basic Christian worldview principle of subsidiarity.
When British voters in early 2016 voted so unexpectedly for Britain to withdraw from the European Union, the arguments were extremely important, and they were generally very straightforward. European leaders argued that Britain could not leave, it must not leave. Because in so leaving it would leave the entire European project. Most major British political leaders in both major British political parties also opposed Brexit. So, this was a populist revolt that in so many ways, was matched by the populist revolt in the United States in the 2016 presidential election. Those two events Brexit in early 2016, the presidential election in the United States at the end of 2016, those really formed the year of the great uprisings in both Britain and the United States.
But Britain’s uprising, the Brexit vote, set into play a series of events that clearly is not over. But there’s a deadline, that deadline, March 29, 2019. That’s a hard exit for the United Kingdom, and that might appear to be the easiest solution except it’s not. It’s extremely complicated. Britain is so interwoven into the European Union, its policies, its economics, its politics, its policies going all the way down to regulations about produce and weights and measures. Furthermore, the very important issues of customs and trade, all of these are so deeply intertwined that it is not easy for just one partner to walk out of this relationship any more than it’s easy for one spouse to leave a marriage.
The metaphor of divorce in this case is almost entirely appropriate. It’s messy. Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to win the support of her cabinet in the middle of this week, only to have her cabinet undermined by two very prominent resignations in protest by those coming from a conservative side who argued that this is a compromise, a further compromise of British sovereignty because under the proposal of the British Prime Minister, Britain would continue to lack control over its own trade and customs, processes and policies. That is indeed a very important infringement of sovereignty.
So, what’s the principle for Christians? Why would Christians in the United States care about this? There’s a huge lesson, the lesson is this: once you surrender sovereignty, it is extremely difficult to get it back. Once you compromise subsidiarity, it is extremely costly to clarify it. There are many in the political elites in the United States who would prefer very clearly to have more federal authority than state authority, more state authority than local authority, and even more authority in international entities above the United States of America. That’s a very dangerous argument. We do live in a global community, but we’re really not a global community. We are a community of nations, but what’s really important is to recognize that the existence of the nation state is itself a protection for human dignity and human rights around the world.
The compromise of that national sovereignty is extremely dangerous. But as I said, for Christians, we understand there’s more than sovereignty at stake here, subsidiarity is at stake. The European Union did come out of the ruins, out of the ashes of World War II with the promise that the violence between states that so marked the 20th century will be overcome by integrating those nations in one big entity. There was actually explicitly the hope of something like a United States of Europe to match the United States of America. But the current European Union is complicated by the fact that the kind of union that had been envisioned, well, it turns out to have been far more idealized than can ever be realized to the perplexity are so many who want to believe that we live in a simple global community. The French continue to speak French and to act French, the Germans speak German and to have characteristics to German culture. That’s true across the board in Europe. And what you see right now in the United Kingdom is that the people of Britain decided we’re simply going to be Britain.
Now the question is: will that actually happen even as the decision of the voters in 2016 was abundantly clear, even if unexpected?