Artists, writers, and academics on Brexit

That is a Mary Beard feature in the 3 June 2016 edition of the Times Literary Supplement.  Various luminaries were asked what they thought of Brexit.  My favorite answer came from Colm Tóibín:

The European Union, despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them, is a wholly rational institution.  Like most of us, it is in constant need of urgent reform and can handle anything except a crisis.  Even though it is deeply secular, the EU has performed miracles.  It has allowed France and Germany to move close to each other; it has allowed Irish and British ministers to meet as equals, which the Irish have enjoyed.   It can also make us laugh — the group photographs of the EU leaders after their meetings and the antics of the European Parliament are wholly ludicrous…

More brutal was Jan Morris:

Being politically in or out of Europe has had no impact at all on my own work, and I have no idea what it’s done for or to the cultural life of Britain.  For myself, I have long argued for a federal Britain within a federal Europe, but it was always a dream anyway, and I’ve woken up now.  If reasons you require, look around you!

Declan Kiberd had a good point:

They [the English] realized that in some ways England’s was an immensely stressed society, whose people had been so distracted by the British cultural project that they still faced an unresolved identity question of their own.  It’s a long time since Bernard Shaw described England as the last, most fully penetrated of the British colonies — which could be why its people feel such ambivalence about the more recent transnational scheme.

I do recommend that you all subscribe to the TLS.  If you would like yet another point of view, from Dissent, here is Richard Tuck with the Left case for Brexit.


Being an accomplished author of literary fiction is a pretty weak credential for discussing questions of political economy. This is simply the high-brow analog of the teenager who takes his ideological cues from Rage Against the Machine lyrics. I have no more reason to listen to a writer's opinion on politics than I do to listen to my dentist on the topic of high energy physics or my car mechanic on game theory.

The real reason that people parrot Colm Toibin's opinion on Brexit is to signal to others about how sophisticated they are for keeping up with Colm Toibin. Humanity would be much better off if people would stick to their area of expertise. At least when it comes to public forums.

When there are no "experts" on the virtues of the EU or leaving it, everyone is an expert.

Economists, scholars of international law, and political scientists could be called experts, even though the proposal is unprecedented.

So why privilege artists and writers of all? I wonder if the answer is related to English literature departments having most left-leaning faculty, even more so than political science: (see Table 2 on page 6).

Because they produce elegantly crafted quotations you can use. You quote ordinary people (i.e. people whose capacity for articulation conceals some of their intelligence) when you want to lampoon someone (see Stewart, John and Couric, Katie).

The European Union is not solely, or even mostly, a question of political economy. Even the most cursory glance at the UK debate would have suggested this.

Political debates should never be left to "experts", though obviously expert input is important.

Also, writers and other artists often spend a lot of time thinking about personal and cultural identity, which is a possible aspect of this vote.

One of the writers, Jan Morris, has actually written a history of the British Empire, so it is hard to call her a non-expert.

They might have something interesting to say, as might your dentist. Your vote, my vote, the dentist's vote, and James Humphrey Morris' vote all count the same, and that's how it should be.

I'd be wary of 'experts', because experts have values as well, and those might not be yours (commonly are not yours). Since economies smaller than Britain's function perfectly well without being members of a supranational structure, we know the argument that Brexit will be a 'disaster' are humbug. What it will be, is a blow for elected officials and popular influence against an unaccountable bureaucratic officialdom and a rebuke to cosmopolitanism. That's why The Economist and the Mercatus Center do not care for it, not contingency of a minor injury to Britain's welfare born of uncertainties re trade regimes.

The professional political economists who have studied this issue extensively are Enrico Spaloare, Romain Wacziarg, & Alberto Alesina.

Their basic take is that the EU makes sense as a free trade area, and for a few other things, but the majority of the rest is unjustifiable overreach. In light of that very straightforward analysis, Brexit (accompanied by renegotiation to preserve coordination on trade) makes a good deal of sense.

Re: Tuck, I thought "managerial politics" was the essential Object of Faith of the Left. Indeed, the objection to capitalism is mainly that it is not controlled by the political class manifest in the state bureaucracy.

But then he's a leftist arguing for Brexit, so he's perforce an outlier.

So Britain should remain in the EU because it has improved the Franco-German relationship and put its own ministers on an equal footing with Ireland's?

More pertinent is whether the world really needs another layer of regulations and bureaucrats that centralizes the decision-making process just as technology promises to free us from the center.

Boris Johnson has said the EU produces 2500 new regulations every year, while others have said 75% of the cost of regulation in the UK is derived from EU laws.

Does a more free-market UK want to be governed by administrators?

I'm generally pro-Brexit, but:

Clearly the EU is not merely "regulations and bureaucrats" but offers some positive benefit. A cost-benefit analysis is needed.

A figure like "75% of the cost of regulation in the UK is derived from EU laws" is meaningless. Things that the EU regulates will not be regulated by the UK government, but absent the EU, they would put alternative regulations in place for many things. The UK government has a very strong regulatory tendency as well.

In some cases the EU enforces free-market policies against the wishes of member states. For example, EU policies prevent the UK from implementing protective policies to prop up their steel industry.

"A cost-benefit analysis is needed."

I agree with this. One where items are broken down, with a short justification and a value attached to it.

I had no idea Tuck was so far left. Has none of his research on the sceptical Hobbes rubbed off on him? Or perhaps it is the pro state Hobbes that appeals. At any rate his argument boils down to: we don't know what creative schemes for social "progress" the left will devise in the future, but rest assured, the EU will stifle it, so Brexit.

My position: find out what Putin's advisors think about Brexit -- how do they feel about it vis-a-vis Russia's geo-strategic plans? -- and factor medium term Russian belligerence into all decision making.

Does anybody defend the E.U. on the grounds that we Europeans have to stick together to keep from being demographically inundated by immigrants from the rest of the world?

What 'we Europeans'? You certainly aren't one.

'to keep from being demographically inundated by immigrants'

Because we all know how that turned out in the U.S. Including how a candidate for the office of the president of the United States currently feels that he can no longer place full trust in the American court system due to such demographic (and apparently religious) inundation.

Come now, in the age of Trump, no need to be coy - just say what you think about how Europe is being inundated by Merkel Youth, and how Merkel Youth represent a Fremdkörper in das Volk.

(A typing hint - umlauts can be written out with an 'e' following the vowel with umlaut - 'Fremdkoerper' is perfectly acceptable spelling. Luckily for some QWERTY keyboard users, words like 'Rassenhygiene' require no umlauts - and most Merkel Youth are likely quite unaware of what the term means, unlike the pure German 'Youth' of decades past. Emphasis on 'pure,' obviously.)

"What ‘we Europeans’? You certainly aren’t one."

What a complete ass.

Well actually, it was the Wise Latina on the supreme court who said we couldn't trust the court system because of its ethnic makeup. Her and every other leftist that is. Trump is just showing you what that means if both sides do it.

You do understand that the Judge and Lawyers in the TrumpU case are from a racial supremacy group, La Raza ( literally - the race) whose goal is to advocate for latino supremacy, right?

Normally I would agree with you, but when you literally have a racial supremacy group presiding over a trial... How would you feel if the judge were in the KKK or the Black Panthers or ISIS or heck any other racial/religious supremacy group out there?

I've often wondered this, as it would seem that recasting the EU as an actually pro-European force would do wonders for its popularity.

However I think the EU as an institution, arising as it did from WW2, is so opposed to any politics not deriving from the UDHR that it sees itself more as a liberal-human-rights that happens to exist in Europe, but disavows an actual cultural-historical European identity.

I wonder if the EU was to become more democratic, whether a pro-Europeaness would manifest itself. There's definitely potential. Anti-Islamisation activism is pan European already. This is a key question for anyone who is pro-Europe but anti the kind of ahistorical acultural definition of Europe espoused by the EU.

"We Europeans" -- Sailer
"...cute."-- Europe

Doesn't Dylan Moran have a bit about this how Americans go on about how they're Irish?

"'My grandmother was an O'Flaherty did you know her?' I always say, 'Yes, yes I did. But then again *everybody* did.'"

Here is a good YouTube video that makes the economic case for Brexit.

Brexit: The (animated) Movie, which is less than 4 minutes long, makes the economic case for Brexit.

Susan Sontag has already given the only serious response to these people:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or [t]he New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

Their enemies were right then. Their enemies are right now. The British Left has long wanted someone else to run Britain. That used to be Moscow. Now it is Paris. What remains the same is their contempt and fear of ordinary British people.

And tomorrow, Paris will be passe (here I was, thinking it already was), and Berlin will be in charge.

"and Berlin will be in charge."

That seems the likely course of events.

From Wikipedia:

Colm Tóibín (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkɔl̪ˠəmˠ t̪ˠoːˈbʲiːnʲ]; born 30 May 1955) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet.[1][2]

Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester.[3] He was hailed as a champion of minorities as he collected the 2011 Irish PEN Award.[4] In 2011, he was named one of Britain's Top 300 Intellectuals by The Observer.[5]

Tóibín was born in 1955 in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland. Tóibín's parents were Bríd and Michael Tóibín.[6] He is the second youngest of five children. His grandfather, Patrick Tobin, was a member of the IRA, as was his grand-uncle Michael Tobin. Patrick Tobin took part in the 1916 Rebellion in Enniscorthy and was subsequently interned in Frongoch in Wales. Tóibín's father was a teacher who was involved in the Fianna Fáil party in Enniscorthy; he died when Colm was 12 years old.

Tóibín grew up in a home where there was, he said, "a great deal of silence."[7] Unable to read until the age of nine, he was overcome by a stammer.[8] He received his secondary education at St Peter's College, Wexford, where he was a boarder between 1970 and 1972. He later spoke of finding some of the priests attractive.[9]

Steve Sailer June 7, 2016 at 3:34 am

Colm Tóibín (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkɔl̪ˠəmˠ t̪ˠoːˈbʲiːnʲ]; born 30 May 1955) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet.

So the British should vote to remain in the EU because a foreign national, who does not even live in the UK and is descended from people who hated the UK so much that they were willing to kill innocent people in protest, says so?

I do not find that a particularly convincing argument.

"He was hailed as a champion of minorities as he collected the 2011 Irish PEN Award," so that makes him your moral superior.

The British are the majority in the British Isles, so that makes them morally inferior, so therefore they must remain in the EU as punishment.

The only authority I see about him is from his grandfather and grand-uncle. They valued freedom and self-determination. The UK seems to have forgotten this.

It's doubtful their value of freedom and self-determination extended to allowing the Protestant municipalities in the Six counties in Ulster to opt out and continue adhering to King and Parliament. Got pretty ugly in Ireland when one set of Catholic Irish secessionists took the deal and the other insisted on the whole hog.

Haven't paid too much attention in the past 20 yrs, huh?

Colm Toibin was born in 1955. I tend to doubt his grandfather was shuffling around this Earth at any time in the last 20 years, or that his father was anything but out to grass.

TMC June 7, 2016 at 12:30 pm

The only authority I see about him is from his grandfather and grand-uncle. They valued freedom and self-determination. The UK seems to have forgotten this.

I do like a good conundrum. The British have forgotten the values of freedom and self-determination have they? And they are showing this by .... holding a vote on whether Britain should be free and exercise its right to self-determination by leaving the EU?

That is an interesting claim.

Or perhaps you mean they are showing it by their insistence on defending the right of the people of Northern Ireland to live in the country of their choice?

Or perhaps you mean they showed it by using force to put down a small group of unelected terrorists who chose to stab Britain in the back in the middle of a World War before going on to murder and terrorize everyone else into submission?

I don't know. These modern political questions get so fraught.

You little racist scumbag, now you're saying we shouldn't listen to him because he's gay.

And because of whom his parents were.

Let's be honest, iSteve would have had no problem with hereditary caste or slavery.

When his parents are actually foreigners - and violently anti-British foreigners going on his name, as his grandfather was - in the same way he is a foreigner, well, yes. That seems an excellent reason not to consider his views.

I doubt that the Germans ask the grandchildren of Stalin and Molotov whether they should continue to exist as a country or not.

I know the man is Gay but I am amazed you noticed it in the piece SS quoted.

When it's the last line of a quote, it's kind of a signal about the desired message.

Somebody got themselves extremely triggered just by reading the first couple of hundred words of a Wikipedia bio!

But, there is hope: you are starting to get the joke, which most people never do. Eventually, you might overcome your rage at the noticers and instead start to find these recurrent patterns in how the world works to be amusing.

That's the maraschino on top. There is nothing right with this man at all - not his occupation, not his family history, not his capacity for domestic life, not his attitude, not his analyses. He's a disaster on all fronts.

Hahaha oh you're so silly Arthur you Old fossil

Pathetic man. Hates other ways of life as a substitute for personal contentment.

(guy calling other people hateful names on the internet)

Sounds like a public nuisance. Scroom.

The general turn to a discourse of human rights (recently traced by Samuel Moyn) also served to weaken the intellectual case for an omnicompetent democratic legislature

I may be misunderstanding Dr Tuck but it looks like he is arguing that human rights and the rule of law stand in the way of the sort of bloody revolution he would like to carry out. So the Left should vote Out in order to bring back the Gulag?

An interesting argument, I have to say. Very interesting.

I'm sorry, Tyler, but your favorite is deluded.

"The European Union... perhaps because of (its flaws) is a wholly rational institution."

" Like most of us, it is in constant need of urgent reform...."
No, most people are not in constant need of urgent refrom.

"The EU has performed miracles. It has allowed France and Germany to move close to each other..." To say nothing of post-war occupation and reconstruction, decades of diplomacy, NATO, a common enemy, and so on and on.

In the third quote there is also the correlation vs. causation problem.

The primary flaw in the EU is that there is no shared european identity. Because of that, there is little romantic impulse to pursue non-rational objectives; everything is transactional. So the Germans won't help the Greeks with their debt, because the Greeks aren't German, but the Greeks wouldn't help Germans invade a foreign country.

>“The European Union… perhaps because of (its flaws) is a wholly rational institution.” What?<

Well, he is a professor of 'creative writing'...

I have asked all my acquaintances how they will be voting and "Leave" is the unanimous verdict. We are going to give the bureaucrats a kicking they will never forget.

I wouldn't be so sure. Frequently with these types of plebiscites, support for the populist position tends to be a mile wide and an inch deep. Analagously you can see this in the US, where marijuana-related ballot initiatives will tend to fail at the polls until approval ratings exceed 60%. Usually the "responsible" side tends to be very good at rallying the marginal voters at the last minute.

Hasn't been the case with gay marriage votes.

"The European Union, despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them, is a wholly rational institution. "
Of course it is. What's irrational in having The Council of Europe, The European Council and The Council of the European Union?

They just need to add the Department of Redundancy Department.

That quote: “The European Union, despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them, is a wholly rational institution.” Can you explain how that makes sense?

"it has allowed Irish and British ministers to meet as equals, which the Irish have enjoyed." I'm sure Papau New Guineans would enjoy being treated as equals on the UN Security Council. I wonder if this ties back to the Neoreactionary thread - not all nations are equals, even if given equal rights. California is a wealthier, more populous state than Kansas, and has earned more authority for it.

Finally, admittedly I'm a very stupid man, but I thought trade was good for both parties. If Germany stops selling Volkswagons or whatever in Britain because of Brexit, doesn't that hurt both Britain AND Germany? So... why would they stop doing that, except for spite? Are they incapable of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement in any reasonable timeframe? I don't know how closely I want to be politically tied to spiteful or incompetent organizations. That doesn't sound wholly rational.

OH! Finally finally, this still ticks me off: the European Union is working to outlaw free speech, including Britain. Get. Out. Now.

"I don’t know how closely I want to be politically tied to spiteful or incompetent organizations. That doesn’t sound wholly rational."

+10, there seems to be an oft cited reason for Britain to stay in that says, once they are on the outside, they'll be discriminated against. When people point out the non-EU nations that seem to be doing well, the counter is that Britain will be a special case and that spite will lead to them being made an example of.

Not to mention that kind of spite would also not only make poor business sense, but run directly against the purported ideological, forged in the fires of WWII, raison d'etre for the EU single market - to ease cross border investment and the flow of trade in order to make war less likely and bad for business.

The co-ordination on regulation and freedom of movement is, again in theory, only the icing on that particular cake, and the bathwater, not the baby.

Not only spiteful, but internally inconsistent.

I don't understand what's so radical about regional and international economic cooperation coexisting with maintaining one's border security and citizenship laws.

Anyone knows where the Bernard Shaw quote comes from? Made a quick search but found nothing. It's quite interesting and may apply to the US.

What has the EU done to the cultural life of Britain? Well for one thing it has made selling bananas by the pound a crime.

It's one thing for a Californian to be priced out and move to Idaho (not a bad trade). It's another thing for an Englishman to be priced out and have to move to Slovakia.

+1. I have some sympathy with the Californian (local US cultures are more distinctive than we credit, and regional personality may be more intensely differentiated in the US, in some ways), but relatively, this is true. Mobility of labour cannot and will not function in an EU the same as it does in the US. People will not move, certainly not from high status to low status regions. That's fine, because the Europe has other advantages, in terms of having a set of distinct regional cultures with distinct outlooks with different cultures of work and sell to the world. That simply has to be accepted as a cost of doing business and worked with. It isn't because the Eurocracy regards the existence of separate European nations with distinctly mixed feelings.

The problem with the EU is the agreement that created it. Just like our own international agreements on free trade are 1000 page agreements where everything including the kitchen sink is written into it. The EU agreement that could have allowed all of the positive outcomes expected from it could have been written on a single sheet of paper. It is the other 999 sheets of paper in the agreement that is the problem. Because it is all "law" forced on all the citizens in the EU it MUST be voided/reversed/overthrown. It will destroy Europe if they don't end it. Replace it with something better but reverse this terrible mistake.

I wonder if anyone asked Muhammad Ali about it.

There is likely no decent policy measure which would meet with the approval of a majority of the intelligentsia, which tells us something we'd perhaps rather not know about intellectual life as a profession.

When you believe decent policy measures include compulsory head measurements and the one-drop rule for black or Jewish categories of citizenship, you're not going to find much to like with the modern world.

You're not obligated to keep track of anything I say. You should hold yourself to the obligation of not making things up out of whole cloth and attributing them to me when you cannot recall what I have said.

There is a better case to be made for leaving. See the "Flexcit" at

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