Brexit, Stage Right?
United We Stand, Divided We (Maybe, Potentially, Depending on the Circumstances) Fall.
With the impending "Brexit" vote looming over the United Kingdom and the European Union, it seems that it was not that long ago the country faced a similar decision with regards to unity. The Scotland vote for succession less than two years ago gave voters a referendum to decide whether to stay part of the United Kingdom or to separate into an autonomous, independent nation. As someone who loves American politics and always finds more than enough exciting events going on on our side of the Atlantic, I don't pay attention, admittedly, to the ongoings of our former colonial ruler. The vote on whether the UK should remain in the EU involves concerns about nationalism, xenophobia, economic autonomy vs. economic cohesion, among others, but the central issue, whether it is ultimately the one that sways voters, is solidarity.
What drives us, as nations and as individuals, apart? What keeps us together? Though no one mentions it in the context of the Brexit conversations, it is impossible to discuss remaining or leaving without applying the social contract theories of Locke, Hobbes, Rouseau, and Mills. Of each of the famed political theorists, I always found Locke's argument most convincing. Despite its marked simplicity (often the target for criticism), he maintained that government existed to prove its citizens the basic nessecities which they could not provide themselves (i.e. national defense). In turn, the citizens pledged their allegiance to their government, and contributed some money to afford the collective good.
While the government of today little resembles Locke's conception, the same view of collective good and collective action still apply. If humanity as a whole was truly good and trustworthy and if individuals were truly capable of fully caring for themselves (or affording a private company to offer such services), then the need for government might not exist, same with public good. As it is clearly not the case, the unity and cohesion provided from the creation and function of government and the sense of nationalism that often accompanies it are essential components of modern society.
Nationalism seems to be incredibly high or at least it is far from extinction, given this current election cycle. It is so pervasive, in both a positive and negative way, in the US that we have our own facet of it (American exceptionalism). Though they don't refer to it in the same way, the UK exudes its own sense of exceptionalism, and it is that very sentiment that is motivating the Brexit referendum. Are we better off together or separate? We fought an entire war around that topic (in addition to the legality of slavery and the debate of nullification and states' rights).
Despite my love for state government (and I do love state government), the benefits of unification cannot be disregarded. This globalized society necessitates full participation from all states, and moving to leave an entity that operates in a way to promote economic unity without the risk of dissolving individual state identity is a very risky decision.
There are often jokes about Texas' succession, Colorado, even some of the Deep South states. While we can laughingly tease that omitting one small star from the flag would not be a big deal (and perhaps even have some positive ramifications), succession of any sorts can be very dangerous, particularly for the lesser power. In the US case, none of the states could afford going solo. In the UK, I am not sure who would ultimately "lose" more, but I do not doubt that both the UK and the EU would struggle following the former's exit from the latter. There is no such thing as an "equal" power; regardless of how you measure it, one party is always slightly disproportionate relative to the other. Even if you are the greater power (and therefore more capable of dissolving a union), it is not always in your best interest to do so.
Analyzing the Brexit vote makes it clear that voters should take incentive into account, as in, who has more incentive to stay or leave and what impact will that outcome have not only on the individual citizens' lives, but also their nation as a whole. As the British group The Clash sand the answer to their own song in the 80s, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" "If I go there will be trouble; If I stay it will be double," Yes, there will be consequences regardless, but the allure of separation and independence should be cautiously evaluated with the ramifications of leaving. Based on the song lyrics, The Clash might recommend leaving but based on political theory and the practice of governments in globalization, I would suggest to voters to do the opposite and pull a Rihanna ("Stay.").