Decentralization and devolution of state power is always a good thing, regardless of the motivations behind such movements.
Hunter S. Thompson, looking back on 60s counterculture in San Francisco, lamented the end of that era and its imagined flower-child innocence:
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
Does today’s Brexit vote, win or lose, similarly mark the spot where the once-inevitable march of globalism begins to recede? Have ordinary people around the world reached the point where real questions about self-determination have become too acute to ignore any longer?
Globalism, championed almost exclusively by political and economic elites, has been the dominant force in the West for a hundred years. World War I and the League of Nations established the framework for multinational military excursions, while the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank set the stage for the eventual emergence of the US dollar as a worldwide reserve currency. Progressive government programs in Western countries promised a new model for universalism and peace in the aftermath of the destruction of Europe. Human rights, democracy, and enlightened social views were now to serve as hallmarks of a post-monarchical Europe and rising US.
But globalism was never liberalism, nor was it intended to be by its architects. As its core, globalism has always meant rule by illiberal elites under the guise of mass democracy. It has always been distinctly anti-democratic and anti-freedom, even as it purported to represent liberation from repressive governments and poverty.
Globalism is not, as its supporters claim, simply the inevitable outcome of modern technology applied to communication, trade,and travel. It is not “the world getting smaller.” It is, in fact, an ideology and worldview that must be imposed by statist and cronyist means. It is the civic religion of people named Clinton, Bush, Blair, Cameron, and Lagarde.
Yes, libertarians advocate unfettered global trade. Even marginally free trade has unquestionably created enormous wealth and prosperity for millions around the world. Trade, specialization, and an understanding of comparative advantage have done more to relieve poverty than a million United Nations or International Monetary Funds.
But the EU, GATT, WTO, NAFTA, TPP, and the whole alphabet soup of trade schemes are wholly illiberal impediments masquerading as real commercial freedom. In fact, true free trade occurs only in the absence of government agreements. The only legislation required is a unilateral one-sentence bill: Country X hereby eliminates all import duties, taxes, and tariffs on all Y goods imported from country Z.
And as Godfrey Bloom explains, the European Union is primarily a customs zone, not a free trade zone. A bureaucracy in Brussels is hardly necessary to enact simple pan-European tariff reductions. It is necessary, however, to begin building what globalism truly demands: a de facto European government, complete with dense regulatory and tax rules, quasi-judicial bodies, a nascent military, and further subordination of national, linguistic, and cultural identities.
Which brings us to the Brexit vote, which offers Britons far more than simply an opportunity to remove themselves from a doomed EU political and monetary project. It is an opportunity to forestall the juggernaut, at least for a period, and reflect on the current path. It is a chance to fire a shot heard around the world, to challenge the wisdom of the “globalism is inevitable” narrative. It is the UK’s last chance to ask — in a time when even asking is an act of rebellion — the most important political question of our day or any day: who decides?
Ludwig von Mises understood that self-determination is the fundamental goal of liberty, of real liberalism. It’s true that libertarians ought not to concern themselves with “national sovereignty” in the political sense, because governments are not sovereign kings and should never be treated as worthy of determining the course of our lives. But it is also true that the more attenuated the link between an individual and the body purporting to govern him, the less control — self-determination — that individual has.
To quote Mises, from his 1927 classic (in German) Liberalismus:
If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done.
Ultimately, Brexit is not a referendum on trade, immigration, or the technical rules promulgated by the (awful) European Parliament. It is a referendum on nationhood, which is a step away from globalism and closer to individual self-determination. Libertarians should view the decentralization and devolution of state power as ever and always a good thing, regardless of the motivations behind such movements. Reducing the size and scope of any single (or multinational) state’s dominion is decidedly healthy for liberty.