In almost every situation, Horace’s advice was as pragmatic as it was wise. Item: “Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem.” Remember, when faced with difficult things, to preserve a calm mind.
I thought about that sage advice when I was at a drinks party last night in London. The mood was grim. The wine, chatter, and conviviality flowed (another bit of Horatian advice, nunc est bibendum, was liberally followed), but behind, and not very far behind, the bonhomie loomed an ominous-looking shadow, as if war had just been declared but the troops had yet to mobilize.
There was near-unanimous agreement among the revelers that last week’s referendum on Britain leaving the European Union represented an economic catastrophe of incalculable proportions.
There was also a more-or-less unspoken assumption that it represented a gigantic act of political stupidity and, finally, a sort of moral stain. It was assumed the EU, whatever its faults, was “for” human rights, the environment, fairness to Muslims, etc., in ways that the angry, nativist population who voted for Brexit couldn’t possibly understand.
There was, in short, a current of near panic coruscating about the room, though the intelligent and well-spoken party-goers were too polite to indulge in anything like histrionics. Somewhat muted vituperation, especially against the Brexiteer-in-chief Boris Johnson, there was aplenty. But mostly the assembled multitude was like those doctors Hilaire Belloc described in his poem about little Henry King, whose chief defect was chewing little bits of string:
Physicians of the utmost fame were called at once, but when they came they said (as they took their fees), “There is no cure of this disease. Henry will very soon be dead.”
I think the doom-and-gloom is vastly overstated. As the Remainders’ Bête Blond, Boris Johnson himself observed:
At home and abroad, the negative consequences [of the Brexit vote] are being wildly overdone, and the upside is being ignored.
Indeed. As I have stressed in this column over the last few days, the referendum to leave the EU was not a vote to leave Europe. The UK is part of Europe, by spirit and history as well as by geography. The vote was partly a vote against the officious, interfering EU bureaucrats and their vast thicket of prosperity-sapping regulation.
Mostly, however, it was an affirmative vote — a vote for British sovereignty, British freedom.
A balanced alternative view of the consequences of Brexit was set forth more than two years ago by the great James Bennett, the man who popularized the term Anglosphere and who has done as much as anyone to outline its political, economic, and existential advantages.
In an essay called “After the Brexit,” which appeared in The New Criterion in January 2014, Bennett compared America’s cooperation with Canada on the manufacture of cars — where vehicles are shipped back and forth across the border several times in the process of assembly — to one possible post-Brexit arrangement between the UK and Europe:
[M]uch of the cross-border trade between the United Kingdom and the European Union could continue with relatively simple arrangements comparable to North American arrangements.
As negotiations proceed towards the invocation of Article 50, the formal request to withdraw from the EU, a series of such arrangements could be agreed upon:
Britain’s trade with the Continent could continue at something near its current levels.