07 July, 2016

Brexit: One Distributist's Perspective

On Thursday, 23 June, 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted on whether or not their country would remain a member of the European Union. Those who chose to leave won, 52% to 48%. While they are starting the process of separation from the international governmental structure of the EU and establishing trade agreements and national policies that are currently governed by EU law, I wanted to consider this decision from the perspective of distributism.

In July 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron announced an initiative called the "Big Society." The idea was to decentralize governmental authority by empowering local governments to make effective decisions for themselves without being overridden by, or dependent on, the central government at Whitehall. While this was not necessarily a fully distributist initiative, it did seek to distribute government authority in a way that is more along the lines of subsidiarity. This was a truly monumental move because it would reverse the overall trend to further consolidate and centralize government authority. As explained by Phillip Blond, Big Society empowers the local councils, acting as not-for-profit entities, to dynamically address issues particular to their community.

Ironically, while promoting the Big Society initiatives, David Cameron was also a staunch supporter of the European Union. The EU not only further consolidates government authority, it moves that authority further away from the people. Not only does the average U.K. citizen have an even less effective voice in the EU than they do in the U.K. parliament, but citizens of other countries (members of the European Parliament) have a greater say on many laws that effect the U.K. than its own citizens. It seems that Mr. Cameron was supporting both smaller and bigger government at the same time. The "Brexit" referendum was the chance for the citizens to choose between the two.

In the years since the Big Society initiative was launched, the idea seemed to take hold in the U.K. Local communities started to step up to the challenge of addressing their local problems, and the movement took on the name of "Devolution." Devolution is what the Big Society initiative seeks to achieve, the distribution of government authority to more local levels. At least some in the U.K. were open to the idea of greater political and economic freedom.

Now, it needs to be understood that those who championed the U.K. leaving the EU were not championing distributism. In fact, we can't even assume that they champion the devolution movement or the Big Society initiative. It is likely that most were simply wanting to preserve the economic liberalism known as "capitalism" within the bounds of their country. However, it is still significant that the movement to reassert national sovereignty came at the same time as the movement to devolve government authority. The very same arguments used for leaving the EU can be used to further the devolution movement within the U.K. In the same way that the Big Society initiative was, in my view, a potential step in the right direction toward a more distributist society, leaving the EU also has the potential to be a step along that path. Hopefully, the devolution movement will take advantage of the situation during the upcoming years of transition back to national sovereignty so that, when it is fully achieved, the U.K. will have even more of the Big Society movement implemented.

Title Image by VectorOpenStock - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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