There is not a single drop of English blood in my veins. It would be nice to be able to claim that when the British occupied Manila, they left behind as a memento of their rather brief occupation, one who would, decades later, become my ancestor—but it just is not the case. I like England, and when my meager finances allow it and I am somewhere in Europe, England comes after Rome in my list of priorities. But I am not an Anglophone if by that one means “excitability over anything English.” I am sad though over Brexit as a citizen of the world—and as an observer of world affairs.
My disappointment that the United Kingdom voted against remaining in the European Union is the other side of my excitement at developments in the world towards supra-national organizations and multi-territorial unions. Aside from enhancing commerce and trade, and making boundaries more porous, eroding walls that were set up to “keep out,” the EU, and in a lesser way, an Integrated Asean are modes of “letting in.” Perhaps, it is part of my fascination with the Roman Empire—not so much the imperial conquest part, but the inclusion of so many in a cohesive though intriguingly, enchantingly multi-faceted, multi-dimensional whole! As a student of law, it is that particular dynamic between jus civilis and jus gentium that fires both thought and imagination. As a student of philosophy, it is the erosion of constructs of nationality and sovereignty in the discovery of a common albeit fractured humanity that lures cogitation.
Those who campaigned most earnestly for Brexit used the slogan “Getting our country back” to ignite nationalist sentiment against the Brussels bureaucracy. But “country ,” “state,” “sovereignty” are constructs—useful no doubt —that should, at one time, yield to deconstruction. I am not by any means advocating the obsolescence of “state” and “sovereignty”—no matter how nebulous the latter may be—nor do I foresee it. But these must not disengage us from the challenge of entertaining alternate, perhaps parallel, constructs: one that has unions, organizations, super-states offering alternate, more inclusive forms of cohesion—and certainly, new meanings as well to “cohesion.” Globalization is exactly that, and what happens when you have some retrogressive step like Brexit is that while you cannot halt globalization on other fronts (the globalization of data-dissemination and sharing, intellectual ferment and darker things like terrorism), “exits” of the Brexit kind do nothing to strengthen the legal framework for the unstoppable drive of rendering national boundaries irrelevant on many other fronts!
“Tribalism” which is what you have when you entertain sentiments of building walls and fences both to keep others out and keep oneself in is the panicky response to what may appear to be anomic in the face of ill-defined frontiers and the erosion of mechanisms of existential security. Government, language, customs, frontiers lent one a sense of security, and when government must yield, in many respects to a regional or an international organization (for the EU, this meant largely the primacy of community law over national law), when one’s community suddenly speaks in various tongues and when frontier guards leave their posts because travel documents have become relics of a bygone age, then one’s sense of security is severely tested—and taking to the apparent safety of the “tribe,” rebuilding walls, re-asserting “sovereignty” are attempts at recuperating the lost or threatened sense that all is well!
It is not surprising then that Brexit has triggered talk of other “exits,” including the possible exit of Scotland from the Kingdom that shall then no longer be united. Northern Ireland is returning to a vision of a single Ireland. I took a bus ride from Dublin to Northern Ireland, and the sentiment was very much evident that many Irish found it an affront that at some point in the journey, it was the Union Jack that fluttered in the wind over what should have been a single Ireland.
Never mind the common currency, to which the United Kingdom consistently took exception, but the European Union meant common standards—human rights standards among the most important, of which the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg was the embodiment. Exits like Brexit are a step backwards from these common standards, from these significant strides made in the direction of a common understanding of what our common humanity demands.
If all that is to be gained by all this talk of “exits” following Brexit is the assertion of “national sovereignty,” then we may just find out, after having given claims to sovereignty a long, hard and and cold philosophical look, that all we may have traded the Union for is a handful of loose change. Is that not why many Britons woke up after the referendum, agitating for a second round at the polls so that they could exit from the exit side?