Post-Brexit EU Is Finally a Union of True Humility. And That Is a Great Thing!
Or why Britain is a lot more like the USA, Russia, China, Turkey, or Iran than it is like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, or Poland.
Now that Brexit is finally a fait accompli, at least for those of us on the continental side of the English Channel, the main perception-level consequence of Brexit seems to be feeling a little weird when looking at the map of the European Union.
It is as though there is just a new “EU neighbor” on the Island of Britain which has appeared as if out of nowhere.
The reason Brexit hasn’t felt as apocalyptic a month after Brexit Day – as it once had seemed – is very much due to the long “Brexit in the making, Brexit in the waiting” period – from the Brexit referendum in June 2016 to the Brexit ceremonies on January 31, 2020.
With so much uncertainty-ridden delay, eventually everyone got so bored with Brexit that the European public just stopped caring about it, and even the arch-Brexiteers went down with bad cases of Brexit fatigue.
So for the time being the most tangible Brexit perception is the EU map, and some numerical expressions: namely, that the EU is back to being the EU27 – which is what it was in numerical terms back in 2012, before Croatia joined the Union to give birth to the “EU28”.
But one incredibly important aspect of Brexit is entirely overlooked:
Namely, that with Britain now gone, the European Union is finally a “Union of humility”.
And, for the most part, that is a great thing both for the EU itself, and for the rest of the world.
That is, with the UK out of the picture, the EU now consists entirely of nations which have been humbled by tragic events in their history – most often begotten by their own complacency, cheek, and misguided feelings of supremacy over others.
So much so that these nations seem to have renounced those pathologies altogether – which is how the only post-modern space in today’s world has become possible.
The nations of the post-Brexit EU27 have achieved their humility in the hardest way possible: they have gotten to know and experience first-hand utter defeats and humiliation, occupations by outside powers, destruction, utter collapses, “national catastrophes” (to use some Bulgarian political slang), unconditional surrenders and downfalls.
Many of these European nations have experienced such events more than once. And while the tragedies these events entailed are horrible in themselves, these experiences have also proven incredibly positive because all of these countries that are now making up the European Union, seem to have learned their lessons:
They have an aversion to the notion of empire.
They have become more peace-loving than any other region on this planet.
They eschew any idea of aggressive national grandeur.
They have acquired previously unimaginable levels of humility in international politics and world affairs.
They have learned that delusions about imperial pride, and especially about restoring empires that once were could only lead to greater and greater ruin.
It is true that in some ways, the nations of the EU27 have been “too crushed” for their own good, and their pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of humility – but that is a topic for a different, albeit incredibly important, conversation.
In some of my opinion articles for The European Views so far, I have already mentioned my understanding of the EU as a “Union of humility”, i.e. a Union of countries, many of them once top-rate global or regional powers, which have since found, achieved, and embraced true humility. More specifically, I have previously referred to these countries as “losers”, respectively, speaking of a “union of losers” – using the provocative term “losers” to underscore the importance of the fact that the European nations making up the EU have learned their historical lessons – unlike former and current global and regional powers in much of the rest of the world. Here’s how I’ve touched upon this notion of a “union of losers” – meaning counties who have achieved humility, and why that is a good thing:
“As far as the question of “empire” goes, the great thing about the European Union is that it is a Union of “losers”: countries which either built empires to see them crashing down, or which were otherwise crushed, mauled, or severely threatened by empires, and have therefore reached the right interpretation of their historical experience. Namely, that nothing worthy can come out of imperial ambitions.”
(In the very popular article “Ukraine Is the Most Important Country of the EU. Here’s Why”)
“I’ve already mentioned in some articles that the European Union is a Union of “losers”, and that is a great thing – meaning that its member states have experienced total collapse or failure one way or another and have come to grips with it in order to swallow their unconditional “national pride”, thus being able to build something very different, supranational.
That hasn’t quite been the case with the UK, hence its constant uneasiness inside the EU and now Brexit. Despite the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, a fully unnatural and artificial state entity, that hasn’t been the case with Serbia, either, where many still seem to be pining after Greater Serbia, Greater Yugoslavia, or some other vision of greatness the way it was deemed worthy in old times.”
(In “Looking behind France’s Shameful Veto on Albania and North Macedonia’s EU Accession Talks”)
Having been a “loser” in some horrible way throughout its history has helped every single EU member state to reinvent itself by overcoming every nation’s primordial urges and desires towards imperial or chauvinistic national grandeur. Hence, becoming humble.
It is probably a deterministic rule in the history of international politics (I am tempted to dare claim authorship of the rule) that any time a state tries to restore its former empire, that restoration is at best merely but a shadow of the former imperial self, and at worst, it ends up being a nightmarish apocalypse.
Here’s the oversimplified way it seems to have worked out: At some point some empire rises, having amassed great population and economic resources, having mastered new technology, and/or having acquired some strategic positions. Then it invariably declines. Then its successor, real or imagined, tries to rebuild it or resurrect it. Then it invariably fails or succeeds just briefly and/or partially, and oftentimes goes down in utter collapse and (self-)destruction.
It ultimately bounces back in some form, in some way. Having experienced that, a nation should memorize what the ultimate loss felt like, and should also realize how it all came to that: the quest for empire, or, rather, for restoring an empire – in the case of great powers.
In the case of minor powers, the same rule holds – being small doesn’t make you immune to pursuing “empire” but in most cases for minor powers it’s the chauvinistic quest for nationalist glory.
This experience of complete down is a lesson which has been learned painfully and dearly by Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, Romania, Greece, Czechia, Hungary, Portugal – to name just the larger EU member states – and literally by every other member state of the EU27 of 2020.
What makes Brexit such a highly notable moment in that regard is precisely the fact that the UK, or Great Britain, seemed to be the odd one out in the European Union – the only country in it which has never known total collapse and/or national humiliation.
Perhaps that is why the lesson of humility has not been learned (yet) by Britain, the way it has been by the members of today’s EU27. Britain has failed to learn it, not unlike countries such as Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, you name it.
It is a lesson that the United States of America – the world’s only superpower, or even hyperpower, as a leading German political scientist styled it 1.5 decades ago – will have to learn eventually as well when it goes into decline – even though such a decline doesn’t seem very likely for the foreseeable future.
There is a period of great imperial glory. Then it goes bust in no time, or through an inevitable, protracted decline or decay. Some countries learn their lesson (in fact that is probably only true of post-World-War-II Western Europe and now maybe post-Cold-War Central and Eastern Europe, excluding Russia).
Most don’t learn their lesson, and try to “redeem” themselves – remember the classic “Italia irredenta” – “unredeemed Italy”. Because history shifts all the time, they are doomed to never manage to make it to the same degree of “greatness” – although there might be some achievements to feed the illusion of restoring grandeur. Then comes the bust. Total defeat, occupation, and national humiliation. Or, alternatively, some very protracted and very depressing decay.
A detailed look at the historical narratives of each EU member state may make it seem as though some of the European nations clearly have been the victims, while others have clearly been the victimizers. What the good people of the EU have come to realize is that in fact all of these countries have been the victims, including the overt victimizers.
Save for the 27 nations now in the EU, the only other countries in the world that seem to have come to the unconditional realization that nothing good can come out of the incessant, never-ending push to “redeem” one’s empire or national “grandeur” seem to be Japan and South Korea.
Beijing, Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, and many more remain the capital cities of countries striving to “correct the past”, instead of going about their own business, letting their own people go about their own business, and just downshifting to some form of “live and let live”.
Washington is the “most” special case in present-day affairs since it is at some point in its imperial heyday, against the backdrop of raging debates as to whether the US of A keeps rising, or is already on a declining path of imperial overstretch.
Regardless of the answer to the question at hand, the United States, too, will have to deal with having to learn the Europeans’ humility (or “history loser”) lesson.
There are many countries, including many great powers, which have experienced tremendous losses in their history, but only some have managed to draw the right conclusions from it, while many continue to strive to repeat the same mistakes on a daily basis.
The United Kingdom seems to still belong to the former group. That is what Brexit seems to be all about (other than the power of “anti-social media” and “fake news”, i.e. lies”).
Perhaps it isn’t Britain’s fault (if it is anyone’s) – the cliché “being-an-island” situation, which explains 90% of British history, is probably to blame. Perhaps the UK would have seen it differently if somebody had ever managed to invade the Island of Britain in the millennium after the Battle of Hastings. Luckily for the UK, that has never happened.
London is still the financial capital of the world. Britain is still the leader of the Commonwealth. The Queen is still the monarch of territories from Canada’s Yukon to New Zealand’s South Island. And the UK has technically always been a winner – it didn’t succumb to Napoleon, Wilhelm II, Hitler, or Stalin. Can you blame the Brits for thinking they should stand on their own, without those vilified Brussels eurocrats? Hence Brexit.
The UK might be set for a bunch of declines and humiliations even in the years to come. Scotland might secede, Ireland might become united, its former colony, the US of A, might start to exert such a huge influence on its former colonial master so as to warrant some “reverse colonization” talk.
Or none of those might materialize, and the UK might be proven right in thinking it should stand on its own.
(Regardless of views such as mine that choices like Brexit must be based on one’s belonging, rather than on finances and imperial past – which is why I deem Brexit the ultimate British EU opt-out, one from responsibility.
In never having experienced some utter, unconditional, point-of-no-return collapse and humiliation, post-Brexit Britain is a lot more like the USA, Russia, China, Turkey (the likes of the “Brady Bunch of Eurasia”) than it is like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Poland.
Nations are a lot like humans in many respects. Certainly not in all respects (going all the way through with the nation-person comparison has proven horrendously dangerous over the course of history).
A person stands to experience some failures and even humiliation in order to achieve humility. A country, even a great power, needs to learn its lessons, to appreciate what it has, and why it is a horrible idea to strive to conquer and dominate the others. And it is better, if you ever had an empire and lost it, just to stick to enjoying its cultural heritage, making blockbuster films about its glory, and that’s it.
All the states that make up the complex mosaic of the EU27 of 2020 have that great thing in common, namely, that they have learned humility. That is why they are the only post-modern, Global-Era, and most peaceful part of the world. That is their greatest advantage. That is why they are introvert. That is why they seek to make amends – even if at times those amends might seem needless, illogical, or counter-productive.
That is why the countries of the EU are the ones to care the most about the environment, global warming, and climate change. (Including because of the realization that an environmental or climate apocalypse would be the ultimate untergang for all humanity and none would be spared.)
The rest of the world, including its superpowers, regional powers, minor powers, would be smart to appreciate and internalize that achievement of the EU nations in time, without having to go through imperial or national catastrophes.
With Britain now finally having brexited, the European Union is a union of true humility. That goes for every single EU member out there. And that is truly a great thing for those who’ve managed to overcome themselves have lots of leadership potential for their own people and beyond.
(Banner image: Wikipedia)