Among the worst vices of the modern left is a tendency to promote as sacred concepts that are of little or no essential worth. A hundred starving men are “equal” but this is no consolation. Votes for Hitler were “democratic” but that is irrelevant. The right is not immune from this temptation. To lower the smoking age to encompass infants would be to extend “freedom”, in at least a popular sense, but only lunatics or Murray Rothbard would applaud it.
Such concepts must be grounded in tangible blessings – not merely material but political, social and cultural. They can no more be abstracted from actual societies than, say, the concept of a “balanced diet” can be from actual foods. There is a place for them in the poetic and propagandistic but that place should be walled off from our reasoning.
I had a temperemental sympathy for “Brexit” – rooted in my fear of self-destructive liberalism – yet never quite endorsed it as I was unsure how it would solve our worst problems. EU immigration, for example, is more beneficial in economic terms and less dangerous in social terms than immigration from outside the continent. As I was also unsure of the dangers I did not see the point in struggling to produce an insignificant endorsement.
Nonetheless, it is at least an interesting time. Perhaps this will shake our elites into a more humble and restrained state of being. What inspires more pessimism is the ludicrous triumphalist outpourings of certain Brexit campaigners. Nigel Farage has declared June 23rd “Independence Day” but we have no idea what “independence” (from the EU, at least) will entail. Toby Young, in response to David Aaronovitch’s fears of what might happen next, insists that “demanding your democratic rights always involves risk”. True enough, but a conservative should respond that one’s “rights”, let alone one’s “democratic rights”, in all of their abstractness, do not legitimise all kinds of “risk” if one’s life and one’s children’s future are on the line. Young compounds my irritation by proclaiming that “the alternative is servitude”. EU diktats could be demeaning, of course, but this trivialises an old and useful term.
I suppose one can forgive such campaigners a moment of excitement. They fought long and hard to see this day. But we have taken a great risk, and the consequences are mysterious and monumental. For all that there will be time to think about the sort of nation that we are, and the sort of future we hope to achieve, our considerations should be grounded firmly in facts.