Though it only happened a few days ago, it is already a bit of a cliché to say that the Brexit vote represents the most fundamental shift in the global political, economic, and social order since World War II. The UN is worried about ‘big implications’ in funding for humanitarian projects, financial firms are sending advisories to their investors, and individuals throughout Europe ponder what the vote means for their day to day lives or sense of self.
Many have pointed out how the ‘leave’ side’s arguments were suffused with racism towards Muslim immigrants combined with a strong nativist sentiment (though, to be fair, ‘leave’ voters argue racism was not their primary motivation). Others lament how the ‘remain’ side’s arguments focused too much on the good the EU does, rather than acknowledging the legitimate complaints of Britons but insisting that leaving the EU isn’t the solution.
From a philosophical point of view, a key concept for understanding the Brexit issue is the idea of the nation-state. Underlying both sides of the debate are very clear impressions of what the British nation-state consists of, and a belief that it is either being perverted or aided by the EU. Two classic texts that explore the origins of the nation-state are Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality and Edward Said’s Orientalism. The former examines the nation-state with regard to Western countries while the latter looks at how the nation-state affected non-Western countries. Before we start debating what to do in light of the Brexit vote, it is worth thinking about nation-states themselves, and what role we want them to have in our future. Here are some other articles that address the relationship between nation-states, nativism, racism, and foreign policy:
- José Casanova, “The politics of nativism: Islam in Europe, Catholicism in the United States,” Philosophy and Social Criticism, May/June 2012.
- Moran M. Mandelbaum, “The Gellnerian modality revisited: towards a ‘genealogy’ of cultural homogenization and nation-state congruency,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, November 2014.
- Allen Chun, “On Geoffrey Benjamin’s deep sociology of the nation-state,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, June 2016.