Friday, September 19, 2014

The (Still) United Kingdom

There is at least one piece of good news in this otherwise all too troubled world. The Adults won in the Scottish Referendum! By a solid margin, the Scots voted for history and stability over iconoclastic adventurism. The 307-year old union between the kingdoms of England and Scotland will be preserved. 

Scotland and England have shared the same monarch since Scotland's James VI inherited England's Crown and became James I in 1603. It was James who added the word "Great" to the old Roman name for the island of Britain and who designed an early version of the Union Flag, combining the red cross of Saint George and the white cross of Saint Andrew. The union became complete in 1707, with the creation of a unitary parliament and state. (After Ireland joined the Union in 1801, a third cross was added for Saint Patrick; hence the present flag.) 

The Adults won. One of the most successful national unions in human history was recognized for the great accomplishment it has been - an accomplishment not to be casually cast aside for "light and transient causes." (Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote.)

Appreciating the past enables people to approach both present and future with wisdom and prudence, what Aristotle considered the pre-eminent political virtue. It also recognizes that we are products of a certain history. which has formed us in a certain way, and so structures our present lives and points us in particular ways toward the future.

That future may be uncertain, but would have been infinitely more so - not just for Scotland, but for the UK and Europe - had an adolescent secessionism succeeded in ripping apart one of the most successful states in European history and undoubtedly encouraged similar such secessionist movements elsewhere in Europe. 

Yesterday's vote against political disintegration was also - thanks to a record-high turnout of voters - a resounding affirmation of democracy. 

Of course, that Scottish independence ever reached this level of possibility is itself a tragic commentary on contemporary governance and the fragility of contemporary leadership in democratic societies. The late 20th-century Thatcherite revolution in the UK (paralleled by the equally harmful Reaganite revolution in the US) succeeded in seriously undermining the shared sense of common identity that binds a nation together The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, which Lincoln so famously (if unsuccessfully) invoked in 1861 in his First Inaugural Address.

Lincoln was able to put the United States back together - but only by victory in a long and bloody civil war. Some of its divisions, however, have yet to be overcome. They persist particularly in contemporary form in the Reaganite revolution's undermining of community and the society-wide crisis of inequality which is one of its legacies.

The United Kingdom has been saved as a national state. But for it to thrive as a national community - for the now renewed bonds of union to survive - it should take advantage of this opportunity now to make a renewed effort to overcome its recent Thatcherite divide and really become a United Kingdom in fact as well as in name. 

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