Why I am voting leave

I am voting for the UK to leave the European Union in Thursday’s referendum. This will be of little surprise to anyone who’s spoken to me on the subject at any time over the last twenty years. However, as the referendum approached I wanted to elaborate on my decision, particularly as I’ve seen some people express some confusion over the whole topic. There seems to be some sort of belief in some quarters that if we had all the “facts”, that there would be a single obvious correct decision. But that’s not how human beings or politics work. The issues at stake in the referendum are not simply a matter of empirical facts, they’re about principles. I happen to believe that some principles are more correct than others, but it’s not the sort of thing one can establish by simple numbers.

 

First principles

It’s worth establishing some basic principles that go into my thinking:

  1. The worth of the individual human soul is supernal. As a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, I believe human beings to be eternal, and and that the exercise of our agency plays a crucial part in fulfilling the purpose of our life here on earth (D&C 101:77-78). By political conviction, I believe that freedom under a just law is essential to allowing human beings the opportunity to express their full potential.
  2. In contrast, all governments, nations and political institutions will have an eventual end. No state lasts forever. For this reason I am patriot, not a nationalist, as there are principles that are more important and longer significance than national aggrandizement. In the long run both the EU and UK will cease to exist. Combining that with the above leads to:
  3. The legitimacy of government depends upon the extent to which it protects liberty (especially of conscience) and life. Government was made for man, not man for government. Any government that does not serve these purposes is not legitimate, no matter what it is based upon or how it is selected. Democracy, after all, is not the same as liberty; where those conflict, I come down squarely in favour of the latter.

It’s entirely possibly, of course, for people to share the same principles but disagree about the means, and for people of good faith to disagree about what political policies would best meet good principles. However, I believe that there are several principles connected with the above that would be best served by leaving the European Union.

 

Why leave the European Union

 

Accountability

I believe the ability to hold governments and their officials accountable is an essential part of their being able to serve their purposes as outlined above. I see, however, little evidence of any such accountability where the European Union is concerned.

Accountability is not precisely the same as democracy: it’s possible for a system to be democratic, and yet not accountable. It’s the downside of at least some proportional representation systems, such as the closed-list system we use for MEPs in this country (though that’s our fault, not the EU’s). MEPs are allotted according to the party vote, and then individuals become MEPs according to their position on a list by their respective parties. Of course, that makes it nearly impossible for the public to remove any particular individual from their position so long as they’re in good standing with their party. Similar difficulties can be seen on the continent, where the coincidence of PR and a tendency towards grand coalitions in some countries mean that the same governing coalition can be perpetuated for decades, no matter the election results.

On to the EU. The primary role in proposing, initiating and executing EU legislation resides with the European Commission, an unelected body who combine the role of the Executive (think the Prime Minister, or the US President) and the civil service. The idea that they somehow count as elected because they are selected by national governments should be immediately fallacious to anyone considering similar such nominated posts (such as in Quangos) in this country. Our commissioners in particular often end up being politicians who have been rejected by the electorate at home: a near perfect demonstration of unaccountability, where their accountability to the electorate at home has been rewarded with new powers abroad. The Commission is theoretically accountable to the EU Parliament, but the Commission enjoys broad powers in shaping how legislation is implemented, while the Parliament itself is also a subject of concerning between the party groupings and turn out figures for its elections.

Another example of how this lack of accountability manifests itself can be seen in responses to other referendums. The Republic of Ireland voted no via referendum for both the treaty of Nice and Lisbon; in both cases a second referendum was held shortly thereafter that provided a yes result. The French and Dutch referendums on the EU constitution were effectively rendered null and void when said constitution was largely incorporated via the treaty of Lisbon. And of course both the Brown government and Cameron reneged on pledges regarding referendums on the EU constitution and Lisbon treaty respectively. Such unaccountability makes it more likely that government can serve its own interests, not those of the people it is supposedly serving, and more likely that it can become corrupt.

As I shall elaborate on below, however, I do not think this unaccountability can be corrected. It’s an inevitable part of such a system.

 

Self-government

A second major reason I believe it is important to leave the European Union is the principle of self-government. In order to preserve freedom, to help ensure local government and to encourage people to make the fullest use of their potential, government decisions should be made as close to the people affecting them, and ideally by them, as possible. It’s good for people to govern themselves, rather than have solutions imposed upon individuals, families or communities. This is also a matter of efficiency: it is impossible to micromanage everything from the centre, since such efforts cannot respond to local situations, or even obtain good enough information to properly be aware of them. Attempts to fix problems inevitably become bureaucratic exercises in reporting, which consume time and energy and make things even worse. We see that happen in the UK  as it is.

Theoretically, the EU subscribes to the principle of “subsidiarity”, which embraces this idea that decisions should be made closest to the people affected by them. However, in practice the EU sees no problem in legally imposing uniform regulations, often involving the smallest matters, across the EU. In practice, then, regulations and rules are often made at an even higher layer of administration than they otherwise would be. The logic of “ever closer union” (as coined in the 1957 treaty of Rome, establishing the EEC) leaves no stopping point for efforts to try and enforce uniformity. Decisions that should be the remit of the national government, or lower still, are deemed to require uniform rules across an entire continent.

This lack of self-government can be seen in other areas. Remain campaigners sometimes mention EU spending projects. Yet – since the UK is net contributor – what these represent is the UK providing funds to the EU, of which the EU provides a portion back to spend in a fashion authorised by EU officials. Any such projects could have easily been paid for without sending the money to Brussels, and without the conditions and strings that get attached. Do those mentioning these projects feel that EU officials are the people best placed to determine the priorities for the people of the UK? Likewise there is mention from the political left of labour laws and so on. But not a single one of those laws could not be made at home. The implicit concession in such statements is that they feel they are unable to persuade the British electorate of the advantages of these laws, and so they must be imposed from abroad. I’m not sure that’s a political argument to boast of: “we can’t get British citizens to agree with us, so we must stay in the EU so our political preferences can be enforced by foreign officials.” It’s rank hypocrisy when it comes from the SNP, who campaign for Scottish self-government, but feel the English must not have it as they’re not left-wing enough (and yes, if the Scottish people wanted to exercise self-government outside of association with the UK, I think that would be perfectly proper, provided it’s their own choice).

And it’s really the principle of self-government that I see affecting things like immigration. I’m in favour of restricting immigration, but I could see circumstances where it’d be better to open it up. But such a decision, which can significantly affect the social and cultural make up of a nation, should be made by those affected by it. Whether we want to increase or decrease immigration isn’t really the key point; the key point is that whatever we want to do, that decision should be made by the British people

 

Identity

There’s a third reason I personally am favour of leaving the EU, which comes down to a simple matter of identity.

Identities can overlap, of course. The Scottish referendum two years back hinged on how people weighed their identities as British and Scottish, and whether they saw them as compatible. I myself, after personally seeing myself as “me”, have identities as a follower of Christ, as a Latter-day Saint, as English, as a Westerner and as British. Some of those take priority over others – I see myself as English more than I see myself as British – but those don’t cancel each other out.

What I don’t see myself as is “European”.

I’m sure some people do, and I won’t speak for them. But I don’t feel “European” in any more than a geographical and ethnic sense, which isn’t much in my book. I find myself largely agreeing with Bismark, that Europe is a “geographical expression”. Culturally I find more in common with my coreligionists, or my fellow English speakers, than people who simply share the same continent as myself. And whenever attempts are made to codify “European values”, I can’t help but find I don’t fit in (though that might be because said values tend to be less “European” values, than “Guardian readers” values). I can’t think of anything other than geographical location that I share with other Europeans, but not with an inhabitant of North America or Australia or wherever. And that’s not going to change: we’re voting to leave the European Union, not to tow the UK further into the Atlantic.

As said, I’m sure others feel differently. But I don’t believe there’s a huge majority of such people. And that’s a problem that ties into the above concerns with accountability and self-government. The EU is structured as a (rather deficient) democracy. But there is no European demos (people). Rather there are lots of different peoples with very different interests. Thus there is no single “public” to hold EU leaders to account, no single public to debate issues (just think of how media is divided, even just by linguistic issues). In practice, the EU can’t function as a democracy; the bureaucracy is simply an inevitable consequence. Likewise any decision made at the EU level will smack of undermining self-government, and any decision will be one national interest prevailing over another. No EU leader is in a position to try and persuade the European people, because there is no unified European people to persuade. And as I am not a European, I reject the notion of any “European” government presuming to rule over me.

 

Other matters

There’s a couple of things that I haven’t addressed above, mainly because I don’t see them as the most important issues, but I’ll briefly mention them here.

Firstly, there’s concerns that voting to leave is an expression of xenophobia. It’s aggravating when those accusations come from people less acquainted with foreign affairs than oneself, and from people on the internet who seem to lack the ability to spell in English, let alone other languages (Boris Johnson seems to express similar frustration here, pointing out amongst other things that his family “are the genetic equivelent of a UN peacekeeping force”). Are there likely to be xenophobes supporting the Leave campaign? Yes. Then again, there’s unreconstructed Stalinists supporting the Remain campaign, but I’m not accusing Cameron of wanting to finish off the Kulaks.

There’s also suggestions, spread by our Prime Minister alas, that the European Union has kept the peace since World War 2, and that leaving the EU presents security risks and could even lead to a world war. Which is nonsense. Setting aside the 3rd World War for the moment (which alas is likely to happen at some point in the future, though will probably not be affected one way or the other by Brexit), the peace in Europe was secured by the military standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, and particularly the threat of escalation to nuclear warfare. It was MAD (mutually assured destruction), not the EEC, which stopped a shooting war from happening in Europe. Notice that when the Cold War ended shooting wars did start up again in Europe (Yugoslavia, anyone?), and it was US military intervention, not European treaties, that ended them. The United States and Russia (though the latter is much diminished) are still the major military players on the European scene, and the EU has benefited from relying on the former’s security umbrella. That security umbrella is now looking rather leaky, but due to political developments in the United States rather than anywhere else, and in or out, the UK will likely need new security policies.

Thirdly, some speak of us losing influence, by losing our vote on European forums. This seems postulated on two doubtful assertions: 1) That seeking to exert influence over our neighbours at the price of our own self-government is beneficial to the British people. 2) That we get our way in these arguments. One look at our track record in attempting to secure reform of the Common Agricultural Policy – or for that matter one look at Cameron’s attempts to secure a deal to keep Britain in the EU – should show we rarely secure such influence. There is no great influence to be found in joining a club to be consistently outvoted. And some of those making this argument – such as the US government – don’t really have our interests at heart. They simply want us to be the American trade delegate in the EU, a position they feel we should be honoured with. I disagree.

Finally I have not commented on economic issues. That’s partly because things here are more balanced. Leaving the EU will not lead to economic utopia, and will probably require hard work. On the other hand, staying in the EU won’t lead to economic utopia either. The EU is a major destination for our exports, and potential new trade barriers could cause problems with that. On the other hand, the EU exports more to us than we send to them, so punitive restrictions would punish them more than us (and if our fellow EU members are petty and nasty enough to punish us even if it hurts them, that’s another reason to leave). On the Remain side of the ledger, however, is the risks posed by the Euro and economic troubles in Southern Europe dragging the whole thing down. It should be remembered that many of the so-called “experts” (some of whom were not experts at all: there are few job qualifications for a politician) who are claiming leaving the EU will lead to ruin are the same people who argued back in the 1990s and early 2000s that staying out of the Euro would also be disastrous. Their judgement is self-evidently faulty, and a number of nations have paid the price.

There are economic risks either side, and those who are hoping to have an option without economic risk will be forever disappointed. Moreover, “man shall not live by bread alone”: even if only leaving posed economic risks, they would be worth taking because the principles of self-government and accountable government are worth far more. We have a unique opportunity to exercise that self-government for ourselves, and hopefully use it to secure a freer and more accountable government for the future.

 

2 Nephi 30

And now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.

For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel.

(2 Nephi 30:1-2)

I’ve mentioned before that a key theme of the Book of Mormon – including 2 Nephi 25-30 – is the restoration of Israel and conversely judgment upon the Gentiles who have oppressed them. Yet these verses help correct any misapprehension we may have of that: Israel will be restored, collectively. On an individual scale, however, it is personal repentance and faith that make the difference. We will not be saved based on who our ancestors were, nor on what our nationality is, nor on nominal membership of the Church; we cannot be complacent and think everything is okay because we belong to the “right” group. We are all going to be held accountable, for God is just. Likewise He mercifully extends his salvation to all, on the same conditions.

2 Nephi 20

Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, send among his fat ones, leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.

And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame, and shall burn and shall devour his thorns and his briers in one day;

And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body; and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.

And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

The remnant shall return, yea, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.

For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return; the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

(2 Nephi 20:16-22//Isaiah 10:16-22)

This passage reminds me of the passages in 1 Peter 4:17 and D&C 112:25:

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

(1 Peter 4:17)

And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;

(D&C 112:25)

Ancient Israel, because of her pride, idolatry and complacency, came under judgment, often by the means of the wicked nations surrounding it before they in turn received a reckoning. But I do not think Isaiah’s words apply only to ancient Israel, and likewise Peter warns and we’re told in the latter-days that God’s judgment will fall upon us (“the house of God”) first. Mere membership of his kingdom will not spare us from this process; indeed it makes us more accountable. But God’s judgment also serves as a cleansing and a sifting process, and the remnant who are left will be far more faithful. The question, I guess, is how we respond to that process and which direction we are sifted in.

1 Nephi 10

And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Therefore remember, O man, for all thy doings thou shalt be brought into judgment.

1 Nephi 10:17-20

As my thoughts touch on these verses, I wonder if this is simultaneously one of the greatest blessings and greatest responsibilities of the gospel. God, the omnipotent creator of the universe, who gives life and light to all things, is willing to reveal himself to us. And while he may speak especially to chosen prophets and so on, he is willing to reveal himself by means of the Holy Ghost to “all those who diligently seek him”, no matter when or where they live. Each of us, however lowly, may be brought into supernatural communication with our creator.

At the same time, because that opportunity is available, we are accountable for whether we seek it or not. If we truly seek it ‘diligently’ (and from scripture and experience, I believe that must be a full-hearted and not a superficial effort – see James 1:6-7 and the conditions in Moroni 10:3-5), we will in time have that blessing. But if we choose not to seek it, or to seek it with sufficient diligence and faithfulness, we shall ‘be brought into judgment’.

2020 Edit:

I quote 1 Nephi 10:17-19 above, and that’s part of what always sticks out to me upon reading this chapter, because I think that’s an important part of the message of the Book of Mormon as a whole. Nephi also wants to see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost: and then we are reminded that this is the gift of God to all those who diligently seek him, both in the past as well as in the time that Christ shall appear. Nephi has confidence that if he seeks, he will find, which he does in 1 Nephi 11-14. This is really the turning point where this now becomes Nephi’s account, and not just that of his father, and so he states in verse 1 that ‘[a]nd now I, Nephi, proceed to give an account upon these plates of my proceedings, and my reign and ministry’ (my emphasis).

However, this is not just about Nephi. Just as Nephi had confidence that God could and would make things known to him by the power of the Holy Ghost, we are to have the same confidence on the same basis: that God had done so “as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come” (v. 17). We too can seek to learn and know things by the power of the Holy Ghost, and be confident that if we diligently seek him God will reveal himself to us. Many of the miracles in the Book of Mormon have counterparts in the Bible. This is particularly noticeable in 3 Nephi, where a number of events in Christ’s ministry there tie up with events in the Gospels, and are done in a way intended to draw attention to that fact. In part, this allows the Book of Mormon to act as a second witness – another testimony – of Jesus Christ, by testifying that the miracles he wrought were not confined to one narrow section of place and time, but took place elsewhere too. However, as I discuss in chapter 5 of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (so this thing now stands out to me), the implied – and at times (like here) the explicit – message of the text is that such things are not just confined to the Book of Mormon either:

Mormon thus claims not only that he has witnessed them, but that these three Nephite disciples ‘will’ be among people in future times, and ‘can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good’. Mormon moves beyond speaking of the appearance and activities of these men as a past event to predicting that they will be a part of future events and can be a part of present experience. Here Given’s concept of iterability offers an important point, that ‘the proliferation of historical
iterations … collectively become[s] the ongoing substance rather than the shadow of God’s past dealings in the universe’ (By the Hand of Mormon, p. 50). Likewise Hardy suggests that the miracles described are intended to act as a ‘concrete demonstration’ that Christ could likewise be ‘present in the lives of believers’ (Understanding the Book of Mormon, p. 198). The repetition of miraculous events like those in the Gospels may therefore be offered not only as a confirmation of those Gospel events, but also as a suggestion that such events need not be limited to any particular time and place but are paradigmatic.

Thus at the end of Book of Mormon’s narrative in 3 Nephi, this account – which features a wide range of miraculous events similar to those seen in the Gospels –concludes not only by affirming that such events took place, but also by asserting that such miracles can and are meant to continue to occur. The ‘iterability’ of such events may be there to indicate that these miracles and manifestations of Christ are not confined to the pages of the Bible, nor the Book of Mormon either, but to suggest implicitly – and in the case of appearances of the three disciples, explicitly – that such occurrences can be a reality now, in the lives of its readers.

(The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, pp. 291-293)

What’s being offered here in this chapter is not just a story of how Nephi went on to have his vision, but a paradigm of how we can have such revelatory experiences too, and that is part of the point. Nephi could have them just as much as his father did and those before him, and we can experience them just as much as Nephi did and those before us.

Also worth noting is Lehi’s quoting from the future, by quoting the words of the yet unborn (by about six centuries) John the Baptist in 1 Nephi 10:8. I’ve written more about this (and the implications of this feat) elsewhere in this series, as well as in chapter four of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

I also find it interesting how Lehi speaks of the scattering (and future gathering) of Israel here. There’s heavy use of olive tree imagery (which presages the extensive allegory found in Jacob 5), but what I find interesting is the almost positive description of the scattering. That is usually depicted as a punishment due to wickedness (see, for instance, 1 Nephi 22:4-5). Yet here Nephi records Lehi as saying:

Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.

(1 Nephi 10:13)

Here, the scattering not only has a pleasant destination (‘the land of promise’), but is done to fulfil the divine word. It seems that few of God’s acts have just one motivation, and crucial events in his plan appear to address multiple things at the same time. While punishment is part of the picture for the scattering, it is not the only thing, and while the future gathering fulfils God’s promises, the scattering was also a necessary part of the plan, one which provided for the word of God to go out to all the world, to (as Jacob 5 indicates) save more than one olive tree, and as Paul suggests in Romans 11 (also filled with olive tree imagery), a means by which ‘salvation is come unto the Gentiles’ (Romans 11:11).

 

 

Reading the Book of Mormon: Title Page

As I have done many times before, as part of my personal study I have started reading the Book of Mormon from the beginning once again. This time around, however, I thought I do something a little different and record something here – however small – that catches my attention in each chapter I read. I plan to read a chapter a day, so should have some small thing each day. Anyone who happens to have any observations on the same chapters is welcome to chime in on the comments.

Without further ado, today I read the Title Page and the Testimonies (as well as the introduction, though that isn’t part of the sacred text itself). I’ve commented to a lot of people on the importance of the Title Page in particular, especially once we understand that it is the actual beginning of the Book of Mormon (and not 1 Nephi 1:1!). This time around, however, my eye was caught on the wonderfully ambiguous phrase that the Book of Mormon was “written by way of commandment“. This doubtless refers principally to the fact that the various authors of the Book and its source documents were commanded to write it, but it also carries a potential meaning applying to us: that the Book of Mormon was not just written because of commandments, but is written as commandments, and that its writings carry the force of divine commandments for us.

EDIT (from additional reading for 2020 “Come Follow Me” schedule): Reading the Title Page again (I will make separate posts for the other front matter), I am struck once again by its tone. This was a big insight I got while preparing The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. I write in that about how much of the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible is related to the key themes laid out on the Title Page (namely revelation & prophecy; the covenants with and the restoration of the house of Israel; and the divinity and messianic role of Christ), but one big thing to simply notice and bear in mind throughout the rest of reading the Book of Mormon is the difference it makes realising that this – which is part of the plates proper – is the beginning of the book, and not “I Nephi, having be born of goodly parents”. Reading through the lens of the latter, one is tempted to think of it as a story. Reading the book with this as the beginning means that it opens up with a declaration of where it came from, the divine inspiration and commandment that it was written and will be translated under, and a declaration of its essential aims. It makes the Book of Mormon as a whole read less as a story, and more of what it is: what one perceptive non-LDS scholar termed “a burning manifesto”. The Book of Mormon will recount history to serve its purposes, but it is not doing so merely to entertain or inform, but to convince and persuade its readers, and while it may disavow complete inerrancy (“if there are faults”), it also fiercely asserts divine authority, and that those who reject and condemn it will be held accountable before the judgment-seat of Christ.