BREXIT has multiple repercussions — political, economic and social — that will continue to reverberate for many years around the world. As a student of political science and one who has followed world affairs since the end of the World War II, I have felt a personal sense of disappointment at this event. For my generation, brought up on the history of multiple wars in Europe for several centuries, resulting in havoc and millions of deaths, the emergence of the European Union (EU) was virtually a miracle. Countries such as France, Germany and Great Britain that had been at each other’s throats for many generations had finally decided that the time had come to sink their differences and move towards an economic, and then a quasi-political union.
Miraculously, in front of our very eyes, the deutsche mark disappeared, the franc disappeared, the Italian lira disappeared and were replaced by the euro. Instead of having to change currency and produce visas whenever one crossed national borders, it became possible to travel smoothly throughout Europe on a Schengen visa. This movement towards regional groupings seemed to be a logical progression from the nation state towards the rapidly emerging global society unified by astounding technological breakthroughs, especially instant communications. We held up the EU as a template towards which SAARC should attempt to move. The idea was that in due course these regional groupings would come together in a more effective structure than the present UN, thus paving the way for what the poet Alfred Tennyson called “The Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World”.
Into this idealistic notion Brexit has come like a black swan. Whether or not this marks the beginning of the unraveling of the EU remains to be seen, but it is certainly a setback to what we thought was a logical development towards a harmonious global society. The persistent turmoil in West Asia and the subsequent massive emigration of millions has, of course, been a significant factor in this development, and this is echoing across many European countries as well as the US. The ISIS has declared its delight that Brexit has taken place, which itself has ominous overtones.
Sri Aurobindo in a message on August 15, 1947 (also his 75th birthday) outlined five dreams for the future of India and the world. His third dream for a “world-union” is so relevant that it merits being reproduced in full.
“The third dream was a world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind. That unification of the human world is under way; there is an imperfect initiation organised but struggling against tremendous difficulties. But the momentum is there and it must inevitably increase and conquer. Here too India has begun to play a prominent part and, if she can develop that larger statesmanship which is not limited by the present facts and immediate possibilities but looks into the future and brings it nearer, her presence may make all the difference between a slow and timid and a bold and swift development. A catastrophe may intervene and interrupt or destroy what is being done, but even then the final result is sure. For unification is a necessity of Nature, an inevitable movement. Its necessity for the nations is also clear, for without it the freedom of the small nations may be at any moment in peril and the life even of the large and powerful nations insecure. The unification is therefore to the interests of all, and only human imbecility and stupid selfishness can prevent it; but these cannot stand for ever against the necessity of Nature and the Divine Will.”
“But an outward basis is not enough; there must grow up an international spirit and outlook, international forms and institutions must appear, perhaps such developments as dual or multilateral citizenship, willed interchange or voluntary fusion of cultures. Nationalism will have fulfilled itself and lost its militancy and would no longer find these things incompatible with self-preservation and the integrality of its outlook. A new spirit of oneness will take hold of the human race.”
To say that Brexit reflected “human imbecility and stupid selfishness” would perhaps be too strong a condemnation, but its negative implications are certainly a matter of grave concern and we can only hope that the “catastrophe” he mentions does not involve a nuclear conflagration. That Sri Aurobindo, once the fiery prophet of Indian nationalism, had come to hope that nationalism would finally give way to a “new spirit of oneness” is striking, but on the ground things seem to be moving in the opposite direction. To close on a lighter note, here is a limerick: “God’s plan made a hopeful beginning/ But Man spoiledhis chances by sinning/ We hope that the story/ Will end in God’s glory/ But at present the other side’s winning.”