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Failure to read the signs: “Oedipus and the Sphinx”, 1808, by Ingres


To be sure, there is nothing less exceptional in Europe than exceptionalism. Few countries fail to brandish their own proud traditions and finest hours. The EU is a machinery designed to turn exceptions into rules, and exceptional countries into rule-bound ones. British law-abiding exceptionalism lies both in taking the EU too literally and in its insistence on special treatment, in or out of the EU. As the French like to say, these guys want le beurre, l’argent du beurre et les baisers de la fermière.

But then again, which country in the EU does not have a so-called transactional view? Which does not ask “what’s in it for me”? The Brits are only exceptional in their belief that leaving the table altogether could strengthen their hand.

The insistence that “exodus means exodus” by the guardians of the faith on the continent cannot obscure the fundamentals — that Brexit means inventing a new category of country, namely the “former EU member-state”. The Hebrews toiled in Egypt for many centuries before they left — we can’t treat the Brits as if they had never been part of us, can we? Never ran our markets and filled our coffers — they deserve better than those who have never been our equals around the table, who do not know our grand strategies and dirty little secrets. Unless, of course, their self-righteousness manages to test the goodwill of even their more fervent supporters on the the Continent.

The other fundamental — as the Putin-Trump axis lays bare the old commonalities — is about that idea called Europe, which is not the EU and somehow remains the Promised Land, if we believe the Brexiteers. Majorities in Europe still equate Europeanness with support for EU membership, but perhaps we need to reinvent the idea of being European as actors in a web of networks of which the EU is only one. Ultimately, the Jews left Egypt but not the Middle East.

Which brings us to our second story. Brexit is not just about Britain, of course.
As we shift our gaze from the little island coyly retreating within its shores, to the continent as a whole, itself the small tip of the Asian landmass, we find lands submerged by one seismic wave after another, each stronger than the one before, with no time to absorb the aftershock of the preceding one. Chaos is upon us and the shockwave threatens to engulf the very foundation of our post-war order.

As meaning drifts towards stories of reckoning, we read Brexit as a revealer of uncomfortable truths. Brexit no longer just means the plain fact that Britain will leave, but instead implies an injunction:  Brexit means that everyone should leave.  It is about the fate that is awaiting the ever-smaller union. The Brits have only dared to make it visible.

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Anonymous
July 11th, 2017
8:07 PM
Charles VIII? Did no one proof read?

Mark G..
July 7th, 2017
9:07 AM
A very well written article, didn't expect something that good, thank you :) From a casual perspective Brexit could mean a lot to the UK, but in fact, the EU will probably maintain friendly and cooperative relations with the UK. Time will tell... Best regards, Mark from https://www.localdig.co.uk/

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