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It is even harder to dismiss the second variant of Euroscepticism. Is hostility to the EU unfairly the collateral damage of the pathologies of national democracy tout court? Yes, when we recall that Brussels empowers people as consumers, activists, or confronters of corporate power. No, if we see the EU as an enabler of elite collusion, allowing the political class across Europe to strike a Faustian bargain, exchanging self-government at national level for liberal constitutionalism at EU level. Weber feared his beloved bureaucracy turning into his infamous iron cage — but this one is an iron cage in a bubble.

The elites cannot forever drift in their lifeboat in the belief that reckoning is simply part of the false consciousness that has beset the hoi polloi, the people who fail to acknowledge that technocrats are here to deliver “public goods” which, precisely because these are “public”, cannot be left to the public’s whims. It is their missionary zeal that is on trial, which has made the European project not only safe for but also safe from democracy.

In the myth of Er which concludes The Republic, Plato tells us that we might or might not learn from our past lives when choosing future ones, but that either way it is not an easy thing. Even the gods can be tricked by the pious but false “man of the people” (sic), who pretends to be righteous and is thus destined to eat his own children.

In this tale of equal-opportunity afterlife, only love of wisdom, justice, courage and moderation, not the pretence of these virtues, can break the cycle of reward and punishment.

Can the EU become wise and be saved?

If reckoning means re-knowing, rather than the very last judgement, we are in a world of second chances. Let us not trivialise this opportunity through “last chance” summits and reform plans. On the contrary, Oedipus’s fate is meant to remind us that truth-seeking comes not in a big bang but through successive initiations.

It might help to start by distinguishing between existential and transformative scepticism — scepticism about the EU’s raison d’être and scepticism about what it does. If we listen to the latter, and if the EU were to become the guardian of the long-term, much could be saved for future generations.

But perhaps Brexit does mean Bereshit, after all (the Torah’s “in the beginning”, that is). What if we told the story not as a signal for something that will or should happen, but rather as an event that in itself changes the world — a story of sacrifice on the altar of the greater good? Under this narrative, Britain takes the form of Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigenia, “the strong-born”, offered to the Gods for the winds to rise and the Greek flotilla to sail off to conquer Troy. Brexit means that you leave the EU in order to save it.

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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

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