Brexit and the Fallacy of ‘Better People’

Brexit newspaper headline

The UK’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union has certainly generated much rending of garments among media and political figures on both sides of the Atlantic. I am still unclear how some breathless reporting on Google search trends plus interviews with a few clueless “Leave” supporters proved that all 17.4 million votes to leave the EU were cast by idiots, but I suppose that sort of incisive commentary is why we have media professionals.

I have little to say about the merits of Brexit itself. It will cause some short-term economic pain to Britain and to the global economy, but I am very sympathetic to the desire of the British not to be governed by unaccountable technocrats in Brussels (who celebrated Brexit with sweeping new regulations on electric kettles and toasters across the continent). For the moment, though, I am less interested in the merits of Brexit itself than in why the EU is seen as so essential by so many. Of course, there are plenty of reasons to support the EU, some of them quite sound, but much of the angst over Brexit seems to be driven by a sentimental attachment to the idea that the EU was a step in the direction of wiser, more dispassionate European governance. As such, it is part of a larger tendency, particularly common on the left, to want to solve social problems by putting Better People in charge of them.

“Better” invariably means membership in the intellectual class, with the education, assumptions, and values which go along with it. In the case of the EU, governance by officials who share the elites’ cosmopolitan internationalism (or anti-nationalism?) is supposed to avoid the conflict which has characterized most of the continent’s history, but this same instinct for putting Better People in charge plays out in a million ways in modern politics. In America, it has resulted in everything from the nationalization of health insurance to nanny-state oversight of parenting.

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Resign or resist? Thoughts on the Christian official’s dilemma

I always tell my students that ethics is one of the most vibrant and challenging areas of philosophy, because it asks how moral principles apply to our everyday world–and while morality is objective and eternal, our world changes with all the speed and unpredictability of an overflowing stream. As technology, science, and politics toss up new challenges, we have to figure out the right course of action in situations which previous generations might never have encountered. For example, what should a Christian elected official do when a constitutional right to same-sex marriage is suddenly “discovered” and enforced?

Yes, this is another article about (or at least inspired by) Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who was imprisoned for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was released from jail last week and announced on Monday that she would not block her deputy clerks from issuing the licenses, but even though her chapter of this story seems to be closing, her courageous stand raised issues for all of us to consider. I’m coming to the story late because, frankly, I wanted to take time to think about it. Morality doesn’t change, but human situations do, and Mrs. Davis’ particular flavor of moral dilemma has literally never existed before in history. I’m not just talking about same-sex marriage itself, but about the sudden imposition of same-sex marriage on a nation which is still unsure on the question and in which professing Christians hold elected offices which give them some degree of influence over marriage licenses. It is a unique moment, and one which calls for serious and prayerful thought about how those elected officials should respond.

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You should not support Donald Trump.

Perhaps you’ve heard: Donald Trump is running for president. (It’s been mentioned on the news a couple times.) Not only running, in fact, but consistently leading the polls by significant margins over his competitors in the Republican primary. Despite his awkward answers when asked about his faith at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa–he doesn’t ever ask God for forgiveness, he explained, but he does “drink my little wine” and “have my little cracker” in church–he leads among Christian voters as well as other demographics. This is embarrassing. Voting wisely is part of loving our neighbor, and Christians ought to be doing better than supporting a man who is basically the incarnation of the biblical definition of a fool.

Put aside the political question of why Republican primary voters would support a man who once described himself as “very pro-choice” on abortion, including partial-birth abortion; who once advocated universal healthcare and praised single-payer systems in other countries during last week’s debate; who used to actively support Hillary Clinton; and who was a registered Democrat until 2009. Perhaps he has simply changed his political views. All of them. Be that as it may, I am more interested in the man himself because, ultimately, a presidential election is not about a binder of policy positions–it is about a person.

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