Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Brexit: Getting to the Root of Britain’s Unease with the EU
UENO Kagefumi / Professor (non-tenured), Kyorin University

November 10, 2016
A range of commentaries have already been set forth on the Brexit referendum of June 2016, many of which focus on mistrust toward the European Union or the groundswell of nationalism within EU member countries. There is something amiss, however, about the views that have been presented thus far. In terms of the revival of nationalism, the question of why Britain made the plunge toward parting ways with the EU ahead of other member states, despite its situation being no different from that of others, has not been sufficiently addressed. To elucidate this perspective, an effective explanation is that the British people harbor a deeper unease toward the EU compared to those of continental European countries. This would seem to call for a civilizational approach.

As I see it, the historic decision parallels the decision made by Henry VIII in 1534, in the sense that the king made the choice of severing ties with the rest of Europe on a religious dimension, whereas Brexit was on a secular dimension. If the king’s discomfort and objections were directed toward the Roman Catholic Church with its global reach and the pope at its apex, the discomfort and objections of the British 400 years down the road were with the secular yet extremely Vaticanistic world of the EU. In effect, history has repeated itself four centuries later.

Indeed, many British people are skeptical of the “civilization” called the EU—most likely without being conscious of it. This is because many aspects of the EU are reminiscent of the Catholic Church (from which many Brits keep a distance). Simply put, the EU is an organization of the Vatican type. It is no wonder that British people who feel uncomfortable with the Catholic Church feel the same way with the EU.

I would like to offer three points by way of explaining what defines the EU as a Vaticanistic organization, though admittedly with some hyperbole.

    1. Both entities uphold “absolute doctrines”—God as being “one, uique and sacred” in the case of the Vatican and Europe as being “one, unique and sacred” for the EU.

    2. Specific principles and codes of conduct are all deduced from their respective doctrines, a process that is exclusively performed by the highest authority—the pope and Vatican bureaucrats on the one hand, the president of the European Commission and EU bureaucrats on the other. These principles and codes of conduct are then transmitted throughout the world or across Europe, and those in the lower echelons (individual worshippers and EU member states) act in accordance with them.

    3. Both structures are strongly imbued with universalism (transcending national borders), idealism, elitism (rule of the wise), and a top-down approach.

These attributes are at odds with the national character or temperament of the British in several respects, two of which I note here.

    1. The Vatican and the EU derive their norms and standards of behavior deductively from their respective doctrines. The British, meanwhile, believe that running everything according to doctrine is overly idealistic and a stretch, preferring instead to make flexible and realistic judgments on a case-by-case basis (empiricism, common-sensism). The absence of a constitution is a case in point.

    2. Whereas the Vatican and the EU are for the most part centralized, top-down, elitist organizations, Britain is strongly oriented toward decentralization, has a widespread grass-roots mentality, and prefers a bottom-up approach.

In short, the Vatican and the EU are of a different “civilization type” from that of Britain. For this reason, the former do not quite mesh with the British. The Strait of Dover is more than just a physical divide between the European continent and Britain; it also separates the two in civilizational terms. That is the “civilizational background” to Britain’s having redefined its relationship with continental Europe on two occasions, four centuries apart—although, for some reason, no such views have been heard to explain the difference .

Some may argue that Henry VIII’s break with Rome was merely personal in nature, a way of solving the problem of divorce. But while his divorce may have been a trigger, antipathy to the Catholic Church was already strong among the populace at the time. Far from the king being alone in his discomfort toward Rome, the sentiment was widely shared by the British people at all levels.

As shown above, British unease with the EU arises from unique circumstances not seen in continental European countries. That is why Britain voted to leave the EU ahead of other member states. Reading politics in a civilizational context may have its hazards, but looking at Brexit from a civilizational perspective—that the civilization type differs between the north and south of the Strait of Dover—enables us to understand the phenomenon more deeply. We must not overlook the aspect of Brexit as an alarm sounded from British common-sensism toward an EU that has pushed things too far and continues to overreach itself time and again.

Reference: Ueno Kagefumi, Bachikan no sei to zoku: Nihon taishi no 1,400 nichi [The Sacred and Secular in the Vatican: 1,400 Days of a Japanese Ambassador] (Kanagawa: Kamakura Shunjusha, 2011).

Kagefumi Ueno is a civilizational essayist and former Ambassador to the Holy See.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

英国のEU離脱 - EUへの違和感の根っこを探る
上野 景文 / 杏林大学特任教授

2016年 11月 10日




    ① 両者とも、「絶対的ドクトリン」を掲げる――「神は、唯一にして神聖」(バチカン)、「欧州は、唯一にして神聖」(EU)。

    ② 具体的原理原則や行動規範は、全てこのドクトリンから演釋的に導かれる。その作業は、最高権威者-――法王以下バチカン官僚、欧州委員長以下EU官僚-――が独占的に実施。それらの原理原則や規範は、世界(欧州)全体に遍く下達され、末端(信徒、EU各国)は、それらに従って行動。

    ③ 両機構とも、(国境を超越した)普遍主義、理念主義、エリーティズム(賢人支配)、トップダウン色が強い。


    ① バチカン・EUが、規範、行動基準をドクトリンから演釋的に導くのに対し、英国人は、全てをドクトリンで仕切るのは、理念過多で、無理があるとし、その都度の柔軟かつ現実的判断を好む(経験主義、常識主義)。憲法不在が好例だ。

    ② バチカン・EUでは、中央集権的、トップダウン、賢人支配色が強いのに対し、英国では、分権志向が根強く、草の根主義が強く、ボトムアップを志向。




(参考)上野景文「バチカンの聖と俗 日本大使の一四〇〇日」(かまくら春秋社)

一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Brexit: Getting to the Root of Britain’s Unease with the EU