Will Lane is a Contributor to Conatus News. Here we talk about Brexit, the UK, progressive politics, and more.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your own background in religion, or not, and progressive politics? How did you get your start in it?
Will Lane: I am an atheist, and apart from a brief period in my early teens have been for my entire life. However my personal experiences with religion have not on the whole been negative, being British means that the most common forms of Christianity in my country tend towards the moderate and community focused rather than moralistic or dogmatic.
As to progressive politics I’m not really sure whether I do have a background in it, the word progressive isn’t really a term that applies to British politics, we would call progressives either liberals or socialists depending on their political viewpoints. I would consider myself a liberal, since my focus in on individual rights and freedoms, and as such would probably agree with most progressives on issues like LGBT rights and universal healthcare.
Jacobsen: You have done some commentary on Brexit and the UK. What was the summary of your analysis in 2016 and 2017?
Lane: My argument had two essential parts, the first was that the classically liberal political ideals that lead people to vote Leave, the ideals of nationalism and especially national sovereignty, had been ignored by analysts in favour of narratives based on economic and social factors such as poverty or immigration.
I wasn’t arguing that those economic and social factors were unimportant, indeed they might have been more important to Leave voters overall than the political ideals. However, the political beliefs still mattered, and they were being overlooked because they didn’t jive with the political narratives being set out by either the right or the left, both of which were dealing heavily in immigration being the main factor in the Brexit vote.
My second argument was that in order to survive in a post-Brexit world, liberals needed to re-examine the ideals of liberal nationalists such as Giuseppe Mazzini and John Stewart Mill. Liberalism as an ideology has moved away from nationalism since the Second World War, and this has meant that it struggles to deal with the resurgent nationalism that has sprung up in the last decade. In it’s place conservatism has become the main bulwark against the far right, a state of affairs that is hardly encouraging for anyone who wants to see more open and accepting European societies.
I argued (and still argue) that liberals need to re-discover liberal nationalism in order to mount an effective counter to both far-right xenophobic nationalism, and the insular, navel gazing nationalism of traditional conservatism. The Leave campaign paradoxically proved that liberal nationalist ideals resonate with a large portion of the British population, the campaign’s slogan ‘take back control’ and the general idea of freeing the UK from the chains of an oppressive empire was ripped straight from the playbook of the original liberal nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini and would have been familiar to any 19th century classical liberal.
In order for liberalism to matter in the midst of this nationalist upsurge we need to compromise with the prevailing cultural mood, not by giving in to the worst instincts of xenophobia, racism and bigotry as the far right do, nor by pulling up the drawbridge and shutting out the rest of the world as conservatives would have us do, but by re-imagining potent classically liberal ideals of freedom, national identity, tolerance and civic duty for the 21st century.
Jacobsen: What is your updated view on Brexit and the UK with more time to read, digest, and see new developments of it?
Lane: My view of Brexit overall has always been fairly bleak, and the last two years haven’t changed that. It looks likely that what will happen is a fudge on the most important issues, such as the financial industry and especially Northern Ireland, while smaller issues are left hanging for years after our date of leaving. It’s difficult for me to see Brexit as anything other than a bad thing for all concerned; the EU will be without its second biggest economy, most internationally focused voice and one of its largest militaries, causing a massive budget hole and almost certainly making it more insular and less willing to respond to outside threats.
Meanwhile Britain will be left with damage to its vitally important financial sector, without EU funding and subsidies for protected industries, and less ability to punch above its weight in international politics. This isn’t even going into the nightmarish issue of untangling EU from British law and regulations, nor the social issues and rise in hate crime dredged up by the vote itself. Brexit won’t be the collapse of the UK, nor of the EU, but it will leave both poorer and weaker than they were together, and any decision on Northern Ireland is perilous at best given the possibility for more violence if it is handled poorly.
Jacobsen: What will be the positives and negatives of Brexit in your analysis?
Lane: The negatives I’ve already gone over, regarding the positives there are potentially some in the way that Brexit has shocked the existing dynamics of British politics. Brexit has forced the different parties to actually consider what their vision for Britain is outside of the EU, and already we have different politicians and pundits arguing for extremely varied political directions. Some have argued for a return to the fixed work day and strong unions of the 1970’s, some for Britain re-inventing itself as a low tax, low regulation Singapore of the west, and yet others for Britain to rely on the commonwealth and try to create a cohesive trade bloc from its former empire.
I’m not saying I agree with any or all of these ideas, but the very fact that there are such wildly different views on where we should be going next does show that the Brexit vote has forced those in power to actually consider what direction the country should be heading in, rather than simply assuming everyone agrees with its present course. If nothing else, Brexit has shown the people of Britain that their votes do matter, and that they can use their democratic vote to change the direction of the country if they do not like where it is going.
Jacobsen: What will be the next step in your writing projects? Where can folks get to know you?
Lane: I’m currently conducting an interview with video game analyst, feminist critic and former Canadian television personality Liana K on her new YouTube show Lady Bits, which should hopefully be appearing on Conatus News in the next few weeks. Aside from that I’ve considered doing an article on the EU’s current problems, as I feel this has been badly neglected in the English language press especially given the recent Italian elections.
Brexit was not the Anglo-Saxon disease some on the continent hoped it would be, and while I very much doubt any other country will leave the union any time soon, the underlying factors behind Brexit are clearly expressing themselves in other forms in other European countries. While I am considering trying to branch out to other platforms, for now you can find me on Conatus News, where all of my articles thus far have been published.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Lane: Liberalism has been the dominant ideology in the west for so long that I feel Liberals have almost forgotten that it needs to be defended. While Brexit, the election of Trump in the U.S. and the growing disenchantment with liberal democracy in Eastern Europe all have their individual causes, when taken together it is hard not to see them as part of a wider global move against the liberal ideas of freedom, tolerance and openness.
How long this illiberal cloud will last nobody can say, but we must be prepared for it to stick around for a good long while. This being said, I don’t think Liberals need despair too greatly, as there are obvious counter examples to this movement towards illiberalism. The elections of Emmanuel Macron in France and of Justin Trudeau in your native Canada are good examples of how Liberalism can win elections when it has a strong sense of purpose, combined with policies that can appeal to the majority of people.
Liberalism is in dire need of renewal for the realities of the 21st century, both social and economic, but if enough people still believe in individualism, freedom, tolerance, reason and openness then I believe it will still be around for a long time to come.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Will.
Lane, W. (2016, September 17). What We Shouldn’t Forget About Cameron’s Resignation. Retrieved from https://conatusnews.com/forget-cameron-resignation/.
Lane, W. (2016, October 4). Brexit and a Tale of Two Liberalisms Part 1. Retrieved from https://conatusnews.com/brexit-and-a-tale-of-two-liberalisms/.
Lane, W. (2016, October 12). Brexit and a Tale of Two Liberalisms Part 2. Retrieved from https://conatusnews.com/brexit-and-a-tale-of-two-liberalisms-part-2/.
Lane, W. (2016, November 24). Brexit and a Tale of Two Liberalisms Part 3. Retrieved from https://conatusnews.com/brexit-and-a-tale-of-two-liberalisms-part-3/.
Lane, W. (2016, October 4). What Now? A Recap of the 2017 UK Election Results (Part 1). Retrieved from https://conatusnews.com/recap-2017-uk-election-results-part-one/.