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Dr. Larry Arnn Reacts To the Brexit Vote

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HH: This is the last radio hour of an epic week, and that means I am joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College for the Hillsdale Dialogue. Dr. Arnn, the New York Times screams out, Britain stuns world with vote to leave EU. Cameron plans to resign. The sub-header is Britain goes it alone. Your reaction? I must say I began Monday with a British historian, Andrew Roberts, who is British. Now I have an American historian who is a British historian, who is American. So he predicted this. What did you think was going to happen? What do you think of the result?

LA: Well, it was, it was a roller coaster. What I have been saying about it is it’s significant that the third largest country in the European Union is so close to leaving. And then what happened, you know, in the early in the evening, Mr. Lafarge, who’s a very colorful character, who was one of the leaders of the leave campaign, said he thought he’d lost by a narrow margin. But then as the night wore on, he started saying well, I think we’ve won, and it looks like they won by four points, which is a margin. That’s something, right? That’s about how much Cameron won by in the last general election in Britain, Cameron, the prime minister, who’s stepping down, and who is the leader of the Conservative Party. So yeah, it’s shocking.

HH: A million three plurality.

LA: What?

HH: 17 million, 400 thousand voted to leave, 16 million, 140 thousand voted to stay. That’s 52-48%. That’s a whomping whomp. And here are some sub-headers, Dr. Arnn. Britain as a whole, 52-48%. England voted 53-47% to leave. But London voted 60-40 to stay. Scotland voted 62-38 to stay. Wales wanted to leave, 53-48, and Northern Ireland wanted to stay, 56-44%. It’s almost too fascinating to go to the details that quickly, but you are a historian of Churchill. You know Churchill as part of the official biography team. You work on him still, your book, Churchill’s Trial. Would Churchill have voted to leave?

LA: Well, he’s not alive, so you can’t say for sure, but we know this. He has a very long record about this, and he had a lot to say about it, including an article he, a speech he gave in 1930 called The United States of Europe. And he was a huge proponent of integration of the European Union, of Europe into some kind of a union, in that he mentioned three things that he thought they should do. They should have free trade, they should have common defense, and they should have common currency. Now what they’ve done is gone beyond those three things to having a common government. Andrew Roberts is given to saying 60% of the laws of Britain are now made in the parliament in Brussels, in the European, what’s it called, the European Parliament. It’s hard to remember how this darn thing works. I’ve actually been reading up on it this morning. So he was in favor of all that. He was a leader in all that in the period from 1945 until 1950 when he was out of office. He kept up lots of close communication with the people who built the original common market, which is what it started out to be. First, it started out to be an iron and steel and coal union, where those would be marketed freely across all of Europe. Then, the next step was a common market. They abolished tariffs, and then step by step by step over all that time, it’s gone to being a government. Now what’s also interesting, though, is that Churchill never proposed that I can find anywhere, and there are many instances, that Britain should be a member of this thing.

HH: Interesting.

LA: He always says with, not in. And it’s also true that when he was prime minister the second time, from 1951 until ’55, he refused to join the steel and coal and oil union that was the first trade agreement they made. Britain didn’t join that. And the reasons for that are very big. Churchill did think that the plan for the world after the two great, terrible wars should be a kind of consolidation. There should be an United Nations. He was one of the builders of that. He thought that the United Nations should be led by some big, regional blocs. And Europe should be one of them. He thought that the British Empire and Commonwealth should be one of them. And Britain should keep its position at the center of that thing. Then he thought the United States should be one of them by itself. And then he thought the special relationship between Britain and the United States should be one of them. And so he didn’t want Britain to be part of that, and resisted that, didn’t do anything to make Britain part of that all his life. His expression was we are with, but not in, the European Union.

HH: Now would you contrast that with Margaret Thatcher, whom you knew personally, and invited and had visit Hillsdale, and whose statue dons your campus there, adorns your campus there. What would she have thought of this, because she had quite a record on the European Union?

LA: Yeah, she didn’t like it.

HH: At all.

LA: And she didn’t move to get out, but she was, she was very, and see, it’s developed a lot since her time, right? It’s, the common money is newer than she, and so she was very critical of its bureaucratic tendencies. And my chief criticism of it is that if you look at it as somebody who thinks that government should proceed by, through forms or structures that make it accountable, effectively, to the people, that’s why I like our Constitution, then that thing is a mess. There are four main bodies, and three big subordinate bodies. And it’s very difficult to remember what they even are. One of them is a council of the heads of state, and then it has a president that they appoint, who is a functionary of some kind. Then it has a commission, I think that’s the word for it, no, it’s not, something else, that’s government ministers from each government that’s a member of member countries, and that’s very complicated. And it’s some kind of a rule-making body. It’s like, you could contrast it with our Senate, except think how indirectly it’s elected.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And it has a complicated way of meeting, so that on one kind of thing, one grouping meets, and on another kind of policy area, another one. Then, there’s an elected parliament with 750, roughly, members. And in Britain, I happen to know, you just never meet anybody who can name who is European Parliament member is.

HH: How interesting.

LA: And you know, Daniel Hanna, whom I know well, and is a member of the European Parliament, he’s fond of saying in speeches that I’ve heard him give both in Europe and in America, I’m a member of the European Parliament. Nobody knows who I am. In addition, nobody knows what that is.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: And that is not a recipe for…

LA: And he runs for office and a constituency.

HH: That’s not representative government. I want to read to you from the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal. You probably know Nile Gardiner.

LA: I do.

HH: He wrote this, this morning. “After more than four decades of being shackled to the European Union, Great Britain has declared its independence. The vote for Brexit is a vote for sovereignty and self-determination. Britain will no longer be subject to European legislation, with Britain’s Parliament retaking control. British judges will no longer be overruled by the European Court of Justice. British businesses will be liberated from mountains of EU regulations, which have undermined economic liberty. Indeed, Brexit will result in a bonfire of red tape, freeing the city of London and enterprises across the nation from European Union dictate. And at last, Britain is free again to negotiate its own free trade deals, a huge boost to the world’s fifth largest economy.” I can find nothing with which to disagree in that assessment.

LA: Well, I like to read the economist Brian Wesbury, whom people can read for free, and just Wesbury Monday Morning Outlook, and about three weeks ago, he wrote something about this, and it comes out every Monday morning. And he said that, he points out that Britain has a trade deficit with Europe. That is to say in consumer or in current account goods, they’re called, Britain buys more from Europe than it sells to Europe. Well, that means Europe is going to want to make a deal with them, right? They want that market.

HH: Yup.

LA: And so it’s not like they’re going to cut them off, right? I can’t quite think that. What Europe has to worry about is two things. One is Britain is relatively solvent, although not solvent, nor is America, in the ways that they were solvent in Churchill’s day, but relative. And it’s a solid financial structure in Britain. And it’s the third biggest of them. I think it may be the most solvent, but I won’t swear by that. Maybe Germany is more. And there’s a bunch of European Union members that are not solvent.

HH: That’s right.

LA: Greece is, of course, the most spectacular example. And so the balance sheet of the European Union gets worse. And so there’s panic in the markets today, or certainly very heavy concern, and probably part of that is that concern, right? They’ve got to wonder are they going to have a run on their banks, and are they going to be able to pay their debts?

HH: But the panic began to abate by the end of the trading day everywhere, and we’ll come back after break and talk about what powered this surprising triumph of sovereignty in the United Kingdom voting again to be free of Europe. Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College is with me. All things Hillsdale at All of our dialogues for four-plus years at Stay tuned.

— – – — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, the New York Times has a story headlined Populist Anger Upends Politics On Both Sides of the Atlantic by Jim Yardley that begins, “From Brussels to Berlin to Washington, leaders of the western democratic world awoke Friday morning to a blunt once-unthinkable rebuke delivered by the flinty citizens of a small island nation in the North Atlantic. Populist anger against the established political order had finally boiled over. The British had rebelled. Their stunning vote to leave the European Union presents a political, economic and existential crisis for a bloc already reeling from entrenched problems. But the thumb in your eye message is hardly limited to Britain. The same yawning gap between the elite and mass opinion is fueling a populist backlash in Austria, France, Germany and elsewhere on the Continent, as well as in the United States.” That’s quite a stew that made there of many disparate things. What do you think of the assessment they’re driving to?

LA: Well, I saw a very astute thing by one of the many European Union leaders. He said well, we’ve been guilty of interfering too much in people’s lives. You know, they spend, the European Union, as best I can tell, spend something a little north of 1% of the gross domestic product of Europe on its operations, and they are very heavily regulatory in their nature. So not only is this parliament not really representative of anybody, because nobody knows anything about it, but does it really control, as in America, does the Congress really control the rulemaking, where most of the laws are made in America in what is now a vast administrative state? And what’s interesting is there’s this secular trend going on. I’ve been talking about it for years. As the government has become more centralized in the United States, it has become less popular. And that started in the 60s. If you asked the American people in 1950 do you trust the federal government, it had very high marks. But now, you know, something like two-thirds of the people say that they fear the government. And I think that the challenge, first of all, there’s an enormous political opportunity in that. Looks to me like Donald Trump might be seizing that opportunity. But what the challenge would be to turn that into real Constitutional forms that do only what it an actual constitution can do – assemble consent of the governed in a coherent way to make a powerful, yet limited government.

HH: Now I think back to when you said many months ago on this program, fundamental things are afoot. Obviously now not limited to merely the United States, but the global order, and I heard the distinguished George Shultz say all of the institutions of the post-war era are in crisis. And I think it’s because those institutions left the people they were supposed to serve and began to serve themselves.

LA: That’s right, and see, you know, so Winston Churchill, it’s very formidable that Winston Churchill was a leader in the building of a united Europe. But maybe the thing he was, it’s not even maybe, the thing he was trying to build didn’t look like the thing we have today, because what is it? It’s a thing that thinks that in order to have free trade, so first of all, free trade is anti-regulatory, right? That is, free trade means you want to sell something to somebody, you can do it. And why should there have to be an enormous regulatory state to make that work?

HH: Sure.

LA: And that’s the rub, right? And…

HH: Obviously and piercingly true, and there is no answer to that.

LA: It’s, you know, there’s a different agenda. And the agenda really is that we have to, it’s, here’s the argument for it. It’s actually a very powerful argument, and it’s changed the world. In this age where we’ve become so knowing, and have so many tools of science and organization to manage things, we have to manage societies according to scientific principles. And that builds an elite, and the elite becomes separated from the people they’re governing.

HH: Until they let the people speak, in which case they get slapped down like they did in Great Britain today. Don’t go anywhere, America, Dr. Arnn will return on the Hillsdale Dialogue here on the Hugh Hewitt Show on this most momentous day. Stay tuned.

— – – —

HH: Dr. Arnn, I would like to, on this morning when Britain voted 52-48, and polling had showed the remain group leading by 2-4%, and in fact, it lost by 4%, so polls are wrong again. I’d like to play for you a clip of David Cameron, who did a noble thing that might have been nobler this morning after losing the vote. Here is what he had to say to the British people, cut number four:

DC: I fought this campaign in the only way I know how, which is to say directly and passionately what I think and feel, head, heart and soul. I held nothing back. I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the European Union. And I made clear the referendum was about this and this alone, not the future of any single politician, including myself. But the British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path. And as such, I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction. I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months. But I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”

HH: And so Dr. Arnn, the noble thing is that he is resigning from the prime ministership. The better thing would have been to do it immediately, I think. He did not do that. What do you think of his decision?

LA: Well, it is noble. It’s very good. He, first of all, most of the leadership of the leave campaign is inside the Conservative Party, or in UKIP, United Kingdom Independence Party. And a bunch of those leaders in the Tory Party, Conservative or Tory Party, signed a letter a few days ago saying that Cameron should remain no matter what. Boris Johnson, most likely to succeed him, and Theresa May, and another candidate to succeed him probably, they signed that letter. They like him. They want him to stay. And so that was generous, right, and good. And then for him to leave in the face of that, when he probably could have stayed, is right, I think. So good, and you know, Boris Johnson, who’s a very colorful man, has been mayor of London and who’s been an MP for two different constituencies and have been a big journalist, he was very hard. And he and David Cameron went to school together along with Andrew Roberts. They’ve known each other since they were boys.

HH: They’ve been…friends for a long time.

LA: Yeah, and they really differed on this, and that means, and you know, why is that? This is not just about some tool of policy, right? This is not is the GDP going to grow half a point or a point faster because we’re in this thing. It’s more serious than that. And when you’ve got people who’ve known each other all these years so sharply differing, that’s a sign that something serious is going on, and it’s worth mentioning immigration as a feature of all of this, because what you lose, you know, so here, the classical philosophy and the American founding teach us this. To have a country together, you have to have a common idea. Ours, said Lincoln, is stated in the Declaration of Independence. Winston Churchill said the same thing about Britain, and grouped the Declaration with the petition of right and the English Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. So then a second thing is you have to be able to talk to each other, because the only two ways human beings can get along is by talking or reason, and force.

HH: Right.

LA: And so the English speaking language was so important to Churchill. He loved to quote Bismarck, who used to say, a German who used to say the most important fact in the 19th Century is that the United States and Great Britain speak the same language.

HH: Yup.

LA: So now you’ve got, and you know, the countries of Europe, the member states of the European Union, are by and large devoted to the principles of freedom and limited government. But there’s a very large immigration into that country, into those countries, that come from places that the countries are not organized around that. It is not the prevailing doctrine of Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia or those countries that freedom of religion is the correct rule, right?

HH: Correct.

LA: And if you exchange, if you take out freedom of religion, you’ve taken out all the things that are connected to that – freedom of speech, personal property rights, the right to live your own life under your own conscience. And so those people are coming into the European Union, which is not, you know, which has got labor shortages. They don’t make many babies over there anymore. And so they need them, but that’s a problem, right? And they, and then the terrorist attacks make that problem vivid.

HH: Well in fact, let’s pause there for a second. There were two acts of violence that I do pretend to know how they play into this vote, but they play into it – the Orlando massacre two weeks ago, second worst terrorist attack in American history, and the assassination of a member of Parliament, a Labour member, a member of Parliament, Cox, who was gunned down by a right wing nut. And so the unmistakable murmurings of violence in the society burst out twice. And I think part of this is the idea that the old nation-state has to return to deal with old threats, and that the new bureaucratic superstructures don’t know how to deal with these old threats. What do you think of that, Dr. Arnn?

LA: Well, that, there you go. And you know, I’d like, I like to read about, I like to know people who do it, people who work in intelligence. And a lot of that today in America, and in Europe, is focused on trying to find these terrorists. And what you read every time there’s a big terror attack is that there are just so many, that they can’t track them.

HH: Yup.

LA: And so you know, in one way, it’s a simple logical problem. What are you going to do? You know, are you going to, maybe you should try to diminish the number of them that are candidates to do this somehow. And you know, I myself am a free trade guy. I follow Churchill. But of course, Lincoln and Hamilton were not. And so I’m not certain that the natural law speaks to us on this question. And for sure, there’s always been tariffs. We’ve got them now. Europe has many against people trying to get into Europe, if you bring goods into Europe. And so it doesn’t have to be crippling if they’re moderate. And then free movements of peoples, that’s questionable in an age like this where there are so many people who 1, don’t really, you know, America is not a race. America is, it’s the first country in the world like this, it’s a set of practices and beliefs, right? And do you believe the beliefs, and do you practice the practices? That’s what makes you a citizen. And anybody can be a citizen. In fact, so many, I mean, I and you and nearly everybody else are children of immigrants somewhere back in the line. But the test should be, shouldn’t it, that we’re looking for people who want to be Americans. Now if you get a lot of people who don’t necessarily want that, and then if they sneak in, a smaller number, and it’s a very small number, but still, it’s a lot of people, who mean violence, it’s hard to manage. And the European Union removes, removed from Britain the tool of managing that. And that’s a fundamental tool of national security.

HH: And you combine it with the death of clarity, and by that, I mean in the early Republic, and through the Civil War, politicians spoke with complete clarity about what they were about. They declared their intentions, and they moved on it. That’s gone. There’s obfuscation now from bureaucracies that don’t like to speak directly about what their agendas are, or how they’re achieving them. And the combination of both a rising threat and an increasing incapacity is very alarming.

LA: And that’s what we mean by accountability, which is like a word that the federalists used in the sense in which they used it, for the first time in history – responsibility. And what that means is, first of all, you have your powers from those over whom you exercise them. and the other is they can trace who’s at fault, who did a thing, right? So you know, there was that subway bombing in London where a lot of people were killed, and it was, like several of these things have been, there were several people in different places, and they launched attacks all simultaneously. And they were in a cell that wasn’t really communicating with anybody else, as far as they can tell. And so then they started trying to track how did these people get here, and why were they not found? And the answers to that are so complex, and go over so many countries, that you never can quite tell who did it. And so that’s a breakdown in responsibility in government. One of the worst things, I mean, it’s, you know, in managing a business, I would say, and working with human beings and running a college, which is what my experience is these days, what do you find? You find that you want decisions made as close to the actual work as possible. Then, you want general themes and plans and procedures and goals to be shared among everybody. So you’ve got to have a mechanism to achieve those two things. And I’ll give you a microcosm of it, as I learned this in the classroom, and also by employing students. When they’re young, you know, they don’t, most of the important things they do, they do for the first time. And so you ask them to do something. And they want you to tell them in detail how to do it. And then if you start doing that, then every day, they’re coming in asking more details. And if they say to you, a student, how do you want me to do this, my favorite answer, and I’ve just learned this working with young people, is successfully.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And then they, and you can watch them smile, you see, because what they understand is something they actually long for, and that is now it’s their problem. I’ll tell you everything I know about it, and I’ll contrive with you a picture of what it’ll look like when it’s done. Now go do that. Come to me when you need to. Well, people love to live that way, right? And that’s what Constitutional rule achieves.

HH: And that is the earned success Arthur Brooks writes about. It’s also the legacy that Churchill extols in The History of the English-Speaking People. I think it’s just a chapter in that history, Dr. Arnn. We have to go to break here, but when we come back to finish out this hour, I think this is a marvelous chapter in a long story. How long is the English story?

LA: Well, that’s controversial, of course. It is so very old, but you know, the Magna Carta is 800 years old, and the place was well-formed and had been going for a long time at that time. And you know, it’s medieval, for sure. And…

HH: And so I just say to people, this is, a 60 year European experiment is not the be all and end all. It was a chapter that didn’t get written, finally, and may not be completely written, yet. We will talk a little bit more about that, what whither next for Britain and the United States. I’ll be right back with Dr. Arnn. Stay tuned.

— – – —

HH: When we began the Hillsdale Dialogues four years ago, I don’t think I ever anticipated talking with Dr. Larry Arnn, a longtime scholar of Churchill, a member of his official biographical team, president of Hillsdale College, and all of our dialogues over those years available at, that we would be talking about a massively successful campaign to have the United Kingdom leave the EU. Dr. Arnn, four years ago, I don’t think after Maggie Thatcher didn’t do it, it was ever going to happen.

LA: Yeah, it, and see, this, I think that the thing that provides the pressure is this immigration thing. I think that people feel like they’re losing control of their country. And you know, a friend of mine, Rupert Darwall, who’s a journalist over there and a policy analyst, and a delightful man, he wrote me a thing and said seems we’re still British.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: What now, but what I wanted to ask is a personal thing. You’re married to a Brit.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Your father-in-law and mother-in-law are Brits. What does the wonderful Penny Arnn think about this?

LA: Oh, man, she was up through the night checking the news.

HH: Oh, how interesting.

LA: She was a Brexit girl, and you know, she’s, she grew up in Lancashire, and that’s up in the northwest. And her family has been there since the Norman Conquest. And you know, we were married in a church, a part of which was 700 years old, the bell tower. And her family’s been there longer than that, right? And you go to that church today, we still go when we go back there, and the church is very like it was when we got married, and that means it’s very like it was 200 years ago or more. And so there’s something precious and great about that. And people don’t, and you know, it is, you know, Great Britain and England and Great Britain and the United Kingdom are immensely consequential forces for good in human history.

HH: Yes.

LA: And it’s a big thing to write that off.

HH: And they tried on a suit, and they didn’t like it.

LA: Yeah.

HH: So they’re taking it off, but they’re not burning it. They’re just taking it off. It doesn’t mean that they’re in rebellion with Europe. I don’t want to over-read it or under-read it.

LA: Yeah.

HH: It’s a very, I look forward to reading what you write about it in the next few weeks, and I hope, has Andrew Roberts visited Hillsdale? Has he delivered one of his many magnificent addresses there?

LA: Oh, yeah, several times, yeah. He’s a buddy of mine.

HH: He spent an hour with me on Monday, and he called his shot on this.

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: Boy, did he call his shot on this.

LA: Well, he was gloomy a couple of days ago. But you know, everybody who was for it was up and down, because it was tight. And you know, that’s what, isn’t that cool, by the way, that you can’t, it’s so important that you can’t really predict what the people are going to do. If it was all just science, and that, you know, the big data movement in politics…

HH: Yup.

LA: …which is all you’ve got to do is find out everything about a person, and then a computer can write them just the right emails, and the ads can be segmented to just the right audiences, and then you can predict and you can even control what they’re going to do. Well, it looks like maybe you can’t, huh?

HH: Oh, isn’t that great news?

LA: And that’s better. Yeah, that’s better.

HH: It is such great news. I am so happy about the UK after a string of bad, bad series of events, including a horrific massacre, and the breakdown of the House. One minute, please, on the spectacle of the House this week, this Constitutionally-designed people’s House fell into chaos because a band of the minority would not be governed by the rules that they themselves abused only four years ago.

LA: Yeah, well, there you go. That’s another sign, isn’t it? There’s fundamental things going on in politics, and you know, we’re in for huge difficulties. And in such difficulties, there are always huge opportunities. and the truth is those people, Elizabeth Warren and those people who led that thing, they don’t believe in the Constitutional forms. They believe in these new forms, which are sophisticated, very well-intended, and very powerful. And they are fighting to preserve those. And if you think that a human being is not the kind of thing that anybody else can live its life for it in detail, then you have to think that this kind of government is going to founder, finally.

HH: That how is it, you can send reason out the front door, but it will return through the back?

LA: Yeah, nature. Thomas Jefferson, right? You can drive nature out the front door with a pitchfork, but it comes in the back before you can turn around. Churchill, nature, you can ignore nature, you can discard it, but it always comes galloping back. And human nature is a thing. And you know, it’s, and we learn from the Bible, and we learn from the classics that it is both a cursed and a blessed thing, but the most divine thing on Earth, at least in its best moments.

HH: And that evidenced itself yesterday in Great Britain in its desire to rule itself. I think that’s at the bottom of this. Immigration is a part of it, but I think the desire to be left alone and to control one’s own destiny was very deeply-seated in this vote yesterday. Dr. Larry Arnn, Hillsdale Dialogues will continue next week as we absorb this news.

End of interview.


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