The goliardic vein of our editors, blended with the tedium vitae that assails at least one of them in this season in which the year dies most sweetly, has produced a couple of reflections on Brexit presented in the form of Exercises in Style – written, that is, alla maniera di Joseph de Maistre.
Joseph de Maistre, 1753-1821, was a Savoyard diplomat and politician, a sturdy anti-rationalist reactionary voice of the counter-enlightenment, who wrote against the French revolution and in favour of the Monarchy as divinely sanctioned form of government.
The following is a translation – with worryingly minor amendments – of the initial pages of de Maistre’s Considerations sur la France (1797)
Reflections sur le Royaume Uni
A short essay on Brexit in the style of de Maistre.
A miracle is an effect produced by a divine cause that suspends an ordinary cause. If, in the middle of the winter, a man orders a tree, in front of thousands of witnesses, to cover itself immediately with leaves and fruits, and the tree obeys, everyone would consider it a miracle, and look at it in awe, and bow in front of the performer. Well Brexit is as awesome, in the realm of politics, as the instantaneous fructification of a tree in the month of January: and yet people, instead of admiring it, look elsewhere, or make foolish commentaries.
Men, led by their pride, see disorder when they do not understand the cause of something, or when the causal chain they tried to create is suspended, or when things do not go as they expected them to. The truth is that they are necessarily limited, since they are mortal creatures, and equally limited is their action, especially at revolutionary times such as the ones we are living.
Uncertainty is the key word of the times. This word is very meaningful if it is meant as a reminder of the prime cause that creates such a spectacle; but it is stupid if it only expresses a sense of despise for out times or our politicians, or a sterile disenchantment.
‘How come – we read everywhere – that a country famous for her political leadership, her stable and much-admired parliamentary system, her seriousness and conscientiousness has taken such a decision! How can politicians, who appear to be the ineptest of their generation, be put in charge of guiding such a momentous change! An opportunistic mayor, a clever and deceitful political class, they hold the country in their hands! The European Union is swallowed by both government and opposition! Everything is possible for the evil ones!’
Look, never is certainty more visible, never Providence is more present, than when superior action substitute itself to that of men, and acts by herself. What is most striking about Brexit, is its sheer force that seems to destroy all obstacles. It is a hurricane that swifts away as light hay everything that human force has been able to oppose to it: nobody was able to stop it. The purity of the motivations has perhaps shown the obstacle: but that is all; and this zealous force, proceedings irresistibly toward its goal, has rejected Miller, a second referendum, etc.
One ought to say that Brexit leads men more than men lead Brexit. This is correct, and even though we could say the same about all great revolutions, it has never been truer than in this context. The fools who appear to lead Brexit only enter into it as instruments; as soon as they have the presumption to dominate it, the fall ignobly. Those who wanted to deliver Brexit did so without really wanting it and without knowing what they were doing.
Excessively mediocre men such as Nigel Farage have exercised, on a guilty nation, a despicable form of despotism: and surely, they were the first to be shocked by their own success. But they were drawn to this success, unwittingly, by circumstances. And Providence has thrown them away, and wanted to put Theresa May in charge instead. Their faith in Brexit, they who are men without political intelligence, has led them to dare anything, without fear of a Remain campaign. They have kept marching forward, without looking back. And so far everything has succeeded for them, because they are the instrument of a force that knows better.