Don’t blame Brits for the Brexit: The EU strayed from its roots in post-war unity to become a neoliberal technocracy
There is no understanding the Brexit vote without understanding the ideals and purpose the EU discarded
Countless thoughts tumble forward as news of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union sinks in. Among the larger of these is one that reaches back to the 1940s, when the world was at war and Roosevelt in his third term. FDR had trounced a Republican named Wendell Willkie in November 1940, and it is with Willkie the thought begins.
He was a civilized Republican, Willkie, way back when this was not an oxymoron. He was, indeed, a Midwestern Democrat until 1939, when he made one of those moves across the aisle opportunists now think nothing of. After the 1940 election, no surprise, Willkie instantly made common cause with Roosevelt: Both were interventionists at a time this term meant something different, too. In August 1942, FDR sent Willkie on a world tour to represent America’s commitment to the war against the Axis and report back to Americans his thoughts (and those of both Roosevelts) as to the world that was to be.
In 1943 Willkie published a book called “One World,” and it sold in the millions. Not many readers will remember it—I was barely a thought in my just-married parents’ minds—but some will at least know of it, surely. As the title implies, “One World” expressed an idea of postwar unity in the community of nations based on human liberation (a term Willkie favored) and an end to all claims of racial and ideological superiority. Roosevelt’s abiding vision of the postwar era, readers will recall, rested not on American primacy but on co-existence and partnership.
This kind of thinking, believe it or not, was much favored among Americans at the time. The war, as Willkie put it, was understood as “a war of liberation.” Only after Truman assumed the presidency did the fear of fear itself trump confidence in Washington and the Cold Warriors rise to power.
Willkie was not alone in his aspirations. Very far from it. But he did well expressing those of very many. And it is these that have just died a death on the English Channel’s northern shores.