The Inner Turmoil Of Libertarian Eurosceptics

Lee Jenkins January 17, 2014 9

Spare a thought for Libertarian and their love-hate relationship with the EU

Think of a eurosceptic and a few images come to mind, but chief among them would be that of a flag waving patriot who’ll generally have reservations about immigration and possibly even some protectionist traits. Yet none of these seem salient themes in libertarianism, quite the reverse in fact, for the latter two.

Membership of the EU is a double edged sword for libertarians; with as much to cheer as there is to lament.

The positive traits, at least in the eyes of libertarians, are generally those aspects of the EU that cause most angst among others; namely the free movement of peoples and the continent wide free trade area. The ability of people, goods and services to travel freely, without let or hindrance from agents of the state, is totemic to libertarians. For 28 countries to sign up to such a deal is a huge step in the right direction, and hopefully serves as a template and example for the rest of the world to follow.
A prerequisite to this de-bordering of a continent had been the erosion of nationalist sentiment. Europe nearly destroyed itself twice in a generation, and memories of those conflicts and the nationalism that fueled them has served as the catalyst for integration and the pooling of sovereignty. Again, this is broadly something libertarians can get behind, if only in sentiment rather than practice, for the EU’s MO tends to be heavy handedness and wasteful initiatives with a gaudy EU flag plastered over everything.
For traditional eurosceptics, the decline of nationalism is in fact the result of suppression. Nationalism hasn’t gone away, and deprived of it’s normal healthy outlets it’s been bottled up, warped, and now manifests itself in ugly anti immigrant rhetoric and secessionist movements (the latter of which libertarians would also support, but that’s another debate).

We can at least start to agree on what we dislike about the institutions of the EU. Few would disagree that it represents the very worst aspects of officialdom. The EU and its associated institutions are a bureaucratic Leviathan whose tentacles heave and slither around every facet of human life. Even the shape of cucumbers and bananas seemingly require some form of EU oversight. This is the polar opposite of what libertarians want, and it’s made worse because EU regulations come on top of, not instead of, national regulations and statutes. The very culture of the EU seems to be one of hyperactive regulation and officious management which bleeds into all levels of government and even private businesses.

The second concern with which most eurosceptics can find common ground is that of political centralisation. Patriots bristle that the EU takes power away from national parliaments, and thus lacks democratic legitimacy. Libertarians would probably agree with this, but take it a step further by arguing that the EU takes power away from the individual. Libertarians want to go in the opposite direction, with power moving downwards and outwards, towards cities, towns, and eventually groups who come together voluntarily. Libertarians seek the steady erosion of the state, while the EU want a super-state greater than the sum of its parts.

Few things unite Britain like a bit of EU bashing. Pity that libertarians can’t even fully take part in even that.

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