When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall?
On the 23rd June, 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature.
What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes? The historians tell us with naive assurance that its causes were the inequitable society brought about by neoliberalism, anger at the imposition of the Maastricht treaty with no democratic mandate, the ambition of Boris Johnson, Tory infighting, the mistakes of Cameron, and so on.
Consequently, it would only have been necessary for Blair to insist on transitional limits on migration for nationals joining the EU in 2004, or for Johnson to have written to Cameron: “My dear Bullingdon Brother, I of course will support you whole heartedly in the referendum”, or for the Lib Dems to have lost fewer votes by standing firm on tuition fees in the previous government- and there would have been no Brexit.
It naturally seemed to some Leavers that Brexit was caused by the fears the working class had regarding high immigration. It naturally seemed to some Remainers that the cause was Boris Johnson’s ambition to become Prime Minister; to pro-Brexit businessmen that the cause was a level of bureaucracy harming their profits; to the right of the Tory party it was the need to reverse Maastricht, and to the “metropolitan liberal elite” of that time that it all resulted from foreign or non-domiciled newspaper proprietors furthering their commercial interests. It is natural that these and a countless and infinite quantity of other reasons, the number depending on the endless diversity of points of view, presented themselves to the people of that day; but to us, to posterity who view the thing that happened in all its magnitude and perceive its plain and terrible meaning, these causes seem insufficient.
To us, who are not historians and are not carried away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event with unclouded common sense, an incalculable number of causes present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its impotence- apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident causes- to occasion the event. To us, the wish or objection of this or that Tory MP to defect to UKIP appears as much a cause as Blair going to war in Iraq; for had he not poisoned the well of Labour voters perhaps there’d have been enough of them left to prevent a Tory majority in the 2015 general election, and the referendum could not have occurred.
Had Cameron realised that he could attain a majority in the election, he wouldn’t have promised a referendum; had there been a hung parliament, there could have been no referendum. Nor could there have been a referendum had there been no war in Iraq and no Osama bin Laden, and had there been no autocratic government in Syria, fighting against an Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS, or all the things that produced security concerns in the west. Without each of these causes nothing could have happened. So all these causes- myriads of causes- coincided to bring it about. And so there was no one cause for that occurrence, but it had to occur because it had to. Millions of people, renouncing their reason, voting against their own interests.
The actions of Farage and Cameron, on whose words the event seemed to hang, were as little voluntary as the actions of any MP who was drawn into the campaign by lot or by conscription. This could not be otherwise, for in order that the will of Farage or Cameron (on whom the event seemed to depend) should be carried out, the concurrence of innumerable circumstances was needed without any one of which the event could not have taken place. It was necessary that millions of people in whose hands lay the real power- and the politicians and party members who campaigned- should consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals, and should have been induced to do so by an infinite number of diverse and complex causes.
We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events (that is to say, events the reasonableness of which we do not understand). The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they become to us.
Each person lives for themselves, using their freedom to attain their personal aims, and feels with one’s whole being that they can now do or abstain from doing this or that action; but as soon as it is done, that action performed at a certain moment in time becomes irrevocable and belongs to history, in which it has not a free but a predestined significance.
There are two sides to the life of everyone, the individual life, which is the more free the more abstract its interests, and the elemental hive life in which individuals inevitably obeys laws laid down for them.
We live consciously for ourselves, but are an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity. A deed done is irrevocable, and its result coinciding in time with the actions of millions of other people assumes an historic significance. The higher someone stands on the social ladder, the more people he is connected with and the more power over others, the more evident is the predestination and inevitability of their every action.
“The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord.”
A king is history’s slave.
History, that is, the unconscious, general, hive life of mankind, uses every moment of the life of kings as a tool for its own purposes.
Though Farage at that time, in 2016, was more convinced than ever that it depended on him “to take back control”- he had never been so much in the grip of inevitable laws, which compelled him, while thinking that he was acting on his own volition, to perform for the hive life- that is to say, for history- whatever had to be performed.
The people of the UK voted to leave the EU, and by the law of coincidence thousands of minute causes fitted in and co-ordinated to produce that vote: a high level of inward migration, the bureaucracy of the EU, the movement of refugees into Europe, the cost of EU membership and the benefits of which were not felt in swathes of the country, Cameron’s confidence following his success in the Scottish Independence referendum, and the EU renegotiations which, in the opinion of contemporaries, brought about genuine concessions aimed at enabling the UK’s continued membership of the EU, but which only attracted scorn on both sides of the debate in the UK, and millions of other causes that adapted themselves to the event that was happening or coincided with it.
When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it?
Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. And the botanist who finds that the apple falls because the cellular tissue decays and so forth is equally right with the child who stands under the tree and says the apple fell because he wanted to eat it and prayed for it. Equally right or wrong is he who says that Cameron called the referendum because he wanted to win an election, and lost it because Boris Johnson desired his job, and he who says that an undermined hill weighing a million tons fell because the last navvy struck it for the last time with his mattock. In historic events the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself.
Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole course of history and predestined from eternity.