Leaders, Followers, and the Trajectory of History

How many explanations for the stunning outcome of Britain’s referendum? Here’s a baker’s dozen:

  1. The rise of populism.
  2. The rise of nationalism.
  3. The rise of tribalism.
  4. The antipathy toward globalization.
  5. The antipathy toward immigration.
  6. The antipathy toward free trade.
  7. The antipathy toward the European Union.
  8. The antipathy toward the Establishment.
  9. The antipathy toward London.
  10. The generational divide.
  11. The class divide.
  12. The regional divide.
  13. The income divide.

I could go on – the list of explanations or excuses, depending on how you look at it, is even longer. But what the list never includes is the trajectory of history.

More’s the pity. For had we put this vote in an historical context, even before it took place, not only would we after the vote better understand what happened, before the vote we would have better predicted the future by extrapolating from the past.

One of the shocks of Brexit was the shock of Brexit – the fact that it was not foretold by pollsters or markets, not even by bookies. Which raises the question of why was everyone so off? Why were even the best and the brightest shocked and then stymied by the outcome?

Because we are ahistorical. If we were not, we would know that the balance of power between leaders and followers has been changing for hundreds of years, with the former becoming relentlessly weaker and the latter relentlessly stronger. The only way to preclude this from happening – we see this, for example, in Russia, China, Egypt and Turkey – is for the leadership class to clamp down. If it does not, as it generally does not in Western Democracies, we should not be surprised to see leaders upended.

Ordinary people now seem to enjoy  nothing so much as giving the finger to those positioned higher than they. In the workplace, of course, they are precluded from making a gesture so rude. But not in the commons. In the commons, in politics, giving the middle finger seems to be cost free. And it gives instant gratification.





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