Brexit and the Age of Uncertainty
Dr Soeren Keil looks at how Brexit is changing the political landscape.
There are now fewer than 80 days until Brexit is supposed to take place. The date for this, 29 March 2019, is coming ever-closer, yet neither the government, nor parliament, experts nor the electorate have a concrete idea of what will happen once the UK has left the EU. Indeed, Brexit and the surrounding ambiguity are a good example of our current political, social and economic environment; we truly live in an age of uncertainty.
The great British historian Eric Hobsbawm described the 20th century as ‘The Age of Extremes’. The extremes of World Wars, of Fascism and Communism, and the ultimate victory of liberal democracy and capitalism, which the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama labelled as ‘The End of History’.
Indeed, the end of the 20th century was for many an era of hope; hope that democracy, international law and free market economics would provide a framework for global rules, cooperation and peace.
Yet, at the beginning of the 21st century this hope vanished, first with the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror, and later with the rise of China (and to some extent Russia) as alternative powers to an American dominated world order. Since then, the world has been shifting away from a unipolar system based on US hegemony towards a more multipolar system in which different global actors rival for influence and compete with each other. Brexit is symptomatic of these shifts – an end in the belief and faith in multilateral decision-making and cooperation as key pillars of a Liberal Internationalist world order.
So, what do Brexit, the rise of China, and the American retreat from Syria have in common? They all symbolise the Age of Uncertainty – an age in which the dominant Liberal Internationalist discourse based on international law, democracy and multilateralism is challenged. But this is not only a result of the rise of China as a key challenger to Western domination, it is also a sign of Western weakness and self-doubt, parts of which were articulated during the Brexit debate, which also has opened up a wider discussion about what Britain is and the role it plays on the world stage in the 21st century.
Recent events highlight the new political climate we live in: The Age of Uncertainty, where nobody knows what will happen next week, let alone in three months. It is particularly challenging for academics to analyse these processes and predict what will happen next, but it must be a lot harder for politicians and especially those in government to foresee where to go to next. This is another sign of the Age of Uncertainty. Politicians are disliked and disrespected more than ever, yet everyone in the country is looking at them to find a solution for this mess.
The Age of Uncertainty of course will not end with Brexit; it will go on and influence our political culture for decades to come. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on your standpoint, and of course it can be both in The Age of Uncertainty.
You can read the full version of this blog on the Politics and International Relations blog page.