[B]ritain voted to leave the European Union after a bitterly divisive referendum campaign, toppling the prime minister Friday, sending global markets plunging and shattering the stability of a project in continental unity designed half a century ago to prevent World War III,” AP reported today.
The 52 to 48 percent vote was received with mixed feelings in Great Britain: “The dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party. “Let June 23 go down in our history as our independence day!”
Prime Minister David Cameron, on the other hand, who had led the campaign to keep Britain in the EU, said he would resign by October and left it to his successor to decide when to invoke Article 50, which triggers a departure from European Union.
I read this piece of news in the midst of researching and writing an essay about the Torah’s perspective on monarchy. Monarchy is a system of government which has become extinct in the western world over the last century and in many ways that’s good; less power, less tyranny. Indeed, this age has seen a large advance toward seeing people as individuals with inherent rights which cannot be revoked by anyone, as blue as his or her blood is.
But Jews believe in the coming of the Moshiach. Actually, the king Moshiach. A Jewish monarch, with unlimited powers, who will compel all Jews to lead a religious life according to the written and oral Torah.
Well who cares? So the Jews will have this archaic king, and Israel will no longer be able to proudly declare itself the “only democracy in the middle east.” The thing is that it doesn’t end there.
The king will eventually become a ruler of the entire world. Is that what our world needs? To be plunged back to the Middle Ages after all the progress in the direction of humanism and democracy?
But don’t worry. The prophecies promising the return of the Davidic monarchy also ensure that he won’t abuse his powers. He will bring peace to the world.
Some may still argue, especially liberal, westernized minds, that even if the monarch is a kind and benevolent person, monarchy itself is a form of evil. No one human being deserves to control another, even if he doesn’t abuse it! That’s besides the problem that there is no way to ensure that the kind monarch’s successor won’t turn out to be a tyrant!
But this decision of the British people this Thursday, I think, can give us some insight into the question of the possibility and influence of monarchy in the modern age.
Unity is a positive thing. The United States of America proved to be a good idea. After all, why shouldn’t two neighboring states cooperate in building a interstate highway or railroad? Whys shouldn’t states which share a similar geographical area of land join forces to protect each other from common enemies?
The post-World War II institution of the UN is a great thing too: far away countries can only benefit from settling their disputes in a peaceful way.
However, many people mistake unity for uniformity.
If the unity means that the 50 states must conform to one set of values then we in essence abolished 50 states and created one uniform country. “What’s wrong”? You’ll ask.
What’s wrong is that by doing so we are ignoring our differences.
Let’s take the example of education: a child who lives in rural Texas growing in pastoral ranches usually will have a different temperament than a child growing up in industrial New York. If they will be both taught by the same teacher one will be less successful than the other. That’s why we need to allow the individualism not to be sacrificed for the unity. The unity has to stem from recognizing the individual needs of every state.
This idea also became prevalent in the last decades even within the very same rural Texas or bustling New York classroom:
Even if all 25 students share a certain common denominator of age and gender and live in the same area, they still are individuals. Their educator must be sensitive to their special needs. Today we hear of “special needs” classes. The truth is that even “regular,” conventional children have “special needs” which the teacher must be aware of.
If we fail to realize that, we will create a fragmented country which its different parts pulls in many, opposite directions and that will ultimately fall apart, leaving everyone weakened.
Patriotism and even nationalism is a natural love a person has to his country, the same of which a person has towards his family. Only when taught in the wrong way can it lead to chauvinism and unnecessary war.
Where does it come from?
From G-d almighty himself: “When the Most High gave nations their lot, when He separated the sons of man, He set up the boundaries of peoples according to the number of the children of Israel”. (Deut. 33:8)
G-d himself created nations, G-d set up the concept of borders between countries. A Nation seeking independence is a nation just being itself. The great empires of Persia, Greece and Rome rose to great heights of influence, and then were divided to parts which were divided to smaller parts and ultimately became what they were intended to be – independent countries, each with its distinct borders, language and culture.
This is was a Jewish sage of the 15th century, perhaps when imperial colonialism in Europe was at its height, had to say on this topic:
“G-d has arranged and placed every nation in its respective location and he allocated the Jewish nation to the land of Israel; the fact that the Jewish nation is not in its own country is unnatural. Anything, once not in its natural placement finds no steadiness in its foreign land and strives to return to its place;
“Each nation was created by G-d individually, therefore the natural order of the world dictates for every nation to exist independently and not be subjugated to another. The only exception to this rule is the superiority of the nation of Israel over all others when they fulfill the will of G-d. This too is a natural phenomenon when considering the advantage of the nation of Israel.” – Maharal of Prauge, Chapter 1 of Netzach Yisrael
Hundreds of years later, imperial colonialism is a fad of the past and more countries than ever have successfully and usually peacefully, regained their intendance and self-identity.
On this historical backdrop, the creation of the EU seems rather strange.
It was created to prevent a World War III. It seems however, that the founding countries chose too much uniformity in creating this union and failed to acknowledge the natural feelings of people to their country. This has now backfired with a prominent member such as Great Britain deciding to leave it.
It took some time, but finally England came to realize, despite the better judgment of their own prime minster that “the EU”, as Boris Johnson, the flamboyant former London mayor put it, was “a noble idea which was no longer right for Britain.”
Great Britain isn’t declaring war on Europe, it’s just following its natural inclination as a people to be independent.
The future of the EU remains unclear. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is optimistic: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he said. But already, far-right leaders in France and the Netherlands were calling for a similar anti-EU vote.
My advice to the EU is to learn from similar, yet more successful unions and reinvent itself: you don’t have to turn the entire Europe into one country to prevent World War III. Unity? Yes. Cooperation? Yes. Peace? – Yes! But don’t choke natural, patriotic feelings of the member states, it will backfire and weaken the union.
Why was Great Britain the first major country to realize this?
My bet is that even if such a referendum were to happen in France or the Netherlands it would keep them in the union, this is strictly a British behavior. I carefully suggest that the British people voted “leave” because of the high regard they give to their monarchy.
A relatively recent poll found that 69% of British citizens feel that Britain would be worse off without the monarchy despite the costly expense of 40 million pounds they cost the taxpayer.
The reason being is financial, but not only. The royal family actually brings in 160 million pounds annually to the government under terms of a deal made by King George the 3rd with the British parliament regarding the profits of the rental of properties owned by the royal family.
An even greater income to the British economy comes from tourism, most of it to sites associated to the monarchy. Tourists bring in 7,000 million pounds annually!
Castles and palaces open to the public exist not only in Britain. France and Russia also have magnificent palaces and even change of the guards, but tourists are far more attracted to the British castles. Why is that?
Because the Brits, who have slowly but steadily since the Magna Carta, built a strong democracy, still really love the monarchy. In all the steps which practically turned Great Britain into a free country, respect for the monarchy was retained. So even now, when the queen is just a figurehead, there is still something real about her monarchy and her palaces.
People, it seems rather see how a “real” palace looks than visit a French museum which was last inhabited by a monarch over 300 years ago.
Monarchy, like borders, culture and language is part of a nation’s self-identity.
A Democratic republic is perhaps safer for the country, but while it does, many times better than a monarchy, preserve the rights of the citizen, its nature of instability potentially can deduct from the duties of the citizen which are greatly tied to his or hers destiny as a citizen of country that G-d himself has set her borders.
A monarch, in a sense chosen by G-d himself, gives the country a sense of a commonly shared connection to a past and future which they are relieved of determining alone.
The British people, it seems, found the right balance between the advantages and problems of monarchy.
I think that the queen, not her opinion, had a great influence on the outcome of yesterday’s referendum.
This process joins many more signs showing that the next natural thing is about to happen: the complete return of all the Jews to Israel under the leadership of Moshiach. And the next stage: king Moshiach uniting the world to serve G-d in unison,