STUMP » Articles » A Thought on Brexit and Nationalism: Contrast to the USA » 28 June 2016, 12:14

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

A Thought on Brexit and Nationalism: Contrast to the USA  


28 June 2016, 12:14

Many others have been writing about the Brexit vote. If you’d like something more in-the-moment, here are things to read:

And I’m gonna grab the video from Mish’s post, because it really has been the UK’s European policy for centuries: do not allow any dominant power on the continent:

And here’s an extra: do not destroy the British sausage!

And yes, with current commentary from a Remainer.

Obviously, there’s a lot more out there. Check them out.


Now you may think it odd that I’m going to be talking about the U.S., but I’ve always thought the EU was more about trying to supplant the United States than transnational progressivism (though that’s also involved.)

I think part of the reason the various people in the EU leadership are going nuts is that without the UK, the EU will fall below the United States in GDP ranking tables. (Of course, they still do fall below, sometimes, but without the UK, they will be stuck below the U.S. for years.)

While many see the idiotic regulations on olive oil, toasters, and kettles as power grabs (sure, they’re that) and certainly fed into the British vote, I’ve seen it more as cargo cult nationalism.

I think they look at the U.S., see the great success and cohesion (and for all the “national division” crap, we are nowhere near the violent conflicts pre-Civil War or Bosnia, etc.) Well, the having one dominant language is right out for the EU, so they look to our federal bureaucracy (and their own, pre-EU, national bureaucracies) and think all those rules that everybody shares must make a nation. Or unity. Or whatever.


Pause for a moment: one of the hissy fits post-Brexit, I saw some person whining over “our shared history”.

The shared history of Europe has primarily been one of war. Against each other. And then some of these nations, like Germany and Italy, have not actually been nations for very long. If you want unity, you have to go back over a thousand years to the Roman Empire. And even there, there were problems. Like that whole “German barbarian” thing.

The history of the EU itself is obviously completely post-WWII, and the bulk of its development has been the past 20 years. That’s not much “shared history”.

Now, nations can be made by war, especially in the case of Italy and Germany, when associated cultural groups came together… but their wars were against outside powers, which helped them band together.


But what about the United States?

We’re an odd country, and as fun as it is to go into “American exceptionalism”, there are aspects of the U.S. that makes our growth quite different from other places.

It started out, EU-like, with a bunch of British colonies that saw themselves as separate entities, though geographically close. They had to band together to fight against an outside force… and then had a hell of a time post-war when their Articles of Confederation were lacking. Then we had the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Constitution was written, it was ratified, George Washington was elected President, and the rest is history.

Not so fast.

Let’s think about the name of our country: the United States of America.

That’s plural, isn’t it? The United States?

But which of these two look better to you:

“The United States are party to the treaty”


“The United States is party to the treaty”

I would say the second is more natural to most Americans now.

It wasn’t always that way.


A fun google toy is the ngram viewer, which lets you search in various collections of published materials (in various languages).

As per the link above, one can try all sorts of fancy stuff with this, and so I did.

First, I did straight trends, which gives one frequencies of various phrases showing up in the corpus:

But then I decided to do something a bit more complicated — taking ratios of the phrase ending “is” with phrase ending “are”. The higher that ratio, the more often the phrase is being used in a singular way:

In case those embeddings don’t work, I’ll clip pictures later.

To be sure, I’m not necessarily capturing the “singularity” of the U.S. in these graphs, because the phrase “United States are” could be a substring in something like “Dogs in the United States are”, which is matching to the plural dogs and has nothing to do with the U.S. being singular or plural.

Still, interesting to look at.

Those graphs are from the whole English corpus, so I’ve decided to pull just the American English stuff:

Interesting pattern for “United Kingdom” there. Wonder if anything interesting was going on around 1880.

These trends might not have much meaning. I mean, check this out:

Maybe all sorts of mass nouns have been moving toward the singularity.

Or maybe not.

Anyway, it was just a thought.

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