The best fictional example of the ultimate totalitarian state is George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ The state of Oceania, run by Big Brother, has complete political and psychological control over its citizens. But this isn’t entirely the case. The fictional state is affected by wars outside its borders with Eurasia and Eastasia, each respective state becoming an ally then enemy. Therefore even Big Brother doesn’t have ‘ultimate political authority’ over Oceania’s affairs.
Orwell’s implicit commentary on the illusions of absolute sovereignty is especially relevant now the UK has left the EU. The country has been promised sovereignty will return to Parliament with the ability to create, amend and abolish any law. This was reflected in the reasons people voted to depart, with a Lord Ashcroft poll revealing 49% of Brexiteers voted leave because they wanted UK decisions to be ‘made in the UK.’
The 1648 treaty of Westphalia is often regarded as the beginning of modern statehood by allowing states to have control governing their own territories. Even then, the notion of full sovereignty was incorrect. State interaction existed in the 19th and early 20th century through morally repugnant forms. Whether it was European nations engaging in the ‘Scramble for Africa’, where the continent was carved up for Western benefits, or the Atlantic Slave Trade, decisions to reduce state sovereignty are nothing new.
Full sovereignty over Britain’s place in the world will never lie entirely in Westminster. Multiple political decisions will take place outside of Whitehall. The UK is still a member of NATO, where it relinquishes sovereignty by agreeing to spend 2% of GDP on defence. MPs can influence, but ultimately not determine, the eternal conflict in the Middle East, which significantly affects Britain through access to resources like oil. Though they have lost influence, the huge impact of ISIS and Al- Qaeda on British affairs was outside the control of MPs. The UK therefore, cannot be said to have ‘supreme political authority.’
Those of us who value evidence and academic research should celebrate knowledge. Although Michael Gove said the UK had ‘had enough of experts’, the whole country has now become experts on trade policy. Repeatedly, the government stressed the flexibility that a Brexit Britain will have in crafting new global trade agreements. Yet this has already been called into question, especially with America, because of domestic opposition to chlorinated chicken. Again, the UK’s regained freedom is hampered by other states.
Our globalised world is most obvious through transnational corporations: brands like Apple, Amazon and McDonald’s that have unquantifiable economic, cultural and policy-shaping influence. If a state increases the rate of corporation tax, corporations can just move their headquarters to nations with lower corporation tax, like Ireland. If a country improves workers rights, corporations can simply head east for cheaper, less regulated labour. For a nation’s economic growth, the actions of a state are inherently affected by non-state actors. It is incoherent, therefore, to suggest a state has full control over its economy.
From the ashes of the Second World War rose a desire to ensure such a massacre was never repeated. Countries of whatever form of governance came together under the United Nations for a more peaceful world. Inevitably, this organisation reduced state sovereignty. The UN aspires towards its regulations being upheld worldwide, though this isn’t achieved. Often organisations like the International Monetary Fund have forced nations to economically transform through structural adjustment programmes, resulting in widespread privatisation and reduced state influence. Intergovernmental organisations are the very antithesis to individual state sovereignty, yet the British government recognises the benefits of membership (apart from the European Union).
Repeatedly, politicians have failed to make the case defending intergovernmental organisations. Globalisation is something that can’t - and shouldn’t - be stopped. To gain influence over world affairs, nations have to work together, for a great number of issues cross borders. Little has changed following the UK’s departure from the EU. Matters that require a global response - like terrorism, climate change and artificial intelligence - still demand answers. The UK government will soon realise that, whether because of America, Europe or Asia, their policies, vision and influence remain significantly shaped by international affairs.
Image - Flickr (Dunk)