Even if Scotland stays in, the British political establishment has been tried and found wanting in this referendum; unfortunately it is not alone. The leaders of the European Union have conspicuously and repeatedly failed to master the vital and urgent issues that confront them. The euro has ruined and embittered a third of the European Union; populist movements of protest and resistance are bringing fascism back from the grave in more than one country. Outside, the enemies of every European ideal are gathering strength; inside, voters across Europe increasingly find the post-War social-democratic order bland, remote, and overbearing. Meanwhile, the European political class has been less concerned to fill key posts with the right people than with people of the right gender; as an obscure ancient sage once put it, they tithe mint and dill and cumin while neglecting the weightier matters of the law.
The fecklessness, alas, does not stop at the Atlantic. As the Washington political class gazes listlessly at the near-collapse of our foremost ally, and at the accelerating decline and decoherence of the region upon which we most rely (if most take for granted) in preserving world order, what has been our response? The State Department clings to legalistic pronouncements that Scottish independence in an internal United Kingdom matter. President Obama visited the UK for the NATO summit, but spent more time visiting Stonehenge than making the case to Scots and others that our work is not done in this world and that these are dangerous times in which the west needs to stick together.
If the President of the United States doesn’t make the case for the pillars of the international order—NATO, the EU, and, yes, even the integrity of the UK—it’s not clear who else can or will. What is clear is that if the case isn’t made and made well, even the most basic institutions on which we all rely will gradually and inexorably decline and, in due course, fall apart.