The chief project of European elites, the “ever-closer” European Union, has arguably worked out worse. The Euro currency that was supposed to tie Europe together has instead (as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher predicted) widened the rift between the Mediterranean countries and an increasingly dominant Germany. Britain voted for Brexit — leaving the EU — in 2016, and elites, despite astonishing contempt for voters, have so far failed to reverse that verdict.
The elites’ intentions with respect to Mexico, China and the EU were good, and the results have, by no means, been altogether bad. But they have been disappointing, and there is a common thread through the disappointments.
In each case, these elites have underestimated the force and persistence of national cultures. These “people from nowhere” — in British author David Goodhart’s phrase — have underestimated the ties that “people from somewhere” have to national traditions and ways of life. You can’t just snap your fingers and make Mexicans into Texans, make Chinese state-owned firms behave like American corporations, make Italians obey rules like Germans.