What's the Ideal got to do with Brexit?

Be348030a604eb154a198fa5eb1c971f?s=47 Paul Feldman
February 01, 2019

What's the Ideal got to do with Brexit?

The philosophical concept of the Ideal, developed by Evald Ilyenkov, can help us understand what led to the vote for the UK to leave the European Union - better known as Brexit


Paul Feldman

February 01, 2019


  1. What is the Ideal? The Ideal is “a thought-out designation

    of a well-known category of phenomena that are absolutely independent of an individual. They are universal, commonly-held image-patterns, as opposed to the awareness of an individual ‘soul’.” (Dialectics of the Ideal) The content of The Ideal is precisely: “This sphere of phenomena – a collectively-built world of intellectual culture, an internally organised and disjointed world of historically-established and socially-established (‘institutionalised’) universal representations by people about the ‘real’ world…” “Universal norms of that culture within which an individual awakens to conscious life, as well as requirements that he/she must internalise as a necessary law of his/her own life activity....”
  2. Characteristics of the Ideal  Universal  Objective  Existing

    independently of consciousness and the ground on which it is formed  Result of a law-governed negation process  Self-developing  Both itself and Other
  3. In summary… Even though it remains “an internal pattern of

    the activity of consciousness, as a pattern ‘immanent in consciousness’, Ideality can have only an illusory, phantasmal existence,” Ilyenkov notes. But it does become real in two quite opposite processes or movements: “In the course of its reification, objectification (and de-objectification), alienation and dis-alienation”. •Ideality embraces the dialectics of people’s developing self- consciousness •the Ideal is an objectification of human activity in universal social thought and not passive but a dialectical process AND practice •Contains aspirations as an absence, a restless presence in the Ideal •The Ideal is an active force that calls forth activity to transform the Real into the Ideal
  4. What’s the Ideal got to do with Brexit? “Brexit itself

    is the result of the invisible subsidence of the political order in recent decades … the deep uncertainties about the union after the Good Friday agreement of 1998 and the establishment of the Scottish parliament the following year; the consequent rise of English nationalism; the profound regional inequalities within England itself; the generational divergence of values and aspirations; the undermining of the welfare state and its promise of shared citizenship; the contempt for the poor and vulnerable expressed through austerity …David Cameron accidentally took the lid off by calling a referendum and asking people to endorse the status quo. …Brexit is much less about Britain’s relationship with the EU than it is about Britain’s relationship with itself… An archaic political system had carried on even while its foundations in a collective sense of belonging were crumbling. … The spectacle is ugly, but at least it shows that a fissiparous four-nation state cannot be governed without radical social and constitutional change.” Fintan O’Toole, Irish journalist and author
  5. Brexit is about an Ideal The state as the political

    entity of a nation is an objective Ideal, existing historically from generation to generation in constant evolution. It is a universal abstraction that is a representation of an ensemble of institutions that manifest ultimate power in society. The state in general is thus immediately contradictory. It is a thing which stands outside of us which has coercive power. It develops hegemonic notions that can speak on behalf of the “common interest” or “general will” in society. The state therefore contains within it the Ideal of democracy. The post-welfare, market-type of state is identified with unprecedented social inequality and polarisation; austerity resulting from the global financial crisis and recession; the weakening of welfare safeguards; the withdrawal from the provision of public goods in favour of private markets; mass surveillance of persons and communities; and an inability/refusal to tackle global issues such as climate change. As a result, an historic crisis of legitimacy now exists in many state systems.
  6. Brexit is about the Ideal of democracy Brexit is actually

    about a longing for the Ideal of a state and democracy that serves the people. The referendum was an activity driven by what was seen as an opportunity to achieve an Ideal in practice. It was: •A rejection of the status quo of both the UK state and the EU emerging state and their bureaucracies •A very British expression of independence based on cultural heritage •For the vast majority of the 52% (17.4 million) who voted there was no plan, no alternative •For many the “risk” of Brexit was outweighed by their declining social conditions – they had nothing to lose Inside this rejection, this longing, were many, often contradictory, sides: •‘Taking back control’ when there was no control to start with •That the UK Parliament would become powerful once more once free from Brussels •An illusion fostered by libertarian Tories that Britain would simply leave the EU and become a powerful, independent trading nation •The hope that leaving the EU might result in better conditions with a purely British capitalism (which doesn’t exist) •A view amongst some that fewer EU migrants would mean better conditions for UK citizens
  7. All these hopes, aspirations and illusions have had a reciprocal

    impact on the material conditions that gave rise to them, especially in the field of politics. Since the referendum: • The state has found it impossible to implement the result of the referendum (a deal with the EU was rejected in the House of Commons by 230 votes!) •A major political and constitutional crisis has emerged in Britain •Parliament is seeking to assume a power over the executive it has not had for 160 years Momentum is building for Assemblies and Conventions to solve the crisis or come up with a new constitutional arrangement. The struggle for the Ideal of democracy is ongoing. Its outcome is not guaranteed. Brexit bites back