To what degree did religious adherence and the aftermath of past religious adherence play any role in the British Brexit vote, asks philosopher John Milband on ABC Ethics.
It is worthwhile to ask how far the Brexit vote represented divisions other than ones of economics and region, besides novel cultural differences as to "diversity" and "emancipation."
In this context, to what degree could religious adherence and the aftermath of past religious adherence have played any role? One reason to ask this seemingly offbeat question is that British political history (as recently summed up by Robert Tombs in his huge and magisterial The English and their History) has been peculiarly dominated by a sectarian divide between Anglicans and Dissenters (and to some degree between High and Low Anglicanism) ever since 1689, in contrast to the religious uniformity of other European States, ever since 1648.
This divide has been, until recently, more determinative than the Continental one between religious and anti-religious, broadly expressed as that between Right and Left. Tombs argues that the echo of this divide remains in the tendency of the British to identify politically by shibboleth rather than ideology and to express identities rather than argue positions. One can see this in the endless arguments over health, education, Oxbridge, the style of sports, bloodsports, and so on, as well as in the British love of creating identity through differing modes of dress, both between and across classes.
Tombs' observation might seem as if it could have some relevance to a referendum debate that mostly degenerated into a shouting match and a reiteration of sloganised assertions. Indeed, it looks as if Britain could be from now on doomed to a split between Remainers and Leavers rather like that between a cultural North and a cultural South in the United States, or the original British divide of Cavalier and Puritan, and the later one of Tory (sometimes also Jacobite) and Whig.
The penchant for sectarian (as opposed to coherently ideological) divide might be here resurfacing in a new way. But does it at all correspond to the older divides - Catholic and Protestant, Anglican and Nonconformist? Clearly not in any straightforward way whatsoever - and the more overriding observation might be that all the older legacies have got debased.
Divided Island: Brexit, Religion and Culture (ABC Ethics)