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The World’s Ins and Outs

LONDON – As the United Kingdom’s debate about whether to withdraw from the European Union has heated up, “in” and “out” have come to define the stark choice facing voters in next week’s “Brexit” referendum. The British are not alone: the world is increasingly divided between the mentalities underpinning support for the “Leave” and “Remain” campaigns. Do citizens and their leaders want to work with others toward greater security and prosperity, or do they think that they are better served by isolating themselves behind real or virtual walls?

Those with an “out” mindset view the world through a Hobbesian lens, seeing everywhere the danger of people with unregulated passions, driven to do them harm. Only an omnipotent Leviathan can ensure order and security.

This is essentially the worldview – gradations of extremism notwithstanding – of Austria’s Freedom Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, the UK Independence Party, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, and similar forces throughout Europe and the West, not to mention the world’s autocracies and outright dictatorships. Theirs is a politics of fear and dog-whistle incitement of the extremist forces that exist in every society.

And, as we’ve seen in both the UK’s Brexit debate and the United States’ presidential election campaign, neither facts nor reason will dissuade voters with an “out” mindset. As the Nobel laureate economist Daniel Kahneman recently observed of Britain’s Leave camp, “The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger.” And yet they work.