The Danger of Passionate Intensity

It’s worth remembering as the world continues to sort through the entrails of Britain’s referendum decision to exit the European Union that in a democracy the majority may have the right to rule, but that doesn’t mean they are always right in the paths they choose.
As Geoffrey Robertson one of England’s leading barristers is reported to have said as the Brexit forces won the “leave or remain” contest last month:”Our democracy does not allow, much less require, decision making by referendum. Democracy has never meant the tyranny of simple majority, much less the tyranny of the mob.”
It is not a point of view in much favour with the people who, having elected a group of citizens to run their affairs then insist that all major decisions be approved – or rejected – by nation-wide votes. It doesn’t seem to matter how complicated the issue, whether dealing with macro-economics, international trade agreements or ways to resolve the refugee-immigration crisis. Referendum advocates are convinced simple “yes or no” orders from the people to the government they deny the right to govern will bring peace and prosperity to their world.
And thus it was an unwise Prime Minister David Cameron who in the heat of an election campaign promised the restless half of his people what he thought he heard them demanding – a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU. He heard the demands, was confident that though they were being made by millions he could rally even more millions to the “remain” side of a simple “yes or no, stay or leave,” vote.
He was wrong, only by couple percentage points, but enough to throw his country into political chaos and overwhelm the world with fearful uncertainty. And he was wrong because while as Prime Minister he had heard the rumbles of complaint from the masses he had failed to read the depth of the racial hatred in the hearts and minds of so many of his people. As the referendum campaign unfolded both sides resorted to the old political campaign ploy of proclaiming a few facts supporting their position while denying any that challenged.
Both sides were guilty of lies to support their cause and the atmosphere in that country once renowned for its fairness and tolerance became poisonous. It became as Shakespeare described it in the 1600’s – and I confess to cherry-picking his lines from Richard II:
“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…..This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land, dear for her reputation in the world, is now leased out….England, bound in with the triumphant sea….Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame, with inky blots and rotten parchment bonds….That England that was wont to conquer others….Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”
Other times, other issues, it’s true, but also a prophetic view of a world once described by the poet William Butler Yeats as a place where “everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
“Passionate intensity” – such a wonderful force when unleashed in a just cause. Such a fearsome force when fueled by the anger and racist contempt of a referendum majority.


  1. Wish this article and the previous one could appear in all the well respected Canadian papers . The articles deserve the front page! Articulate, researched and beautifully crafted as always! Lorne & Nancy

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. This is a fine piece Jim and I agree with all you say. Government by referendum is not government. As Edmund Burke told his constituents, his behaviour in Parliament should be informed by his knowledge and experience: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

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