Nomura has a sober warning for Brexiteers. The last time England defied the European order in such a drastic fashion, the schism was followed by a century of economic stagnation and simmering conflicts that culminated in the Civil War.
The Japanese bank says the “obvious precedent” for Brexit is the English Reformation of 1534. “King Henry VIII passed the Acts of Supremacy making him ‘supreme head in earth of the Church of England’ and repealing any ‘usage, custom, foreign laws, foreign authority’.”
This act of petulance or patriotism – depending on your point of view – failed to usher in the golden age of Elizabethan prosperity that we have mostly come to believe. Or at least, that is Nomura’s reading of the reconstructed data on the real GDP per capita. There was no rise in living standards for the next hundred years. It was a depression.
The parallels with the Reformation are certainly striking. Church law was under the foreign jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church, enforced by a clerical apparatus that asserted supremacy and was widely resented. Church taxes were paid directly to Rome.
The fact that Henry was acting impetuously – in pursuit of Anne Boleyn – is irrelevant. Such a break with Rome was possible only because the authority of the papacy was already draining away across Northern Europe, eroded by rationalism, and morally discredited by its sale of indulgences and the tourist trade of relics.
Martin Luther had already nailed his 95 theses to the chapel door of Wittenberg Castle in Germany. The Catholic Church had become unreformable, just as today’s EU is trapped by its post-War ideology, by bureaucratic vested interests, by the rigidities of the Acquis Communautaire, and by constitutional inability to make monetary union work. Though in fairness to the EU, there is no parallel in today’s Brussels to the court of the Borgias.
Printing had taken off. The Pelagian humanist Erasmus had wickedly mocked the papacy’s mechanical christianity in his best-seller, In Praise of Folly. He sold over a million copies of his works by 1530, translated and made available to an urban intelligentsia by presses in from Venice, to Geneva, and Utrecht.
The censors lost their monopoly over manuscripts. They struggled to control opinion, just as the European elites today struggle to counter eurosceptic revolts, even in countries where the media (often subisidized quietly by the state) cleaves to the pro-EU line.