Malacandra.me

The Imperialist Whine

The Imperialist Whine

by digby


This thread about Brexit has been making the rounds on twitter and I thought I'd just share it here for the record. I think it's quite profound:

Brexit makes sense for a nation that feels sorry for itself, but the mystery is how Britain as a modern prosperous nation came to define its political future through self pity.

The higher we think of ourselves the more we can feel sorry for ourselves when we don’t get what we believe we deserve.

Self pity combines a deep sense of grievance and a high sense of superiority. Passionate nationalism has taken two antagonistic forms - imperial and anti imperial.

Brexit wants to be both imperial and anti imperial.

Brexit is an insurgency and needs to imagine that it is a revolt against intolerable oppression.

Britain historically entitled to a grudge. 1971: Colin Wilson argued that a grudge had built up over 25 years due to disappointment at the results of the war.

By no means ridiculous to feel that the British had deserved much but received little.

Fintan O’Toole does not begrudge the British their national grudge.

Postwar loss of sense of superiority led to British self pity.

Psychological power of Brexit: fused superiority and inferiority into a single emotion. Both enormously hard done by and enormously grand.

British sense of disappointment that joining EEC will lead to a new era and resolve all problems - added to previous sense of postwar loss.

Welfare state functioned as a bulwark against self pity. Consolation for decline is the notion that Britain is doing something radical and profound.

Erosion of welfare state from Thatcher onwards, then becomes regarded nostalgically as part of a lost golden age.

Need for a new scapegoat for failure - non white immigrants

Overt racism shifts out of respectability (until recently) after accession to the EEC.

Without parallel? A functioning Western state starts to see itself as fundamentally oppressed.

England now starts to imagine itself not as an empire but as a colony.

Importance of the word “humiliation” - including in today’s headlines. (What happened? Just that May didn’t get her way.)


Robert Harris’s Fatherland written against backdrop of German reunification. NB also Len Deighton’s SSGB.

Harris’s alternative history invokes an alternative Treaty of Rome - Britain forced into a European trading bloc.

While Harris was writing Fatherland in 1990, Nicholas Ridley compared EEC to the Nazis.

Attraction of this kind of self pity is that it allows a fantasy of the emergence of a future heroic English resistance.

EU as oppressor has to be invented by the English to facilitate dark invasion fantasy.

This is a way of dealing with post imperial guilt: we are not responsible for anything because we are being oppressed.

Patrick Melrose novels speak to the masochistic fantasies of a ruling class that has lost its power.

In the Melrose novels the image of the Irish famine is evoked very directly.

This type of storytelling part of a larger narrative oppression. Boris Johnson contributes to this - Johnson the journalists invents EU oppression. Started with the threat to prawn cocktail flavour crisps. The more absurd the examples, the less easy it is to deal with them.

Stories about straight bananas exist in the same realm as fiction.

Favourite Brexit form of discourse - imagine we’re the Irish Free State. Dominic Raab as Michael Collins. Hannan: get agreement than throw off the conditions as a Free State did after 1922.

Note the breathtaking reversal of self image: we are now the Irish in 1921, EU is Lloyd George Government.

Maybe there is a last stage of imperialism when zombie imperialists have one last thing to appropriate from their former colonies - which is their pain.


I think you can see the echoes in our own situation.

One of the most unbearable aspects of Trumpism and the conservative movement writ large is this constant whining about how they are the "real victims." Trump's rhetoric is more childish but it comes from the same place. It informs his whole ignorant worldview about trade and defense and alliances.

I have long said that he's not an isolationist as much as people yearn to believe it. He is actually an imperialist --- a simple-minded one to be sure --- but an imperialist nonetheless.