Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The New Nationalism

What is a nation? 

I heard something on the radio yesterday morning concerning the death of Martin Roth, the ex Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He said that; “The UK just started it now but this new nationalism is everywhere — it’s a Right-wing movement in Germany, it’s in France, in the Netherlands, it’s everywhere, and I think one has to do something.”  He is right - it's even infecting the USA with the rise of Trump.

This got me thinking about the roots of nationalism, which I believe are fixed in fear of the 'other'. A modern nation is, essentially, a political convenience - while we here all consider ourselves British, the old antagonisms between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England still exist and occasionally erupt into political arguments and the independence debate.

Germany and Italy took centuries to evolve from petty princedoms and city states into nations and only realised nationhood at the hands of political geniuses like Otto von Bismark and Giuseppe Garibaldi, who were themselves fierce nationalists in the traditional sense, but had the vision to see beyond the limitations of petty nationalism on a local scale.

Nationalism feeds on common traditions, shared memories and popular symbols of ‘ethnies’, which are reinforced by a closed economic system that provides positive feedback. In the UK there is additional positive feedback from a monarchial system - an anachronism that's lacking in most (not all) republics that have been forged by a union. The Netherlands, after it shook off the Spanish, started as a republic, but evolved into a constitutional monarchy; Italy and Germany eventually did away with monarchs completely, as did France.

The English Channel also helps to foster an insular perspective in mainland Britain - it not only separates us physically, but intellectually and culturally. Then there's the move that made Welsh compulsory in Welsh schools; the North-South divide; the traditional Yorkshire- Lancashire rivalry. It's a fact that great things can be achieved only when people come together in very large numbers and transcend their fear of other cultures. Nationalism fosters the sin of pride, a feeling of unwarranted superiority and can lead to war.

The Brexit debate was framed around many things, but the one, central issue was immigration - the remaining arguments were just window dressing to mask the immigration issue, as has been proven by these other arguments being soundly debunked, yet still fiercely clung to by the Leave camp. They are merely a fig leaf to mask something much more disturbing. The use of words like 'traitors' and 'unpatriotic' by the Leave campaigners (albeit by the extremists), even to the extent of denigrating our judiciary, are evidence enough. The problem is that demagogues channel this and misuse it to gain power.

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