Most people are nationalists, including you, most likely. We tend to think that we have a pretty good handle on what nationalist politics looks and sounds like. It’s people waving flags and banging on about national destiny, the greatness of the people and the justness of its status as a self-determining, sovereign political entity, the perfidy and inevitable doom of its enemies. This is usually mixed with healthy doses of chauvinistic disdain for other nations and attacks on internal outsiders corrupting the otherwise pure national character. The recent upsurge in nationalist politics has largely fitted this description, although of course all nationalisms are different.
The crisis over Brexit has seen widespread invocations of national humiliation, of shame, indignity and embarrassment. These have come from both leavers and remainers: one poll in March 2019 suggested that 90% felt that the UK’s handling of Brexit had been a humiliation. Leavers profess themselves ashamed of the post-Imperial weakness revealed by May’s showing in the negotiations with the EU, remainers feel shame at the intolerance revealed and amplified by the campaign and referendum vote themselves, while all kinds of people claim to be ashamed of the often farcical scenes and processes of the House of Commons, broadcast to a newly inflated global audience, all conveniently live-streaming our national disgrace.
Do we need a left-nationalism?
In a previous piece from March 2019, I largely ignored the role of national ideals in motivating hard-Brexit politicians, whose motives I explained in material terms. The vulgarity of this analysis was pointed out to me, so I shall try to fill in the gap a little bit here. While I am happy to aspire to a world where nationalism is mostly denuded of political significance, I am not sure that a viable strategy here and now can ignore the mobilising power of these kinds of communitarian identifications or, more specifically, of the affective bonds they can involve and succeed only on the basis of, say, class identification.
This is a post from a few months ago that I originally posted elsewhere.
I predicted this. For real! Since the immediate aftermath of the referendum and ever since, I have predicted two things: that there would be a soft, largely symbolic Brexit and that it would all go down to the absolute last-minute wire. Soft Brexit remains at least possible and, as of today, we don’t know what Brexit will look like, when or even if it will happen. OK, I admit, my prophetic skills have not been proved flawless; I thought that some kind of bespoke soft-Brexit, the single-market and customs with some bells and whistles, would be actual government policy, forced through in the face of enormous Brexiter opposition in the name of sanity, compromise and the close result of the initial vote. So I did not quite predict that we would be where we are now. But where exactly is that?