Fairly Recently: Must- and Should-Reads, and Writings... (February 12, 2019)

What is going on with "Brexit"? To everybody outside Britain—no, not outside Britain, outside England—it is a bizarre and incomprehensible mystery. But here, I believe, Hari Kunzru gets as close as an outsider can to understanding why the English political class is engaged in this farcical tragedy of policy: Hari Kunzru: Fool Britannia: "Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, by Fintan O’Toole.... The battle over Europe has been fought not over the... open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic... NHS funding, or traffic flow through Dover, let alone harmonized airline regulations or the trading benefits of a Canada-plus model... but through Spitfires, Cornish pasties, singing 'Jerusalem' on the last night of the Proms, and what the Irish historian and journalist Fintan O’Toole calls 'the strange sense of imaginary oppression that underlies Brexit'...

...O’Toole’s... is an acid and entertaining examination of what he calls, after the scholar Raymond Williams, the “structure of feeling” that has made the project of leaving the European Union politically possible.... The equation of a “European superstate” with a project of German domination is part of what O’Toole calls the “mental cartography” of English conservatism.... The European Union is, to these people, just a stealthy way for the Germans to complete Hitler’s unfinished business.... As the possibility of No Deal looms larger, the government is planning to import emergency supplies of food and medicine, and police are being deployed in expectation of civil unrest in Northern Ireland. These are not the “sunlit uplands” that our dollar-store Churchills promised....

It is Britain’s misfortune to have been ruled by such people, entitled men who don’t feel they need to master a brief and sneer at those who have to endure the consequences of their actions. The form of patriotism they have promoted with their shallow, friable charm is less a spur to excellence than a form of historical arrested development.... Particularly strong outside London, English nationalism has also become an identity of resistance to globalization, a process that has accelerated the disconnection of the capital’s fortunes, which are dependent on finance, from those of the rest of the country.... The English, whose opinions have been formed by the shallow charmers and their enablers, seem fundamentally unable to conceive of a relationship with Europe that is not one of either subjection or domination...


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