Sunday 6 December 2009

In the shadow of empire

The Bagehot column in this week’s Economist makes a number of points which are very relevant to the delusions of unionism. The column is looking at how Britain has yet to fully come to terms with its reduced status on the world stage, but its conclusions may help explain the mixture of anachronistic self-delusion and unwillingness to face the future that is so common amongst unionists.
“When Britons remember their dead empire, they tend to concentrate, with pride or shame, on its impact on the former colonies. The consequences for their own country are mostly thought of as so much pompous bric-a-brac and nostalgic trivia: honours and baubles with imperial names, archaic ceremonies, statues of forgotten heroes, a smattering of exotic vocabulary, curry and distressingly proficient rival cricket teams. This way of thinking about empire is mistaken. In important ways Britain is still—even, perhaps, increasingly—trapped by its imperial past.”

Of all those trapped by Britain’s imperial past, the unionists are the most intractable. Their version of the ‘imperial past’ goes back to the 17th century – long before Britain even had most of its empire. And they have continued, through several centuries, to cling to the trivia of empire, in a steadily shrinking corner of that empire, even while most of Britain has tried to move on. Occasional re-eruptions of old-fashioned imperialism, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, are viewed as evidence that the beleaguered unionists were right all along, and that the rest of the UK is coming around to their way of thinking. However, since every eruption of imperialism is usually followed by yet another bout of self-doubt and retrenchment, unionism should not be under any illusions about the current festival of war-mongering, with its attendant propaganda campaign including parades, flag-waving, stirring tales of derring-do in Helmand, the solemn funeral processions, and all of the other bits slipped into the BBC reports and the MoD press-releases. When it ends – and it will – Britain will turn against such adventurism as it has on numerous occasions in the past half-century. And then, as before, unionism will find itself high and dry, the last redoubt of the flag-wavers.
"The fallout of empire may include the fraying of the union (because the lost colonial opportunities bound Scotland in). Beneath all this is the peculiar British combination of bragging and bewilderment, an air of expectations great but unmet and of unrealised specialness. It is hard to think of another country so keen to magnify its accomplishments (everything must be “the best in the world”), yet also to wallow in its failings; so deluded and yet so morbidly disappointed. Every recent prime minister has struggled to overcome this sense of thwartedness and decline, and to come up with a notion of Britishness to replace the defunct imperial version. Mr Blair tried “Cool Britannia”. It flopped. The gloom may be almost as acute now as it was in the late 1950s or 1970s.”
When Britain finally faces up to its mediocrity on the world stage the impact on unionism may be traumatic. Unlike the British of Britain, the British of Ireland have yet to come to terms with the failings of Britain as a country and as an empire. For the unionists, Britain can have no failings, because the unionist position is based to a great extent on their feelings of reflected superiority – vis-à-vis everyone, but most acutely vis-à-vis Ireland. If Britain has failings, then maybe – just maybe – the basis of their whole belief system may be wrong.

Unionism already has a difficult job justifying ‘the union’ on grounds of economic advantage or efficiency. If their second-hand imperial illusions are also removed from the mix, there is very little left to shelter behind. Their political position would become very exposed indeed. If, at the same time, the demographic balance is turning against them, the south is recovering from its current recession, and the long festival of centenaries is arousing passions, unionism may be reduced to a narrowly sectarian movement – which is what many believe it to really be at heart.

27 comments:

Watcher said...

Ireland, a land that has achieved nothing, criticising Britain, a land that has achieved so much.

Anonymous said...

Another great post Horseman.

And, another point missed Watcher.

Horseman said...

I wonder if there is any connection between this story (posted here at 14:29), which quotes the Bagehot column in the Economist, and an entirely coincidental blog by Brian Walker on Slugger (@ 05:10 PM) which also uses the very same column in the very same newspaper.

I'm sure Walker would say coincidence. But maybe it is more a question of 'imitation being the best form of flattery'?

pagasp said...

Anonymous Watcher said...

Ireland, a land that has achieved nothing, criticising Britain, a land that has achieved so much..... i thought u said ireland was part of britain watchman huhuhu

Watcher said...

I never said Ireland was part of Britain.

Anonymous said...

If you consider the size difference, Irish people have done a lot more in the world than British.

Anonymous said...

'When Britain finally faces up to its mediocrity on the world stage...'

Britain is a member of more international organisations than any other country - including the USA.

Remind me again of the global impact the wee Irish Republic has made (LOL).

Anonymous said...

The Indian constitution is modeled on that of the Irish Republic--the first country to leave the British Empire by force of arms before it began to fall apart.

Over 40% of the population of America has Irish ancestry. Australia, Canada etc. all have large Irish populations and the Irish have been influential and successful across the world.

The Irish are disproportionately represented in English literature, to a truly remarkable degree.

An N.I.'s influence? Let's see, built the Titanic? (we know what happened to that).

To proclaim that it deserves to exist in its little aspic bubble because of its 'loyalty' to the crown? --though in fact more men from the south died in both world wars in British uniforms than from the north.

As this blog has documented repeatedly, on just about any metric you look at the ROI is doing better than UK and the gap is widening. Ireland's economic transformation is unparalleled in the world. And poor old N.I., a resentful little backwater of declining privilege still sucks on the teat of empire for 70% of its income. There will be tears when the nipple is removed, but it's inevitable.

Watcher said...

Anonymous said:

"The Indian constitution is modeled on that of the Irish Republic--the first country to leave the British Empire by force of arms before it began to fall apart."

Who cares.

"Over 40% of the population of America has Irish ancestry."

Hilarious. The US is a melting pot. 40% of America has just about any ancestry you could mention. By the way, is that figure for 'Oirish' ancestry or 'Scotch Irish'? The Scotch Irish built America, The Oirish just dug the roads and sold bootleg booze.

"Australia, Canada etc. all have large Irish populations and the Irish have been influential and successful across the world."

No they haven't.

"The Irish are disproportionately represented in English literature, to a truly remarkable degree."

No, they aren't.

"An N.I.'s influence? Let's see, built the Titanic? (we know what happened to that)."

I'm afraid you're falling for more Paddy centricism - NI is part of The UK, it is The UK you must compare the potato Republic to.

"To proclaim that it deserves to exist in its little aspic bubble because of its 'loyalty' to the crown? --though in fact more men from the south died in both world wars in British uniforms than from the north."

Not proportionally they didn't. I'm surprised a mick would want to draw attention to WWII seeing as Ireland was neutral in the life and death struggle against Nazi tyranny. Speaks volumes.

"As this blog has documented repeatedly, on just about any metric you look at the ROI is doing better than UK and the gap is widening. Ireland's economic transformation is unparalleled in the world."

What a laugh you are. You lived like pigs for seventy years and yet all you can talk about is ten years of growth funded by EU (including UK) hand outs. Oirland was such a paradise half your people moved to England (yes, England - LOL).

"And poor old N.I., a resentful little backwater of declining privilege still sucks on the teat of empire for 70% of its income. There will be tears when the nipple is removed, but it's inevitable."

You won't be wanting anything to do with it then will you? That's the problem with you potato munchers, you want Irish Unity, but you can't stop abusing those you want to unite with! Thick as champ! LOL

Anonymous said...

Ireland was officially neutral in the 2nd world war as an assertion of its independence. As the euphemism went at the time, it was neutral on the side of the allies.

If you know anything about Irish history (which I doubt very much) you'll know that the south was subject to British military occupation of its ports up to the eve of the war in 1939 and that the British had plans for both invasion and conscription.

Fortunately, they didn't go down that road.

The rest of your responses are beneath contempt and clearly those of an uneducated begrudger.

Anonymous said...

What's sieg heil in Gaelic?

Anonymous said...

>>The Irish are disproportionately represented in English literature, to a truly remarkable degree."

>No, they aren't.

They are. Even Wikipedia agrees.

"For a comparatively small island, Ireland has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature in all its branches. Irish literature encompasses the Irish and English languages."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_literature

It is common knowledge. Only a racist bigot who refers to the Irish as micks would disagree.

Watcher said...

Well if Wikipedia says so, it must be true. LOL

Thick mick.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia's limitations are well known. Nevertheless, it contains a great deal of accurate information and mistakes are readily correctable--for which reason it's quite a reasonable indicator of general accepted matters of fact.

Remind us how many Nobel prizes for literature have been won by unionists.

Remind us of N.I's writers of the international stature of Joyce, Shaw, Wilde, Burke, O'Casey, O'Connor, O'Brien, Beckett, Synge etc.

Nothing is thicker than a unionist's bigotry. It won't save the protestant state for a protestant people. It's as doomed as white supremacist bigotry was doomed in S.Africa. Your sneering condescension was also a feature of Boer attitudes. Didn't save them. Enjoy the taste of your bile.

Pedro said...

Dublin is the only city in the world to have produced four Nobel prize winners in literature.
As for Ireland's general contribution to civilisation:
'We were a civilised celtic nation when the nacestors of the English were wandering about naked covered in woad in the Black Forest of Saxony'-Brendan Behan.
To wit, please chew on the following links, Andy:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kt9v9
http://www.anobii.com/books/How_the_Irish_Saved_Civilisation/9780340637876/00297db0d42c020f5f/

Pedro said...

The second link (above) in its entirity:
http://www.anobii.com/books/How_the_Irish_Saved_Civilisation/9780340637876/00297db0d42c020f5f/

Anonymous said...

Reply to Watcher:

You say Ireland has achieved nothing.

Well Ireland has been at peace since the 1920s' when it was created. It has fought no war, invaded no country. Whats wrong with peace? Orson Welles said the Swiss had invented nothing but the cuckoo clock. But the Swiss have enjoyed peace and prosperity for 200 years. I'm sure there would have been plenty of Poles, Ukrainians, etc, who would have been happy to trade places with the Swiss. In contrast Britain has fought many wars since the 1920's from the Falklands to Iraq today.

You say Britain has achieved much.

That is true (although I doubt N.I. contributed much, if anything, to this). Britain has given the world a great deal in many ways, but look at the difference in size, population, wealth and other resources between Britain and Ireland. Britain also is quite close to the continent which gives it a big advantage in trade and commerce. Its hardly a fair comparison. Then there is history too. England was part of the Roman empire, for example. It got all the benefits of Roman roads, bridges, etc, that Ireland didn't. History has been much kinder to Britain then it was to Ireland.

Watcher said...

Anonymous said:

"Remind us how many Nobel prizes for literature have been won by unionists."

Why would I want to remind you of that? The Ulster British are part of the broader UK family, so I suggest you compare like with like.

"Nothing is thicker than a unionist's bigotry. It won't save the protestant state for a protestant people. It's as doomed as white supremacist bigotry was doomed in S.Africa. Your sneering condescension was also a feature of Boer attitudes. Didn't save them. Enjoy the taste of your bile."

The difference between The Ulster British and The Boers is that the Boers weren't concentrated in one area. They couldn't carve out a continuous land mass in which to practice self determination and let's face it probably didn't want to. You Irish tend to miss practical realities like that, being a nation of day dreamers.

Anonymous said...

My comment was on supremacist attitudes not geography.

Your bigotry affects even your understanding of English.

Anonymous said...

Is the guy above for real?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous2, why does my suggestion that watcher has trouble with English (this has been manifest for some time) cause you to doubt my corporeal nature?

Spooked?

Anonymous said...

WATCHER is partially right on this point. The Boers could have created a small state for themselves. The mistake the Unionists made is that they took too much land, encompassing too many nationalists, and their territory wasn't based on any natural boundaries like a river for example. If I had been a leader of the unionists back then I would only have tried to absorb areas with a very large Protestant majority. Now the unionists are paying for their greed. They will soon be reduced to a minority status....

Watcher said...

Do you mean Unionists or Protestants?

Paddy Canuck said...

Watcher said...

"I never said Ireland was part of Britain."

Now THAT'S a great achievement. :)

Paddy Canuck said...

Watcher said...

Anonymous said:

"Remind us how many Nobel prizes for literature have been won by unionists."

Why would I want to remind you of that? The Ulster British are part of the broader UK family..."

Ah, the Billy Carters of the British Empire... how proud you must be. :D

Paddy Canuck said...

Watcher said...

"By the way, is that figure for 'Oirish' ancestry or 'Scotch Irish'?"

No one over here makes that distinction; Oirish is (Scots) Arish is Irish. I know it means a bunch to you, but for the rest of us, it's, well... how did you put it? Oh, yeah:

"Who cares."

Paddy Canuck said...

Watcher said:

"I'm surprised a mick would..."

I'm surprised a mick would call somebody else a mick. You have no idea how hilarious that is. :)

Seriously... do you honestly believe, 13 seconds after the ferry leaves the island, that anyone else out there makes a distinction? Jesus, when the Brits are talking about being "fed up with the Irish", they don't mean Dublin, they mean YOU. :D