Brexit: The Strange Death of Imperial Britain
Dieser Vortrag war ursprünglich für den 29.01.2020 vorgesehen und musste vorgezogen werden.
Der für den 22.01.2020 vorgesehene Vortrag "Investigativer Journalismus als Elixier der Demokratie" von Oliver Schröm muss leider entfallen.
In 1935, English-born George Dangerfield, the literary editor of the New York publication Vanity Fair published his seminal book on the remarkably swift collapse of one of the dominant forces of the British nineteenth century: Liberalism as a political, economic and social movement. In The Strange Death of Liberal England, the author sought to explain this phenomenon not solely as a result of the First World War, but rather as something which had its causes in the years prior to that great catastrophe. Dangerfield found that in conceiving his book, the preconceptions fell away and, with the benefit of some decades’ remove from that period, a picture emerged of a political and socio-economic force that had been so weakened by events, that in 1913 it was ‘reduced to ashes’. It is with great respect and affection for Dangerfield’s book that this paper paraphrases and borrows its title. But in 1935, Dangerfield was writing of a nation that was still capable – even after the bankrupting carnage of the Great War – of taking its place on the world stage as one of the pre-eminent powers; and whilst his book has remained a classic text on the demise of Liberal England and has not been surpassed to date, much has been written in academic circles on the subject of Britain’s journey from imperial power to the decolonising Britain of the 1950-75 period. At around the same time that the UK was in the process of its accession to the EEC, the historian Correlli Barnett published the first of his polemic four-volume sequence of books on British decline over the twentieth century and while these books were very well received, appreciation of national decline has barely filtered through into the national narrative. Despite membership of the European project and an occasional deep involvement with projects such as the single market, the notion of the centralised nation state has gained steady traction in Britain throughout the last four decades and the country seems to have developed along lines which are quite distinct from the polities of the European mainland and the expression of power in the UK – as well as the acceptance of this among the populace – is demonstrably different to that in the democracies of Europe. The reasons for this are historical and the early industrialisation and subsequent imperial expansion of Britain can go some way to explaining both the notion of exceptionalism in the UK as well as its alter ego on the continent. Of the millions of words that have been written so far on the subject of Britain’s intended departure from the European Union, there is very little in the way of concrete explanation that is not contaminated by partisan adherence to either side in the argument. Simply put, the 2016 referendum result has so polarised political discourse in the UK that objectivity seems unattainable at this present time and perhaps, like George Dangerfield, we may only gain clarity after the passage of time. At the time of writing, causal factors for the 2016 result have ranged from (amongst others) the European Council’s treatment of Greece during the financial crisis there; the imposition of austerity economics in Britain after 2010; regional de-industrialisation in the UK; unaccountability among EU institutions; eastern European workers acting as a drain on Britain’s welfare state; eastern European workers acting as a percentage boost to the British economy; deluded automotive industry workers voting against their own interests in the north east of England; deluded metropolitan snowflakes voting against the nation’s best interests in the south east of England. Whilst all of these issues are contributory elements, to select any or all as definitive explanatory factors would be akin to blaming the witches for the downfall of Macbeth: yes, some of these things are precursors, they signpost events and act as a chorus in the tragedy, but the real answer is perhaps ephemeral at this time. Nonetheless, the events of the last three years have seen Britain plunged into a political and constitutional crisis. Thus, this paper will not seek to offer a definitive clarifying statement on the cause of Brexit but will instead attempt a critical overview of some of the more compelling explanations on offer and the focus will be on positioning the Brexit crisis within the wider context of Britain’s long-term decline. After all, whatever the outcome of the present crisis in the UK, the bonds of union between the home countries appear to be weaker than ever and this paper will therefore discuss whether the phenomenon is an aspect of the long-predicted end of the British imperial governing mentality. The focus will be on four domains within the overarching proposal. Firstly, the economic aspect, which is proving to be a highly contested area of justification for both sides of the argument. Secondly, the social and cultural factors as areas in which the national narrative has either been distorted or else underplayed. Thirdly, the geo-political sphere in which the other themes have influence and fourthly, the political culture in Britain which, influenced by society and culture more broadly, can go a long way to explaining the emergence of the current crop of politicians on the national stage and also how an entire country seems to have abandoned serious politics and embarked on a course that seems destined to end badly.
Der Vortrag ist Teil der öffentlichen Ringvorlesung „Die Entführung Europas“ im Wintersemester 2019/2020. Der Besuch ist kostenfrei, eine Anmeldung ist nicht nötig.