Thursday, January 4, 2018

Austerity and Brexit Britain: "managed decline" or destroying the state?

The term "managed decline" when referred to Britain has been banded around for decades, ever since the end of the Second World War also marked the beginning of the end of its Empire. Joining the then EEC was about banding together with other European nations as a way to recognise the reality of Britain's diminished status as its Imperial status fell away. Since then, and in the last thirty years especially, Britain has seen a "restructuring" of the economy away from those sectors that effectively relied on its Imperial status for its survival and towards a service and finance-centred economy that was more dynamic to modern demands.
That "restructuring" is what the Tory Libertarians in government see as Britain's future. They see Britain outside the UK acting as a "Singapore-On-Thames", free from the shackles of EU regulation, free to trade with developing economies around the world; a "stripped-down" state that encourages its labour force to be forward-thinking and proactive about the country's challenges.

This vision is as delusional about the future as it is dishonest about the past. Just to name one example, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, is now talking about how the government ought to in the future grant subsidies to allow fields to return to their natural, wild state. As he claims, the CAP benefits wealthy landowners to provide perverse outcomes to agriculture. Thus, "Brexit Britain" will be about returning some of the countryside to its pre-industrial state.
This kind of policy would be considered laughable, except that this is a policy recommended by the chief minister responsible for agriculture. It is certainly true that the current rules benefit landowners; but to suggest that the answer would be for the government to pay for land to left deliberately unused is, for one, financial suicide from the government's point of view, and two, an utterly inefficient use of a commodity when the country will need to make money from all the land it can get after Britain leaves the EU. This "solution" also offers nothing on the much bigger issue of how much of the land in the UK is owned by a tiny number of people.

In other words, the government identifies a problem, then recommends the worst possible "solution". This has been a trend in this government for years. Other examples include the subsidies that the government pay to the privatised train companies (some of which are owned by foreign governments); the subsides paid to the privatised energy companies (some of which are also owned by foreign governments); the money now paid to universities by government in the form of student loans (much of which will remain unpaid) to pay for its policy of hugely-increased tuition fees. Then there are the numerous companies that the government "outsource" to in various capacities, from the justice system (prisons and detention centres), to the welfare system, and so on. These companies then almost always do the job that government did in a far more incompetent manner, because they have much tighter overheads to worry about (even with government assistance).

To pay for all this corporate largess, one solution the government came up with was "austerity". In the government's (false) narrative, the financial crisis was the result of the Labour government's overspending. Therefore, the Conservative government's main priority was to reduce government spending in any way it could. This also served the wider purpose of fitting in with the Libertarian agenda close to the heart of some in government, including those also in favour of Brexit. In this way, "austerity" was a means to an end: about permanently changing the perception in society that government was a reliable "safety net".
Cameron's idea of the "Big Society", formed prior to his conversion to the "austerity" agenda, was originally about the community helping out those in trouble, in order to help government. Instead, the "Big Society" under an "austerity" government has become a sick joke: where Food Banks are established in order to help those who cannot even afford to properly feed themselves (even those in work!), thanks to the government's own policies. In this manner, the government now praising the "Big Society" during a time of government-imposed austerity is a little like being attacked on the street, to then see the attacker later visiting the hospital where you are being treated for your injuries, in order to praise the staff for their work! The "austerity agenda" has spread into the welfare state, so that thanks to changes to disability assessment and the introduction of Universal Credit, more and more people are now unable to afford simple essentials, and some are homeless as well as starving.

A "failed state"?

In this way, aspects of Britain under the Conservative government have took on the appearance of a "failed state": where the government has effectively wiped its hands clean of whole areas of civil government and social welfare. Local governments are now deliberately starved of cash, with the result that essentials like bin collection and street lighting (without even mentioning the closing of "non-essential" things like local libraries) have been downgraded due to lack of money. Parts of the country look increasingly grubby and ill-maintained precisely because central government refuses to provide the cash. Meanwhile, the nakedly-visible increase of homelessness seen on the streets is the marker of a government that is failing its citizens.
Bear in mind again, these are conscious decisions by central government: they are choosing to do this. The money could be found if it wanted it; it simply chooses not to find it, and chooses to allow these services to wither.
In other areas such as policing and the prison service, cuts to funding have a direct consequence on public safety: the increase in violence and street crime is there for all to see, while the police state openly that certain crimes (like petty theft) will go un-investigated because they simply lack the resources. In prisons, violence is reaching levels closer to those seen in the developing world, rather than those expected for a G7 country.
Meanwhile cuts to defence also have reduced the country's ability to even properly monitor its own borders, let alone its involvement in overseas engagements. Vanity projects like the huge aircraft carriers now being put into service simply act as concrete evidence that the government is more interested in vain distractions than the reality of Britain's pygmy-like status on the military front, compared to its rivals.

The "austerity agenda" has now morphed into the "Brexit Agenda" since the referendum, but the goals are almost identical, in terms of its internal impact on the country.
The Libertarians in government behind the "austerity agenda" are the same people behind "Hard Brexit". They believe in a stripped-down state because their faith in the free market comes above all else, and clouds their judgement over the positive effects that government can have on society. Because they believe that free market will always do things better than government, it follows that for their agenda to succeed, "government", by definition, must be seen to "fail". If government is seen as efficient, this hampers their agenda for the free market to take the place of government services. To give one example, the success of the temporarily re-nationalised "East Coast" train service is an "inconvenient truth" that goes against their belief that privatised rail must, by definition, be better than state-owned rail. The fact that no other countries in the world operate train services like they are done in the UK (because it is seen by outsiders as madness) is besides the point. Following this logic, only if society sees that government cannot function will society believe that the private sector is better than the public sector.
The government's agenda is to prove to society that government cannot work. As they see it, this is the only way that people at the lowest rungs of society can be pulled from their torpor of dependency - the toughest form of "tough love". If the result from this agenda is mass poverty, homelessness, an epidemic of crime and a breakdown of the social fabric, this is just a "means to an end".

Put in this light, the "Brexit Agenda's" advocates inside government are working to effectively bring down parts of the system of civil administration from within. It is about destroying faith in government by deliberately destroying government. Because its advocates are from a wealthy elite that pays for services that it does not use (such as the welfare state), the predictions of economic collapse following a "Hard Brexit" perversely work in their favour, as a trashed economy would be ripe for the picking. This also explains why, on the other hand, those in the corporate elite who are the beneficiaries of government largess (while the rest of society gets a metaphorical kicking) are tied to those in government. The corrupt connection between Westminster, Whitehall and the corporate elite, through the common thread of the establishment, explains all this.

The largess promised on the landed elite after Brexit, like the example Michael Gove has given, is another form of patronage in a broken system. The "managed decline" that was first seen after the Second World War was, for some parts of the country, not rectified by being in the EU, but was used by the Thatcher government and its successors as an excuse to "restructure" a society stripped of union power. This explains why there are parts of the country, in the North of England and South Wales, that look more like a kind of urban dystopia, plagued with under-investment, unemployment, ill health and crime.
This policy of deliberate "managed decline" is another facet of the "stripped-down" version of the state envisaged by some Brexiteers. The parts of the country (and the economy) that are dynamic should be encouraged; the parts that are not should be allowed naturally to "die". This is a form of Social Darwinism by another name.

Whether the advocates of this agenda are dangerously delusional or deliberately dishonest is unclear; but the outcome for the rest of society from this agenda is as clear as day.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Trump versus Brexit: Populist ideology and Fascist rhetoric

When Communism became a force in the political world in the late 19th and early 20th century, the last place people expected it to take hold was in Russia. The tsar ruled his empire with an iron grip and with (at the time) perhaps the most sophisticated secret police network on the planet. The idea that this state could be overthrown by Communists appeared ludicrous.
But it was precisely the overbearing nature of the state that helped to bring about its own downfall. This was it's own Achilles heel, as it brought about an equal and opposite reaction from beneath. All that was needed was the right circumstances. The 1905 revolution, itself brought about in part by the national humiliation of the Russo-Japanese War, was the turning point, followed by Russia's debilitating engagement in the First World War. The instability this caused gave further evidence of the actual fragility of the status quo and encouragement that only another small push would be enough to overthrow the state completely.
This was achieved in February 1917 with the initial liberal Kerensky government, whose own fragility was then ruthlessly exploited by the Bolsheviks in the autumn of the same year. After fighting a civil war to maintain their grip on power, through sheer brutal force of will, the Communists stayed in power for the next seventy years.

The politics of emotion

The rise of Populism in the USA and the UK, so that they now appear as the "standard bearers" of the ideological movement, is perhaps as similar a surprise to the establishment as the victory of Communism was in Russia. Populism was never meant to be able to succeed in Britain and the USA, as the political system meant that marginal and divisive ideologies would always be battling against the well-organised machinery of the establishment. And yet here we are: "Brexit" has utterly transformed British politics as powerfully as Trump has transformed American politics. Whatever happens, politics will remain changed by these two forces for the foreseeable future. Even though Trump may only be president for a few years, his politics and rhetoric will shape ideology and culture in America for years to come; Brexit, by its very nature, will transform Britain for (potentially) decades.
Brexit and Trump are two sides of the same coin: two different faces of Populism. As an ideology, Populism is the politics of emotion, appealing to the lowest common denominator in the electorate. In a different setting, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey is an earlier exemplar of this, who set the trend and "wrote the playbook" for others to follow. Erdogan and his Islamist agenda have now dominated Turkey for fifteen years, and look to continue to do so for a long time to come. Unlike in Russia, where it was always easy for one man to dominate politics, Turkey's political environment was more well-grounded and relatively pluralistic, if imperfect. It took an inflationary crisis for Erdogan and the Islamist agenda to take control of the democratic machinery, then use emotional rhetoric and authoritarian tactics to keep control of it. In a different setting, we see echoes of the same trend happening with Brexit and Donald Trump.
The financial crisis was the common spark that created the agenda for Brexit and the politics of Trump. In seeking a simple answer to the problems that the lowest rungs of society were struggling with, in Britain the reason given was "Europe", while in America it was "Globalisation". In identifying a complicit establishment that was seen to be working with foreign powers against their own people, we see the common narrative that runs through the rhetoric of Brexit and Donald Trump; the same rhetoric seen in Populism time and time again. This common narrative is the divisive rhetoric that creates "winners" and "losers", "us" and "them": Populism is about the "losers" regaining their self-respect and sense of control, by removing the power of a corrupt establishment. It is by its nature a violent and radical creed.
The violent undercurrent that runs through Populism is why it appears as the ideological kin to Fascism: both share a narrative that divides society, that creates enemies to be hated, that creates a belief that those in power are by their nature corrupt, that creates scapegoats to explain its supporters' difficulties in life, that creates a justification for the use of violence (both rhetorically and physically), and the use of extra-judicial powers. All these themes can be found in the rhetoric of Brexit and Donald Trump. This is what happens when the politics of emotion is unleashed.

"America First"

The politics of Donald Trump are the politics of the ego-driven Populist. Nearly forty years ago, the younger Trump was asked of his interest in politics, and his stated reason for not wanting to get involved was because he thought his ideas were too radical for mainstream opinion. Given what we know now about his politics, we can guess that he understood that he knew his views were those of the extremist (Populist? Fascist?), and that he had no chance of becoming elected on such a platform.
It is clear that those views never changed; he simply discovered a way to get around the barriers to entry for such a platform: by becoming part of the establishment, and taking control of the agenda from the inside.

Both the UK and the USA have notoriously-difficult systems for outside parties to break into, which was why Populism was never really meant to happen there. In the USA, Trump got around that through a combination of strategic planning and fortuitous timing. As with all extremist agendas (be it Communism or Fascism), they can only succeed under a very specific set of circumstances. Trump saw that these were coalescing in his favour as Barack Obama was reaching the end of his second term.
While some of his rhetoric mirrors that of Erdogan in Turkey (and his role models seem to be dictatorial authoritarians), his personal style is more like the bombastic Mussolini (or perhaps more accurately, Trump's Italian near contemporary, Berlusconi). In essence, Trump's "ideology" is simply whatever he happens to think at that moment: as he has few coherent thoughts, he flips from one idea to the next; any inconsistencies pointed out by his critics are then decried as "fake news". In this way, Trump's America (and his vague ideology of "America First") is really a kind of personal rule, a dictatorship of the ego. It is up to those around him to put his chaotic thoughts into some kind of coherent agenda. And as his is a "personal rule" (not unlike England's Charles II), those working under him can be fired at whim, or are forced out if unable to deal with the day-to-day anarchy. This explains the unprecedented rate of attrition among White House staff, as well as the poisonous atmosphere.
As the nature of Trump's Populism is highly-personal, it also follows that his supporters are deeply-loyal towards him, and thus deeply antagonistic towards his critics. This is how Trump has divided America; by dividing friends and families in caustic ways not seen for generations. To his supporters, Trump is a kind of "saviour", speaking a language that relates to them in a way no other politician has before. For this reason, they are forgiving (or even dismissive) of any perceived personal faults, because to them he represents something more than just a man: he represents an idea. Whatever that "idea" is depends on the person, but the necessity to have belief in the idea is more important than questioning the reality that is the man. So to his supporters, Trump is a symbol, a symbol that cannot be seen to be imperfect; for his supporters to accept that Trump could be wrong would mean accepting that they could be wrong.
And here lies the inner pathology of Populism: because Populism appeals to those who are life's "losers" it follows that these people also lack self-esteem; they see Populist rhetoric as making themselves feel better about themselves and boosting their ego. So if Trump succeeds, they feel as though they are succeeding (regardless of the reality); "America First" to them means "Me First". It is when that fragile sense of ego is tested in the real world when the trouble really starts, and when the violent rhetoric becomes something much more dangerous to everyone else.

A divine cause

The "personal rule" in the style of Donald Trump was also attempted in Britain after Theresa May became Prime Minister. As the "Brexit Prime Minister" (or as the Polish government recently called her, "Madame Brexit"), a decision was taken that May's initial personal popularity should be exploited. This resulted in the Conservative government being re-branded as "Theresa May's Team", and by the time of the local elections in 2017 and the snap election soon afterwards, it was all about May and her agenda.
The fact that this then spectacularly backfired during the campaign once it was seen how she lacked any noticeable charisma or strategic thinking showed how this approach only works with the right kind of personality. While Trump's egomania and bombast have been the primary source of Populist rhetoric, in Britain "The Brexit Agenda" was carried forward mostly due to the charisma of Nigel Farage as the iconic leader of UKIP. The fact that, unlike Trump, he remained outside of the conventional party system meant that he was unable to personally take advantage of this when the moment came. In the end, it was May's decision to ape large parts of UKIP policy for the Conservative government that meant she was the main beneficiary. Once the EU referendum was won by the leavers, and therefore that the Conservative government had carried out a key UKIP aim, May's was in the right place at the right time.

But, unlike Trump and Farage, she didn't have the right personality, and this is what has made Brexit much more of an ideology of its own than any one politician's personal crusade. In this way, Brexit has become almost a kind of national religion in Britain, where no one person can claim divine ownership. It is a form of Populism that manifests itself as a transcendental faith, above personality. Whereas Populism in America is deeply-personalised in the ego of Donald Trump, in Britain it is something above personality and a movement in its own right. This is why Brexit cannot be stopped: it has been divined as "the will of the people".
In Britain, Fascist rhetoric is now used routinely in the Brexit-supporting media. While Donald Trump's tweets in support of Britain First demonstrate where his inner loyalties really lie, Theresa May uses the language of the delusional fantasist to describe Britain's future outside the EU, while presiding over a government that is routinely degrading Europeans that live and work here legally. Meanwhile, she makes efforts to befriend "rogue" governments like Poland who are now under sanction from the EU.

Outside of the USA and Britain, the people who support Trump and Brexit are not the friends of democracy. That should tell you all you need to know.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ayn Rand versus Julius Evola: The troubling overlap of Libertarians and Fascism

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post talking about the influence of Julius Evola on Fascist thought, and his influence on contemporary culture, especially in the lens of the political situation in the UK and the USA.
Sometimes politics brings together strange bedfellows, which is usually due to an unusual or turbulent set of circumstances. In the 20th century, for example, the unlikely (and short-lived) alliance of the Bolsheviks and the Liberals brought down the Tsar's regime in Russia in early 1917, with the Bolsheviks as the ultimate victors through their own "revolution" (more like a coup) in October the same year. By 1932, Germany was in the middle of a political upheaval that saw the Communists and the Nazis in a kind of joint campaign of chaos and terror against the political mainstream in the middle of an economic meltdown, which saw the Nazis as the victors.
The "postwar consensus" that was established following the turbulence of the Second World War lasted for around thirty years, until a combination of economic factors like "stagflation" brought an opportunity for right-wing economic extremists to take control of the situation.

"Strange bedfellows": Libertarians and Conservatives?

The "economic extremists" were Libertarians, whose ideas of a shrunk-back state and a "pure" form of Capitalism with unfettered market forces had been widely espoused by their icon, Ayn Rand.
In Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, these ideas were being promoted in the UK and USA respectively by two enthusiastic leaders, with the aim of first winning over their own (Conservative and Republican) parties, and then the country.
The ideas of the Libertarians were not popular initially within their own party, as some of their philosophical ideas seemed directly counter to those of traditional conservatives. Firstly, the "postwar consensus" was still considered an established fact not to be challenged, both with the Heath government in the UK and the contemporary Nixon administration in Washington. It was only the discrediting of both these administrations under different circumstances that gave "outsiders" like Thatcher and Reagan a chance of a hearing. By the mid-70s, Thatcher was leader of her party and Reagan was the "poster boy" of the conservative right. Both would soon be leaders of their country, and "de facto" leaders of the Libertarian movement.
Libertarian thought, as espoused by Ayn Rand, is fundamentally against traditional conservative tenets that emphasize the importance of faith, family and country. Rand's sense of Libertarianism is atheistic, materialistic, and individualistic: it sees the world through the eyes of the free-spirited entrepreneur, detached from the fuzzy, old-fashioned values of orthodoxy. Traditional Conservatism is about community, culture and social hierarchy; ideas that would be anathema to an ideological Libertarian. So how did these two sides reach an understanding?
Apart from the changing dynamics of the economy being on the side of the Libertarian narrative, as mentioned above, the "strange bedfellows" of the Libertarian and the Conservative found out that they did have a few things in common, and enough for an understanding of a common goal.

At its core, one of the central tenets of Libertarian thought is that while the state should do as little as possible, it must provide law and order and security. What this means in practice is that it is the defender of property rights, free choice and the rights of people to earn their own money. In other words, the state is in reality the instrument of the wealthy, as the defender of the rights of the status quo. By definition, it will do nothing to change circumstances to benefit those who are doing badly under the current system, as this would, in its eyes, undermine the impartiality of the legal system.
While Libertarian thought is ideologically meritocratic, in practice their absolute adherence to respecting the rights of the status quo mean that they are really defenders of the social hierarchy; the same social hierarchy supported by traditional conservatism. In theory, traditional conservatism is about creating a culture that unfairly protects its interests through a patriarchal system, while Libertarianism is about getting rid of such artificial constructs that prevent a level playing field. In practice, their absolute adherence to the respect of property rights and free choice means that even under any meaningful changes to the system (say, for instance, the abolition of beneficial subsidies), those at the top of the hierarchy would be guaranteed an in-built advantage.

One example would suffice. The existence of private schools gives an in-built advantage to the richest in society to get the highest quality education for their children. While I'm not here to argue exactly one way or the other (although the author has made his view clear before), it's clear that this could never be called a "level playing field" in children's education. On this subject, Ayn Rand was always consistent in being in favour of the right to private schooling as being a) a matter of parental choice, and b) that private education is no guarantee of a child's intelligence or success, so is therefore "fair".
It is easy to point out that while this may be, technically, true, in practice having a private education gives even the most dim-witted child an in-built advantage over any more intelligent, but impoverished, peer. In short, being born into a wealthy family is like playing a computer game called life in the "easy" setting.

As Libertarians are the strongest advocates of not wanting to tell people how to live their lives or what people should do with their money, this allows traditional conservatives a lot of slack, at least on the second point (if not the first).
Social policy is one area of contention between Libertarians and traditionalists (as any momentary look at how David Cameron's ideas on social policy compare to Theresa May's will tell you). But this is a minor issue when looking at the overlap that they share on their mutual economic interests: they both want to get rich and stay rich. And Libertarians showed the traditionally Conservative establishment how it could get even richer.

A marriage of convenience

For the last thirty-five years, Libertarian ideology on both sides of the pond has created a boon for the richest in society, while on the other hand (especially since the financial crisis) created a period of unprecedented uncertainty and hardship for those at the wrong end. The marriage of interests between (Libertarian-supporting) big business and the (traditionally conservative) establishment was thus based on a trade-off: the Libertarian right made the establishment even richer and more empowered, while the establishment turned a blind eye to liberalizing some areas of social and economic policy.
Issues like gay marriage and the relaxing of drug laws caused traditionalists to make a fuss, but these are cosmetic changes that simply reflect social reality. Meanwhile, the state's real changes to society - such as how the establishment now has unparalleled access to an individual's privacy -go unchecked. This may be another part of "marriage of convenience". Traditionalists turn a blind eye to social policy, but gain powers over other issues like state surveillance; Libertarians gain on social policy, but "lose" on issues like state surveillance. Then again, both traditionalists and Libertarians can also see the longer-term benefit to both these policies to their shared agenda: relaxing social policy feeds the illusion that government has become more "liberal", which masks the fact that it has become much more intrusive in other ways. Meanwhile, the gap between the richest and the poorest grows to their mutual advantage.

In this sense, "Conservatism" has always been a tent of varying interests and (sometimes conflicting) ideas. The Libertarians of today share more in common ideologically with the Whigs of yesteryear in the UK and the USA. The politics of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon seem unlikely bedfellows to people like the TEA Party and Evangelical Christians, but their differences seem to have been (temporarily) overcome in the pursuit of power and mutual self-interest. Across in the UK, the same is true with the most zealous supporters of "Hard Brexit": many of them are ardent Libertarians, while others follow an agenda that seems to pursue an nostalgic form of neo-colonialism and nativism. Like the conflict between Bolsheviks and Liberals in 1917 Russia, or the Nazis and the Communists in 1932 Germany, they all see opportunities in the chaos.

While having very separate visions of their own, Fascists and Libertarians are extremists that thrive on seeing opportunism in social collapse. As said earlier, Libertarianism only found a receptive audience in the mainstream right in the 1970s due to specific economic factors; prior to then, it was the obsession of fringe movements and think tanks. And now, in the economic malaise that has struck segments of society since the financial crisis, we have seen Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump in the USA marrying elements of both Libertarian and Fascist thought into an idiosyncratic melange.
Like with traditional conservatism and Libertarianism, the natural links between the latter and Fascism seem tenuous. More seems to contradict them that unite them. But the same could have been said of traditional conservatives in the 1920s in Italy, and those in the 1930s in Germany: they both united behind Fascists due to their mutual self-interest.
Looking at the Fascist thinking of Julius Evola in particular (especially as he has allegedly been a subject of fascination to Steve Bannon), in spite of their many differences, there are still a number shared aspects of thought between the Libertarianism of Ayn Rand and the Fascism of Julius Evola. These include:

  • A hierarchical, Social Darwinian, view of society. Julius Evola's Fascism was one that human society progressed through the strong over the weak, and that democracy was the immoral antithesis to this "natural" order of things, as it gave power to the weak (i.e. the uneducated masses) over the strong (the educated elite). Rand seemed to have a similarly scornful view of modern democracies, seeing them as being a vehicle of altruistic indulgence, and thus against the rights of the individual and morality of society as a whole. While Rand was a critic of dictatorship as a rule, it is also implied that if government exists to defend the property rights of the rich against the poor, it is also in favour of the elite against the masses. Thus, by definition, Rand was an elitist like Evola, albeit in a different manner. The manner of the method they were advocating may have been different, but the result is essentially the same.
  • Ardent anti-Communism. Although Rand was an atheist and an arch Capitalist, and Evola was a neo-pagan and against "materialistic" ideologies like Capitalism and Communism, they both saw Communism as the worst threat to society. Would Rand ever have worked with a Fascist to destroy Communism? Probably not directly, but many of her later acolytes certainly did, especially in places like South and Central America (e.g. Pinochet in Chile, the Contras in Nicaragua). The Cold War saw Libertarians and Fascists work together to prevent what they saw as "Communism", regardless of what that meant for ethics or the rule of law. And these days, this has evolved to an unspoken understanding that seems to operate between these two groups in their battle against "Socialism" in all its forms, from the welfare state to equal rights. In the modern USA, many Republicans acquiesce to the unstable behaviour of Donald Trump out of fear of losing control of Capitol Hill, while in Britain, moderate Conservatives are silenced by extreme Brexiteers, out of fear of the "Socialist" agenda of Jeremy Corbyn.
  •  Use of violence to achieve their aims. While Rand saw war as against humanity's self-interest, and Evola was a strong advocate of violence as a means to an end (as well as a natural result of Social Darwinism), both ideologies would be unattainable without social violence being some part of the equation. Both these extreme ideologies can only be achieved in times of social and economic upheaval. Whereas Fascism sees violence as a necessary means to achieve its objective, and Libertarians do not, a Libertarian society (like a Communist society) would only be possible after the previous social structure collapsed, or became discredited. Like with the advocates of "Hard Brexit" in the UK, by implication their objective could only be reached after the previous order had disintegrated completely. Thus, for a Libertarian to achieve his goal, he must be indifferent to the necessary social disorder and chaos as a "means to an end", which puts him in the same moral plane as a Fascist. It is only a question of the means of the chaos. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Conservative ideology and Libertarian philosophy: how indifference kills society

As the well-known phrase goes, evil occurs when good men do nothing.

Put another way, we could also say that bad things happen when the government stops caring.

Reward the rich

The Conservative Party in the UK and the Republican Party in the USA effectively act as legitimised lobbying groups for the richest in society. In the USA, lobbying by corporate interests is in any case perfectly legal, and practises that in many other democratic countries would considered "bribery" are in Washington simply part of the way doing things. In other words, in the USA, and to a lesser extent in the UK, the legislature is designed to be an instrument of most powerful, best-financed, interests.
The USA and the UK have their own idiosyncrasies in how the both "reward the rich". The revelations of the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers demonstrated how the UK's turn-a-blind-eye attitude to its various tax haven dependent territories means that it is acting as one of the world's largest facilitators of global tax avoidance. These systems are in place because they benefit the rich, who also fund the Conservative Party, and also are represented by MPs in parliament who would themselves use them. The tax system in the UK is one of the most complex and opaque in the world, and through its tax havens being legally "semi-detached" from the UK, it allows those with the means to hide their wealth as well as profit from it.
The fact that London is seen as the primary destination for oligarchs and Arab shiekhs to convert their money into capital assets (i.e. laundering their money into property) is another indication of how the rest of the world perceives the UK as a "rich person's playground". While the perception at home is fed that the UK is the mother of all democracies, the seedy reality is that the UK trades in on its reputation for integrity in order to draw foreign capital, without caring too much where it comes from. This explains why one of Britain's few remaining stable industries is arms manufacturing, and why the government is keen to remain friendly with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, regardless of the hostility between them.
The USA has its own methods of "rewarding the rich". Apart from its own tax system that, like the UK's, is skewed is their favour, the rich in the USA do not have to worry about funding a large welfare state, unlike in the UK. And the USA has a much more visible and muscular lobbying system than in the UK to further the rich elite's interests. So while the UK still has something of a semblance of a "welfare state" (for the time being), it has other ways of making life easy for the rich, through its toleration of tax avoidance and other methods of "locking out" those lower down in the social hierarchy (see below).

Punish the poor

It has been well documented that the UK (like the USA) has some of the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world. As mentioned above, the political system is designed to entrench the power of the richer segment of society, because it is they who are chiefly responsible for funding it. But when I say "funding" the system, I'm not talking about taxation; as already said, the tax system is that complex that there are many ways around it. I'm talking about political funding. The problem for everyone else who doesn't have that kind of influence is how to survive when your running full pelt just to prevent yourself falling further behind.
Because the system is designed by those without any experience of poverty (or even just average earnings), they make decisions based on their own prejudices. If I'm rich, it's because I'm intelligent and hard-working, they think to themselves. Therefore, those lower down in society must be there because they're feckless and stupid. This explains why many politicians seem so out of touch with everyday reality: it's because they are out of touch with reality! They simply have no understanding of what circumstances and situations occur when you're at the lowest rungs of society. They have no idea of the stress and psychological toll basic poverty has on people and families, and the many side effects and consequences that occur from that: from alcoholism, drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse, and so on. And that doesn't even cover more "mundane" issues like having trouble paying bills, or skipping meals to pay bills. The end result of all this for many is homelessness, as we can see on our streets.
These things happen in many cases because the people involved are unable to mentally cope with the stresses of living on the poverty line. This is where petty crime comes in, and the UK government's policy to reduce funding for state services for such essentials as policing and prisons means that crime is left to fester like a cancer on society, spreading bit by bit into different aspects of society: increasing numbers violent assaults through drinking, or drug addiction to give just two examples. There are many others I could give. And then there is the effect of reduced funding to UK prisons, where reduced numbers of prison officers is now causing an unprecedented rise in drug use, suicide and violent assault in prisons themselves. This is all the result of a decision by government to choose not to care
This is all without mentioning the "reforms" that the UK government has been making to welfare, in order to encourage more people into work (this is at a time when the UK already has what most experts would classify as close to "full employment"). These "reforms", on top of the ever-increasing trend of insecure employment, and things like the necessity for food banks, add up to a social model that seems designed to punish the poorest in society for their own misfortune.

An "anti-social" ideology

What guides the thinking of the rich elite in the USA and the UK is the Libertarian belief that government, almost by definition, is a bad thing. Of course, to the rich, government is a "bad thing" because it gets in the way of making money, and often tries to take it away from them. This is why it is necessary for them to get as much influence over government as possible, so that it works in their interest, and not against them.
In the modern era, to publicly espouse such views would be considered amoral (because they are!), so these views must instead be expressed in a way that is meant for the benefit of society as a whole. This is why "trickle-down theory" is so useful for their agenda, and why Ayn Rand was a god-send for their cause. Because Rand gave a moral argument in favour of being selfish, by saying that self-reliance was the highest virtue, it sprouted a renaissance in the form of the "greed is good" mantra. Conversely, helping others (altruism) was seen as the worst evil, as it encouraged people to rely on others. The same view was held by many in the 19th century, when "charity" was then seen as a dangerous idea that would encourage fecklessness and irresponsibility. In the form of the "Tea Party", now transformed into Donald Trump's own brand of populism, we have the same ideology today in the USA, while in the UK, it sits as unofficial government policy, also known as "The Brexit Agenda".

This ideology, now shared implicitly on both sides of the pond, is anti-social in nature, as it is against the interests of society as a whole. While the rich do what they can to avoid paying tax (and thus avoid contributing to social programs), they also do what they can to make poorer people's lives more difficult (for instance, by reducing employee rights and social benefits).
It is therefore the indifference of the richest in society to the lives of the poorest that can sometimes  be literally deadly.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Brexit, British identity, esoteric Fascism and Julius Evola

Walking in Carlisle recently, I came across this image on a wall.

Unable to get the image of this stark, black-and-white Union Jack from my mind, it got me thinking about the nature of identity and symbolism.
The "Union Jack" is a trinity of three flags: the three crosses of England, Scotland and Ireland. When its symbolism is reduced to its core essence, however, it can be easily manipulated into something else once taken from its flag. The image of black-on-white intersecting crosses begins to bear a strong resemblance to something much more primal and paganistic: the eight-pointed star.
The eight-pointed star has several meanings in different cultures and religions. The increase in violent far-right activity in Britain since the EU referendum has been well-noticed by the media, and one aspect of this is the use of symbolism by some of these groups. For these far-right groups, symbolism is an integral part of their sense of identity. The symbolism of the Union Jack is in its unique identity, and the cultural history that the far-right attach to that. Then, if reduced to its core (as above) it can be seen to represent the eight-pointed star. In far-right esoteric symbolism, the eight-pointed star is also a symbol of chaos, and chaos is an integral aspect to Fascist thought. We'll look at why that is a little later.

Earlier in the year, the New York Times wrote a piece on Steve Bannon's apparent interest in the thoughts of Julius Evola, a one-time Fascist thinker who later became an icon for post-war Fascist thought.
Evola's inspiration came from the Roman Empire, in the pure idea of Fascist renaissance. In his eyes, society had become decadent and corrupted by the changes to society like materialism and democracy. He was also an esoteric pagan. He was a anti-Semite who saw Jewish infiltration of European society going as far back as the foundation of Christianity, whose values of egalitarianism, forgiveness and charity were anathema to the hierarchical, pagan traditions of Rome. For Evola, Christianity was thus a "soft" faith: a religion of slaves that, to a pagan Fascist like him could even be seen as "Feminist", in for example in having the Virgin Mary as one if its key figures.
Hard though may be to understand now, early Christianity was a radical creed that accepted all regardless of background. It was this growth of egalitarianism through Christianity which Evola argued was what led to Rome's collapse, and mankind's slow deterioration to materialistic pursuits like banking and capitalism. The spread of democracy was thus the "final insult" to his extreme ideology of Fascist elitism, where he saw power had been gradually passing down the hierarchy from the elite to the uneducated masses. To him, Fascism was therefore the way to rectify this and restore society from decadent, egalitarian materialism to a hierarchical, pagan elitism that strove for spiritual values. The seemingly contradictory belief that the Jews were responsible for both Capitalism and Communism was thus explained as being a consequence of following the Jewish materialist conspiracy; thus the way to remove Jewish influence was to abandon the pursuit of "materialistic" Capitalism or Communism.
Evola's elitism was further inspired by the Indian caste system, whose polytheistic culture he saw as a parallel in some ways to the society that existed in the Rome of the pagan gods. Their belief in their "Aryan" origins explains the fascination that many Fascists had with India, as well as a underlying fascination with paganism. Evola admired many aspects of German culture as he respected how the ancient German tribes initially fought against Rome before finally being accepted as part of it. The ancient Germans were pagans, as were the Roman. The same was also true of the Celts, whom the Romans had had long experience of, from the Gauls to the various tribes of Britain. It was the war-like paganism that these three (Romans, Germans, Celts) shared that was what Evola saw as making them racial kin and thus more spiritually-pure, and therefore "superior".

In a different way, Hitler's respect for England came from this kind of racial-spiritual prejudice. For Hitler, England was an another branch of the German Reich. His respect for English culture came from what he saw as some elements of "shared history" in how both the Germans and Anglo-Saxons had carved out their own territory. As the Germans had carved out territory to the east by defeating and subduing the pagan tribes of the Baltic, the Anglo-Saxons had created their own domain by defeating and subduing the Celtic pagan tribes of Britain. Similarly, in Hitler's eyes, the English had proven their greater destiny by creating an empire of their own across the world, including (most symbolically) India. In this way, in the English controlling the Indian subcontinent - the ancient homeland of the Aryans - they had proven to the rest of the world that they were an "Aryan master-race". This explains why Hitler's favourite film was  "Lives Of A Bengal Lancer", about an example of military exploits during Britain's long occupation of the subcontinent. Thus also explains why Hitler felt somehow "betrayed" by Britain's declaration of war on Germany. Like Kaiser Wilhelm II, he grew to both love and hate England; his pursuit to defeat Britain came more from the narcissistic rage felt by a spurned suitor than on any real ideological grounds

This explains how some of the English far-right see themselves as some kind of "chosen people": the Fascist thinking of Evola lends itself to believing that modern democracy is somehow softening society, and "European values" are destroying native culture. Similarly, Hitler's own romantic view of the English adds to the mystique of the lost days of Empire as well as the "origin myth" of how the Anglo-Saxon tribes were a noble warrior caste in search of a new land to colonise - their own Arcadia. Building on from the "shared heritage" of the ancient Germans, Romans and Celts, the more esoteric-minded of the English far-right might therefore see the "British Empire" as some kind of pinnacle of cultural Teutonic-Celtic symbiosis.
Meanwhile, those who support "White Power" in the USA, likewise see the USA's destiny not as a melting pot of races, but as the "successor" to the legacy of Britain's imperial power projection - their own perversion of the idea of an "Aryan" English-speaking super-state. From its origins as the Thirteen Colonies, the USA eventually superseded its British "parent", and those "White Power" fanatics that now cheer on Donald Trump's slogan of "Make America Great Again", feel in their heart that it is about "Making America White Again". The cultural bonds that tie "White Power" in America and the culture war behind "Brexit" are strong.

Although Fascism is a deeply-hierarchical ideology, thinkers like Evola also saw that violence was the only means to bring about change. As mentioned earlier, the eight-pointed star is also a symbol of chaos, and Fascism in the modern world could only come about through means of chaos. As it is by definition an extreme ideology, extreme ideas could only be considered applicable in extreme times (i.e. in times of great upheaval). For this reason, as well as Fascists idolizing violence as a means to demonstrate power and chauvinistic virility, they are also the means they use to bring about the chaos necessary to enact their agenda.
Extreme agendas can only be exacted in extreme times: the same is also true of the radical agenda hidden within those who advocate for a "Hard Brexit". In the chaos that could easily follow such an unprecedented series of events, who knows what kind of state Britain would be in. The "millenarian" belief of change only being possible through some kind of  turbulent "conflagration" is something that many Fascists believed in passionately. This also seems to be shared by some people in government.
And, one can imagine, the guy who drew this image in Carlisle.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Brexit and UK government strategy: Imperialistic Pretensions

A good way to assess a country's true psychology is to look at how it treats other nations.

The UK's relations with Europe and the rest of the world are currently going through a radical reconfiguration, thanks to Brexit. But equally, the way that the UK government is handling Brexit and its relations with its near neighbours in Europe is also highly-revealing in telling us the true nature of the country's leaders, and their motivations. As a result of this, European observers of the negotiation process between the UK and the EU are having to sharply re-evaluate their preconceptions about Britain's sense of morality. They are beginning to realise that Britain's honesty and transparency can no longer be taken for granted. They realise that Britain is behaving like a "troublemaker".

Divide and rule

When the chips are down, Britain's government has an instinct for devious behaviour (in particular towards its own population).The British government's negotiation strategy with the EU (if it can be coherently said to have one), seems to follow on from the same tactics, which Britain also once used when it was an Imperial power.
Back in the day, the British government's strategy for keeping the colonies under control was one of "divide and rule". In India, this was about balancing the different ethnic sides off against each other. The tensions between those sides (e.g. Hindu versus Muslim) were then stoked by Britain as a deliberate policy to sabotage the growing independence movement. This then made post-independence violence all the more certain; as we know, millions died in violence during those population exchanges. Earlier in Britain's rule over India, we had the Indian Mutiny, which caused widespread devastation, and also numerous famines over time that caused the deaths of millions, to the general indifference of its British rulers.
Closer to home, and another example of "divide and rule" that is often forgotten by Britain's population, was the treatment of Ireland: the land "across the (St George's) channel" that was effectively Britain's colony, with much of its Catholic population treated as virtual slave labour. Institutional indifference led to the potato famine, causing the deaths of millions, and the widespread depopulation of Ireland. Meanwhile, there was Northern Ireland, where again, Britain's ignorance of its bloody past and persecution towards the Ulster Catholic minority, is widespread. As we see, the policy of "divide and rule" is still at the heart of how the government runs the country even today, thanks to the DUP. And that doesn't even mention the current government's arrogant attitude towards the Irish government as part of its negotiations with the EU (more on that later).
The same could be said of Britain's rule over Palestine, where the Arab majority were played off against the Jewish minority. As the violence between them and their British overlords got increasingly out of hand, the British left the whole mess to the newly-created UN, who were totally unable to deal with the situation. As with "divide and rule" in Ireland, the Middle East is still dealing with the after effects of that today.

Britain, as an Imperial power, therefore had a long reputation for dealing with its colonies in a Machiavellian manner. The three mentioned, India, Ireland and Palestine, are just a few of the more glaring examples. There are many others. Of course, this strategy was common among all "Imperial powers", and Britain was very far from the worst in this regard. However, the cases of India, Ireland and Palestine are three stains on Britain's colonial record - in terms of the collective human impact of their policies - that stand out even among other acts of colonial infamy by other powers. Britain may not have used torture on an mass scale like some other Imperial powers, but it would be naive in the extreme to think of Britain as a paragon on Imperial virtue, like as it has been with some, nostalgic over the past.

The manner in which the UK government has dealt with the EU during the negotiations follows the same path. On one hand, Britain's Prime Minister talks of wanting a "deep and special partnership" with the EU based on trust and co-operation. But on the other, while negotiations are ongoing with the EU as a whole, her government (and the PM herself) seeks to drive clefts within the nations of the EU itself. Firstly, Theresa May and her ministers engage in the type of diplomacy that looks for issues that individual members of the EU might agree with Britain on, separately from the rest of the EU; the purpose of this is to build some kind of "inner coalition" within the EU that might be more supportive towards Britain's goals. Secondly, in the case of Germany, David Davis seems to be on a strategy to win over the support of its industrialists that would then act a some kind of "lobby" to pressure Angela Merkel on Britain's behalf. In this case, it is like developing a "cleft within a cleft". His comments just recently, where he blamed France and Germany for holding up the negotiations, support the view that Britain's strategy is to drive wedges between nations, as well as even wedges between interest groups in the nations themselves.
These two examples show not only the glaring lack of tact of Britain's government, but also reveal its government's true motivations: treating Europe as a kind of "colony" that can be manipulated and exploited to achieve its goals.

Looking at this objectively, it paints a very poor picture for Britain as a nation to be trusted. Not only is it being devious; it is being tactless. And everyone can see it.
It is almost reminiscent of the tactless behaviour and self-defeating diplomatic strategy of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II. When he came to power, he wanted Germany to be a great power, but also one that had good relations with its neighbours. Through a series of misjudgments, Germany fell out of favour with Britain, Russia and France, leading the Kaiser to look for alliances with nations that others were wary to be close to. This left Germany diplomatically-isolated from the major Imperial powers, leading its government to seek self-reliance as the best form of defence. We know where that ended.
In a different context, Britain's government seem to be repeating many of the same kind of blunders: making enemies where it should be making friends; while in seeking to divide existing alliances, the only effect this has is to unite them against itself as their common agitator. This kind of "imperialistic approach" will only end in failure, while showing to others that Britain's motivations are antagonistic in nature.

"Special treatment"

Apart from the Imperialistic strategy of "divide and rule", there is the UK government's (equally Imperialistic) mindset of expecting the EU to do everything for them, give in to all their demands, while offering little in return.
This is the lazily-entitled mindset that Britain had seen in remission during its membership of the EU. In many ways, joining the EU was an admission of Britain's relative weakness in the post-Imperial world. As it was not in a position to make demands, it allowed Britain an opportunity to reshape its own sense of identity. Brexit represents a backwards step to the entitled, patronising attitude that the country had during its colonial past: nothing is ever Britain's fault.
David Davis seems to summarise this mentality well: a monoglot who is incapable of understanding even the basics of his brief, or seeming to care. To him, Brexit all seems like a bit of a lark. As far as he sees it, Britain has already offered "compromises" (I struggle to think of any), and so the onus is on the EU to do the same. This attitude ignores the fact that the EU is simply following its own rules, as clearly laid out in statute in the Lisbon treaty. This has been explained repeatedly to Davis, who never seems to listen. The EU is not setting out to "punish" Britain; it is simply explaining the rules as they stand, and what is and isn't possible within that framework. But Britain's government wants the EU to ignore its own rules in order to indulge its wishes. In its lazily-entitled thinking, Britain has all the bearing of a haughty Imperialist of yesteryear that expects "foreign lackeys" to do all its work for it, while it wallows in its own self-satisfaction, ordering others around.

For some reason, Britain thinks it should be entitled to some kind of extra-legal cloud-cuckoo land where it gets "special treatment" from the rest of the world.

Expecting "special treatment" on one hand, while enacting a strategy of "divide and rule" on the other, Britain's government has simply slipped back into the lazy Imperialistic pretensions of a hundred years ago, but minus the Empire.
While the negotiations with the EU continue, the rest of the world (who Britain expects to have preferential trade agreements with) must look on with a mixture of bemusement and bafflement. If Britain can't even negotiate properly with its supposed "friends and allies", what chance has it got against anyone else?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Brexit and British pathology: the "three men in a pub" analogy

I've reached the stage where it feels as though Brexit is government policy organised by three drunk guys in a pub.

If you've ever been in a pub during a week-day afternoon, when it is more likely to be populated by problem drinkers, you might recognise the analogy. After a few drinks, conversation inevitably descends to a few core topics, that all revolve around the issue of culture: sport, identity and history.

When not talking about football, rugby or cricket (depending on the men's background), conversation drifts to broader cultural issues: things like immigration, cultural assimilation of said foreigners, how the face of Britain has changed over the years, and so on. Linked issues like gender identity may get a look-in on the conversation. Of course, politics also runs through all of this as well, as issues of cultural identity also raise issues like Britain's wider place in the world. In short, the narrative can gradually devolve to one of men feeling dis-empowered in the modern age; somehow emasculated, and that a sense of Britain's decline is tied in with their own sense of losing pride in their male identity. Men together, after a few drinks, love talking about themselves, but always in a wider context of their sense of identity and culture. Things that they would never say when sober they feel free to say when drunk, as if their inner id has been unleashed.
This is one of the reasons that British male culture (or pathology) is so schizophrenic - they feel restrained by the wider culture into a certain type of taciturn modesty in everyday life, which then results in a kind of repressed "inner demon" being unleashed when drunk. It also explains the propensity for drunken violence so common on British streets after dark. This "pathology" is something I want to explore in more detail.

"Take Back Control"

This may all sound familiar (hopefully, it does). The "culture wars" that seem to have been unleashed by the forces behind Brexit are the same ones that are behind the wider rise of Populism, and the ugly undercurrent that is somehow "rehabilitating" the politics of Fascism. In a different context, the same could well be said for the rise of Islamic extremism.
Ultimately, it can be argued it boils down to a "loss of masculinity", for what these events all share is a primal desire for "men to be men". The rise of women's rights, the disruptive effects of globalisation and then the financial crisis all accumulated the core issue of loss of power. What this means in a British context (for that is the focus of this article) is about "taking back control", epitomised in the brilliantly-concise and innately-primal slogan of the "Brexiteers". This explains one part of why Britain chose to leave the EU. Apart from the wider cultural context (more on that later), the "Brexiteers" in government knew how to manipulate the "pathology" of the British psyche to make the referendum seem a question of British freedom versus European dictatorship. If we classify "culture" as meaning "history plus identity", we can begin to see how the "three men in a pub" analogy is something ingrained into the British psyche. It's no wonder that part of Nigel Farage's appeal was the constant association of him with a pint in his hand, thus subconsciously putting him on the side of the "man in the street" (or the pub). In a different way, Boris Johnson, as one of the leading "Brexiteers" in government, was able to inject his own brand of charisma into the referendum campaign, thus ensuring that the side for leaving the EU had all the most easily-identifiable personalities.

It was emotional appeals that won the day, rather than rational argument. Like how the "man in the pub" can never be rationally argued against without provoking violence, the arguments of those in favour of the EU were never going to win over the "Brexiteer" ideas that were all about "pie in the sky" thinking. There was never one moment when the arguments for leaving the EU were decisively shot down, because, in a way, there were no real arguments for leaving; there were only "beliefs". In the same way that an atheist can never truly win argument against faith (because it misses the point), Brexit is a faith-based ideology that requires a suspension of disbelief. We'll look at some of those "beliefs" below.

"This sceptred isle"

Part of the identity issues mentioned earlier naturally come down to national history shaping the national psyche. The obvious fact that Britain is an island plays a fundamental part to that, which leads to two well-understood "truths": a) that Britain hasn't been invaded for a thousand years, and b) that we have historically been apart from continental Europe.

Britain's role in the Second World War is still, seventy years on, an integral part of the national psyche. For the "three men in the pub", this is what our national identity is all about, and fundamentally shapes our relationship with Europe. The fact that the country wasn't invaded during that war (as well as Dunkirk - more on that later  - "the plucky underdog") emotionally stands for a lot to "the man in the pub". It infers that Britain is different (i.e. "special"). This lends itself to a complacency about life in the modern world; that because Britain was able to stand apart and free in the Second World War, suggests we'd be able to do the same again today. Because Britain was a victor of both World Wars, it infers that we'd be a victor in the world again today. The fact that all this was possible through a combination of luck, happenstance and outside factors is ignored. In a sense, Britain's experience of war in the 20th century was cosmetic compared to that experienced on the continent.
In the industrial era, Britain never experienced mass displacement of refugees, entire cities levelled, or real starvation. It has never experienced a real "national humiliation", like many nations of Europe have. It has never experienced Fascism first-hand, either. It is this "luck" that the "man in the pub" confuses with "destiny", and therefore adds to the complacency that supports his "pie in the sky" assertions over Brexit, as well as his faith that Fascism could have never happened in Britain anyway.
To take a more recent example of this complacency, Britain winning the Falklands War was, to a large extent, pure luck. If Britain had lost that war (which was always likely), the sense of national humiliation would have been profound. The Thatcher government wouldn't have lasted long, and Britain's national psyche would have been shattered. But we won, and so Britain's belief in its own indestructibility continued to the present day. A "Hard Brexit" would be a real test of that indestructibility.

Likewise, the fact that Britain's success as a nation came about through world empire rather than entanglements in Europe is another part of the narrative for "the man in the pub". Even the term "Brexiteer" sounds vaguely romantic, like the word "buccaneer", evoking the travails of Britain (or more exactly, England) as a vibrant, sea-faring nation of the world. This goes back to the time before Britain's involvement in continental wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, while looking at more recent centuries, evokes instead the successes of the empire. Put in this light, Europe's closeness to Britain feels almost incidental to its history.
More generally, historians understand that Britain's relationship with Europe is complex. While in general Britain's role on the continent was often as a semi-detached observer, it has had a part to play in Europe for centuries, even if only for the self-interested reason of maintaining the balance of power. This is exactly one reason why Britain joined the EU in the first place: to maintain its influence on the major players from inside the club, rather than as an impotent outside observer. But Brexit relegates us to exactly that role, if not worse: by our actions turning ourselves into a "troublesome neighbour". Again, the "man in the pub" is not interested in the wider picture or the more strategic outcome: he is only interested in defending his narrow sense of self.

"The plucky underdog"

As mentioned earlier, there is also an element of the "Dunkirk spirit" to the British pathology and Brexit. For some reason, British psychology is to "stick up for the underdog", which is also an integral part of our sporting culture. Wars that the country has been involved with have often had an element of needing to side with the "bullied" underling in the conflict. The most glaring modern example was being on the side of Serbia against Austria in the First World War (although Serbia was the clear aggressor in being a state sponsor of terrorism against Austria), while it was Germany's invasion of Belgium (as a path to attacking France) that was the ultimate trigger for British involvement.
This strong sense of a "moral code" and right from wrong is a part of British psyche. One reason why many British people still seem set on their course to leave the EU come what may is due to this feeling that to back out would "betray" the point of the vote. No argument can be reasonably put against this belief, as it is exactly that: a "belief". The vote was cast, we are leaving, and that is that. To backtrack on that would be anathema.
Another part of British pathology is the celebration of the "glorious failure". Going back to Serbia, this nation is one glaring example of how "glorious failure" can utterly dominate its pathology. Defeat of the Serbs by the Ottoman Turks in 1389 at the Battle Of Kosovo was given a moment of glory when one of the battle's last acts was the death of the victorious Sultan. Thus although Serbia was defeated, it went down fighting in glory. And this is what led the Serbia's emotional attachment to Kosovo, and all the bloodshed there in the late 1990s.
Dunkirk was a famous example of Britain's "glorious failure", and it is that "Dunkirk spirit" that has shaped the narrative around Brexit. It may be difficult, the "Brexiteers" admit, but it will be glorious. It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees, they might say.

This kind of emotional hyperbole is typical of "the man in the pub".

"No Surrender"

This is the masculine tag-line that seems to habitually crop up in belligerent news articles about the Brexit negotiations. It evokes the Churchillian rhetoric of the Second World War, that also melds with the same attitude that more recently punctuated "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland. The psychological result is something that sounds more like the drunken chant of football hooligans on tour in the continent than a coherent strategy; a juvenile stubbornness that comes from a deep-seated sense of insecurity.

When his brittle sense of self is threatened, "the man in the pub" reverts to these age-old emotional crutches. To cave in to other people's demands would be unacceptable; compromise a sign of weakness, and anathema. To back down is unthinkable. This is the same kind of masculine fragility that led to historical disasters the world over.

"Make do and mend"

"It will be fine" Boris said reassuringly about Brexit during the campaign.

Again conjuring Second World War symbolism, the "Brexiteers" conjure up Britain's past in order to describe its future. The misty-eyed perspective of "the man in the pub" looks back fondly to his youth and the "oldern days", and looks at the grim reality that it was through rose-tinted spectacles. Because Britain has a culture of "making do", it implies that even if Brexit is a disaster, people will get by and manage, just as they did during the war.
Sometimes it feels as thought everything about Brexit somehow relates to how things were "during the war". The feeling that people might somehow benefit from "lean times" also explains how many people were once highly-supportive of austerity, as though there is some innate virtue in self-deprivation.
This is another aspect of British pathology that is hard to get to grips with, or to understand its origins. Could it have its cultural roots in the "Puritan revolution", now given a second breath of life as Brexit? Going back to the masculine analogy of earlier, Brexit is also seen emotionally as a way to make people "toughen up" after having softened from years of the good life and European luxuries. It is this line of thought that leans unfavourably into the realm of Fascist ideology. Given long enough, and the drunken conversation of "three guys in a pub" will enter into realms such as "survival of the fittest", cutting away society's dead flesh by one means or another, and the restoration of the death penalty.

This is the real "Brexit Agenda": the drunken fantasies of boorish louts.