It was that time again, when the British Prime Minister visited America and the rest of the rest, keeping the true Europhile faith alive, gathered in conclave to mourn leaving our place in the EU. Prime Minister Sunak’s visit to the United States on state affairs was too good an opportunity not to vent his anger and resentment towards Britain after Brexit in panicked opinion columns, echoing George Kennan’s quip that Britain had lost an empire and not yet found a role.
Listening to the commentary on Sunak’s visit from those like Rafael Behr in The Guardian, who embody what Joel Kotkin called the liberal “Clerisy” that seeks to legitimize their vision of a managerial regime, that visit was simply evidence of more about the fact that Britain is now an embarrassing irrelevance outside the EU and the diplomatic and economic clout it has given us. The central argument is that Britain without the EU is about to be crushed between an imperial America and a strategically autonomous EU. For Behr, American leaders give attaboy pats on the head when they deign to notice our plea. As such, belonging to a managerial imperialist bloc like the EU was our only way to dominate.
Needless to say, our own empire was obviously utterly irretrievable in every respect and its demise is cause for eternal celebration and repudiation. Accordingly, the European Union with its emphasis on the abdication of sovereignty; free movement of capital, goods and services; mass, unfettered migration, and all, could present itself as a post-modern imperial force at the End of History.
The Romantics for a Greater Europe shines a light on our supposedly newly subjugated relationship to the United States, as it is apparently an empire we cannot join. Well, it has been since America shaped the post-war Western world order in its own image, whether we are in Europe or outside of Europe. This is how the great powers, then the hegemonies, behave. Sunak fulfills the role of statesman by accepting and adjusting to this reality as it is.
Even so, many countries today, regarded as serious places by the very people who condemn Britain to eternal diminishment, were never Imperial forces. Many, like Singapore and other East Asian countries, as well as Israel, which are products of the inevitable failure of imperial powers, succeed because they are cold-blooded realists in matters of international politics. They deal with the great powers according to their interests, while preserving their own cultural vitality and economic wealth.
Such nations might be “small” in the minds of remnants, but that does not make them insignificant. Britain is still in the G7, a serious security partner, and has the potential to regain its degraded state capacity and widespread prosperity. It is a supreme irony that Brexiteers are seen as backwards, when they are not the ones who aspire to empire, British or European. Brexit is indeed a concoction of ideological tribes: Global-Britain Whigs and “Condition of England” Tories. But they are united in their desire for a prosperous and cohesive nation forming alliances, treaties and pacts with states around the world.
Meanwhile, we continue in our old role of “offshore balancer” against Europe, a role we have played with and for America, whether in or out of the EU. As the Remainer Remnant yearns for a vanished past that never existed, Britain recognizes itself as a political agent on the world stage.
Nostalgia for European Empire at the end of history is now the preserve of pro-EU Jacobites, who still toast the confederation on the water, economically in decline and geopolitically divided. They, not Brexiters, are the real imperialists of our post-modern age.
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