Dividing Lines: The Perils of Patriotism

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By Josh McCarthy

Patriotism [NOUN]: The quality of being patriotic; vigorous support for one’s country.

That’s what Oxford’s academics have to say. But it’s clear that loving one’s country is not a switch turned off or on. The essence of national loyalism within a population represents a wide-reaching spectrum of intensity. Still, it’s difficult to deny its presence is rife in many of the world’s largest developing and developed nations. One look at the White House on Inauguration Day is enough the convince anyone of their fealty to the Stars and Stripes. (“Stars and Stripes” was autocapitalised there, which only adds to this point). With the UK, the picture is more complex. A history of empire and the legacy of decolonisation that followed left a bad taste in the mouth.

New Zealand. Cyprus. Canada. Jamaica. Canada. Kenya. Qatar. South Africa. Australia. These are just a few of the heavy losses the British Empire has taken since 1960, and has been a well-documented and highly publicised casualty toll.  British patriotism somehow embodies some impossible return to a time when we “ruled the seas”, were the “workshop of the world”, and gave modern-day patriots a reason for being “proud to be British”. A survey by the Guardian last year found that as many as 43% of the population are proud of Empire, whilst only 19% regret it.

But is that fundamentally a bad thing? Aside from advocating an establishment that institutionalised the animalisation of over 10 million African slaves, there are some other complaints.  That’s evident if you look at who, on average, ticked Brexit to victory in the polling stations last June. This demographic was primarily dominated by those over 45. By extension, they lived through the dismantling of the largest civilisation the planet has ever seen. And they remember it.

Now, let’s be clear: this isn’t a debate on Brexit. This is a debate on the wrong reasons for voting for it.

August 1914. September 1939. June 2016. In his address to GIFTA’s Implications of Brexit Conference Professor Syed Mansoob Murshed, of the Institute of Social Studies, claims they’re the dates that the UK has declared war on Germany. It’s a controversial, and probably exaggerated, opinion for many, but makes the point that Britain’s departure from the European Union is a demolition of the third of the three fundamental pillars of liberal peace. These being economic interdependence, political alignment and co-membership of international organisations.

Interestingly, in 2010, Murshed and Mamoon found that multilateral, not bilateral, trade within India and Pakistan suppressed the physical hostilities between the states. Here, economic interdependence through trade has actually had a tangible impact on defence expenditures, fatalities and expended munitions in the conflict. Now, Murshed’s point was not a prediction of mass militarisation or World War Three, but hostility in the arenas that can really wound an economy. These can range from cooperation with financial regulation to licensing restrictions on imports.

There were many compelling arguments in the Leave campaign. But some less so. The Daily Mail rhetoric of benefit-thieving migrants is simply incorrect. The UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migrants 2014 paper – showing the average positive fiscal impact of EU immigrants, versus the average negative equivalent for native Britons – was holy text for Remain campaign. It never seemed to get a look in on the other side of the fence, or the tabloids for that matter. What’s more, the patriot’s stance that Brexit will dampen the pace of globalisation is quite frankly ludicrous. As the UK seeks for trade negotiations along bilateral lines, concessions will have to be made. With little room for manoeuvre, there’s a decent likelihood these concessions will come form of higher import penetration.

So there may actually be a darker side to patriotism. But that’s not to say it’s all bad. Flag waving at London 2012 and a fist pump when we win The Ashes are to be actively encouraged, in fact. But when patriotism mutates into nationalism, with the power to corrupt popular opinion, there can be drastic implications.

Trump’s campaign rode the waves of nationalism. Some denounce it as white supremacy, some label it the first steps of a eugenic campaign, and some even tip him as the Führer of the States. What is clear, even in its infancy, is that the Trump administration will make concerted efforts to withdraw from the ideals of progressive globalisation.

But by no means is he an isolated example. Alternative for Germany. The National Front. The Catalonian government. These are powerful, far-reaching groups with a common goal of disintegration. For better or for worse, the world is becoming an increasingly inward looking place. The handshakes of the 1950s are, slowly but surely, being usurped a failure to see the bigger picture. The last extensive periods of European disengagement were the 1930s and early 20th century – and we all know what happened there.

So maybe Professor Murshed is right after all.

Features Editor