Après nous le déluge
– The capitalist mantra, according to Karl Marx
The peculiarities of nations, good and bad, tend to reflect the temperaments and qualities of their peoples. As Plato remarked, “where else would they have come from?”
– Morris Berman
Britain’s reputation as a country of consequence is long overdue revision. It clings to the global core — as liberals cling to their failing institutions — by flaunting leaky WMDs, acting as the US’s representative within the EU, and being one of the world’s most corrupt financial centres. The last of those is so extreme that the Mafia expert Roberto Saviano has claimed it is numero uno in this shady running.
What do I mean by corruption? I mean that there is no control of the flow of money — not necessarily into London, but into Gibraltar, Malta and Jersey — these are all the doors through which Great Britain brings money in without any control. Panama used to be the money laundering capital — now it’s London.
Academia has offered the more palatable “financial engineering” to describe the British condition.
Since Thatcher, the government has focused its efforts on manipulation of this sort. Because of which, the City of London, our Little Colombia, dominates political considerations. There they are in their unsightly towers, speculating with your savings in a process detached from proportion or decency, only breaking their bubble to make calls to the Albanian mob and Análise. And when this incomprehensible theatre collapses in upon itself, as it always does, taxpayers in the real but marginal, politically insignificant economy are informed that they have to pick up Gekko’s tab.
It has been well documented by Wallerstein that the global economy ensures most nation states are consigned to production, i.e. creating most of the wealth. These “peripheral” countries are characterized by their workcamps and sweatshops (and cheap vacations). Worker rights are kept at an absolute minimum, and, though their states have been pruned of much else, they have retained the violent means to keep it this way.As this happens, as if by an invisible hand, corporations make an absolute killing.
Undoubtedly this is sounding wonderful to the private selves of leading Brexiters. From the Independent:
Instead of attending the talks Mr Raab is expected to speak on Monday evening at the summer drinks of the right-wing free market thinktank, FREER. He is also expected to be present in Westminster for a vote on the Customs Bill. Mr Raab is a staunch Thatcherite and has previously called for the abolition of EU-mandated employment rights.
“If we do not do that [deliver frictionless trade] thousands of jobs will go and honourable members sitting on these benches in private conversations know that to be the case,” she said. “And what they have said in those private conversations is that the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs will be worth it to regain our country’s sovereignty.”
Soon the true intentions of these self-styled liberators will be impossible to deny, as they become more and more explicit in marketing Britain as a corporate-run, low tax, zero regulation criminal paradise.Tellingly, the only EU rules which inspired governing Tories to reassert national sovereignty were air quality controls and those which threatened banker bonuses.
According to the economist John Christensen, Brussells’ bureaucrats have seen more lobbyists working on behalf of the City of London than on any other interest. EU committees set up to investigate financial corruption, of which the City predominates, have fallen into apathy.
Yet the neoliberal mindset which encourages the likes of Raab (Brexit minister and a secret acolyte of Ayn Rand) to prostitute his country to international capital, has shown itself to be utterly without foresight. A series of erroneous and disastrous judgements catalogued in John Gray’s excellent False Dawn. So surely, once again, the trajectory these scoundrels have set Britons upon is bound for failure?
This is our strange, faint hope.
Famously, Gore Vidal referred to late modernity as socialism for the rich and free enterprise for everyone else, but that doesn’t quite capture the obscenity. British society displays all the worst features of feudalism without any of that system’s meagre benefits. Do we have an intensive, undemocratic centralisation of power? Yes, yes and yes. (Only, at least when the commons existed, that mattered little to peasants.) They had a democratic right not given much credence today — at work. Is political clout correlated with the amount of property one owns? Depressingly so. Have our elites initiated cynical wars with the veneer of defending something holy? No doubt.
What the powerful of present now lack is any feeling of responsibility; it’s not even given lip service. No, the lowly hordes are on their own, ours is a dog-eat-dog world.
Rather than acknowledging they should be thankful, if at all, for an accident of birth, the whining 1 percenters believe, and wish everyone else to believe, that their wit, their virtue and their graft alone got them to the top. They won’t even allow underlings their righteous indignation: “if you’re unhappy, you’re simply lacking what makes meso special”.
And, you know, there’s no such thing as society
Whatever else might be said about the feudal lords of the Middle Ages, they accepted responsibilities to the peasantry. Certainly they were undeserving, uppity, and frequently sadistic, but they conceived of themselves as having duties as well as privileges. They determined to provide a religious education, and helped facilitate a socially-cementing cultural life. Perhaps more importantly, the gentry had more than a rhetorical interest in the protection of their serfs. Being one of the few commentators brave enough to see benefits of defunct systems, Orestes Brownson emphasised how owners, as opposed to employers, have a genuine stake in their workers.
Squeamish as the idea of people as property should make you, such arrangements engender a sense of paternalism that the capitalist has no need for; commodifying toilers as much as corn.
This goes someway to explaining why our current elite enact policies that predictably undermine the security of the citizenry. What need have they for so many of us, particularly when outsourcing and robotics are working so well? Simply put: most are surplus to requirements.
The ‘hardworking middle class’, a class that in reality had long since been reduced by capitalist progress to the status of a surplus population.
– Wolfgang Streeck
Sheldon Wolin put it best. The elites of our sham democracies, with their technocratic obsessions and gated fortresses, are reaching a state where they “don’t need a public”.
The great unthinkers of our age, those “right wing populists”, wish for all the benefits of a liberal capitalist world order, without any of its drawbacks. They rightly criticise cloistered liberals, while at the same time demanding cheap, often pointless goods (dependent, of course, on the pauperisation of a good portion of the globe), a welfare state (what’s left), and a bloated military budget, which they foolishly believe maintains them — insignificant proles that they are — at various international “top tables”. All of this, they won’t admit or don’t know, ensures the victimisation of the Third World.
Most sickening of all is the emotional fulfillment this type gains from military adventurism. What better way of filling their empty core, hollowed out by the commodification of all, than living vicariously through R boys pillaging Iraq and Afghanistan? (While telling themselves that the Banana Monarchyonce presided over “three thirds of the world”.) The only cost, after all, is unpeople.
Bombs are fireworks to the sleepy
Norman Mailer was certainly right when he said that, in societies dominated by corporate interests, bloody national exploits are catnip for the underclass. The culture within multinationals is one of totalitarianism; creativity and personal autonomy being actively suppressed. And it is in such inhuman states that most Brits spend the majority of their sleepy existences. The vicarious glory offered by aggressive wars, mediated through the increasingly trashy “boob tube”, is one of the few consolations to those spending their days backed into a corner.
But inordinate ambitions are the soul of any patriotism, and the possibility of violent death the soul of all romance. The militarily−patriotic and the romantic−minded everywhere, and especially the professional military class, refuse to admit for a moment that war may be a transitory phenomenon in social evolution. The notion of a sheep’s paradise like that revolts, they say, our higher imagination. Where then would be the steeps of life? If war had ever stopped, we should have to re-invent it, on this view, to redeem life from flat degeneration.
– William James
As Chris Hedges reminds us, violence can grant a meaning otherwise absent in society. This is particularly attractive when “civilisation” is failing so spectacularly in every other regard. His words from almost a decade ago proved remarkably prescient.
When the real world no longer works: when your community physically breaks down, and brings with it all of the attendent problems — sexual abuse, domestic violence, struggle with substance addictions — then you seek a world of miracles and magic.
The attempt to encourage modernity’s victims back into the real world, as Hedges puts it, is met by anger and rage, “by people who feel that they are being forced into a world that almost destroyed them”. With echos of Mussolini, he tells us they want nothing more than to blow it up.
Thatcher’s national campaign against community and solidarity was calamitous on every level — particularly, essentially, at the polls. Yet she managed to capitalise on widespread discontent by directing violent passions elsewhere. Taking the opportunity offered by Argentina’s junta (war being their attempt at mass distraction), she diverted warships and public attention all the way to the Falklands.
In 2018, again, the same bald Tories are faced with social disintegration, and, as ever, there’s a whole host of official enemies to redirect attentions to. With their party in terminal crisis, an economy on the rocks, and a resurgent Left on the up, the Conservatives may very well seek to baptise Brexit in blood.
Boris Johnson has claimed that the United States would never accept being part of a construct like the EU. In fact, that model is exactly what constitutes the United States. It was the federalist system of the US that both Churchill and Orwell looked to when they talked of a “United States of Europe”. Of course, St George wished for a socialist USE.
(How is it, if you’ll allow an aside, that such an obvious frauds as Raab, Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Farage, and the terrorist-sympathising Hunt, get an adoring reception in Britain? (And why is it that they, unlike a certain other, are never held responsible for the racism of their supporters?) Stuff a plum into the mouth of an Englishman, it seems, however uninspiring his mind, and the inferiority complex of the British mass will kick in, ready to serve.)
Difficult to pin down as he is, if Johnson somehow meant: the US government wouldn’t limit its sovereignty in the slightest for the sake of the commonwealth of nations. Well, yes, I believe thatis so. Repudiating international law — including dictating the leadership of other countries — as it so often does. And reserving the right to invade the Hague should anyone attempt to apply the standards of the “international community” to its citizens (Bush II prudently enshrined that into law as the States ramped up for the Iraq War). However, Washington is able to act like this because it is a superpower, currently the planet’s only one. And though it’s difficult for many Brits to hear, London can’t compare.
This highlights one of the great ironies of the 21st century. Those insolent, runaway grandchildren have become the Anglosphere’s patriarch and guarantor, relegating the old country to mere dittos. Johnson’s professed hero oversaw the transition.
At first Churchill and the Tory establishment disdained the USA. It being an example of successful rebellion; and, in rhetoric at least, Americans were worryingly attached to concepts of liberty. But as the British imperium fell into decline, it was decided that they had a use after all. They would be care-takers of a system headed up by cultivated Englishmen. The junior partner would provide JP Morgan and a steady supply of Midwestern boys, while the “responsible white men” would take charge.
It was in this patronising spirit that the Allied invasion of Russia in 1919 proceeded. As the Bolshevik Revolution was making clear that the War to End All Wars wasn’t quite, a joint Anglo-American intervention force — the first — was established in support of the White Russians. It was sent to Siberia, where it waged a doomed campaign. But it facilitated something that now seems extraordinary: British officers commanding American troops.
When those GIs raised concerns about the Tsarist forces they were reinforcing, in particular the notorious Alexander Kolchak, they received haughty dismissals. Torture, mass murder and rape is the business of empire, don’t you know? That Empire of Business in any case. (To the credit of the more earnest imperialists like Churchill, a honesty accompanied their viciousness. They readily agreed with the radical critic Ernest Jones. The empire on which the the sun never sets? Yes, and the blood quite never dries, either.)
Then, when they turned on the radio, one of their few distractions, Americans were treated to cricket commentary and updates on the royals. As if that wasn’t offensive enough to republican sensibilities (to say nothing about its blatantly cruel and unsual character), religious services concluded with “God save the King”.
Efforts to make Anglophiles out of Doughboys clearly failed, but in the process — which involved subversion and disinformation on the part of British intelligence— Wilson was convinced into positioning the US contra the Soviets, and firmly onside with the old country. What followed in the inter-war period was a battle for the nation’s soul. Those who would take the imperial lure and those who refused. Mark Twain was a partisan of what is now dismissed under the catch-all “isolationist” by those who don’t, or at least really ought to know, better. America must keep her talons perched, he implored in To the Person Sitting in Darkness, lest she become degraded in the sordid game of empire. Remember the Philippines:
We have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn’t it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit’s work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America’s honor and blackened her face before the world
Yet throughout this, there were pleas from the Old World. Take up where we left off! From Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden:
Have done with childish days —
The lightly-proffered laurel,
The easy ungrudged praise:
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers.
Conquest and annexation being sure signs of national maturation.
WWII, however, decided the matter. Setting Washington irreversibly upon the path of empire.
Beseiged by the Nazis, London could no longer afford to hold onto its Overseas Territories. So began, with Winston, a process of “lending” portions of it in return for vital aid. As a result, Britain’s sphere of influence gradually became the domain of the US military. And, as with Rome, the American republic rapidly went the same way.
(Truman and Eisenhower came to regret their roles in this; the latter gifting posterity the term “military industrial complex”.)
Global hegemony proved too seductive. Even if it meant a “reduction of federal expenditures for purposes other than defense and foreign assistance, if necessary by the deferment of certain desirable programs” (National Security Council report 68).
England birthed to a monster, and it will soon be entirely at its mercy. Of course, centrists and the nostalgic Right will delude themselves into believing that this “very special relationship” has saved their country from irrelevance and infamy.
In truth, Ukania is set to become the unofficial 50-odd state in those increasingly dis-United States. Although, Brexiters ought to remember — or be informed — that Puerto Rico is as much of a precedent here as Israel.
On the subject of Israel, if disconcerting rumours are to be believed, May is planning on ingratiating herself with Nero by seconding the latter’s disastrous embassy move. If foreign affairs are indeed outsourced to DC, it will be just one indication among many that the UK is now trapped within Rome’s orbit. So far, Americanisation has meant a:
What a pathetic bunch the UK’s ruling class has become. Though, to be fair to the current incumbents, perhaps it’s always been that way. Paine was writing in the 18th century when he bemoaned the state of British subjects: they aren’t led by ravenous lions, so much as they endure asses.
Considering all this, an unsympathetic commentator might suggest how fitting it is that the nation which destroyed the economic viability of the once great Egypt, will itself succumb to pauperisation. How the former empire that imposed military rule of millions may, in the coming months, see the armydistributing food on its streets — backed up by a surveillance state so extensive the Stasi would swoon. How the country responsible for cutting up the Indian subcontinent for short-term political gain will soon experience a breakdown of its union.
How just, he might add, that the same Britain that forced Éire, the Canadian First Nations and Australia’s Aborigines into beggary, disgrace and hopelessness is becoming the ultimate victim of Whitehall mismanagement. And all of it guaranteed by the largest democratic mandate in its history.
That same callow individual might end by claiming the only return to glory Brexit is likely to bring, is of the type that fascinated Czeslaw Milosz: irony, the glory of slaves.