Friday 28 October 2016

As others see us.

An article by a self described "London based Dutchmen,"  Joris Luyendijk, in the November edition of Prospect describes us as a "narcissist nation."  

My dictionary defines narcissism as a  tendency to self worship, absorption in one's own personal perfections.  Luyendijk gives a medical definition of narcissism which concludes:  They cannot consider others except as instruments to be manipulated  or enemies to be fought.

Both shed a good deal of light on the history  of our relations with other countries, and  particularly our delusions since 1945. Luyendijk applies the concept to the Brexit debate as follows:

  • For "Leave" Britain is a great country and if things don't feel that way it must be becasue of the European Union. Being special, other nations will rush to strike deals with the UK post -Brexit.  The UK, being a very special country, needs the EU far less than vice versa, so Europeans will give Britain a great deal too.
  • "Remain" grandiosity  was more implicit but still there: [the UK's membership of the EU] is a favour granted by the UK to the EU. . .[In support of this conclusion] Gordon Brown wrote a book called  Britain: leading not leaving and Edward Lucas  of the Economist let it be known that "Britain's size, experience and friends make us the continent's natural leader."
Luyendijk contrasts these grandiose delusions wit hthe realism of Jean-Claude Junker in his 2015 State of the Union message:

  • Today Europeans make up 8 per cent of the world population  - we will only represent 5 per cent  in 2050.  By then you will not see a single EU country among the top world economies. 
and concludes:

  • The case for European integration rests on the recognition of one's own country's growing irrelevance.  But this simple insight remains a national taboo in Britain.
Further demolished is our British illusion that the rest of Europe are sorry to see us go.  Luyendijk notes:

  • I am with the two thirds of Germans and three quarters of French who according to a poll taken in July do not, on balance, consider Brexit a loss.
So there we are: we, or at least our political class, are a bunch of self-regarding narcissists with a hugely inflated and totally unrealistic sense of our own importance.  This helps explain the obsession, by both Conservatives  and Labour, with the retention of an irrelevant but hugely expensive nuclear deterrent, and our humiliating coat-tailing of the US in foreign policy ventures.

 Internally it also helps explain why both Conservatives and Labour governments are so attached to grandiose "legacy" projects of doubtful (to put it generously) value such as HS2, the third runway, be it at Heathrow or Gatwick, and the Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

Recognition of our narcissistic nature is nothing new: it was noted by the great Liberal leader Jo Grimond who wrote in his Memoirs (1979):

 "[W] came out of the war being told that we had saved the world by a unique act of courage against fearful odds.  We naturally became convinced that the world must see that we were natural leaders of the West entitled by our deeds of valour and skill to rest on oars as far as work was concerned and owed a debt, indeed a living, by our neighbours. "

It is high time our "chattering classes" took their eyes off what they see as our national navel, recognised how others see us, and began to speak, write and act accordingly.


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