Nationalism has reasserted itself today as the political force of our times, remaking European politics wherever one looks. Britain is no exception, and in the midst of Brexit, it has even become a vanguard of nationalism's confident return to the mainstream. Brexit, in the course of generating a historically unique standard of sociopolitical uncertainty and constitutional intrigue, tore apart the two-party compact that had defined the parameters of political contestation for much of twentieth-century Britain. This book offers a wide-ranging picture of the different theoretical accounts relevant to addressing nationalism. It briefly repudiates the increasingly common attempts to read contemporary politics through the lens of populism. The book explores the assertion of 'muscular liberalism' and civic nationalism. It examines more traditional, conservative appeals to racialised notions of blood, territory, purity and tradition as a means of reclaiming the nation. The book also examines how neoliberalism, through its recourse to discourses of meritocracy, entrepreneurial self and individual will, alongside its exaltation of a 'points-system' approach to the ills of immigration, engineers its own unique rendition of the nationalist crisis. There are a number of important themes through which the process of liberal nationalism can be documented - what Arun Kundnani captured, simply and concisely, as the entrenchment of 'values racism'. These include the 'faux-feminist' demonisation of Muslims.
Many arguments have been advanced in an attempt to develop an analytic schema that can account for this nationalist consolidation, a consolidation that consigns both the social democratic and liberal left to the ignobly hapless position of bystander, a mere observer of history dramatically unfolding. This chapter adds to that body of writing, advancing an argument that trades on two claims the first, diagnostic, the second, political. Economic factors are certainly integral to the emergence of this new nationalism, given that they undeniably cultivate certain nationalist desires. Labour must recognise that any attempt to recycle nationalism has become a fool's errand. It is imperative to understand that neoliberalism is not only an economic or legislative programme but that it is also fundamentally a cultural and moral programme. The chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book.
This chapter engages with the question of nation through a range of openings: an examination of its history, a reckoning with its conceptual specificity, but most importantly, a reading of race's wider place in governing European nation-state politics. Having proposed a particular attunement to the question of the nation, it also engages further some of the more specific historical detail relevant to the nation's emergence and popularisation. The exclusionary chauvinism of nationalism was rendered manifestly immanent, insofar as those who resist their marginalisation were obliged ultimately to commit themselves to their own chain of nation-making essentialisms and exclusions. Taxonomies of race on the one hand and ethnic conceptions of the nation on the other emerged concomitantly, each generating complementary logics, vocabularies, symbols and affects as relevant to engendering structures of thick belonging and exclusion.
This chapter repudiates the increasingly common attempts to read contemporary politics through the lens of populism. It argues that a notion of populism, if overstated, risks analytically obscuring the racial nationalisms that in fact underlie any such populist politics. First, there are many dissenters who cite Catalonia and Scotland as countervailing witnesses to the possibilities of progressive nationalism. The chapter suggests that the progressive nationalism case remains too anachronistic and distorted a reading of what contemporary nationalisms, especially those carved from within Europe, are currently capable of. As regards populism, it also suggests that this concept, if even necessary, is best read from within nationalism, it enjoys very little substantive content that is sufficiently distinctive to remain meaningfully outside of an understanding of nationalism.
As the nationalist clamour multiplies through each ideological fold, the sheer reach of its cognitive, emotional and symbolic grip can seem suffocating. This chapter presents a reflection on the various, often innocuous cultural features of everyday British life and popular culture that readily lend themselves to husbanding an alternative to the nationalist political wager. It focuses on what is commonly called 'multiculture' and contends that this everyday multiculture, in its very banality, remains a widespread but underutilised cultural energy ripe for political conversion by a movement sufficiently alive to its possibilities. The effect of sealing in the social media era carries a perhaps historically unique capacity to stir the urgency with which the perceived demise of the nation is experienced. The chapter shows a peppy urban enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour, an urban context that is importantly also where the lived realities of multiculture and migration are most readily rooted.
This chapter offers an account of the layered demonisation of the racialised national outsider as occasioned by evaluations conceptually unique to a neoliberal sensibility. Neoliberalism is seen as a phase of capitalism that was steered by an alliance of visionary politicians, cavalier thinktanks and uncompromising supranational institutions committed to unleashing the civilizing power of the multinational corporation and deregulated finance capital. The most widely commented-upon attribute of neoliberal culture is its valorisation of individual responsibility, or 'responsibilisation' as Foucault would have it, responsibility as the coerced 'obligation to be free'. An inevitable consequence of this subjugation is an inability to exercise the market freedoms and evangelical individualism that a neoliberal sensibility desires. The neoliberal variations on racial inadequacy manifest elsewhere too, the ubiquitous figure of the Muslim becoming particularly telling. Neoliberalism is a type of nationalism that is anti-migrant while managing to seem receptive to qualified immigration.
This chapter addresses a select few angles that have become particularly misleading, with an emphasis on the 'frantic circulation of a pseudo-class discourse' that lends to nationalism a left validity that it cannot obtain elsewhere. That the left has struggled to steer clear of the nationalist project, or at least some of its key tropes and temptations, is documented at length throughout this chapter. It is, however, with the recurring inability of many on the left to resolutely read how nationalism relates to recent modalities of capitalist governance, both Thatcherite and Blairite, that is considered first. The multiple dimensions of nationalism are reduced to a working-class politics, an insurrection via the ballot box. Anti-immigration becomes a normalised sentiment of working-class populations at the same time as it is read as anti-capitalist politics.
This chapter explores the assertion of 'muscular liberalism' and civic nationalism. The presumed liberal inadequacy of the Muslim has found many paths of late, ranging from the alleged hollowing out of secularism to the increasingly loud hectoring about the supposed repression of free speech. The nation-state is not being fortified in the interest of racist assertion for its own violent sake. It is instead the mobilisation of a liberal common sense rooted in European imperialism that sees the transcendent value order constitutive of the nation being gravely endangered by the excess of typically Muslim outsiders who call the country home but are not of the nation. It is the Muslim who is the primary negative object of these assorted integrationist declamations. To reiterate, it is the figure of the Muslim who comes to be seen as a particularly ominous and disposable subject within this liberal register of civic nationalism.
Nationalism sources the entire political spectrum when assembling its ideological language, a spectrum within which conservatism is only one significant strand. It might seem surprising to disentangle neoliberalism from conservatism, given that many of those who champion neoliberal resolutions also seem to hold basic conservative talking points. This chapter synoptically unpacks those sites of British life, intellectual and cultural, where politically potent nostalgias for the nation are most prominently mainstreamed. It maps how the various modalities, through which a distinctively conservative political vision is articulated, culminate in the thickly textured and nostalgically recalled veneration of provincial Englishness, Empire and whiteness more broadly. The organising myth central to the entire edifice of a common British past is the presumed continuity of a homogeneous whiteness. The centrality of the Second World War to contemporary British history becomes constitutive of a broader brand of nationalist politics that Anthony Barnett has identified as Churchillism.