Can Europe Make It?: Opinion

When saying No isn’t enough: an aggrandizing identification

A monocultural National Us possesses superior power, force or force of number, and a sense of impunity. This is an aggrandizing identification

Rosemary Bechler
22 August 2021, 9.21am
July 2016: Tribute Board for Jo Cox MP in Parliament Square, London, UK, memorial for people’s messages remembering the murdered MP.
PjrNews / Alamy. All rights reserved.

In my last Splinter, I recommended two retrospectives on Brexit’s fifth anniversary exploring the ‘monocultural National Us’ which now has Britain in a neck-hold. Ian Dunt spells out the identity mechanism which underpins it: ‘You were with us or against us. This is the creation of a homogenous group, with a shared consciousness and a general will, which is mystically interpreted by the leader.’

How does this work? It is a fictional identification between the individual and a much stronger version of ourselves, often a strong leader full of derring do who encourages us to see ourselves as the Real People, enshrining the People’s Will: alternatively a premier league football team; or the nation itself. In the case of Anders Breivik, the massacre of the sons and daughters of the social democratic political class made him the saviour of his nation from an incoming tide of Norwegian multiculturalism. This is an aggrandizing mechanism. A National Us possesses superior power, force or force of number, and a sense of impunity.

The strong leader claims he is able to break any rules we might feel constrained by in order to defend Us. This is necessary because it addresses an undertow of humiliation and loss of status experienced by the individual member. The strong leader encourages Us to see ourselves as undeservedly under threat from Them, an existential foe. Not only in Brexit Britain but in countries worldwide from Italy to India, we see the recent springing up of aggrieved majoritarianism, threatened by Muslims or migrants whose numbers are often vastly exaggerated into swamps and invasions. It is important to note that as with racism, the enemy are all tarred by the same criminal or otherwise threatening brush. It is the same with the Us: individual members have no distinct qualities. A large range of often quite conflicting affiliations to a Brexit strategy for the UK was rendered monolithic by May’s very successful slogan, ‘Brexit means Brexit’. What mattered was that Brexiteers knew who they were – the monocultural National Us – and didn’t need to be told what that meant by anybody.

Crucially, the monocultural National Us feels at once superior and under threat. Every football cup final offers plenty of opportunity for both, a potentially lethal combination which ultimately leads only to violence. When it comes to football, there is the well-known spike in cases of domestic abuse after big games, regardless of whether they are won or lost, although increased by a defeat. In the case of that Jewish National Us – the Zionist state of Israel – it has led to decades of violence against the Palestinians.

So what shouldn’t a progressive opposition do?

Chris Grey expounds brilliantly on the Brexit referendum result – “ ‘the 17.4 million’ used as a battering ram… to treat 16.2 million like dirt” and the escalating impact of this ongoing identification in the “weaponisation of the metropolitan bogeyman”. His conclusion is that the emergence of an exclusionary English tribe is the “real cancel culture of recent years”. But his title – When the Country Cancelled Half its Citizens – makes a crucial mistake.

This is understandable shorthand for a Remainer who by the time they demanded a second ‘People’s Referendum’ had become aware that the polls were now giving them a 52% reverse advantage. But from the point of view of their opponents, there is all the difference in the world between ‘half the citizens’ and the 52% majority the Leavers had achieved in the original referendum result. Voting is an exercise in force of number combined with winner-take-all. And that 4% advantage made them the Real People, and should have ensured the total erasure of the Them voice forthwith. To them, that is what democracy means.

Herein indeed lay the tragedy of the organised UK Remainers. Despite the early warning sign of the violence that issues from enemy images which was the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP, they chose to follow exactly the same etiolated concept of democracy. Contrary to drawing on the cosmopolitan impulses for which they were frequently decried, and opening up a debate which could mobilise the vast range of Remainer views on Brexit that might even have infiltrated the minds of the undecided, they sought a slim numerical advantage in a ‘People’s Vote’ that would reverse and thereby erase the first referendum result. The Remainers became one hostile block. As one openDemocracy author commented, “I have never heard anyone speak up for those who think the EU is a terrible thing but on balance, the UK should stay in for a little while longer and figure out the best course of action calmly.”

Far from trying to persuade the broad range of people who might have been persuaded by a deeper debate, for example, about soft and hard options on Brexit – a choice skilfully withheld from Parliament by the Tory leadership throughout the Brexit years – they treated all Brexiteers with the same revulsion, declaring them all ignorant losers, too stupid to realise that they were destroying the advantages and prosperity of the Real People – the Remainers! The single exception to this – a tour made by Caroline Lucas to ‘listen to Leavers’ – was rapidly engulfed by the resulting rush to tug-of-war in which two aggrieved majoritarianisms locked horns over a prostrate and fragmenting UK.

So what should progressives have done?

This piece was originally published in the August, 2021 edition of Splinters. See Pts.3. and 4. here.

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