As Lord Balfour noted in his introduction to Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution, “[the] whole political machinery presupposes a people so fundamentally at one that they can safely afford to bicker; and so sure of their own moderation that they are not dangerously disturbed by the never-ending din of political conflict.”
Britain is an oddity. A tiny island nation that rose to create the largest land Empire in world history and spread its language, culture and political institutions to the farthest reaches of the globe. Since 1945, it’s world stature has declined precipitously as it shrunk to a shadow of its former self. But the narrative of rise and fall is not merely a narrative confined to Britain, it is the story of the West at large: of Western Europe and Europe-inspired societies like those on the North American continent.
Living at the beginning of the 21st Century, we find that those societies who in the past were so sure of their superiority: material and intellectual, now find themselves running a gross confidence deficit, their material prosperity no longer secure and their intellectual doctrines in question. Polemicists of the Right have prophecised the downfall of the West for some time. This “downfall” however, is unlikely to be a dramatic event. It is more likely to be a gradual decline, slow but sure. The West shall go down but not with a not a bang, but a whimper.
But let us return for the time being to Britain and the nature of its contemporary life. In the latter half of the 20th century, Britain embarked on a policy of allowing mass-migration from the non-West and thus acquired a substantial population of non-Westerners in a fit of absent-mindedness, a policy that was prophecised to lead to disaster according to one controversial figure in post-War British life.
Britain’s loss of confidence in its sense of self – be that self good or bad – coupled with the reality of a substantial population of assertive non-Westerners, especially extremist Muslims who have appropriated liberal-democratic notions of Representation, Rights-based discourse and Egalitarianism and successfully synthesised it with the strengths of a Global Political Islam – has led to a state of affairs that is altogether explosive. Assertive Muslim extremism in Britain is matched by subaltern-nativist movements of the white working class such as the English Defence League (EDL) and white nationalist political parties such as the British National Party (BNP). Lying between these two extremes is Britain’s apolitical-apathetic majority and a pusillanimous political class.
Lord Balfour’s characterisation of the English then as “…a people so fundamentally at one that they can safely afford to bicker; and so sure of their own moderation that they are not dangerously disturbed by the never-ending din of political conflict” rings a tad hollow. Sometimes, England feels just like Weimar.
Authored by Vijay Vikram