Idea for an Alternate History

The so-called culture wars have a tendency to map all debates into two pre-existing camps: us and them. This can result in certain positions becoming associated with one side or the other in a way that seems almost arbitrary. (Why, for instance, would we associate concern about the environment more with social liberalism than with social conservatism?)

This polarising tendency appears to be particularly pronounced in America but my sense is that it is more pronounced in Britain than in other European countries. If this is true, I wonder whether it is a product in part of ‘first past the post’ electoral systems which tend to result in a competition for power between two dominant parties, and make it hard for third parties to make headway? (Isn’t that what we mean by ‘culture wars’: the intellectual equivalent of an adversarial two-party system?)

Anyway, I think it may be partly as a result of this kind of binary thinking, that Liberalish, Remainish people often lump the Brexit vote together with the election of Trump, as if they were exactly the same phenomenon. (They’re both ‘them’ things, and therefore they are essentially the same). This is understandable but lazy. Of course there are large overlaps, but there were people who voted for Brexit who wouldn’t have dreamed of voting for Trump, and there were reasons for voting Brexit that had nothing to do with Trump-style nationalism.

So much of politics is about projection. ‘We’ project things we don’t like onto ‘them’ and mock the things they value, while projecting everything all that is good and virtuous onto the things we do value. Indeed the very fact that ‘they’ despise something, makes us value it even more, to the point of uncritical idealisation.

A narrative emerged among some Remainers, for instance, in which they mocked or condemned patriotism but declared themselves proud Europeans, while among some Leavers the opposite was often the case. But is there any moral difference between identifying with a country and identifying with a continent? (If there is, what exactly is the the land area required for identification with a piece of territory to become virtuous?)

Breaking away from larger entities, defending the integrity of large entities, and joining together to form larger entities are all quite common political processes. They can all be presented as progress, and can all in different circumstances be associated with political positions that may be described as left-wing, right-wing or neither.

I find myself imagining a parallel timeline where it’s the right-wingers who are the biggest fans of the European project, because they want to enhance and perpetuate the global power of the wealthy, developed, culturally Christian countries that once divided the world between them. and it’s the fascists in particular who want to unite the ancestral homeland of the white race into a single giant state. (The lefties in this universe, I decided, would be advocates for organisations such as the Commonwealth or the Francophonie that build links between countries across the global North-South divide.)

If you imagine something that seems plausible, I’ve discovered, it sometimes turns out to already exist. (I didn’t know that ‘rogue planets‘ were really a thing, for instance, until after I’d invented one for a story.) After writing the above, I learned that the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, did indeed advocate uniting Europe into a single state.

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