Jingoism is back

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Avant la crise financière de 2007-2008, les politiques britanniques s’étaient employés à faire de la Grande-Bretagne un village global où le multiculturalisme fait loi. Or, les difficultés économiques et sociales qui sévissent ont relancé les débats sur l’identité culturelle britannique. Est-ce le retour d’un nationalisme comme l’a été le jingoïsme du 19ème siècle ? Quelles en sont les conséquences ?

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Patriotism was clearly visible during Great Britain’s heyday in the 19th century. Indeed, a word was coined to describe this phenomenon: “jingoism”. According to Wikipedia, jingoism is “extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy to safeguard what a country perceives as its national interest by using threats or actual force against other countries”. In the pleasures of patriotism lurk the demons of nationalism. Beware there is a huge difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is based on affection and nationalism is rooted in rivalry and resentment. A patriotic person tends to tolerate criticism and tries to learn something new from it but a nationalist cannot tolerate any criticism and considers it an insult. When one looks at British history, it appears that there are several periods characterized by a rebirth of nationalism: Churchill’s era or Thatcher’s era. So, in light of these definitions, the British people have always been patriotic but also nationalist from time to time. When David Cameron came into office, he created a new British vibe that can underline another
comeback of jingoism.

What can British people possibly be so proud of?

Historically, Great Britain is a country of freedom as well as rules and regulation. The British fair-play is known worldwide and to sum up the British values one can say: “Try to keep your garden tidy, and only put your refuse bags and bins on the street or in a communal areas if they are due to be collected”. These values were partly shaped by immigration (the curry dish is the most eaten in Great Britain) as Britons accepted the cultural contribution of every citizen.These were the things that Britons proud of their country. But nowadays, the rejection of immigration is evidence of a growing nationalism. Britons have become far less respectful of “foreign” cultures since the late 1980s. Indeed what was previously deemed outdated has suddenly become mainstream again. For instance, British food was long mocked for its tastelessness but some new restaurants now use traditional British recipes like old Tudor recipes – porridge and meat fruit for example. Nationalists justify the success of Japanese, Indian or American restaurants by the fact that people can’t appreciate British cooking if they don’t taste disgusting foreign cooking. Another example is the popularity of the Monarchy with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Prince William’s wedding which was violently criticized. Even if Kate Middleton’s dress was made by an American artist, the dress was in British medieval style. Last but not least, the Olympics were an amazing show of British organization with the opening ceremony and Britain’s numerous medals which testify to the health and vigour of Britain’s athletes. Britons act proudly and watch themselves acting proudly.

Is this nationalism a threat or an aid for Great Britain through the crisis?

The third edition of the “Life in the United Kingdom”, the textbook that is the basis for the test taken by all would-be citizens, came out on January 28th. This book calls for knowledge that even a British citizen can find odd. Does this book highlight that Great
Is Britain withdrawing into itself because of excessive nationalism? All British politicians use nationalism to avoid discussing the crisis. David Cameron uses a rhetoric which underlines the values of Britishness (immigration or the EU exit) to win the next general elections and to mask his disastrous economic policy. UKIP stresses the fact that Europeans and Britons don’t share the same values, that there is a huge discrepancy and that it’s impossible to bridge the ethics gap. Even the Labour Party which is usually said to be more open-minded on such issues calls for a stronger British spirit: Ed Miliband said: “There are three words we don’t hear enough, or see enough. Those three words are ‘Made in Britain’. Nonetheless, in times of crisis, nationalism can help citizens be more unified and overcome several hardships but the barrier between positive nationalism and aggressive nationalism is blurry. Britain seems to have never been more cocksure or xenophobic.

George Orwell once said that “nationalism is the worst enemy of peace”. Patriotism is a powerful force and it is hard to replace its vitality in bonding societies. The problem is that to set a people against others is rarely a viable solution and it certainly goes against our European values.

Camille GRAVET & Maud CARRIERE

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