Sweeper Response: Brexit and the myth of lost glory

Our group’s discussion on Brexit was focused on the role of nostalgia in both establishing and maintaining populist movements. A reoccurring theme that becomes increasingly evident when examining the history of populism within Europe is the dependence on a grand historical myth which can be used a point of contrast in order to reinforce and ideology of victimization and lost glory. This is seen in the rhetoric of historical populist movements such as that of the Italian fascists which harkened all the way back to the roman empire in order to portray modern Italy as a fallen power which had become victimized. Keeping this in mind it was interesting to see similar rhetoric used by the Brexit campaign in order to rally middle class Britons against the European Union. Throughout the campaign proponents of Brexit consistently portrayed the UK as power in terminal decline contrasting its current state with its former glory as the head of the British Empire. The blame for this decline was then pinned on various scapegoats which acted as symbols of the European Union whether they be bureaucrats in Brussels or migrant workers from Eastern Europe. While this narrative is plagued with historical inaccuracy as the UK was in steep economic decline prior to joining the European Union, not to mention the fact that the “greatness” of the British Empire was built of the exploitation of its non-British subjects rather than hindered by it, it had an undeniable impact on the course of the Brexit referendum. Not only does the image of a victimized and declining nation connect with a middle class which has been plagued by both austerity and stagnant wages, but the focus on a former glory exclusive to Britain prevents a sense of solidarity from forming between the British middle class and its counterparts across Europe. The decline of the middle class due to the relentless assault of austerity crippling the welfare state is not exclusive to Brittan. It is a reality across Europe which requires cooperation and solidarity across national boundaries in order to effectively address, the isolationism advocated by the Brexit campaign will do nothing but worsen the situation. The true tragedy of anachronistic propaganda of the “leave” campaign is that it has blinded much of the British middle class to its most valuable ally that being the middle class across Europe, in favour of a delusion desire to restore Brittan to a semi-mythical state of glory that was supposedly experienced in the distant past.

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