Britain in a world of growing nationalisms (Julian Lindley-French)

In 1848, a wave of revolutions swept across fifty European countries. Whilst many insurrections were driven by a liberal desire to overthrow aristocratic elites the underlying force was nationalism. 2024, I fear, will be 1848 redux: the year of nationalism, and not just in Europe. It will have profound implications for the new geopolitics.

“Where nationalism means the lust for pride and power, the craze for supreme domination by weight or force; where it is the senseless urge to be the biggest in the world, it is a danger and a vice. Where it means love of country and readiness to die for country; where it means love of tradition and culture and the gradual building up across the centuries of a social entity dignified by nationhood, then it is the first of virtues”.

Winston Churchill’s Speech to the Dutch States-General, May 9, 1946


It is not often I disagree with Churchill’s insights about power and identity, but on this occasion I do. There is no such thing as good nationalism. What Churchill was referring to as “love of country” was patriotism, not nationalism. There is a profound difference. Nationalists tend to be large groups motivated by an extremist belief that they and their respective countries are intrinsically superior to other countries, normally driven by a false narrative of history. Nationalism is thus the uncontrollable thin end of a very unpleasant political and geopolitical wedge.  It is also one step short of fascism, the totalitarian control of a state by a relatively small and usually murderous elite who not only believe they are superior to everyone else in their own society who do not share their rigid views, but willing to impose their beliefs on others beyond their borders, usually in the name of some past ‘glory’.


Fascism, Nazism and Communism also have many similarities, especially for those on the wrong end of them, but whereas the former is a murderous form of extreme nationalist government the latter two are/were murderous ideologies involving racial and ethnic superiority and hatred of ‘the other’, or class war. Historically, fascists and aristocrats have also often made common cause but for very different reasons, for whilst the former is populist the latter is anything but.

Today, fuelled by social media nationalism is fast eroding the institutions set up in the wake of World War Two to prevent the extreme state behaviour that twice led to war in Europe. That is what institutions do, when they work – aggregate, legitimise and mitigate. It is not without albeit understandable irony that, today, it is the Germans who are most concerned about this erosion. Once embedded state power is now leaking out of institutions and again becoming increasingly nationalistic in the relatively few states that are the real competitors in geopolitics.

The problem is that the response of the European elite is not unlike that of their conservative forebears in 1848, which is precisely what in 2024 makes Europe vulnerable to nationalism. In June, elections to the European Parliament will take place. The Brussels Eurocracy is profoundly concerned that their liberal, ‘ever more Europe’ parliamentary majority which has for decades rubber-stamped the concentration of ever more unaccountable power in the hands of ever fewer elite hands will be defeated by a rag-tag array of nationalists. The latter want power given back to Europe’s nation-states, but only so long as they control it.  Much like 1848 the drivers are mass migration, wars, poverty, fear of the other, and a sense amongst many that the EU has taken power ever further from the citizen to the benefit of a distant, out of touch and rich European elite who look and behave ever more like an aristocracy.

I personally was both tough on the EU and yet believed Britain should have remained in it. The reason was simple: when the distance between the individual and power in a democracy becomes ever greater, power by its very nature becomes ever more unaccountable and those who wield it ever more a caste.  Europe is all too historically prone to the abuse of power by those who rule it – something which Britain has always prevented.  These days it is those who routinely ‘champion’ democracy even as the EU routinely flouts it and it is the citizen who must be the voice of restraint, in much the same way as a slave would stand behind a Roman general on his war chariot as he entered the Porta Triumphalis whispering, “Remember, you are mortal” (memento mori).


The Real Nationalists

For all the self-regarding superiority of the European elite I have seen at close quarters they simply think they know best.  They are not the real gilt-edged nationalists who are already doing mortal damage. Xi Jinping is a Han nationalist masquerading as a Communist, who has no need to concern himself with elections as he has been made China’s President/Emperor-for-life.  In his New Year’s address Xi made it clear Taiwan will be brought back into the fold one way or another. Putin, on the other hand, is good old-fashioned Russian imperialist-nationalist masquerading as an anti-fascist. In March, Putin will ‘face’ a presidential election but as he is also president-for-life and thus ‘indispensable’ for a wartime Russia in a war he started the ‘election’ will also be anything but as he endeavours to rebuild the never built Novorossiya empire.

Whilst China and Russia are the ‘usual’ nationalist suspects, they are not alone.  In May, the world’s largest democracy, India, will elect members of Parliament, the Lok Sabha.  It is almost certain that the current nationalist BJP Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be returned to power.  Modi is partly motivated by resentment at India’s past treatment by a former colonial power, Britain, and partly by Hindu nationalism. He has a willing victim in Britain which is kowtowing (Shabdkosh) to New Delhi in the hope of a trade deal even as Modi moves closer to Russia and away from Britain and West.  Humiliating the needy old colonial master will do nothing to damage his electoral chances, which is helped by useful idiots in London who have decided the British Empire was pretty much the Original Sin and that the British should, therefore, prostrate themselves before the likes of Xi and Modi for past imperial ‘crimes’.


Not So Useful Idiots

Talking of (not-so) useful idiots, the British will also hold a General Election in 2024 that could well see Britain being Britain – perverse. It is likely that a Labour Government will be elected, even though the reasons it will be elected will be because the country is moving to the nationalist Right on issues like mass immigration upon which the Labour Party is traditionally soft.

Two factors will be decisive. First, Nigel Farage, Mr Brexit, will return to frontline politics by leading the Reform Party thus siphoning off many votes to the right of the Tories.  Second, the spectacular incompetence and weakness of the Conservative Party in government means many True-Blue Tories will simply not bother to vote. They will thus wake up to a Labour Government as split between the centrists and the hard Left as the Tories are between the centrists and the Hard Right.

Read also: How Labour will win the next UK election

Then it is the turn of the Yanks!  In November, the Americans go to the polls in their quadrennial presidential elections. President Joe Biden’ opponent? One Donald J. Trump, the isolationist’s nationalist. If he regains the White House, and depending on which way Congress will go, there is every reason to believe that a second term Make America Great Again (Again) Trump will be a nationalist isolationist Trump, as his focus will be on the ‘war’ he will conduct on what he calls the “Washington swamp”.

There will be at least one constant throughout 2024; efforts by both Putin and Xi to cyber-rig all and every election of all and any geopolitical consequence.


*A version of this article was published here