Monday, December 31, 2018

Fintan O’Toole

Fintan O’Toole writes for the Irish Times and is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books. His latest book is Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain.

From his Q&A with Andrew Anthony for the Guardian:

You argue that English nationalism is the ghost in the Brexit machine. Why do you think that is?

From the turn of the century onwards, you have this extraordinary rise of the idea of England as a political community [ie, a popular desire for England-only legislation voted on by English-only politicians]. All the public opinion surveys show this. It’s very odd and I can’t think of any other parallels where it happens without a political party, without newspapers, without a national theatre. There’s no WB Yeats of English nationalism. So it’s not very well articulated. It’s a set of feelings rather than a political programme and Brexit offers itself as the way to address it. It says here’s the way to express yourself with an English identity. But it doesn’t answer it.

In your book, you criticise the way parallels have been made between Brexit and the 100 years war. What is the main problem?

A single word: vassalage. What on earth is this word doing in political discourse in the 21st century? I was struck by its re-emergence. It comes originally from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, this mad idea that somehow the 100 years war shows the English capacity to throw off feudal vassalage. It’s a ludicrous misunderstanding of history. The war was more like Charles Taylor in Sierre Leone – a hideous crime against humanity. To go back to that as the only thing you have to express what English freedom might mean in the 21st century shows...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue