Experienced students of politics and of the human mind know that politics–the ‘science,’ the business, of power–is all too often a zone of the irrational, a domain of intense passion and emotion, covered up with a thin veneer of seemingly rational discourse, of point and counterpoint. This irrationality manifests itself in familiar phenomena such as the futility of political argument: participants in these festivals of rhetorical jousting come away, not with their beliefs changed or altered in the slightest, but rather, ever more entrenched and buttressed with more sophisticated defenses. Offense in political arguments does not bring about meek or even reluctant surrender; it only produces defiant defense.
I have been reminded, acutely, of these irrational foundations of politics as I inspect my reactions to the recent rise to power of Jeremy Corbyn, the ‘British politician who is Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition.’ For weeks my social media timelines have been full of Corbyn; his political record, his manifesto, the reactions of Britain’s conservatives to his ascent to power, his non-singing of the national anthem and so on. Wall to wall Corbyn, really. ‘Progressive’ and ‘leftist’ Americans, Englishmen, and Australians, are all entranced by this man, by the hostility he provokes on the political right; his record on all the major issues that engage this demographic evokes murmurs of admiration and respect; there have been no sightings, yet, of Corbyn riding on an ass into Jerusalem, but for all the attention he has attracted, one would not be remiss in thinking that precisely such a triumphal march had taken place. (Corbyn, as a reminder, has not been elected Prime Minister; he has merely been elected leader of the Labour Party.)
I should perhaps be interested in this spectacle; the rise to a power of a ‘progressive’ politician should catch my attention and tickle my fancies. And yet, the overwhelming response on my part, once my initial curiosity about the man who seemed to be attracting so much hostility from David Cameron and his party had passed, has been one of thinly repressed irritation. I’m sick of the wall-to-wall bonanaza of Corbyn that I’ve been subjected to; I cannot wait for it to end, for this season to pass.
My reasons are quite transparent to me. I’m consumed by a species of post-colonial resentment. I’m an American citizen, and the US has been my home for almost thirty years, but my political responses and reactions to the Corbyn ‘phenomenon’ are still animated by a primeval response whose underpinnings are only discernible in the older, bound-up-with-each-other histories of India and Britain. I find myself seething at the disproportionate attention paid to this British politician; I wonder what relevance it has to American politics (even as I tell myself that comfort and succor given to George Bush by Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq war was perhaps a crucial factor in the decision to go to war); I glower at the hagiographic descriptions showered upon Corbyn; I cannot bring myself to click on the parade of links that march through my social media timelines.
In short, I wish the sun would set on the damn British Empire already, that Britain would stop being made to feel like it was still the center of the universe and more like it was just any other European nation.
Not very rational, right? But there it is. And I’m a grown man with a PhD in philosophy. What hope political discourse?
4 thoughts on “Post-Colonial Resentment, Irrationality, and Jeremy Corbyn”
I found this be a really interesting post to read! I generally enjoy most of your writing, but this particularly struck a chord with me.
Especially the last paragraph – as someone who is second generation British Asian, the Empire isn’t ever fully discussed. It’s like an awkward relative who won’t leave your house, no matter how many times you ask them to go! It has definitely made me think whether or not the sun really has set on the British Empire – we are always told that it has. Yet, it’s always said with a trace of fond nostalgia of the ‘good old days’ with a blatant disregard for the amount of damage it perpetrated on scores of ethnic minority groups across the world. Many of them have still not recovered from it and it makes me wonder if they ever will one day.
I don’t think that the sun has fully set in the minds of many Caucasian British people.
Chaya, thanks for your comment. I know exactly what you mean by the ‘blindness’ you refer to. And of course, too much discussion about the Empire ends with admonitions to ‘get over it.’
I enjoyed reading your perspective. I’m white and British and not particularly a supporter of the Labour party or a believer in the political system in general. However what is interesting about Corbyn is that he seems, so far at least, not to be under the control of the media, whatever they throw at him. He manages to challenge the neoliberal consensus and bring such ideas prominently into the mainstream… for discussion at least, if nothing else.
I don’t know if he will attempt to bring up the uncomfortable subject of Britain’s colonialist past or the current illusion that many Brits seem to have about our country being in some way better than any others. But so far he doesn’t seem to be phased by saying things that are not universally popular, and there are a great many people in our country who are keen to change the way Britain behaves in the world, and to do our best to make reparations for our atrocities to date.
So although you’ve had enough of Corbyn, I’m quietly hopeful that if anyone will do something about British colonialism – past and present – he’s not a bad bet and may just deliver the goods with some help from those of us who are equally sick of it.
Great blog by the way! Thanks!
Dave, thanks very much for the kind words. I’m actually very optimistic about Corbyn; I hope he can revitalize Labor in Britain and even the state of affairs you describe. Hope springs eternal and all that!