"..a breathless Whiggish faith in the free market" has "kicked away the last props of the pre-capitalist order that underwrote the traditional conservative worldview" according to Aris Rousinoss in this week's Unherd, and left the British Conservative party struggling in its search for a political and economic model that's fit for the 21st century.
"...perhaps Government officials, ideologically adrift at a time of national crisis, would do well to read the Marxist historian Perry Anderson’s 72-page dissection of Britain’s decline in the latest issue of the New Left Review," he continues. "Anderson’s savage critique of modern Britain is as far from the court gossip and palace intrigue which characterises political journalism in this country as it is possible to be."
According to Anderson, Britain’s problems are structural, the combination of appalling economic planning over decades and inherent constitutional dysfunction: "All its components — economy, polity, ideology, territory, diplomacy — have simultaneously and interconnectedly been destabilised. The model of growth around which the country has been built since the late nineteenth century has generated such internal tensions that it has finally backfired.”
He goes on, “Developmental priority and imperial success had arrested the British ancien régime—‘the grandfather of the contemporary political world’— half-way between feudal and modern forms, leaving its structures an ‘indefensible and unadaptable survival’ of the transition from absolutism to constitutionalism,” with the result that we remain trapped in “a conceptual landscape of Britain swept clean of all but ‘one significant life-form and one technology: the post-1688 ruling bloc and its prosthesis, the Westminster state.’”
If Anderson’s thesis is correct, writes Aris, then all our problems, in one way or another, lead back to Westminster and the great gothic fantasia on the Thames, the increasing decrepitude of whose architectural fabric is an almost too obvious metaphor for the British state itself. Can it be restored without bringing the whole structure crashing down?
Attempts at devolution have been lopsided and ill-thought out. As it stands, New Labour’s constitutional reordering, by granting autonomy to the peripheries while keeping England subject to the Westminster entity, has set the stage for English nationalism to manifest itself in unappealing forms. “In not affording it any institutional expression” Anderson argues, “Blair’s project made it likely that [Enoch] Powell’s intonation of it would be heard once more.”
There are two Englands struggling to be born, Anderson argues: the angry, resentful England of the streets and a social-democratic European nation “with a sensibility closer to the historic connotations of ‘Little England’ — insular, but unambitious and pacific, socially somewhat Scandinavian, free of all illusions of grandeur.”
The essential problem we now face is whether or not Britain can survive as a unitary state. For Anderson, the answer is simply No: Britain was a project of empire, and without empire, the glue that held it together has dissolved. Simply, in Anderson’s thesis, “the stability of the old order had rested on the external forcefield of empire; once that was gone, the patriciate lost its grip at home, deference giving way to a ‘molecular, resentful sort of rebelliousness’, disabling the supports of the old regime, and Thatcher’s lower-middle-class crusade could finish off the grandees”.
The conclusion of both writers is that "there is no purpose pursuing dreams of a Global Britain while the Union fractures at home: any serious attempt to save the British state will require a serious, dispassionate appraisal of the structural flaws threatening to break it apart."
Here is the article in full and a link to Perry Anderson's original beneath it: