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May 28, 2011


Dick Pountain

Will - interesting notion that Blair was seduced by martial power - he wouldn't be the first. A prevalent view is that Blair has been a Christian Socialist since his formative years, which might have inclined him to pacifism early on in his career. My own guess is that though undoubtedly a Christian, Blair is first and foremost a Cold War Liberal out of the Daniel Bell mould, who saw his mission as rescuing the Labour Party from socialism, with a great deal of success. But of course none of these hypotheses are mutually exclusive: Blair as anti-socialist christian pacifist seduced when in power by martial glory works pretty well, and parallels G.W. Bush remarkably. For more evidence I suppose one has eventually to read the memoirs, but I haven't the stomach for them at the moment.

pat kane

Fascinating column, and particularly pertinent in the context of possible Scottish independence - where one of the competing articulations of that ol' Gramscian "national-popular" is a strongly anti-militarist ethos (full self-determination meaning the opportunity to make some different calculations about the utility of force, vis a vis Trident, Nato, a "Defence" force, etc). What's interesting here is the relationship between an imagined national identity and temporal relations - yes, Blue Labour has discovered this for "England", but the English question has only resurfaced as a result of Scottish (and Celtic) autonomy-demands. The "real utopian" dimension of Scottish sovereignty discourse - see the incessant usage of Alastair Gray's slogan "work as if you were in the early days of a better nation" - has been a wonderful construction of temporality, when I think about it, allowing all manner of social-democratic aspirations to burgeon and mature, but in the context of an active reading of Scottish historical traditions. Might a deep dive into an Englishness shorn of the imperial burden of "submarines, bombs and warships" - which no doubt a 'residual UK' post-independence would threaten, in terms of top-table geopolitical membership - allow a similar temporality to emerge? Whatever gleam is in Alex Salmond's eye, the metaphysical burden of the monopoly of violence doesn't generate it - see the way the Scottish Government promoted Gregory Burke's critical play Black Watch.

Will Davies

Thanks, Pat. Yes, this does sound very plausible. Rather as Paul Gilroy has argued extensively, we might discover new relationships to time, only once we have thrown off our 'post-colonial melancholia'. That argument brings with it an additional question of political temporality, in this instance regarding a collective failure to mourn our loss of supremacy, and a petulant denial of how times have changed.

The other reference point here should be Benedict Anderson's theory of nationalism, which chimes with what you say. Anderson argues that nationalism arises as a result of shared temporal and historical consciousness, brought about thanks to the rise of print media. Anderson suggests that nationalism has a mortal component to it - we would actually be willing to die for these shared imaginary communities, because of the immortality that they apparently possess. However, the notion of an anti-militaristic nationalism is certainly very intriguing.

pat kane

Would one be prepared to die for the kind of "constitutional patriotism" (a la Habermas) that almost entirely typifies the civic nationalism of the SNP/independence movement in Scotland? A really good question. Many of us would say "no". But we'd trust we'd never be asked to do so. I wonder whether a nationalism in the age of interactive multimedia builds a different kind of "imagined community" - one that's inherently about soft power and national branding (attracting all manner of tourist, head-office and investment dollars), than it is about the defence of borders and territories. I've been coming back a lot to Castells and his poles of "Self" (the need for collective identity) and "Net" (the disembedding networks of our age). I did an analysis of the election result on my Thoughtland blog which used some of Castells' recent stuff http://www.thoughtland.info/2011/05/calmerc-juggernaut-of-joy.html A "network" state can be a small state as well as a large one.

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