The book both places current populism (in the UK, USA and France) in an historical context, and highlights the distorted and partial view of national history peddled by such as the Trumpists, the Front National, and the Brexit Party and their allies..
In Andress’s own words: “The demands of contemporary ‘populist’ movements make manifest a vision of the past that is the opposite of a coherent history."
The tone is set by an early quotation from Harold Wilson’s 1963 “White Heat” speech:
There is no more dangerous illusion than the comfortable doctrine that the world owes us a living. […] From now on Britain will have just as much influence in the world as we can earn, as we can deserve. We have no accumulated reserves on which to live.
- current follies (ch2) - racist links, the creaiton of the other, nationalism from a base of racial entitlement
- ch3 shadows of greatness - legacy of empire
- ch4 toxic legacies rewriting history of empire
- ch5 divided societies and the left-behind
- ch6 the interpretation of history to suit political ends
As a final summary I quote the author’s conclusion:
The West’s current relationship to the past is not the passive victimhood of an individual dementia sufferer, but rather an actively constructed, jealously guarded toxic refusal to engage with facts that are well-known but emotionally and politically inconvenient, and with other experiences that are devastating to the collective self-regard of huge segments of societies that have no visible desire to come to terms with reality.
As an aside, I was ever-so-slightly surprised to be able to write a sentence that started “I have just finished reading” - normally the only time I can say that is on holiday - it’s a credit to the author (and the benefit of a long train journey) that this was a book I actually completed…
Update 20/01/2020 - have now discovered how to pull out all the highlights I grabbed in Kindle - you can read them in this later post