The British Experiment: A Stroke of Genius or a Shot in the Dark?

The British Experiment: A Stroke of Genius or a Shot in the Dark?

(A version of this article was published in Blogcritics on August,, 2010)

I

There is a significant movement afoot from our friends across the Continent, a movement which, for reasons unbeknown, has somehow escaped the attention of the usually-astute BC political pundits. I am speaking here of David Cameron, the newly elected PM, and of his economic overtures to India.

II

Mr. Cameron is a young man, only 44, and the youngest PM on record. (The legendary William Pitt the Younger, elected at the tender age of 24 as the head of the British government, has got him beat by a country mile; but the term “Prime Minister” wasn’t in use then.) Mr. Cameron is a conservative, besides, and an aristocrat. Yet, for all the apparent strikes against him, he appears to display wisdom and acumen far beyond his age.

III

This development is all the more surprising in light of Britain’s long-standing policy of economic independence. Of all the members who comprise the Eurozone, only the Brits have remained more or less aloof: indeed, the British pound still stands, though it’s no longer the envy of the world or the mainstay of the UK economy. But to the point at hand. The fact that Britain would bank on its future with India instead with the host of European nations with which it’s already politically and economically aligned — nation-states with which it shares a great deal of historical and cultural heritage — should raise some eyebrows.

IV

I’m not going to bother you with the pertinent details or the negotiations in progress. You can read all about it in any number of British publications. Suffice to say, it’s a “full-speed ahead” type of approach with no holding back. The British delegation includes prominent diplomats, politicians, and businesspersons from all walks of life – in short, the best Britain has to offer. And to the best of my knowledge, they’re making progress.

V

Consequently, the question becomes: What’s the underlying idea? Why India and not Europe? Why this sudden preference for the Orient or the Occident, as the case may be — for changing horses in midstream rather than sticking to old and proven ways, the ways that work? 

Has Mr. Cameron gone mad?

VI

Hardly! Apart from the economic situation in India compared to that in the UK – a situation that features the right kind of inequality that’ appears necessary if capitalism is to survive and expand beyond its “natural limits” – there are important parallels.  

For one thing, both the UK and India are liberal democracies, and that’s saying a lot. But what’s most important of all – and don’t underestimate this, for therein lies the key to Mr. Cameron’s genius! – there is also an emotional connection. Yes, I mean the emotional connection that had come part and parcel and became ingrained with colonialism – the good, the bad, and the indifferent!

Clearly, Mr. Cameron is banking on it, and he’s betting on the good, naturally; and for the time being, at least, it seems to be working.

VII

There is a lesson in this for America. We’ve never been in the unique position of colonial power. Sure, there are obvious disadvantages to this long-discredited, if only because it’s too overt, the tradition of imperialistic policy, but there are also advantages. And among these, one can surely think of a relationship that’s certain to ensue between the two parties to the “contract.” It’s a relationship that would be bound to result from such an amicable agreement — a relationship which, for lack of a better word, I called “emotional.” 

Let’s face it. Some Brits hated India and the Indians with a passion, whereas others had loved both dearly and made it their home. Others yet, like Kipling, had memorialized it in verse. And the same goes for the natives. But the larger, the all-important point is, the relationship remained. And for better or worse, it certainly counts for something, even today, and Mr. Cameron, relying perhaps on his intuition, is trying to make the best of it. 

Indeed, the present outreach, the boldness, the confidence in the project ahead — all serve as the living proof.

VIII

But there is another obstacle at work insofar as America is concerned, an obstacle which is no less important and which prohibits us from acting freely and in an innovative fashion as the Brits have. And it’s got to do with our history.

Almost from day one, we deemed ourselves a superpower, and this frame of mind prevails to this very day. Which aspect, to put it bluntly, defines our relationship with other, “lesser” nations. It’s our hubris that stands in the way, the idea that we’re better than anyone else, the myth of American exceptionalism. 

And with this idea firmly in mind, there is no way we can ever develop an emotional connection with our “underlings.” There’s no room for sympathy here or any sharing between the disparate cultures. There’s room only for talk of “nation building” in the best possible scenario, of “counter-terrorism” in the worst.

Not a happy set of alternatives by any means!

IX

I’d be delinquent if I didn’t bring up the Marshall Plan, for that must have been the closest for what could rightly be termed “post-colonial reparations.” It was America’s finest moment, trying to assuage the ravages of war and “make good” for the victims. Even so, the main thrust was economic. And the object was to bring those countries to a level playing field so we might trade with them as equal or “co-equal” partners. End of story!

X

Indeed, I seriously doubt whether the Germans or the Japanese have ever harbored any tender feelings toward us except hate or resentment. Love surely was no part of it because no one loves the dominator if they’re just the dominator. There’s got to be more to it if it’s to rise to the level of a relationship. 

Indeed, even a sadistic-masochistic relationship is a notch above for the simple reason it’s a relationship. It may be a relationship based on both love and hate, but it’s a relationship nonetheless. And by any account, it’s better than indifference!

That’s what I mean by “emotional relationship.” Well, we Americans could never stoop so low. We’ve always considered ourselves to be above love and hate — all so “cool” and superior at the same time. 

No wonder we’re being despised the world over!

XI

I’m somewhat encouraged by Mr. Cameron’s overtures, and I hope they’ll come to fruition. India and the UK certainly have a lot in common. And if this marriage should spell a betterment for the two nations and its peoples, who am I to object? And that’s despite my anti-capitalism sentiment, believing it to be, at bottom, an unfair and inhumane system.

So yes, if Mr. Cameron can succeed in making life better for two peoples of such disparate cultures, prolonging the inevitable, I wish him the best. We’ll just have to wait until capitalism self-destructs from within, despite Mr. Cameron’s best wishes and capital designs.

XII

Meanwhile, let me remind you of an old proverb– necessity is the mother of invention!

Well, the Brits have responded. One can only hope that America and her leaders would do likewise, but it’s not in the cards.

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