Middle Israel: Britain’s next finest hour

Johnson has earned honestly the common revulsion with his impulsiveness, oafishness and buffoonery, and the analogies to Donald Trump that they inspired.

BRITAIN’S PRIME Minister Boris Johnson – he might ignite a post-Brexit Britain prosperity and instill in Britain a new spirit of confidence. (photo credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS)
BRITAIN’S PRIME Minister Boris Johnson – he might ignite a post-Brexit Britain prosperity and instill in Britain a new spirit of confidence.
(photo credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS)
Having collected the tales that would become The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson (2013), author Harry Mount called one of Johnson’s classics tutors at Oxford and asked him what he thought of his former student’s prime ministerial prospects.
“He was up to the job of emperor until he became emperor,” quipped the instructor, quoting Roman historian Tacitus’s take on Emperor Galba’s short-lived reign (seven months).
It was the kind of tone with which Johnson’s emergence as Britain’s 77th premier would be greeted universally, with fastidious remarks ranging from “How far can Britain fall?” (Irish Times editorial) and “Boris Johnson is how Britain ends” (James Butler, New York Times) to “The clown is crowned while the country burns in hell” (Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian).
Johnson has earned honestly the common revulsion with his impulsiveness, oafishness and buffoonery, and the analogies to Donald Trump that they inspired.
Yes, the two indeed are part of one epoch, but Johnson carries assets that Trump will never possess, and which might finally produce something good from an era of growing chaos, insecurity and despair.
JOHNSON DOES, no doubt, remind one of Trump in several ways: the breezy flock of yellowish hair; the willingness to nonchalantly lie; and of course the unique love life which just landed in 10 Downing Street a tenant whose girlfriend is awaiting her boyfriend’s divorce of his second wife, unlike a comparatively nerdy Trump’s arrival in the White House with a fully official first lady and third wife.
The similarities, however, end there.
Unlike Trump, whose first hour in the White House was also his first in public office – Johnson has been foreign secretary for two years, mayor of London for eight years, and a lawmaker for 11 years that began 18 years ago. In short, he has been around and understands government.
In terms of education, Johnson is the opposite of the ignoramus that Trump’s tweets routinely unveil. A classics graduate of Oxford’s Balliol College, he speaks fluently French and Italian and has working knowledge of German and Spanish, in addition to having foundations in Latin and Greek.
Having published a biography of Churchill and presented one TV series on the history of Rome and another on early Islam, Johnson is broad-minded and eloquent. There is reason to believe that the new British prime minister’s light-headedness is actually an act, behind which hides a thinking man.
These differences of experience and baggage between Johnson and Trump are, of course, besides their inverted relationships with the media. Johnson can’t attack the press, because he has been part of it; and he can’t decry fake news, because he has been part of that, too, and in fact was once fired for inventing a quote.
Still, when Johnson invented a story about Italy asking the EU to change its condom standards so as to accommodate smaller penises, he put off many people (and at the same time made even them laugh), but his point – that Brussels had become a monstrosity of regulation – was very valid.
In fact, the eulogies – of Britain, Europe and Western civilization – that animated Johnson’s appointment say less about him and more about the eulogizers, who prefer to change the subject rather than discuss what his success is really about – namely, the collapse of Europeanism as both an idea and a plan.
THE HARSH fact is that most Brits have grown fearful, scornful and resentful of an increasingly overbearing European Union’s intrusions.
The harsh fact is also that Boris Johnson is charismatic, articulate and focused, and might indeed extract the Brits from the association which they joined reluctantly in the first place, and then watched helplessly as it unleashed financial mayhem, constitutional usurpation and migratory catastrophe.
Worse, from his detractors’ viewpoint, Johnson might not only pull Britain away from the EU politically; economically, he might ignite a post-Brexit British prosperity, and emotionally he might instill in Britain a new spirit of confidence.
Worst of all, ideationally, the leader of such a newly resilient Britain might use his erudition, eloquence and disparagement of conventional wisdom in order to tell all Europeans the heresy that the bishops of Europeanism suppress – namely, that nationalism is not bad, but good; that it is not passé, but very relevant; and that it is not part of the problem, but part of the solution.
What has unsettled Europe in recent years is the delusion that a supranational state can be artificially cobbled, in disregard of national history, geography and natural instinct. The Greek currency crisis exposed the truth, which is that international solidarity exists mainly in the minds of Brussels’ bureaucrats, but not in the hearts of the average German, Brit or Pole.
This is besides the absurdity of the European implication that nationalism is fascism’s parent.
Nationalism is what defeated fascism. Nationalism is what drove the British pilots who fought the Luftwaffe; nationalism is what drove the French, Norwegian, and Polish undergrounds; and nationalism is what the Soviets turned to, in the face of fascism’s invasion, when they replaced “The Internationale” with a patriotic anthem.
In peacetime, nationalism is a better driver of social solidarity, equality and compassion than any international structure will ever be, least of all one run by unelected mandarins.
Intellectually, recent decades’ conventional wisdom that nationalism is a modern invention has been challenged by Tel Aviv University historian Azar Gat in his internationally acclaimed Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism (Cambridge, 2013), where he argued that nationalism is a deeply rooted element in human history, whose origins can be traced back to antiquity.
Boris Johnson’s premiership may provide the sequel to this thesis, demonstrating that nationalism has not only a long past, but also a promising future.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019), is an interpretation of the Jewish people’s political history.