Opinion Original Patrick Lawrence U.K.

Patrick Lawrence: The British “Bubble of Unreality”

Liz Truss becoming the newly appointed UK Foreign Secretary, 2021. Office of U.S. Ambassador to U.K., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost

I am following British politics during these, Boris Johnson’s final days as prime minister, with interest. It seems that the front-runner to replace the aging boarding-school boy is Liz Truss, who currently serves as foreign secretary. The thought that Truss will be Britain’s next leader interests me a very great deal more than the political jockeying she leads by a wide margin over Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the Exchequer. Prime Minister Truss: We had better get ready for it.

To keep things in perspective, and setting aside all questions of political tilt, I sometimes conjure the names of some of Truss’s predecessors when the thought of her residing at 10 Downing comes to mind: Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald, Churchill, Clement Atlee—Margaret Thatcher, indeed. This is not a question of approving or otherwise the things these prime ministers did. It is to remind myself that, once upon a time, British PMs had some working understanding of the world. They had purpose, intentions, things they wanted to get done because they considered those things in need of doing. A few of them had principles.  

Liz Truss has none of this. In the matter of principles, forget about it. To the extent she can be said to have a purpose, Truss’s purpose as she seeks to be Britain’s next prime minister is to be Britain’s next prime minister.

A little at a time since she came into the public eye, Truss seems to me emblematic of the grave crisis of leadership in the Western post-democracies. Britain will be in very serious trouble if Truss wins the Tories’ vote on September 5. So will the rest of us, given she will represent a new low in our collective elevation of incompetence to high office.

Liz Truss is the foreign secretary who, barking a few months ago at Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, turned out not to know parts of Russia from parts of Ukraine. Liz Truss is the Tory political candidate whose economic platform, as Britons face their worst crisis at least since the 1980s and possibly since 1945 when this is over, begins and ends with a plan to lower taxes.

Lowering taxes and standing fast against Russians are what Thatcher did, you see, and Liz Truss wants to be another Thatcher in the same way Conservative British PMs, including Thatcher, have never gotten over their Churchill complex.

To the extent there is a Liz Truss, Liz Truss is demonstrably a Dummkopf. But it is better to accept that there is no Liz Truss. There is someone who derives her identity by posing atop a NATO tank as Thatcher once did, there is someone who stood fast against Britain’s exit from the European Union and is now overly vigorous in favor of it. But behind the poseur and the shape-shifter there is, by all one can make out, no Liz Truss.

Truss’s plan to lower taxes to appeal to the Conservative constituency that will elect her to succeed Johnson is economic suicide by the reckoning of a large chorus of economists, who think it will worsen an inflation rate that hit 10.1 percent last  week. Predictions of poverty and deprivation—of food, of heat—are dire. “The whole campaign has been conducted in this bubble of unreality,” one of these economists, Tim Bale, who professes at Queen Mary University, London, said in a newspaper interview this week.

I don’t doubt Professor Bale for a second. But let us not miss: The bubble of unreality in which Truss operates is but one case of the bubble into which those purporting to lead the Western post-democracies have marched all of us.

It is interesting to put President Biden in the long line of American presidents in the same way I imagine Truss on the list of British prime ministers. Biden succeeding FDR or Kennedy or LBJ or even Nixon: You get a picture of a long, more or less uninterrupted decline. And you see the same impulse to reenact, to call upon the past for validation. Biden as the second coming of FDR or LBJ: It is ridiculous. Biden has no more purpose to him than Truss, unless we give him the edge as he seeks to stave off America’s loss of its postwar primacy.

I noticed some years ago a peculiar feature of public life in modern America. I named it our culture of representation. Public figures tend to reference the great or supposedly great of the past so as to have some reflected greatness shine upon them.

Among my examples of this phenomenon was Teddy Roosevelt’s campaign in Cuba, June 1898. These were the first moments of overseas combat for American soldiers during what we call the American century. With the buzz of bullets all around him, TR insisted on wearing a cumbersome, useless saber into battle because that is what great soldiers had worn from the American Revolution through the Civil War.

Roosevelt was humorous about this foolishness later in life. “I never wore it again in action,” he wrote in The Rough Riders, “as it kept getting between my legs as I was tearing through the jungle.”

That is our culture of representation in miniature. Since TR’s day it has grown like kudzu over the public life of all the Western post-democracies. Liz Truss is a dedicated practitioner. Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, thinks he is de Gaulle come back to life. An interesting thing about Biden is that he tries it—the FDR and LBJ bit—but it is too politically risky even to mimic them. By our standards they are radicals, I am not the first to point out.

It is a fine thing, a sign of wisdom, to learn from the past. But imitation is another matter. For one thing, we are bound to find that the imitators are masking their vacuity—their lack of purpose or intent—behind some previous figure’s purpose and intent. For another, leaders who imitate the past in this way are never going to address the problems confronting their societies effectively. They are going to force their citizens into bubbles of unreality, as Professor Bale nicely put it.

There is another, larger reason for our confinement in bubbles, apart from our leaders’ preoccupation with obscuring their empty opportunism. We live in an historic moment. It does not matter your political stripe, the reality of the West’s loss of primacy after half a millennium—taking my date from da Gama’s arrival in Calicut in 1498—is something we will have to acknowledge if we are to get anywhere in the 21st century.

Those purporting to lead us now prove incapable of acting in response to this moment. They were not trained, as none of us was prepared, to reply to a passage of this magnitude and consequence. All they can do is repeat, to imitate, to charge on with sabers: I want to be another Margaret Thatcher, I want to be another FDR, America is back, and so on.

To turn this point upside down, look at the leaders of prominent non–Western nations. Whatever you may think of Vladimir Putin, whatever you may think of Xi Jinping, whatever you think of Nicolás Maduro or Danny Ortega or Andrés Manuel López Obrador or Miguel Díaz–Canel or any of the new “pink tide” leaders in Latin America, set it aside and consider: These leaders are not wanting in purpose or intent. They do not create or act in bubbles of unreality. They are not given to imitating the past. They have things to do.

President Putin gave another of his remarkable speeches on these matters, delivered at a security conference in Moscow, on August 16. Diego Ramos published a sound analysis of it in ScheerPost on Wednesday. It bears quite directly on the matters I raise. 

I suppose I am circling the thought that the West is exhausted and the non–West is by comparison full of vigor. Perhaps Putin would agree with me: The emergence of the non–West as an energetic pole of power marks an inevitable turn of history’s wheel. The West’s decline does not. It is a choice a frivolous generation of leaders makes for us. And it is not going to end well without a profound change of consciousness, we had better realize.

Patrick Lawrence
Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon siteHis Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.

25 comments

  1. the banana republic quality of anglo leadership has been obvious for many decades—more interesting is why anglo oligarchs prefer these incompetents

    1. “more interesting is why anglo oligarchs prefer these incompetents”.
      That seems rather straight-forward to me. Isn’t it precisely because the incompetents lack principles and imagination and will do what the oligarchs tell them? Whether “Hope and Change” Obama or “Nothing will change” Biden … both knew well their places and what was expected of them by the people who really matter.

    2. Indeed. And there are other interests here.

      For the Russian Government, this is a Napoleon Bonaparte moment, as in . . .

      “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making mistakes.”

      Of course, the Elite Class sow their own seeds of destruction, disconnected as they are from consequences.

      1. There is a bit of unreality here. On one hand, it is asserted that the oligarchs who really run things prefer to have loudmouth incompetents as their public faces. The opposite opinion is expressed that this having this fool in charge will be good for Russia.

        The two positions can not both be true.

        Personally, I tend for the ‘democracy is a sham’ position and that the face on the puppet is not really very material. In which case, it does not matter that Truss is an idiot who can not find Rostov on a map because the policy of war, death, destruction and more war, war, war is not being controlled by the idiot we can see but by other idiots behind the scenes. Since we can not see these other idiots and can not influence the actions of these idiots, then all we can really do is laugh very hard when the idiots tell us that we are starving and dying for ‘democracy’.

  2. As usual Patrick.tells the truths that.people do.not want to.hear.Such sages are rarely listened to in their time.Too bad for us that smarts and understanding come.too slowly when our very.lives are in danger.

      1. SURVIVORS

        Akin to the world-will-end Y2K panic. I’d point out nearly 2B people in the world don’t have adequate access to water. Few got what I meant, which was that not everyone lives in an urban techno-bubble. The real world would never notice.

        Indigenous peoples and the natural world will go on even if the west/Euro system collapses. This model is no longer working and its blinkered proponents refuse to see that. But no matter how much they insist there are no alternatives, there most certainly are.

        Even a worst case scenario will not be The End, as Chernobyl demonstrates. Or if the absolutely worst case happens and the entire arsenals go, some other life form will reclaim the planet. Cockroaches will have Twinkies to eat and Tupperware as shelter–nothing destroys them!

  3. The problem is, not only do the bourgeoisie live in the past, but so do many, many leftists. And so does Putin (Peter the Great, Stalin) and Xi (Mao-Lite), as do many others. Brexit was a disaster for the U.K., while the Tories have been a disaster for years and years. The future is coming and it contains none of these people.

    1. your comic book awareness unsurprising—u r hillbilly in nebraska? or porkland?

      1. If you can’t refute ’em, diss ’em. Thanks for the prime example of ad hominem and intense class prejudice.

  4. Old wisdom : anything ill-gotten is cursed.
    Anglo – American wealth was from conquests of the new world and previously was the looting of India / forced opium on Cathay.
    Recently, many non western nations are rushing to join BRICS to create a bloc of half the world’s population and a huge market.
    The trend continues that economic growth are in BRICS that is more than the west.

    This growth is simply from old fashion hard work, not printing of paper currency, conquests thru war, excessive debt, or dubious schemes.
    Patrick L. asks for a Profound Change of Consciousness, he might as well ask for Pentagon budgets to be reasonable.
    Expect more of the same, because our wonderful MSM is owned by capitalist corporations that absolutely need profits, never real reporting. Murdoch Media Empire makes record breaking profits by providing entertainment( not news) and promoting whatever viewership demands. So don’t blame it all on Tucker.

    1. If you think it’s all about “hard work” over there, I would commend Akira Kurosawa film Dersu Uzala (1975) to you. Russia has a long history of mistreating native inhabitants for profit and gain.

      1. I really like that film and was happy to get a copy.
        That said, I find your remark,
        “Russia has a long history of mistreating native inhabitants for profit and gain”,
        …how shall I politely say it… ‘interesting’?

        The British Empire was built on the backs and lives of uncounted millions of others. And then there’s the good ol’ USofA, with its history of genocide of the indigenous populations, its profiteering from the enslavement of others, and, when it got powerful enough, the suppression of democracies around the globe whenever they stood in the way of American corporations.

      2. It’s a crazy world and lots of humans are foolishly dangerous animals. Your comments are reassuring..
        Peace

  5. In one moronic “survey”, reported by the Guardian, British potential voters were asked which animal the contestants resembled. The majority of voters replied that Truss resembled a budgie (long-tailed parrot) whereas Sunak resembled a ferret because of his strangely pointed teeth. A few female commentators somehow uncovered “sexism” in the responses to Truss. Myself: I’ve not noticed Sunak’s pointed teeth, but I have noticed that Sunak is brown-skinned, an Anglo-East Indian; in other words, “colored”, which has not been mentioned a single time in all the coverage I’ve read. Unsuited as Liz Truss is, how likely is an old guard Tory going to vote for a colored man to inhabit 10 Downing?

  6. One cannot help feel the melancholy of betrayal, that we have believed too well those who have lied to us too long.

    “Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
    Have done my credit in this World much wrong:
    Have drown’d my Glory in a shallow Cup
    And sold my Reputation for a Song.”
    -Omar Khayyam.

  7. POLITICAL KARDASHIANS

    The “frivolous leadership” proof there is nothing of substance remaining in the western econ/pol system, not even the pretense there is. Asserting there is no alternative is weak bluster.

    It’s devolved to spectacle, with only egregious political and economic narcissists displaying confidence. Most so-called leadership de facto political Kardashians, famous for being famous. So then no need for actually knowing history or geography, no need for substantive policies.

  8. MANIFEST FOLLY

    Having a conversation with someone who does not value the truth is like fishing in a quarry with no fish, what you’ll catch are stones.

    There are those with minds so convinced of the certitude of their beliefs that truth dissolves into fiction like
    water into wine

    Corporate propaganda shapes the lies that pour like molten steel over the minds of willfully blind believers who follow religious and political dogma holding fast to the theory of the end justifying the means, the righteousness of monotheism, and the glory of empire states.

    your god, my god, why god?
    It’s not god that rules with fictions from the heavenly skies

    It’s the arrogance of men who imagine they know the unknowable see the unseeable and believe that their tribe is somehow superior and, endowed by their god, with the right to conquer, settle, plunder, and enslave

    The racist privileges implied in the theory of manifest destiny
    feed the dogs of war

    the folly of manifest destiny is the wonton destruction of life
    on earth

    Peace

  9. Paul:

    Thanks for your recent articles that describe the bigger picture of our culture so eloquently.

    There’s been a renewed attack by elites on the common good and socialist ideas starting with the McCarthy era: even the word socialism had negative connotations until Bernie Sander’s campaign.
    Consider the attacks on progressive culture, targeting academia, media (as your last article detailed), the labor movement, and the elevation of a culture of the self and idolizing of billionaire entrepreneurs (as Chris Hedges might say, the cult of Mammon).

    Our leadership is as weak and narcissistic as it is because over time our leadership in govt, business and in the arts in some cases, has made it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any challenge to neo-liberalism has gradually been marginalized, cancelled, defunded.

    Your observations about a paradigm shift in world politics to the East is extremely sharp, as well as the fact that even with that leadership, Russia and China will be facing the monster of climate change, and still have to include the West to resolve that.

    I would appreciate an article about the European Union from you, as that leadership has inflamed prejudice of Russia unnecessarily, as well as committed economic suicide due to following the US in its Russian sanctions. I did not expect to see Germany de-industrialize overnight and hear warnings of food shortages and people worried about heating their homes.

    Also, thanks for teaching me about the term bata kusai: it’s not often the media talks about how we come across to other cultures.

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