evidence is there for the persistence of subtle icons of neo-imperialist
influence in British culture today.
order to answer this question fully it is necessary to understand
certain key terms. Firstly
‘ subtle icons’ which suggests an air of understatement or
covertness, which as I will show later is no accident.
The word ‘icon’ itself is also very important in that it
means to be symbolic or in the case of this question more as a
representation of certain
second is the phrase ‘imperial influence’ which on first glance does
appear to be dated and old fashioned, however as I will show later on it
is still very much in operation within modern society today.
Here there are two important schools of thought , one sees
imperialism as having direct desendancey from a colonial perspective, as
with the British Empire. The
other suggests that this is not a necessity and political and economic
dominance can form the basis of imperialism, as with the dominant USA
who has little historic colonial possessions.
Adding the word ‘neo’ brings all these ideas up to date and
although some of the ideas may not be specific there is a general
neo-imperialistic influence, be that political, media or sport driven.
It is also worth noting that the term neo-colonialism is only
differentiated from neo-imperialism by its Marxist overtones which lends
itself towards an economical perspective.
This is where industrialised countries attempt to dominate third
world counties, often regardless of colonial background.
I would also like the ideology of hegemony to be considered as it
deals with cultural domination by one class or another which appears to
be central to the question.
order to show evidence of this
attempt at social coercion, which does seem to fly in the face of
democracy, there is an amount of what could be called reading between
the lines. Gramsci’s notion of hegemony
was that the leadership by the ruling classes could only be
achieved by linking up with ‘popular culture.’
Further research implies that there is a certain amount of give
and take across the classes.
He goes on to suggest that popular culture is stratified and
takes many forms based around tradition.
In Britain today there is a strong feeling of tradition, be that
in the form of religion, media, sports and the military etc.
I agree with Gramsci that it is not possible to rule by force
alone, or at least not in the long term.
Here he seems to suggest a
winning over of the masses through the medium of contentment via
familiarity. It could be
said that there is a
contentment reached through predictability.
Hence there is something to be gained by the keeping of
traditions like Christmas although the Christian element has all but
departed for many. Things
may change but it is the base elements that remain, as with the seasons
of spring, summer, autumn and winter, there is a feeling of order and
place that produces harmony. It
follows then that the government would want to keep with, but moreover
promote tradition. Tradition
in itself produces nationalism or at least a feeling of unity and it is
this unity that becomes imperialism when exported.
In Britain it is the idea of exporting a kind of Britishness or
that the empire is still here in Britain but in a concentrated form
waiting to be distributed. This
has a sinister feel to it, as if it was a masterplan and many have
picked up on this:
is not a mysterious metaphysical force or
‘spirit’ lying beyond the control of social agents; it is
actively created and maintained and reproduced by real individuals.”
current Labour government has the slogan of ‘Cool Britannia’ which
it is using as a buzz word to entice tourists into the country.
Whilst on the surface this is a positive idea, it could be said
that Britain is suggesting
that they are ‘cooler’ or that if you want to be ‘cool’ you have
be British. This then
exported around the world via politicians and the media.
I find nothing wrong or sinister in this, as with an interview
for employment, when you are told that if you want the job you have to
sell yourself. However
to inflict a kind of Britishness upon an other culture is abhorrent,
especially when that culture is unable to defend itself because of
economic reasons. This
was the case with the British tourist industry who anglicised the Costa
del Sol during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
At this time the tourist industry moved British tourists in en
masse, moved Spanish culture to one side and imported their own culture
has since changed or is in the process of changing.
As mentioned earlier the British wanted that air of familiarity,
the reminders of home: although they were on holiday.
It is odd but I recall many times during my 12 year service in
the Army when men and families stationed abroad would pine for home and
return at the earliest opportunity.
Maybe it is a trait of the British that they are insular and feel
insecure outside the umbrella of the ‘Empire.’
It is worth pointing out that from a military perspective there
is still an ‘Empire’ of sorts, with 36% of the Army and half of the
Navy being based overseas (FRFI 1998).
up the military perspective, there is this new concept of ‘ Global
Reach,’ employed by the defence review.
This sees the collapse of static locations in favour of a highly
mobile and reactionary force. There
is a chivalrous image here which portrays Britain riding around the
globe on a white charger saving nations in distress.
This fallacy is carried off with the help of Britain’s alliance
with the US. This has
produced the idea for many, of Britain ‘punching above her weight.’
After all Britain is such a small nation.
This global fantasy that the British are the ‘global
policemen’ has been self appointed in the shadow of the US but again
this is an imperialist view
is as though Britain is playing the role of ‘global prefect’
and telling off other countries for misbehaving.
This self-righteous attitude hints at the days of the empire.
In a political statement Tony Blair said:
must retain its’ role as a global player.”
such as the Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism (FRFI) publish a monthly
magazine which often dismantles government decision and policy only to
rebuild them showing elements of neo-imperialism.
The recent scandal concerning Ambassador Pinochet was covered in
the November issue and reported:
regime (Pinochet) was a vital ally of British imperialism; it provided
covert bases for the SAS during the Maldives war, and it has been an
important destination for British arms sales.”
obvious reference to the Falklands conflict is a good example of Britain
extending its neo-imperialist influence over Argentina and Chile.
The very idea that the British still have a colonial hold on the
Falklands or Maldives is hard to believe yet the country went to war
over it, defending its ‘Empire.’
Another conflict that sees Britain’s persistence with
imperialist influence is Northern Ireland, although it could be said
that this is more akin to neo-colonialism.
For twenty two years Britain has sought to display dominance over
the province even in the light of such vehement opposition.
feel that it is neo-imperialist ideals that sustains Britain’s
permanent seat on the United Nation Security Council, how has such a
small country got so much influence?
It is the constant rallying to the UN, deploying troops around
the world at a moments notice and lets not forget probably the real
reason that Britain packs such a punch, Trident.
After the end of the cold war
why does Britain need a nuclear weapon?
I would argue that Britain keeps Trident so that it can keep its
status as a big player on the global scale.
Britain is the second biggest holder of overseas assets after the US (FRFI
1998). It is
generally accepted that territorial growth is a necessity for capitalist
societies. Due to
Britain’s shortage of real estate it has sought to impose its economic
will on many third world countries.
Britain’s investment into the developing world amounts to the
combined total of France,
Germany and Italy. It
therefore follows that Britain would want too get involved in the
security of many countries to safeguard its investments.
Some argue that Britain’s economic hold on many countries is
holding the back from internal development and others argue that it is
imperialism and colonialism that helps
to promote capitalist investment in third world countries.
(Warren.1980.cited in Collins Sociology Dictionary.1995)
year Britain chaired the G8 Summit talks in Birmingham where Blair
committed Britain to an international effort to protect the global
here Britain is a big player, holding one of only seven permanent seats
along with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.
Here Britain was describing itself as ‘reborn’ as a world
leader in economics, politics and culture.
European Union also exposes Britain’s’ imperialist ideals with the
notion that we are not European and refusing to join - yet.
There seems to be the idea that Britain is better the rest of
Europe or at least we do not need them.
This however tends to come from the people and not the government
although one cannot be sure until a referendum.
Again from my days in the military there was this idea that man
for man, pound for pound the British soldier was better than any foreign
soldier. People often
refer to the ‘Bulldog Spirit’ of the British.
This has spread to the terraces of football where at its height
British football hooliganism was the revered around the world.
At this time the Union Jack was flown all over Europe as a symbol
of British football violence.
Many fans are seen painting their faces in the colours of there
country and engaging in mock battles with people from foreign lands.
Although this was one of Britain’s darkest hours it is hard not
to think of them defending the ‘Empire.’
conclusion there are still many subtle icons of neo-imperialism which
take many forms, stemming from the highest office in the land to the
most minor of individuals. It
is used as a tool to promote stability within society, it is used to
allow capitalist growth abroad and as a form of being for the
individual. It is
where we as a society have come from and see ourselves going.
It seems that Britain is defending an image of what it once was,
that is too say Britain would like the rest of the world to think she
still has or could have the Empire.
By striding the globe under the guise of humanitarian aid she
strengthens her standing within the global community.
Britain has lost the old ‘Empire’ but I would hazard to say
that she has gained a new one in the form of global assets and
investments, her status in terms of ‘global reach’ and her integrity
as a global player. Britain
lost the ‘Empire’ but carried it on in the form of cultural
tradition, so that today the British still feel that they are obliged to
intervene and take the helm.
Finally Tony Blair gave a speech to the G8 Summit referring to
the US and part of it read:
all sentiment aside they (US) are a force for the good in the world.
They can always be relied upon when the chips are down.
The same should always be true of Britain.” (G8 Summit.1998)
- Themes and Perspectives. Collins.London.
and Cultural forms of Modernity. London.Blackwell.
of Sociology. Harper.Collins.
Information Centre. www.library.utoronto.ca/g7/evaluations
Racism,Fight Imperialism. www.rcgfrfi.easynet.co.uk