Americanisation or Globalisation?

David Ellwood argues that the attempts of British politicians to copy an American ‘role model’ are likely to fail.

Within the next five years the United Kingdom will almost certainly be obliged to decide whether or not to abandon the pound sterling and embrace the Euro. The closer this milestone approaches, the more intense becomes the debate on the meaning of Britain’s experience in the twentieth century, the factor more than any other which is likely to decide her fate in the twenty-first.

In February 2001, Timothy Garton Ash asked ‘Is Britain European?’ He argued that Britain had long since abandoned the national perspective  of a self-satisfied little island at the heart of a great empire: ‘But it is not clear whether what has replaced it is Europeanisation, Americanisation or just globalisation.’ Quite so. A leading political philosopher, John Gray, has attacked Labour’s commitment to the United States as ‘the paradigmatic modern country, which Britain should take as a model’. In contrast Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian journalist, has written an entire volume dedicated to teaching Britons how to ‘live the American dream’, first by eliminating the monarchy and then by installing a republic based on the US  Constitution.

A key question raised by these arguments concerns the role of American myth and model in the nation’s search for a successful modernity of its own. Life, quoted Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in April this year, ‘must be lived forwards ... [but] can only be understood backwards’. Now history reveals that looking yearningly to America for inspiration in moments of crisis has in fact been a recurrent impulse within Britain’s leading groups. Such hopes have been repeatedly disappointed, but this has proved no discouragement. At the turn of the millennium an old pattern is reasserting itself.

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