In 1997, David Brooks and William Kristol, then as now America's leading conservative columnists, wrote a seminal article in The Wall Street Journal calling for a politics of national greatness. "The left has always blamed America first," they wrote. "Conservatives once deplored this. They defended America. And when they sought to improve America, they did so by recalling Americans to their highest principles, and by calling them forward to a grand destiny. What is missing from today's conservatism is the appeal to American greatness."
Brooks and Kristol were particularly affronted by the state of the Republican Party under Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole. But they were also addressing a deeper problem, which the events of the past four years have accelerated: America has embarked on a period of terminal relative decline. The only way to halt or reverse it, they believed, is by uniting the affections of its people under the banner of patriotism.
Our country is on a similar trajectory today. How could it not be, when comparing this week's estimates for our economic growth with those coming out of China, India, and Brazil? As a result, what is missing from British politics today is any sense of national greatness. You might argue that it has been missing since the decline of our empire – but it hasn't, not like this. Only a decade ago we were still lauding Cool Britannia. Now the national sentiment is "Fool Britannia".
Writing about America, Thomas Friedman put it well in The New York Times recently: "It becomes clearer every week that our country faces a big choice: we can either have a hard decade or a bad century."
My fellow compatriots, the same is true here. What George Osborne articulated this week was a manifesto of miserabilism for an age of anguish and anxiety. We have to find an optimistic counter-argument. You might think that what is true of America is not true of us; theirs is a culture based on creed, whereas ours is based on custom. Nor have they gone in for the iniquitous cult of multiculturalism. Alas, patriotism is the last refuge of the people, whether here or there. If we're to return our country to prosperity, to raise its spirit and declare the 2010s a decade of renewal, the idea of nation restored to greatness is our best hope. It won't take an empire to make it happen, but it will take a degree of political courage and conviction that the impish Osborne palpably lacks.
Next week, I will outline what a politics of national greatness might look like.Reuse content