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David Cameron shows wisdom beyond his age. One could only wish America could follow suit, but it's not in the cards.

The British Experiment: A Stroke of Genius or a Shot in the Dark?

There is a significant movement afoot from our friends across the Continent, a movement which, for reasons unbeknown, has somehow escaped the attention of the usually-astute BC political pundits. I am speaking here of David Cameron, the newly elected PM, and of his economic overtures to India.

Mr. Cameron is, relatively speaking, a young man, only 44, and the youngest PM on record. (The legendary William Pitt the Younger, elected at the tender age of 24 as the head of the British government, has got him beat by a country mile; but the term “Prime Minister” wasn’t in use then.) Mr. Cameron is a conservative, besides, and an aristocrat. Yet for all the apparent strikes against him, he appears to display wisdom and acumen far beyond his age.

This development is all the more surprising in light of Britain’s long-standing policy of economic independence. Of all the members who comprise the Eurozone, only the Brits have remained more or less aloof. (To cite but one example, the British pound still stands, though it’s no longer the envy of the world or the mainstay of the UK economy.) But to return to the point at hand, the fact that Britain would bank on its future with India rather with the host of European nations with which it’s already politically and economically aligned, nations with which it presumably shares a great deal of historical and cultural heritage in common, should raise some eyebrows.

I’m not going to bother you now with the pertinent details or the negotiations in progress. You can read all about it in any number of British publications. (Forget the MSM whose main interest appears to have devolved into preoccupation with trivia and the superficial; it’s axiomatic by now that the more significant an event, the less likely it’s going to be covered.) Suffice it to say, it’s a “full-speed ahead” type of approach, no holding back. The British delegation includes prominent diplomats, statesmen, and businesspersons from all walks of life – in short, the best Britain has to offer. And to the best of my knowledge, they’re making progress.

Consequently, the question becomes: What’s the underlying idea? Why India and not Europe? Why this sudden preference for the Orient or the Occident, as the case may be, for changing horses in midstream, rather than sticking to old and proven ways, the ways that work? Has Mr. Cameron gone mad?

Hardly! Apart from the economic situation in India compared to that in the UK – a situation which, I daresay, features the right kind of inequality that I deem necessary if capitalism is to survive and expand beyond its “natural limits” – there are important political parallels: both are liberal democracies, and that’s saying a lot. But the most important of all – and don’t you ever underestimate this, for therein lies the key to Mr. Cameron’s genius! – there is also an “emotional connection.” Yes, I mean the emotional connection that had come part and parcel and become ingrained with colonialism – the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Obviously, Mr. Cameron is banking on that and he’s betting on the good, naturally; and for the time being at least, it seems to be working.

There is a lesson in this for America. We’ve never been in the unique position of a colonial power. There are obvious disadvantages to this long-discredited, if only because it’s too overt, tradition of imperialistic policy, but there are also advantages. And among the advantages, one can surely think of a relationship that’s certain to ensue between the two parties to the “contract,” a relationship that’s bound to result from such a congenial agreement, a relationship which, for lack of a better word, I called “emotional.” For let’s face it: some of the Brits hated India and the Indians with a passion; some loved it dearly and had made it their home; others, like Kipling, memorialized it in verse. And the same goes for the natives. But the larger, the all-important point is, the relationship remained; and for better or worse, it certainly counts for something, even today; and Mr. Cameron, relying perhaps on his intuition, it trying to make the best of it. Indeed, the present outreach, the boldness, the confidence in the project ahead — all serve as the living proof.

But there is another obstacle at work insofar as America is concerned, an obstacle which is no less important and which prohibits us from acting freely and in an innovative fashion like the Brits have, and it’s got to do with our history.

Almost from day one, we deemed ourselves a superpower, and this frame of mind prevails to this very day. Which aspect, to put it bluntly, defines our relationship with other, “lesser” nations. It’s our own hubris that stands in the way here, the idea that we’re better than anyone else, the idea of American exceptionalism. And with this idea firmly in mind, there is no way we can possibly develop an emotional connection with our “underlings.” There’s no room for sympathy here or for any kind of sharing between the disparate cultures. There’s room only for talk of “nation building” in the best possible case, or of “counter-terrorism” in the worst, take your pick; not a happy set of alternatives, if you ask me.

I’d be delinquent now if I didn’t bring up the Marshall Plan, for that must have been the closest for what could have rightly be termed “post-colonial reparations.” It was America’s finest moment, I daresay, trying to assuage the ravages of war and to make good for the victims. Even so, the main thrust was plainly economic, to bring those countries to a level playing field so we could trade with them as equal or co-equal partners. End of story.

Indeed, I seriously doubt whether the Germans or the Japanese have ever harbored any kind feelings towards us except hate or resentment. Love surely was no part of it because no one loves the dominator if they’re just the dominator; there’s got to be more to it if it’s to rise to the level of a relationship. Indeed, even a sadistic-masochistic relationship is a notch above for the simple reason it’s a relationship, a relationship based on love and hate. And by any account, it’s better than indifference.

That’s what I mean by “emotional relationship.” Well, we Americans could never stoop so low. We’ve always deemed ourselves to be above love and hate, all so cool and all so superior at the same time. That’s why we’re being despised the world over.

I’m rather encouraged by Mr. Cameron’s overtures and I hope they’ll come to fruition. India and the UK have certainly a lot in common; and if this marriage should spell a betterment for the two nations and its peoples, who am I to object? And that’s in spite of my anti-capitalism sentiment, believing it to be, at bottom, an unfair and inhumane system.

So yes, if Mr. Cameron can succeed in making the life better for two peoples of such disparate counties, prolonging the inevitable, I wish him the best. I’ll just have to wait until capitalism self-destructs from within, in spite of Mr. Cameron’s best wishes and capital designs.

Meanwhile, one is reminded here of an old proverb, necessity is the mother of invention.

Well, the Brits have responded. One could only hope that America and her leaders would do likewise, but it’s not in the cards.

About Roger Nowosielski

I'm a free lance writer. Areas of expertise: philosophy, sociology, liberal arts, and literature. An academic at a fringe, you might say, and I like it that way.

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