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09th Jul 2020

Why British exceptionalism is so dangerous

british exceptionalism

Britain is a country like no other

This sentiment is something shared by an enormous number of British people. We’re a special country, a country which once ruled the world, and a country that established the rules of society.

As such, the rules don’t really apply to us. Why, one might ask, would we feel the need to follow the crowd when we are the home to the Royal Family, when we invented the World Wide Web, the steam engine and the television?

We’re the home of Churchill, Nelson and Shakespeare, and we know exactly what we’re doing. Just please don’t look at the number of coronavirus deaths that we have.

British exceptionalism means that we think we can do things differently, in our own inimitable way. But that doesn’t work when it comes to a deadly pandemic, because pandemics don’t give a shit about a country’s opinion of itself.

British exceptionalism is what drove Brexit, when we decided that we didn’t need to hear what experts had to say. It’s also what’s driven the country’s response to coronavirus. Boris and his team bleated for as long as anyone would listen about our “world-beating” track and trace system.

But why does it need to be “world-beating”? We could do better to simply try and catch up with the rest of the world’s response. Turns out it doesn’t even exist anyway, so there’s that.

So here we stand, with the largest coronavirus death toll in Europe, and a prime minister who is the very embodiment of British exceptionalism. A man who has a long history of making racist remarks and being sacked from jobs for lying leads our country in some of the most turbulent times in recent history, but he’s Boris so it’s all fine.

The problem with having a distorted view of yourself, either as a person or a nation, is that eventually you’re forced to reckon with who you really are. For Britain, that reckoning is not far away.