Brexit, and the Second World War in popular culture

I wrote this in late 2018 and never got around to posting it. Italics added by me now.

I think one of the big differences in ideology and worldview between Leavers and Remainers is their understanding of WW2 and the rise of fascism.

The popular view of WW2, as portrayed in countless books, films, TV series, etc, is that fascism was an external threat: foreign dictators and armies, defeated militarily by the plucky Allies.

Popular culture doesn’t often look at the rise of fascism in the ’20s and ’30s. When it does, it generally subscribes to what I call the “George Lucas Theory of Fascism” – dictators are sneaky super-geniuses who make their way to power using trickery and force.

The other view – the more historically accurate one – is that fascism was a popular movement, a wave of grassroots fear and anger, ridden by opportunistic politicians who styled themselves as the people’s champions.

People didn’t have fascism imposed on them from above. They demanded it themselves.

They wanted strong leaders to tear up state bureaucracy and get things done, reassert sovereignty and regain past national glories, protect them from dangerous foreigners and socialists, and take revenge on the liberal elites they despised.

I can think of only two works of popular culture which come close to portraying the popular rise of fascism, and then only barely: Cabaret and The Sound of Music. And those films are unlikely to have been watched by many ardent Brexiters.

When you ignore all of that, and see fascism as its end result – a political establishment, backed up by military force – it’s easy to see why Leavers regard the EU as a totalitarian threat, and themselves as the plucky Allies fighting it.

But when you know how fascism really starts, it’s obvious which side of the Brexit divide most closely resembles it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.