The Battle of Ideas: Competing Paradigms Within British Political Discourse

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Stephen Mallet

Stephen Mallet

Intelligent scepticism is never an overrated characteristic within modernity. I'm a Politics and International Relations student at Royal Holloway and a freelance writer. I take an interest in a variety of topics, mostly concerning political philosophy and contemporary political affairs. An advocate of critical thinking who prizes analysing the normal and justifying the non-existent.

Currently across Europe and notably in the UK is a battle of ideas; a battle that can be defined as ‘a conflict of a tenacious nature between two or more groups’. Certainly, within our contemporary political communities, we are witnessing a battle of conflicting ideas, the manifestation of could quickly turn into an irreconcilable social disparity. Therefore, we must ensure that we do not form differences which can never again be mediated. Many of our contemporary understandings of ideas such as patriotism or xenophobia are deeply embedded in a normative and stoic political philosophy debate surrounding a term called ‘the self’.

So, what is the self? And what has it got to do with the current state of the British political system? The self-refers to a form of self-identification and the process by which we and others define us within a political community, like a country for example. How we decide to identify ourselves is central to political discourse as our own identification of ‘the self’ guides how we view the world around us. Two dichotomous political theories have become dominant in categorising our views of the self, those of cosmopolitanism and communitarianism. Likely, without even realising, most of us tacitly ascribe ourselves to one of these groups; consequently, the differences between cosmopolitans and communitarians can quickly fuel social, cultural, and political tension when events surrounding identity arise.

Brexit was, and still is, one of the most prominent contemporary examples of a battle between cosmopolitans and communitarians. Arguments throughout the referendum centred around immigration, economic stability, and sovereignty; however, implicitly many of us throughout the UK, whilst striking up arguments with others over Brexit, were fundamentally developing our opinions on a variety of issues depending on how we centred ourselves within those debates.

To provide a clear example of this fundamental problem, assume that all people who voted to leave the European Union were communitarians and all remain voters are cosmopolitans. Individuals ascribed to the cosmopolitan model often see themselves as having an international persona and identity that transcends a singular country; whereas, as the name implies, communitarians heavily ground their personal identity within sociocultural characteristics of their most immediate community and therefore, often struggle to consider a form of similarity with other cultures and communities.

Implicitly within arguments surrounding immigration arose arguments of identity. Cosmopolitans found no trouble in viewing immigration as an asset to the UK, as they were able to, through a loose personal identity, empathise with ‘difference’ and facilitate for it. Racism is often an extension of fear and nervousness, subsequently, many communitarian minded people objected to difference and immigration not through an inherent hatred for others, but due to a fear that their identity would be lost if their community was culturally or socially changed. This is what lies behind statements often heard such as ‘I don’t want my kids growing up in that type of country’ or ‘Britain should remain or stay British’. The misunderstanding of racism is in part a failure of cosmopolitans who, despite easily empathising with others, struggle to empathise with the communitarians living within the political society around them.

Perceptions quickly sour when consideration is not given to how difference occurs. Neither group is right or wrong; however, we can see how easily the concerns of communitarians can escalate into political action. The term ‘liberal elite’ has extended from an identity divide between cosmopolitans and communitarians, by which communitarians fear for the continued existence of what is familiar to them, therefore committing attention to identity and the formation of identities should play a bigger role in our political lives. It is largely counterproductive to dislike either cosmopolitans or communitarians without acknowledging the fundamental differences between them.

A less socially divided future is achievable when we start considering more often why we think the way we do; to achieve a greater understanding and grasp of the political events going on around us we should first perhaps try and understand ourselves better, understand our own premonitions, privileges and prejudices. Only then can we successfully move toward constructive political conversations.

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Stephen Mallet

Stephen Mallet

Intelligent scepticism is never an overrated characteristic within modernity. I’m a Politics and International Relations student at Royal Holloway and a freelance writer. I take an interest in a variety of topics, mostly concerning political philosophy and contemporary political affairs. An advocate of critical thinking who prizes analysing the normal and justifying the non-existent.

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