“How the mighty have fallen”, cried David when word reached him that Jonathan the son of Saul, one of the famous kings of Israel, had died in battle. It is a cry that can be echoed this week following the exit of the United Kingdom, for long simply known as Great Britain, from the European Union.
In the late 19th and early 20th century it was said the sun never set in the empire—an apt description of the reach of the House of Windsor whose tentacles touched across the globe. Her colonies stretched from the heart of Europe to the outer parts of the world in Africa and South America.
Great Britain had few equals in history. Granted, the Greek, the Spanish and the Romans, at various points in history, had wide influence and reach. But Great Britain was the more recent one. Dissatisfied with conditions at home, conditions that ranged from the repression of the monarch, exhausted resources, the British warriors, both militaristic and economic, set out for greener pastures.
The rest is history. Queen Elizabeth inherited a kingdom that still was felt across the globe. But as Harold MacMillan observed in his trip to South Africa in 1960, change was coming. Nations that had previously been ruled from London started to wage war of independence stretching the cord that ran from the little island in the corner of Europe.
In Africa, Ghana won her independence from the UK and others followed. However, even with all this diminishing influence, Britain was always still great. London served as the centre of the world’s financial capital, the voice of London still rang loud at the UN headquarters in New York, and the world spoke English.
But what seems to have changed so much that started paving the path to where London found itself last week, of course, is a confluence of many factors. And, at the heart of it is the Britons themselves. Brexit, the campaign to get Great Britain out of the EU, was led by three men: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage.
Johnson, the obvious leader of the group is a boisterous former journalist, witty and as dynamic as they come. Farage, on the other hand, is a dyed in the wool nationalist with the sign conservatism written all over his face.
David Cameron called for the referendum largely to pry away Farage’s right wing support. In a sense then, Farage drove the vote. Narrow conservatism is a function of the mind. One can chose to be broad minded, a child of the universe, or take the exact opposite direction.
In each case, the result is different. While the former is expansive and inclusive, the latter is protective and defensive. It is the danger one is one when, rather than reach out, an individual digs in. It seems this is where Britain, captive of the fears of migrants, now finds itself in.
However, the danger for Britain does not stop there. It is made up of the other nations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This formed the core of the behemoth that ruled much of the world in the years that went by. However, at the heart of it was always England which gave us the English language. Now those others are threatening to walk away—Scotland to the heart of Europe and Northern Ireland to join with their cousins in Ireland.
Who knows what Wales will do? Now from that expansive kingdom where the sun never sets, we are staring starkly at the possibility of having what will deridedly be called Little England. The lesson of Great Britain is one for all the expansive entities and kingdoms.
However mighty it may look, time and pride has a way of chipping at the edges until there is nothing left to hold. It is a worrying trend elsewhere in the world as well. Could we be staring at the end of the USA? The US has never been a world power in the same way that Great Britain was, but migration and being receptive to ideas and peoples made it great in economic and military power.
However, over the years, and now with policies limited entry into the land of the free, America is freezing. If Donald Trump wins the Presidency in November then we may very well be staring at the demise of another once great nation. Writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University