Exceptionalism is defined as “the perception or belief that a species, country, society, institution, movement, individual, or time period is “exceptional”. It is the idea that a particular group can do no wrong and can plough through any situation and come out on the other side smelling of roses. One of the most concentrated examples of this is British Exceptionalism; a concept which will forever hold back the country and its something which nations around the world have noticed for years.
The essence of British Exceptionalism has been exposed during the coronavirus pandemic. The overconfidence of dealing with a dire situation was born out of the Second World War. ‘Two World Wars and one World Cup’ is how the song goes, and the message which is reflected by many people within this country. Far too many on this island believe that Britain beat the Nazis single handed. Best not to go into too much detail and the huge amount of support from the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth and the USA.
In 2020 we have seen the worst of this exceptionalism. The cancellation of VE Day commemorations was a disappointment given the significance of the year, but the context of the event happening whilst strict lockdown regulations were still in place brought out a level of British exceptionalism rarely seen before.
The slow response to the virus reeked of overconfidence from Britain and the Conservative Party. Whilst economies across Europe shut down, Britain’s remained open for several weeks. This, on top of the unclear stance on lockdown regulations and wearing face coverings, combines a confidence of not following the path of other countries and the sheer incapability of leading the country through the pandemic.
The Blitz Spirit attitude which many wanted to adopt in order to get us through the pandemic was loosely promoted by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives. Johnson clearly had himself down as the Winston Churchill of this national crisis, yet his party’s handling of the pandemic is far from competent. British exceptionalism is being so arrogant from a war three quarters of a century ago that you think it is possible to outsmart a virus. You cannot clamber over the top and charge, bayonet in hand, towards a disease; but try telling that to those deepest within this nation’s exceptionalism.
Running alongside coronavirus as a front runner in outing British exceptionalism is Brexit. The similarities are aplenty. Leaving the European Union is seen as being able to regain British freedom into the world. Is being part of one of the biggest trade agreements on the planet going to prevent this nation’s Britishness shining through? Absolutely not, because it never has in the past.
A national small-mindedness and believing to be a shining beacon of an island is delusional bordering on comical. We have achieved so much as a nation, but to act like an exceptional country better than any other is an attitude which is so outdated. It is this kind of perspective which Britain had during the days of the Empire, an Empire which many probably wish still existed.
Britain has a colourful history and it has plenty of reasons to be proud. However, British exceptionalism takes this pride several steps too far. What use is Britain moving forward as a global economic power if its leaders and many of the population believe that the country is better than any other?
Exceptionalism is a hindrance within a society. It creates an ill-deserved arrogance, which becomes clear within members of each and every social class. Within Britain, exceptionalism will hold back the nation. Unfortunately, there is seemingly not enough emphasis to move on and leave this mindset in the past.