Review: Imperial Nostalgia, Peter Mitchell

Rating: 2 out of 5

This book looked promising–after all trying to describe one of the foremost social problems of the time should be. However, the author consistently failed to deliver on the promise, either by saying too little, not showing how what he was talking about was relevant, or not making sure how the text would read even a few months after putting it to paper.

The problem is British: the old country is wallowing in its former glories, an empire gained and lost, with which it now contends. Yet, with the author describing this thinking and this emotion, an explanation of how this attitude could be reversed was lacking. For a work that sought to highlight societal problems, it’s inability to actually get to the nitty-gritty of those problems and to describe either how they came about or possible options to alleviate the problems made it, in the long run, irrelevant.

Mir Mitchell’s objective seems to have been fully on documenting the problem. But, does it need to be documented in such a way? Is there anyone not ideologically (i.e., right to far right) motivated who would argue that the imperial problem does not exist? While the answer to those two questions might be “Yes”, it is also clear that such people would not pick up this title—hence the author’s effort in convincing the reader of the strength and ubiquity of the problem is without purpose. The option the author had, i.e., to use his historian’s background as a starting point for finding either a cure or the specific track of the poison, would have been much more apposite, and more interesting a subject as well—not to mention also making the book interesting to those who would politically disagree with the author.

Instead, other than some First World War examples relating to John Buchan and his characters Richard Hannay and Sandy Arbuthnot (Buchan is, by the way, eminently more readable than Mr Mitchell) the reader is thrust a number of modern examples, including Boris Johnson and Rory Stewart—who by mid-2022 is as irrelevant a Tory as one could possibly think of (which doesn’t mean this can’t change in the future). A chapter finishes with references along the lines of “just this month” which even such a short time after writing the work makes it feel extremely dated, though, I didn’t look the specific examples up to see how exactly they were solved—and whether the author’s proclamations that things seemed to be improving were actually borne out.

I read this in full, but I don’t think I would have missed much if I hadn’t.

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