Exceptionalist ideas have long influenced British foreign policy. As Britain begins to confront the challenges of a post-Brexit era in an increasingly unstable world, a re-examination of the nature and causes of this exceptionalist bent is in order.
Arguing that Britain's search for greatness in world affairs was, and still is, a matter of habit, Srdjan Vucetic takes a closer look at the period between Clement Attlee's "New Jerusalem" and Tony Blair's New Labour. Britain's tenacious pursuit of global power was never just a function of consensus among policymakers or even political elites more broadly. Rather, it developed from popular, everyday, and gradually evolving ideas about identity circulating within British – and, more specifically, English – society as a whole. To uncover these ideas, Vucetic works with a unique archive of political speeches, newspapers, history textbooks, novels, and movies across colonial, Cold War, and post–Cold War periods.
Greatness and Decline sheds new light on Britain's interactions with the rest of the world while demonstrating new possibilities for constructivist foreign policy analysis.
Srdjan Vucetic is associate professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa.