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Borderline is a podcast for defiant global citizens covering geopolitics, immigration and lives that straddle borders, with host Isabelle Roughol.
Jonn Elledge: I think World War Two is
a big part of our national psychosis.
That was a point in which Britain
was unequivocally on the right side.
And it basically burnt up its empire
and its status as a global power to
help save the world from fascism.
But it means that that's kind of
the narrative we get instead of the
reckoning with the end of empire.
And yeah, I think that does
explain not quite all but almost
all of the politics of Brexit.
Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle
Roughol and this is Borderline.
My friend Jonn Elledge joins
us on the podcast today.
Jonn is the man that you want
on your team at pub quiz.
One that you will never be bored
sitting opposite at a dinner party
and that you definitely want in
your Twitter feed and in your inbox.
He is the author of The Compendium
of Not Quite Everything, a really fun
book full of short essays about...
not quite everything.
Jonn is just someone who knows
a lot about a lot of things.
And I brought him on the podcast thinking,
I'm not quite sure what we'll talk about,
but I'm sure it's going to be interesting.
And of course it did end up fascinating.
He an Englishman, me a French woman,
we ended up comparing our national
mythologies, the legacies of our
empires and why our national malaise
feels quite similar in both countries.
He even managed to maybe wade into a
topic I usually back away from slowly
and that's explaining differences
between French universalism and British
multiculturalism or US multiculturalism.
So a conversation freewheeling
in a lot of different areas
that ends up being fascinating.
We talked for over an hour.
I cut a bit.
But honestly, on a conversation like
this, if you start making cuts in
the middle, you really don't know
how you got from point A to point B.
So this is a one-hour episode.
You can enjoy it at your own pace.
I think you won't regret it.
Here's my chat with Jonn Elledge.
Jonn Elledge: Hello,
Isabelle Roughol: I have to make a
confession, which is it is the first
time in my career, definitely the career
of this podcast, that I scheduled an
interview no idea exactly where I want to
take it but but I feel like we're going to
end up somewhere fascinating in any way.
Jonn Elledge: also, I I'm,
I'm just chatting nonsense
is, is kinda my, my, my main
Isabelle Roughol: well,
that's, that's wonderful.
So, because of the topic of this
podcast, which you're familiar
with, I immediately jumped to the
section on, section two, I believe
on, on all the countries and the...
It's called the human planet and the
ligns we draw on it, which for a podcast
called Borderline is, is delightful.
And learned a bunch of stuff.
I don't even know which one is start with.
I was, and, that's, that's the marginalia
that you saw me posting on Twitter
that seemed to have pleased you, but
I was amused to note in the largest
countries and the smallest countries
that it is one of the world's smallest
country where one of the world's
largest countries has dumped all
the immigrants that it doesn't want.
Um, namely, the island of Nauru,
which hosts Australia's offshore
detention centers for migrants.
So that was a nice little tidbit.
Jonn Elledge: I didn't, realize that.
That's horrific there.
that is, that is cause it's I mean,
Australia is not, not short of space.
Isabelle Roughol: No, it's not.
it's adopted policies, you know, 10, 10,
15 years back now, that our own Priti
Patel is inspired by and would delight in
which is refusing any arrival by, by boat,
any, asylum seeker to Australian shores.
So they are captured and kept in detention
centers on the Pacific island of Nauru,
which has signed a deal with Australia.
A very, very poor country, obviously.
Very, very, few industries and,
and very impacted by climate change
so, the one thing that they have
is a, is an Australian detention
center where people can spend years
and years in horrid condition.
Jonn Elledge: I was going to, I was
going to say, I mean, it, it, it, it
is one of those countries that might
literally physically cease to exist.
on the those could be just be
under the waves by the end of the
Isabelle Roughol: Which you
would think would give Australia
a motivation to address climate
change, I guess if nothing else.
Jonn Elledge: But this is, this
is kind of the horror of this
kind of politics though, is like.
It's you do kind of think that maybe
that's, part of the sort of the, the, the,
this is the opposite virtue signaling,
vermin-signaling someone was called it.
It's deliberately incredibly
supervillain and horrible.
Cause that's how, how our, if the
Australian government wants to
communicate to its, to its voters that
it's being tough on, on, on immigration
and tough on, on, on refugees, which
is like the the idea that we would
ever want to be tough and refugees
is coming with quite seen in itself.
but just like the idea of dumping
people on an island that is going to be
underwater possibly in our lifetimes.
it's just that it's that it's proper
kind of James Bond villain shit.
Isabelle Roughol: It's something
that I had never heard about until
I moved to Australia a few years ago
is very little covered in Europe.
Even though we talk about immigration
policy a lot, but we don't necessarily
see how it's done elsewhere.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
It's I mean, I mean, particularly,
particularly, but I suspect there is
an element of it in much of Europe too.
Like we're quite, we're so sort of
insular, we kind of look a little, we look
to the U S and see what's going on there,
maybe a little bit from, from so Germany.
but often, or a little bit from Australia,
but like most we have no idea what's
going on in most countries in the world.
And suspect that's probably actually
like, I wonder how true that is of
a lot of other, I mean, I suppose if
you're, if you're Luxembourg, then, then
you kind of have to be more aware of,
of what's going on around the place.
And also you probably don't have
that much of your own news to worry
about, I suspect that kind of, the
tendency to be kind of focused on a
relatively small pool of countries and
be completely ignorant about what the
others I suspect is, is fairly universal.
Isabelle Roughol: is at least, um,
it's funny you should say that.
cause it's a, it's a journalistic
project I have a four
Borderline of a new newsletter.
You'll you'll hear it here first.
I don't know when that's going
to come out, but to do precisely
that, kind of comparative, study
of, of what's going on in the news.
at least in all the, countries I've
lived in it's, it's pretty insular.
some less than other, you know, in,
in, certainly in continental Europe,
you get more news somewhat of the
rest of Europe, but not really.
it was fascinating in Australia
that they are obsessed with
American news in many ways.
so, you would hear about some random
crime in Florida, it's always in Florida.
but not about, you know, very neighboring
countries and in Asia Pacific.
Jonn Elledge: I think that's, I mean,
I think, again, I suspect this is an
obsession with the U s is fairly, fairly
universal, but I think that's probably,
I'm not sure that's actually irrational.
I mean, one can argue about
what or how one defines.
I was going to say empire and boss
pay too strongly, but certainly
hegemon . It is a hegemonic power.
What happens in the U S what happens
in, in Washington DC and, you know, the
presidential elections in us foreign
policy and so on, does have an impact
on, on the rest of us in a way that
not that many countries politics do.
I mean, obviously lighting much of
Europe would have been paying a lot
of attention to the recent German
elections, for example, but, but
most countries elections are not that
relevant to most of the countries.
Uh, whereas obviously American
elections are going to have
an impact on the rest of us.
So I suspect between that and the kind
of the, the cultural dominance of, of
us products, means that I suspect that
kind of spills over into like paying
attention to kind of wacky crimes
in Florida and that kind of thing.
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, perhaps, perhaps.
Jonn Elledge: But it is, this helped
keep track of how many is it now?
27 different countries in you.
And plus like all the peripheral
runs as, as the UK, sadly
husband, has been relegated to.
you can't keep track of all these things
and fundamentally what the exact state
of the Slovenian government is, is
probably not going to impact your life.
Isabelle Roughol: Fair enough.
Jonn Elledge: So, yeah, I mean, I
don't think it's that weird that...
do think it's appalling that we
don't know in this, in this country.
I think there's appalling we don't
pay more attention to, to particularly
French and German politics because
that obviously they, they, you
know, be two big players in the EU.
And I think it's, it's insane how little,
how ignorant people were about how,
how the institutions of the European
Union work and what, what, what the work
going on in Brussels was actually is.
and I don't think that's, I don't
think that that's very far from
the only reason we ended up with
Brexit, but I do think that.
kind of ignorance, which people could
project their kind of worst fears onto,
was, was a big factor in where, why,
why there was such high levels of, of
your skepticism in this country that
Isabelle Roughol: Certainly helped on
by, by national politicians and and.
Britain is bad, but, but certainly not
the only one that's guilty of this.
certainly seen it in French politics a
lot where, because people know so little
about how EU institutions work, it's
very convenient when something unpopular
has to happen or, you know, a politician
doesn't get their way, blame Brussels, So
to speak, to blame the EU, because it's,
it's very convenient, in in election time.
And we we're, we're reaping
the, the consequences of
that even on the continent.
Though, I have to say that, what
y'all have done here has, pulled
back or, or, or slowed the tide of
Euro skepticism on the continent
because, it's not, it's not looking
so good what Brexit looks looks like.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah,
honestly, that's great.
I always want it to be a cautionary tale.
Isabelle Roughol: No, it was good.
Jonn Elledge: I mean, one of the things
I find it's one of the things I find
fascinating about Brexit and where it's
taking British politics is it did take
that vote to kind of generate a proper
pro European movement in this country.
and, and, you know, that's, that's
obviously a, a minority, even of the
the people who voted remain is quite a
small minority, but nonetheless, I think
there are a lot more people in Britain
who would consider themselves kind of
ardently pro European, then the word
before that referendum, in a fetlock good,
it's done this, but I do kind of wonder.
The these things do sometimes
kind of have unexpected
consequences over the longer term.
Don't they like, they're loving the
protest against the Iraq war didn't stop
the Iraq war, but then they'd help other
movements, other protest movements.
So I do see the wonder, what would happen
to all that kind of energy from like
the sort of the waivers, the society mad
FBPE people, or just kind of this sort of
it, or just the way it sort of energize
liberalism more generally in this country?
I think, I do think that there's
probably going to be playing out in
politics for, for, for quite a long time.
It's just to be able to see it right now
because we have this horribly liberatory
government of an 80-seat majority.
Isabelle Roughol: Those FBP
people we should, we should tell.
not everyone listening will know,
especially to non Brits who, who they are.
They're I don't even know who they are,
but I know they retweet me a lot and
they're very active in my mentions.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah, it's a hashtag.
It stands for, it stands.
FPP stands for fullback pro Europe.
It's a lot of effort went
into that, into that acronym.
but it's, it's, it's just people who
sit on Twitter all day being like
angrily, anti Brexit and pre repair.
And like I'm, I've always considered
myself very pro European by the founders
of this country and the like, I I'd
be quite up for European superstate.
I'd be quite for world superstar.
I think that's probably the way we need
to go to solve some of our problems.
I have no issue with the idea of like
handing sovereignty over to Brussels.
nonetheless, these people are a
bit too pro-European for my taste.
It's a bit Colby.
Isabelle Roughol: Which is,
which is saying something.
Perhaps I'm a bit, unquestioning
of everything EU, good, everything
current British government bad, which.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah, exactly that.
And it's like, I think this
country has been absolutely.
It is an absolute disaster zone
at the moment, but there are still
things about this country that
are, those are okay or even good.
And there are things about
bits of continental Europe
that's not working very well.
And there are things about like bras
was, is quite dysfunctional in many ways.
And I don't think you have to, I don't
think it's helpful to kind of like, just
start reading one side is as good in
the other side, this is always terrible.
I, I don't think that's
needed to understanding.
Isabelle Roughol: So you mentioned
a superstate, I'm a, I'm a bit of a
Federalist definitely, where Europe
is concerned, but w world superstate.
Tell, tell me more about that
and why is that a solution?
Jonn Elledge: Oh, I just mean, so, so
a lot of this is, is just being a nerd
and having grown up on a diet of like
TVs science fiction like star Trek
or whatever, where like, you know, if
you have like shows with spaceships
in set several hundred years in the
future, and they do tend to take it
for granted that, that at some point
there will be a, a single world state.
And partly that's
because otherwise you're gonna, it's
gonna complicate your plot mechanics.
But also it's because a lot of
these shows tend to sort of use
different alien races and so on.
It's kind of like a metaphors
for foreign policy and so on.
And so earth is basically
space America, isn't it.
But nonetheless, that kind of, that
does just sort of mean that's always on
some level in my vision of the future.
I think there are problems we
face that we come and solve at
at national level, like low.
The, if you kind of look at sort of
trying to manage, like this is a massive
global tech companies, that are bigger and
richer and more powerful than most actual
nation states, I don't think that the
architecture of 194 nation states isn't
necessarily the best way of doing that.
and there are times when
collective action is needed.
Like climate change is number one.
there are, there are problems.
I think we face that will be easier
to solve if you didn't have different
countries of, racing, competing in
a race to the bottom, basically.
but this is, this is
an absolute pipe dream.
This is not me saying this is where
I think things are actually going to
go, this has always been like this.
This was a factor in why I've always
been instinctively pro European, as,
you know, as someone who like, I, I.
Seven years of school learning French.
And I can barely speak a word.
I can just about read newspaper.
I have no European languages.
I've never lived anywhere else or the UK.
I'm quite parochial in many ways, but
I've always instinctually been quite
sort of internationalist and outlook.
And I think this is basically
I'm blaming star Trek for that.
Isabelle Roughol: Maybe that's
what we should do then in
schools and teach star Trek,
Jonn Elledge: that could
potentially open us up to charges
of child abuse, I suspect.
But, but yeah,
so like, the, the nation state is it
relatively recently mentioned, isn't it?
I mean, we often, a lot of our political
debate of takes it as, I mean, again,
again, like being parochial until
when I say a political debate, I'm
basically talking about this country.
Cause I can't read it for a newspaper.
but, but I do feel like a lot of the
debate does take it as read that there
is the nation is the net natural.
Of, of politics and government for
much of history, that's not been true.
you know, for most of history it's been,
you'd be, if you live in a city and
you have city states, you have empires.
and there's only been, and there's, I
think at this end of Europe, and nation
states slightly older, obviously both
in Britain and France are more than a
thousand years old and Scotland too.
that's even in Europe, that's
quite unusual, isn't it like a
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, and
Jonn Elledge: lot of European
nations are only a century or
Isabelle Roughol: I don't think
you could even, you know, define
Frances a nation state until.
Napoleon, maybe like
before that is kind
Jonn Elledge: they?
Isabelle Roughol: yeah.
I mean, French, French is a, is the
Patois, the dialect of, you know,
a tiny, tiny corner around Paris.
And they were, there was, you know,
different feuding aristocracy and,
the current borders of France are,
I mean, if you add, some voids,
it's, you know, it's 150 years old.
So, , we like to tell because you
know, nations are mainly into stories
to tell about themselves, right?
So we'd like to, in Britain,
you know, everyone talks about
10 66 and, and all of that.
and back into Carta and doomsday,
whatever I'm learning, I've only
been here five years, but, but a
lot of that is, is myth, right?
It's mythology to, to build a nation
more than, more than genuine history.
And then you go into like the diversity
of what these nations look like.
And I think a lot of people on
the right would be surprised.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
I mean, like took new
It's like we talk about the,
the, the Norman invasion of 1066
is kind of like the last time
England was successfully invaded.
And it's an absolute lie.
Like we were invaded by the Dutch in
1688, but we just rewritten history
to pretend to pretend that, William
of Orange was, was invited and he was
by one particular faction, which then
took power because he became king.
But it's not like king had before that
the whole country was crying out to
get this, to get this Dutch guy in.
It was by any reasonable
definition and invasion.
and we just don't, we don't talk about
it in those, in those terms at all.
We just pretend it was something else.
Isabelle Roughol: you know, when one
story that I, that I keep hearing in
England that was driving me crazy is these
kinds of, cliches about, the, the bread.
So the English specifically as, as
these, nice people who don't riot and
don't, kill their Kings and Queens versus
the dangerous revolutionary French.
And I actually did the math and you
guys killed a lot more kings and Queens.
And so we did,
Jonn Elledge: how many did we,
Isabelle Roughol: I counted
to accounted to beheaded.
I forget who they are.
Jonn Elledge: Charles Joseph's asked
is the one is the one that everyone
Isabelle Roughol: yes, that's the one.
Jonn Elledge: re Richard the second.
is deposed and dies.
I think the same is true
of Edward the second.
there's a lot of that guy, but the.
There's but you're right.
It's all, it's all narrative.
So I did the idea of silly piece of my,
my newsletter, recently just kind of
listing people who were by any reasonable
definition, consider themselves at some
point the monarch of England, but we
just don't count on the lists, including,
Louie abe, invaded in the 13th century
and was welcomed by the city of London
with open arms because, because king
Jonn was so deeply unpopular, he was
absolutely hated, to the extent that like,
everyone was like quite happy to get the
French king in and let him take over.
we just sort of like, there was a
six month period in which Louis V8
considered himself king of England.
And we just, we pretend
that never happened.
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I'm sorry to
say we are, we are pretty much cousins.
I'm Norman too.
So, you know, from the other side of
the water, but we're, we're pretty
much the same, the same people,
um, mythology, non withstanding.
Jonn Elledge: yeah, I wonder how it
looks to the rest of the world, the
lay like England and France, kind of
like both kind of, define themselves
against each other, to some extent for
much of the last 800 years or something.
but I suspect from the perspective,
much less rest of the world, they
look quite historically similar.
Actually, I suspect they don't look
like radically cause you know, they
were both very early nation states and
then the related of Imperial powers,
the women around the world doing,
doing horrible things to people.
and both they're both you
know, pretty, pretty arrogant
about their place in the world.
Isabelle Roughol: Yes.
Well, it was, it was my theory when
I was, when I was living in the U S
that France And the us were so often
at odds because essentially both
thought way too highly of themselves.
And the same can be said of, of, living
in Britain now, I think, it's, it's all
of these countries with very lofty ideas
of what they represent to the world who
end up quite surprised and, and hurt
in their ego when, Uh, turns out not
to be the case, which it feels like
the current malaise in, in, britain.
and certainly will sound very
familiar to the French as well.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
I mean, I think a lot of our problem
is we have, it's not even that
we've not come to terms with empire.
It's like, we just
stopped talking about it.
Like I think I found this
very early on in life.
Talk to Irish friends.
Realizing the extent to which the
history is taught in Irish school is,
is basically just a list of, English
atrocities who have used Scottish
atrocities and then British atrocities.
that is Irish history basically.
we are not taught any of that here.
And, you could, you couldn't be
because like, we were also busy,
performing atrocities in, in India
and then latterly in Africa too.
and, I don't, I don't know enough about
how other European Imperial powers have
kind of dealt with the legacy of this
stuff, but we just do not talk about
it, to the point we, at least we didn't.
Isabelle Roughol: Um,
Jonn Elledge: Campbell.
this means we have no idea what
their own history looks like.
Like the history I was taught at school,
just randomly because of the modules
that were chosen by the teachers.
did nothing between the execution of
Charles the first in 1649 and the rise
of Otto Von Bismarck in, in the 1860s.
and there's quite a lot that
happens in those two centuries.
And most of it involves going
around the world and stealing
other people's countries.
Isabelle Roughol: That's That's
the years of British slavery,
essentially that you just skipped over.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah, it is taught
in schools that Britain, the British
Navy abolished the slave trade.
And that is true.
It just does ignore the fact that
they also basically invented the
triangular, transatlantic slave trade.
Yeah, it's, we, we are just much
more comfortable with discussing
certain bits of a history level.
I mean, how is this the same in France.
How does it
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah.
It's, it's quite similar.
at the moment, it's interesting because
you'll have the whole war on woke and
all that has, unfortunately, crossed the
Channel after it crossed the Atlantic.
And it's definitely part
of the conversation and.
You know, it's something
that I realized as an adult.
I, I realized that I didn't learn
anything for instance, or very little
in school about the Algerian war.
you know, I, I know that it was a peace
treaty in 1962 and that, know, that
was, that was, thanks to De Gaulle or
at least that's how it's presented.
but you know, torture colonization, we
learned very little about colonization,
you know, besides, oh, you know, it
was a different time and it wasn't
immoral at the time, which, you
actually, you could argue plenty
of people it immoral at the time.
And during the 2017 campaign,
Macron called, called colonialism
a crime against humanity.
and it was quite a lot of
outrage about that, which, which
I found fascinating because.
I it from a family that was involved,
my grandfather was in a colonial
administration, obviously not in
a colonizing time, more in the
final years before independence.
and and he stayed on in Africa in a,
in a first decade of independence to,
to work with, with local governments.
And in a family like mine,
it was not shocking at all.
Like we have perfectly come to terms
with the fact that colonization was
wrong and that in that particular
case, you know, my grandfather was
saw he was doing the right thing,
but was on the wrong side of history.
But I think people who don't have
a closer knowledge of what, what
the empire was in a way, all they
have in their head is the mess.
and the very little that they got
about it in school and very warped
imagery that they got through
through media and through culture.
And so the notion is there's a word in
the public discourse in France, and the
knowledge I'll stop, but there's a word
in a public discourse in france called
the hood portals, which is, like you
know, being overly, sorry, and repenting
for things that you've done in the past.
And essentially people think that's
awful and that you shouldn't do it.
And that, you know, what's in the
past is in the past and let's move
on without ever apologizing for it.
Which I find just, I it's nothing.
it's something, I mean, it's been
in the discourse since I was a
child and I never understood.
I was like, if you've done something
bad, you should apologize for it.
That's what people do.
it's quite confusing to me.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah, it smacks
of insecurity, doesn't it?
Like if you think your country is
so great, then why can't you accept
that, that there are times that it
got stuff wrong, like, and it just,
I don't quite understand the sense
of that, that level of sensitivity
that means you call, except for that,
that the history is, is, has, has bad
stuff in it as well as good, you know?
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah.
I mean, the reaction in this country
to any suggestion that Winston
Churchill was not just a hero of World
War II, but it was also profoundly
reviled in India for his role there.
you know, the idea that there might be
more than one side to the character, seems
to really shock people, just like the,
um, the National Trust report, about the
connection of slavery, of, of some of
these beautiful estates to, to slavery and
Jonn Elledge: yeah.
Isabelle Roughol: and
to the colonial trade.
it's like, it's impossible to hold
two ideas in your head at the same
time that someone can be a hero
and a villain or something can be
beautiful and extremely tainted.
Jonn Elledge: So I think, I think
world war two is, as you will know,
having lived in this country for five
years, will go to is, is a big part
of our national psychosis just, and
they think it's that, you know, that
that was a point in which Britain.
You know, obviously we, we did the w
there were plenty of things that we got
wrong as well, but in the, in Britain
was was unequivocally on the right
side and it did a good thing, and it,
it basically burnt up its, its empire
and its status as a global power to,
to help save the world from fascism.
and so that becomes the narrative.
Like we say, like, because we, because
Britain was never occupied in the
way France was, we didn't have, we
didn't have a lot of the horror.
So it's seen, it's recently treated
as a bit of a sort the theme park.
but, but it means that that's kind
of the narrative we get instead of
the reckoning with the end of empire.
Like, we don't talk about the end
of empire because it just kind
of like faded away during and
immediately after world war II.
so, so instead of.
Instead of kind of looking at this
period in which, in which we would have
had to come to terms with the fact that
we'd been, we'd been, colonizing other
countries and that's not okay, really.
instead get this sort of heroic
narrative, you know, Britain stands alone.
So either nevermind the fact that's
got a half a billion people, in
this empire standpoint as well.
it just means that that sets the
narrative, rather than the end of empire.
and yeah, I think that does
explain not quite, all but almost
all of the politics of Brexit.
I think, someone, I think it was
the one-time guardian journalist.
Michael White said to me many, many
years ago I was doing, student, most
as dissertation on your skepticism
in the bin, the British press.
And he pointed out that there were
only two countries in the EU 15.
At that point it must have just expanded.
it was around 2004.
There were only two countries in,
in the U as events did that had not
been occupied at any point in the
20th century by enough of power.
And they were the United
Kingdom and Sweden.
And both of those were right
at the top of the year.
It gets in Charles because it is much
harder to conceive of, of firstly.
I think if, if, if you haven't been
occupied by foreign army, it is
easier to believe in the abstract
notion of national sovereignty.
And secondly, it is hard to see why you
need, international cooperation sometimes.
Isabelle Roughol: I mean it's
Jonn Elledge: So I feel
like babbling at your site.
Isabelle Roughol: no, no, no, not at all.
Not at all.
We're we're definitely, it's interesting
because we're, we're seeing the same
thing, you know, even in our countries
on the continent that have been occupied,
which is because that generation that
has known this has pretty much died off.
And the generation of
children who grew up.
With their parents remembering the
war is, you know, that's my parents'
generation and they're getting older.
and so there is an, even in a political
discourse, you know, there was certainly
a strong return if it ever went away
of anti-Semitism, that is and and
spoken out loud, of anti migrant and
anti-refugee sentiment of, of anti
European sentiment, that you just
wouldn't have heard 20, 30 years ago.
but because there was less and less
of that lived experience, you know, my
generation, we all had, pretty much all
had a Holocaust survivor or world war II
veteran come and talk to us at school.
Kids today don't get that, and so
that experience is slowly fading
away and the you can see it in
the, in the political discourse.
Jonn Elledge: a discussion is
probably not quite the right word.
Hasn't been much of a reckoning
with, with Vichy and whilst chunk of
Southern France basically collaborative
in those years, the blind blind?
The way we have blind spots
Isabelle Roughol: no, I think that is
pretty, that is pretty acknowledged.
it wasn't any, you know, years
immediately following the war, apparently.
I mean, I wasn't born, but it's
pretty much acknowledged now.
There was a wonderful,
french TV show, Videsh hall.
Say a French village.
I don't know what they translated
it in english, but that
was running for many years.
from French public television,
it's looking at one village
through the occupation.
So it starts when, when the Nazi.
Kind of when the war, until
deliberation and, and, it's looking
at one village and how people
behaved and it's extremely detailed.
and no one is a hundred percent good.
No one is a hundred percent evil either.
and so that, narrative, and that
was extremely popular in France.
And so I think that narrative is,
is pretty, is pretty well accepted.
I think we have at least got that.
Jonn Elledge: that's that's interesting
because yeah, like you mentioned
Churchill, and how he is just kind of
treated as this uncomplicated heroic
figures if he wasn't, you know, by not
even by modern standards, by the standards
of his own time, he was a racist as well.
but also even leaving that aside, can make
a fairly strong argument that, that it was
decisions he made that were responsible
for the Bengal Thurman of 1944, which
killed millions of people because of the
way he wanted to redirect resources from,
from, from what's now sort of Eastern
England, India, and Bangladesh to, to,
to the UK, to, to help the war effort.
and yeah, it's, you, you, you cannot
say, you cannot say that about Churchill
without getting absolutely piled on.
also, also later told me you were
about to go into poppy season.
Isabelle Roughol: Oh,
Jonn Elledge: season.
Isabelle Roughol: I, you know, I,
I lived in America, post nine 11,
I lift, and through the Iraq war.
So I'm well familiar with the
displays of, visual, patriotism,
Jonn Elledge: It's a
slightly room tone though.
Cause I think compared to both the U
S and I think even france and much of
Europe, like we don't really deal in
for, you know, public buildings, not
generally display flags, people did
not really kind of like have their own.
We don't tend to go in
for those to the public.
Patriotism, but for those who aren't
familiar, every November 11th is
remembrance day, which is the day we
were meant to remember the war dead.
And if that one remembered Sunday,
this the closest Sunday to that,
there's a minute silence and so on and
the parade and those kind of things.
but, but though the Royal British Legion,
which is a charitable body raising money
for veterans, has for first-line was
anyone can ever remember been selling,
paper puppies as a way of raising money.
as you get into sort of mid to
late October, you start getting
like public figures who appear
on TV without wearing a poppy.
We'll get pylons on social media.
biggest thing showing support for
a veteran it's, it's, it's insane.
Unlike like it's, you know, when
I, when I was a kid, I always used
to buy a pop and I always used to
wear it because they're quite nice
objects apart from anything else.
but now I feel like I don't
want to do that anymore.
I, because I don't want to, like,
I, I will give that I will make that
charitable contribution, but I do
not want to kind of look like I'm
taking that sides in a culture war.
And I wonder if, to some extent, this
is because we have got, we are getting
to the point, there are, there are
almost no veterans of the war, of Devin.
There's any veterans of
world war one at this point.
but I think there are very,
very few of world war two and
all in the nineties and so on.
I think it's because it is receding
into the past that other actors
have moved in and kind of like
politicize this for their own motives.
Isabelle Roughol: We'll be right back.
Hey, it's Isabelle.
I want to tell you about something
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Now, back to our conversation
with John Elledge.
Jonn Elledge: I do think like people are.
Don't realize quite what a recent
invention nation state was and how like,
you know, in, in, in the, in the, 19th
century, nationalism in europe was.
was seen as the progressive force,
but it was about self-determination.
It was about people kind of
taking, know, having taken control
of their own affairs from these
kinds of multi-national empires.
but for much of history that has been the
sort of unit you don't necessarily expect
to be in, in kind of a political unit
where everyone is from the same kind of
ethnic or linguistic group as yourself.
there there's a relatively, there's
a relatively, recent recent thing.
and, I, if, if you kind of look at this
at a grand sweep of human history, I
do not necessarily think that there
is a reason to imagine that the nation
state world is going to persist forever.
and I think it probably does get replaced
by something else, somewhere down the
line, even if we don't know what that is.
Isabelle Roughol: I interviewed, really
early on in the story of this podcast,
author, called Hassan Damluji, and he's
written this book called a responsible
globalist, and it subtitles is what
globalists should learn from nationalists.
And he essentially looks at how the nation
state was born and, and why it was such
a great success and how you could try and
essentially replicate that at a global
level and create that same feeling of,
you know, weird tribalism and belonging
to a nation, but at a, at a global level,
at this size of humanity, essentially.
the challenge is, as you were saying,
you know, with, with star Trek, it helps
to have an alien race to somehow create
some kind of us versus them dynamic.
It's very hard to unite people without
a sense of, uN other, that's, that's
out there that we need to unite
against even without going to war,
you know, but that sense of, we have
something in common that others don't.
Jonn Elledge: Would you think that's,
I mean, you were saying earlier
that like France as it is now really
only kind of comes, comes to be in
the Southern pony or liquor era.
Do you think a function
of that with the required?
There are quite a few years in
that time when like everybody else
in Europe was at war with you.
Do you think that was factor in the
kind of creation of a French identity?
The spreads were far beyond Paris.
Isabelle Roughol: Well, the French
identity I think it's something,
and I'm by no means an expert
scholar of this, but I think is very
interesting because it's something
that was very largely consciously
manufactured in the 19th century.
because people used to be much more
closely, attached to their region
and their local, their village.
People up into late into the 19th
century very frequently spoke their
local dialect much more fluently and
frequently than, than they spoke French.
And what the third Republic did so
that's the kind of the second half or
last quarter really of the, of the
19th century was, have, free and
Jonn Elledge: Um,
Isabelle Roughol: public schools that
in French and took kids out of their
families to teach them not only the
language, but also the values, the
Republican values kind of against the
church, which still was very powerful.
And so that sentiment of belonging to
the nation, which is also a sentiment
that is very Republican, in the, you
know, Republic sense of the world, not
the American Republican sense of the
word, that was very consciously created.
And so what's interesting is that,
essentially anyone can be French
as long as you adhere to that.
Which is why, you know, there's
French language, skill tests to pass,
to get into, to get citizenship.
and you know, I mean, there's been much
written about any English world about,
Lacy T and this idea of secularism and why
you can't wear a hijab in a French school.
So in a way, anyone can be French,
but as long as you very strictly
adhere to this notion of what it
means to be French, which was, which
was created in the 19th century.
So it's very different from English
or American multiculturalism.
And it doesn't necessarily adapt very
well to the 21st century into what the
population of France looks like today,
which is why there's a lot of tension
around these things at the moment.
Jonn Elledge: It feels to me that
like, like, France and Britain
have very different experiences
of, of multiculturalism.
There feels to me the like Britain's
from, from ethnic minorities are,
are more prominent in, in top
positions, in, you know, media or
entertainment or even politics.
I mean, two of the great offices
of states are helped by, sorry, two
of the four great offices of state.
the challenge is we're in the
home secretary, are held by,
by people of Indian heritage.
and it am I right in thinking that
it's not there, isn't really a direct
parallel for that in, in front of.
Isabelle Roughol: Um,
no, it certainly isn't.
I mean, the country is also, you
know, just, if you look at the
demographics less diverse done,
then, you can certainly in London.
but there is also, well,
there's two things.
One is, is, yes, there are still there
is still certainly, an institutional
racism though, even though if you say
that word in France, I will start over.
Ugly debate, but there is
certainly institutional racism.
there's also just kind of a
different notion of, of what it
means to, be a diverse society.
multiculturalism is kind of a dirty word.
The idea is that when you come to
friends and you become French, you
kind of shed what differentiated you.
so I have many issues with that because
that essentially, is a lot easier to do
if you're a white Christian immigrant.
And if you are a black Muslim immigrant,
for instance, but, but essentially,
those, those differentiations
aren't made in the same way.
You don't, you don't hyphenate, You
know, you're not, you're not Indian
French in a way that you can be,
British, south Asian or you're not,
they're very, very different, notions.
My gosh, I really, we need a scholar to
explain this, to explain this better.
but yes, there was very, very much
fewer minorities in government
and in positions of power.
and even when they are there, um, tend to
not draw attention to, to that difference.
Jonn Elledge: I should say, cause I
could have started you down this road.
I should say this is not me saying
like Brittany's like a multicultural
paradise where like we then did racism
was I absolutely don't think that,
that's absolutely not my, my position.
but it is kind of
fascinating the way, like.
Pretty much every country or every
country over any diversity of
population in it does seem to issues
kind of like racism and prejudice and
Isabelle Roughol: Oh,
Jonn Elledge: but they do, they
do manifest completely different
in different countries in a way
I find like weirdly fascinating.
Isabelle Roughol: It's a
really fascinating conversation
and debate that's happening.
Unfortunately it's not always done with a
very calm demeanor or attitude to it, but,
you know, essentially a lot of people in
France see multiculturalism in the British
or the American fashion arrive in France.
And certainly gen Z is much more his
influenced by American culture and is
certainly much more of that perspective
on things, which in France has called
essentialist, which is essentially
defining people by their origins, by
their skin color, et cetera, versus
France aspires to be universalist, which
is essentially everyone is the same and
those differences don't exist, which is
you know, a nice and lofty ideal, but it's
not actually how people treat one another.
It's certainly not how
the state treats people.
So a bit like an, I don't see color
kind of thing, which isn't real.
but, but that, French institutions
still very much hold on to, and
I have, I have some sympathy for
it, because how to expresses...
I do feel sometimes, you know, and
that's the French in me, that those
differentiations are too exacerbated
in a public discourse, to the point
that it becomes the only thing
that you start to see about people.
And that makes those conversations very
difficult to have across communities.
and so they end up being a bit siloed.
But, I also think that the French
way you really won't and cannot
last, because that's certainly not
how younger French generations see
it today, but that makes sense.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
My brain is completely gone home.
Isabelle Roughol: No, I mean.
we, we went, we went in a
completely somewhere else.
Jonn Elledge: we've been all
Isabelle Roughol: That's going
to be an interesting edit.
Jonn Elledge: one of the things
I find, I mean, one of the many,
many, almost infinite number of
things I find depressing about
Brexit and everything that has
come from it, one of them is that.
like, in some ways like Britain
is Britain is I think it might be
the most multicultural country in
Europe is certainly near the top.
There's plenty of, you know, young,
black, British men particularly
are going to face loads of racism.
And so it's not like we don't have
huge issues, but you can also point to
certain things and say, okay, there are
bits of this we are doing quite well.
and none of that Is is the narrative
we are, we are telling about
ourselves because It's all...
I mean, I suppose, I suppose to some
extent, the Brexit vote worst, to some
extent, a kind of reaction against the
success of, of multiculturalism and
liberalism and, you know, and those
are, cause these, these qualities can
get tied up with bound up with London
as a city, which is in, as, as you'll
know, living here, you know, it's a
huge international city it's and you
can be from anywhere and be a Londoner.
And no, no, one's really going
to question that and it's kind of
possible to switch allegiance to a
different city And where you can't
switch nationalities quite so easily.
so like to an extent, Brexit was an
older generation kind of kicking back
against the fact that their kids are a lot
more diverse and liberal than they are.
but nonetheless, it does kind
of mean the face that Britain
has shown the world recently.
And England particularly is, is
that of kind of like a sort of
like aging middle-aged reactionary.
whereas I think from a liberal
internationalist perspective, I
think there are, there are a lot of
things about this country that we,
we we can actually be quite proud of,
but there's other ones that we've,
we've foregrounded the top recently.
We've just got this there's nasty, the
nasty people hate foreign isn't church.
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, it's been,
it's been extremely dissonant
for me as an immigrant here.
Jonn Elledge: When did
you arrive by the way?
Isabelle Roughol: So I arrived.
I got my contract to move here on
the day of the Brexit referendum.
Yeah, So it's easy to remember.
I was living in Australia at the time.
and I had, you know, already my, my
company moved me here, had already
had that conversation with my
boss and I was already emotionally
invested in, in moving to London.
And, and I got the contract on the day
of the referendum and kind of watch the
news, you know, it was, it was daytime
in Australia, watched the news, watch
my contract was like, what do I do?
but I was, I, you know, I was, I was like,
oh, they can't possibly, you know, Dell,
Dell, Dell Brexit, but not really eat.
I'll stay in the single Martin and CA you
know, they just did just shot themselves
in the foot, but it won't be that bad.
you know, didn't see the
next five years coming.
Jonn Elledge: I mean, I sort of think
it was sorry I interrupted, but I, I saw
the think it was the, it was because it
was quite a close vote that, yeah, it
was like a couple of points could move.
So you can make a compelling
argument that almost anything
could have swung it the other way.
But I think one of the weird side
effects of this is, the, the, the
pro-Brexit leaves sides kind of
had to go around talking as if
it was an overwhelming mandate.
Like, I think the very narrowness
of it meant that they didn't feel
they could compromise, which is not,
I'm not saying this is good
behavior, but I can sort of like,
see how, how it happens in her life.
If it had been 60 40 for leave, it
probably would have been much easier
to kind of, cause they wouldn't have
been that insecurity about whether
or not it was actually going to
happen because you know, that we
use, you know, there were, there were
several years where it genuinely felt
like maybe we could walk it back.
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah.
When you think that today, if you did the
vote again, you know, it wouldn't pass.
if, if you citizens that live in
the UK had had the right to vote
the same way that Commonwealth
citizens did, it wouldn't have fast.
If 16 year old had had the right to
vote, who are being, you know, who
are young adults now impacted by it?
it wouldn't have happened either, but
it has been really, really dissonant
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
Isabelle Roughol: how wonderfully
welcoming London has been and
diverse on probably of all
the cities that I've lived in.
I've lived in many, the place that
feels most easy to be myself in as a.
As a French woman, who's, not French
enough and two feminists for Paris.
and as a, I mean, it's just,
it, you know, it feels right.
The city does, but in the country really
doesn't and I've often considered leaving
and I'm still decide, because the politics
have been so hostile to people like
myself and has been made so much more
complicated by literally having to have
an Excel spreadsheet where I counting the
days that I spent outside the country.
So I don't lose my eligibility for settled
status and for citizenship next year.
So it's yeah.
Jonn Elledge: There's as we were talking
about at the top of the show load that
Australia dumping all its refugees on the
island country an hour, it, it's the same
kind of impulse you see in the British
home office to deliberately make things
as unpleasant and as difficult as possible
as a signal to, both, to, to, you know.
both as a signal to say, to tell
people not to come here, but also as
a signal to particular voters that it
just being hard-lined on this stuff.
it's yeah, it's just awful.
I mean, they do kind of feel like
you said, you sort of imagined
we'd stay in the single market.
My sort of suspicion is that
long-term we probably end up back in.
the single, I don't, I don't imagine
whatever, if that makes it a grand
unified theory of Brexit is that like
whatever happens in, however, the
vote had gone in 2016, our long-term
destiny is to end up in, in the single
market, but not in any political union.
Like even if li even if remain had won
that referendum, there will, at some point
be a country called Europe and Britain
would not want to go into that, but they
do kind of think the economic logic of,
of being part of the single market will,
will over time, become overwhelming.
I think we're probably just going to
very gradually rebuild our position
in, the single market piece by piece.
what that means for,
for, freedom of movement.
I don't know.
I spent probably a way of being able
to walk that one back, but spare,
they do kind of think we would,
you know, too much of our trade is
naturally going to be review Europe.
and this one's going to be hard
because there's going to be loads of
there are going to be empty shelves
because you can't get products into.
Isabelle Roughol: I'm I'm, I'm going home.
I've booked my ferry tickets.
I'm going home for Christmas.
Knock on wood.
provided, rules don't change again.
I'm going, I'm going home with my car.
so I'll come back with a car full of food.
So, you know, take your orders now.
I'll, I'll make sure to do my
part like Dunkirk style two to
supply, to supply England with
a much needed food and petrol.
Jonn Elledge: Please, please.
We need all the help we can get right now.
Isabelle Roughol: Oh, well, I mean,
that's, that's a whole other, that's a
whole other episode potentially, but,
I'm fascinated with how the backlash
on globalization ends up destroying
free movement, but maintaining.
Ultimately we'll maintain free trade
because there's too much money at stake.
and capital won't let it happen.
but so I find it fascinating that
essentially people are rightly identifying
all the problems of capitalization, but
they're taking it out on migrants instead
of taking it out on, you know, re you
know, global capital that's run amok.
It's yeah, that's a whole
other episode, as I said,
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
it's going back to the state of
play last winter, it was literally
easier to get into this country as a
virus than it was as a human being.
which, which feels slightly
the wrong way round.
but we all, we all, we all should
like, should I, sorry, just conscious.
I, the name of the book or something,
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, absolutely.
Tell us, tell us about the book please.
Shamelessly, uh, plug it.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
So the book is called The
Compendium of Not Quite Everything.
It's out now from, from headline.
and it's about a hundred sort of
mini essays on all sorts of topics.
Just random things that I
find interesting, really.
So it starts with some creation,
lifts, and then my sort of 800 word
summary of the big bang and the
creation of the universe and evolution.
There's a lot of stuff about galaxies
and stars and planets and stuff, or
how many countries are in the world.
And that one of the biggest islands
and bits on the history of numbers
and mathematics and this person
particularly stupid wars, that's a fun
Isabelle Roughol: That is a fun one.
A lot of them about cows,
Jonn Elledge: There's certainly,
there've been surprising.
Number of wars where the cows,
although my FA my favorite of the
stupid wars is the, the, the EMU
Isabelle Roughol: the EMU war.
Especially the EMU one.
Jonn Elledge: which she, Australian
army went to war against some
large flightless birds lost twice.
it's one of my favorite
stories from all of history.
but yeah, there's, the, the very nice line
in, in, in, the review in the, daily mail.
So the, the it's very unlikely.
You'll be interested in everything in
this book, but it's extremely unlikely.
You will be interested in something,
so, you know, please buy it, please
buy it for anyone in your life.
You don't know what to get for Christmas
because they will hopefully enjoy it.
Isabelle Roughol: I
will, I will second that.
And I think for listeners to this
podcast, I was saying earlier, the,
the second section is, is fascinating.
I appreciate that as an Englishman,
you are English, right?
Yes, you are.
Jonn Elledge: boringly English.
I live in, I live in
the east end of London.
I once tried tracing my, my, my family
tree and I got back as far as my great,
great, great grandfather, Jonn Elledge,
which is the same as my name who lives
in the same postcode as I do now.
So like all that's happened in
200 years as that I've learned
to misspell my own name.
Isabelle Roughol: Well, I
we're, we're big into genealogy.
My brother has gone back to
like the 13th century, I think.
And the, and we're French.
It's extremely boring.
All the time, like there, you know,
we've moved a bit from, essentially
we've, at some point people went up to
Paris to try and get rich, which they
did, but then they got poor again.
but it's just a story
of many families really.
but no, I appreciate that in the
book, as an English man, you, you
recognize how absolutely bonkers the
Imperial system of measurement is.
It is the
Jonn Elledge: there's
no internal logic to it
Isabelle Roughol: none.
Jonn Elledge: So yeah, there is
an entry that's just to me getting
increasingly furious Imperial
Isabelle Roughol: Hmm.
Jonn Elledge: and like the metric system
is one of the best things that France has
Isabelle Roughol: it.
Jonn Elledge: the world.
Towering intellectual achievement.
Isabelle Roughol: We make, we make up
for it by counting and really weird ways.
so do you know how you see 90 in French?
I mean, you've taken
seven years of French.
Jonn Elledge: I can do
that's the bit I got.
Isabelle Roughol: it's Katelyn Vandy.
So it's four times 20 plus.
Jonn Elledge: Yeah.
Isabelle Roughol: is the
weirdest way of saying 90.
So we do have some quirks as well.
Jonn Elledge: Well, isn't that
what makes a nation really?
Isabelle Roughol: Well, that's,
that's a good line to end on.
Thank you so much, Jonn really
appreciate this, this conversation
of not quite everything, we didn't
do quite everything, but almost
I appreciate it.
Jonn Elledge: That's very, much.
My vibe is just like, I'm just trying to
work out how to kind of monetize talking
notes in this about random subjects.
That's kind of like plan for the
Isabelle Roughol: Well, and,
and you do it very well.
and we should say you have a
newsletter of the same source
as well that people can sign
Jonn Elledge: because the newsletter
is not quite everything, is, you
know, the brand and the gene,
Isabelle Roughol: Yeah,
you've got a brain there.
Jonn Elledge: there has also been, the
podcast is not quite everything, which
we've just, we've, we've just finished the
first season of, in which basically have
a fairly rambling conversations like this.
And he, with me as the
interviewer with, with an expert.
So I spoke to, people like the
historian, Alexandre kinsmen, or the
comedian, the hair Shaw, or a guy
called , who's a German astronomer.
Who's the guy, who's the first man
to take a picture of a black hole.
So it's, it's completely random.
It's just based on me finding interesting
people I wanted to talk to, which
is the dream really as a journalist.
Isabelle Roughol: I mean, that's,
that's why we chose this profession.
So we'll make sure to put all the
links in the show notes so people can
go and buy the book, sign up for the
newsletter, listened to the podcasts,
all with my warm recommendation.
Thank you so much, Jonn.
Jonn Elledge: Thank
you much for having me.
Isabelle Roughol: My pleasure.
The Compendium of Not Quite
Everything by Jonn Elledge is
available now from headline.
And I can confirm that it definitely
makes for a great Christmas present
because yes, we're already there thinking
about Christmas presents, for people
with a curious mind in your life.
You'll also find links to the podcast of,
not quite everything and the newsletter
of not quite everything in the show notes.
This is also my opportunity to tell you
that if you buy the book from the link in
the show notes, or from Borderlinepod.com,
you will be supporting Borderline.
I've opened a bookshop, simply an
affiliate program with bookshop.org,
which supports independent bookstores
in the UK and the U S and through
this affiliate program can now also
support this independent media.
You'll find books from guests on the
podcast, anything that's referenced
or talked about here, as well as other
recommendations that I think Borderline
listeners and readers will enjoy.
All you need to do is click through the
Borderline bookshop, you'll buy the books
in just the same way as you usually do,
but it will help support this podcast.
As I mentioned last week, I'm
back in school, learning how
to grow and improve Borderline.
I am testing new products, including
this new newsletter, and I am
therefore extremely pressed for time..
Podcast production takes an insane
amount of time, I can't even tell you.
And unfortunately is taking
me away from doing a lot of
other things and from writing.
So the podcast is going to go biweekly
in order to give a little breathing
room for other projects to emerge.
I hope you'll stay tuned.
In fact, from talking to a lot of
you, I know many have a backlog
of episodes to listen to because
these are quite dense and long.
So giving you a little bit more time
as well to get through the archives.
Let me know what you think.
You can always reach out to me at
ISA at Borderline pod.com or through
the Borderlinepod.com website.
I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol.
Music was by Ofshane.
Borderline is a One Lane
Bridge production, and I will
talk to you in two weeks.