Boris Johnson the Counter-Revolutionary
Boris Johnson, the shape-shifting politician who is now Britain’s foreign secretary, embodies many of the contradictions of our age. He did more than anyone to bury the UK’s European future, but his ultra-flexibility may yet prove to be Britain's – and Europe's – salvation.
LONDON – If history repeats itself – first tragedy, then farce – what comes next is Boris Johnson, a shape-shifting politician who embodies the contradictions of our age. Johnson is a tribune of the people who grew up with the privileges of the 1%; a child of immigrants who campaigned for closed borders; a Conservative who wants to upend the political order; an erudite man who mocks expertise; and a cosmopolitan who casually calls black people “piccaninnies.” Johnson did more than anyone to bury Britain’s European future; but his ultra-flexibility may yet prove to be its salvation.
In his first public appearance after being appointed Foreign Secretary, Johnson compared the Brexit vote to the French Revolution. Provoking boos at the French Embassy’s Bastille Day celebration, he hailed the referendum as “a great popular uprising against a stifling bureaucratic ancient regime (sic) whose democratic credentials had become very far from obvious.”
But the Brexit vote – with its promise to recreate the Britain of yesterday – is less revolution than counter-revolution. Boris and his band of Brexiteers have more in common with Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who overturned the French republic to create a new monarchy, than with Danton or Robespierre.