This is just another example of the silliness that this campaign has descended into, and when you add the wild frenzy of the British tabloids into it, it was inevitable that this would become a story for a day. The fact, though, that people used the Olympics non-troversey as an excuse to go back and dig up a quote from a book which they then blatantly misrepresented shows us the extent to which “journalism” has devolved. If you can’t find decent copy for the day, then don’t make stuff up guys.
I don’t think the quote from Romney’s book was evidence of his “contempt” for Britain (or England). What the shorter quote doesn’t show is that Romney’s “small island” description is part of his review of the causes of national/imperial decline. What is most annoying about this part of his book is not that he refers to Britain as small, but that he recounts late 19th and early 20th century British history in such a way that he can provide an all-too-pat morality tale about the sources of national greatness. For instance, he says, “Whereas other nations extended the manufacturing revolution by embracing new technology and innovation, the British reversed course and tried to contain it.” (p. 40) It would be more accurate to say that other nations (including the U.S.) aggressively pursued protectionist policies to build up their domestic industries, and Britain failed to adapt sufficiently. Remarkably, shortly after noting that British involvement in both world wars (which Britain was “forced to fight”) contributed to their loss of empire, he indulges in the usual sermonizing: “Over the centuries, the siren song of protectionism and isolationism have taken down some very impressive empires.” Yes, the history of the British Empire clearly teaches us that too much isolationism is the danger.
Romney also includes the Spanish Monarchy among those that fell prey to “protectionism and isolationism,” which is bizarre considering the role that Spain’s near-constant warfare in Europe had in bankrupting the monarchy and sending it into decline beginning in the 17th century. It is fair to say that Romney’s quick survey of early modern and modern history is a very superficial and not entirely accurate prelude to making the ideological point that he thinks “protectionism and isolationism” are undesirable and the root causes of decline. So Romney’s “small island” statement is ridiculous not because of what it tells us about his view of Britain, but because it is part of Romney’s tendentious hegemonist interpretation of history.
Mataconis also goes a bit awry here:
Despite many who may have wanted to, nobody has successfully invaded Great Britain in 946 years.
This is a misconception. The last successful invasion of Britain is what we now euphemistically call the Glorious Revolution, in which a foreign ruler launched an invasion of Britain from the Netherlands and seized power. Because William of Orange’s invasion suited the interests of those opposed to James II’s rule, and because it fit into a story of Whig and Protestant triumph, the fact that William sezied power by means of a foreign invasion was quickly reinterpreted as a story of heroic (and bloodless) liberation.