One of the many admirable aspects of Japanese culture is that they have developed strong taboos against triumphalism in politics. When one person scores a clear political victory over another there is pressure for him to play down that win and to present the result as a compromise. It’s the natural response of an island nation to early modern political turbulence and division, which harbours a desire to never repeat the experience. Likewise with the British, who after the wars of the three kingdoms became adept at creating a political system that rewarded compromise and discouraged extremism.
Like many of the good things we’ve come to grow up with, the downside of political compromise is that we easily forget how unnatural it is, and how it has to be worked at. Tolerance of wildly different world views does not come naturally to most of us; people feel more comfortable surrounded by people who share their ethos. The British, so used to a society in which moderation was the norm, have been taken by surprise by the growing cultural divide in politics, in particular the split over the big issue of the day: the global versus the local.
The Brexit referendum was not the cause of this; rather it was simply an opportunity to play it out. It was unfortunate in a way that the referendum did not ask us to vote for a particular alternative to the EU, whether it be European Economic Area membership or the World Trade Organisation option; as a result it did become something of a culture war, and a quite ugly one. Since then we’ve had a sort of deranged optimism on the one side, and millennial hysteria on the other.
You’d think that British culture was falling apart at the seams, yet despite all this a clear majority of people are not hardcore Brexiteers or Remainers.