England's favourite poem, Rudyard Kipling's 'If' , says that triumph and disaster are the same thing. It also enjoins the English to 'lose, and start again at your beginnings/ And never breathe a word about your loss.' Most modern English heroics are screw-ups, retreats or disasters: the charge of the Light Brigade, the doomed Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, 'Scott of the Antarctic', Gordon of Khartoum, the flight from Dunkirk. The parallels with Brexit are obvious, but the problem is that the cult of heroic failure was developed precisely in an empire that could afford to play up its failures because it was so successful. Its pathos becomes bathos in a post-imperial world. Failure is no longer heroic - it is just failure.
Brexit is essentially an ultra-Thatcherite project of deregulation. In its own bizarre way, it is a kind of English revolutionary storming of the Bastille or the Winter Palace. On the Right, this idea of the single historic moment from which there is no going back has great appeal. The 'illiberal democracy' pioneered by Vladimir Putin has refined the idea. Once the strong man (Putin, Viktor Orban, Recep Tayyip Erdogan) has taken power, he embodies the will of the people and is therefore entitled to control the media and the judiciary and crush dissent. But history does not work like this. And democracy doesn't function if we believe that a Year Zero can change the world for ever.
Fintan O'Toole's ruthless dissection of the psychology and politics of Brexit is a stirring call to preserve democratic values and rational thought.