The image of society and that of the national-populist edifice, therefore, is always in flux and ambivalent at its core. It is here that fantasy is key to understanding the impossible promise of national-populist unity and, equally important, the affective investment that the national-populist fantasy entails. Fantasy arises out of a need to cover for lack, the hole or gap in one’s sense of identity and indeed in the imaginary wholeness of society. Fantasy is thus a support of sorts for the incompleteness of social reality that is more real and less real to that of society, the nation, the state or any form of imagined collectivity, and that precisely because of this must aspire continuously to recapture its being/becoming in the world .
Fantasy thus always attempts to frame the ideal society in which we wish to live; it sets the criteria by which the ‘good life’ can be attained, as it constantly strives to cover the lack, the incompleteness and indeed void of and within society. As such, fantasy constantly aspires to account for the unpredictability, indeed the contingent nature of social life by providing an ideal and reassuring blueprint for a fixed and structured world, a certain necessary utopia ([57, pp. 99–121], see also ), that is, the future promise of fulfilment in which fantasy is realized and enjoyment is attained, although a realization that can never be realised as I explain below. Fantasy, therefore, both renders a narrative of societal completeness and ensures such closure is never reached [38, 87,88,89, 69, 90]. Fantasies and here the fantasy of national unity embedded in and expressed through statehood, the fantasy of nation/state homogeneity so endemic to modernity/modernism [91, 36, 92,93,94], ‘… obfuscates the true horror of a situation: instead of a full rendering of the antagonisms which traverse our society, we indulge in the notion of society as an organic Whole, kept together by forces of solidarity and co-operation’ [68, p. 5; see also 68, 95, pp. 47–60].
The national-populist fantasy, moreover, should not be read as reality’s antonym. As Žižek [68, p. 57] suggests, ‘[i]n the opposition between dream and reality, fantasy is on the side of reality…’. Ideas and conceptualisations of an imagined collectivity should not be dismissed as such, as imagined, or merely institutionalised through practices, institutions and/or habits. Rather, the fantasy of national-populist unity is that which constructs and renders reality possible—a reality that is contingent and in which society, the people, the nation, ‘we’ is anything but a homogeneous symbol . In the Lacanian architecture of the three registers—The Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary [96, 97, pp. 139–163]—fantasy is the narrative that enables us to escape the horror and trauma of the Real, as that which cannot be symbolised, and offers instead a ‘smoother’ reality [98, pp. 1133–1136]. This is because ‘fantasy is basically a scenario filling out the empty space of a fundamental impossibility, a screen masking a void’ [82, p. 126, see also 40, pp. 19–20, 41, pp. 33–34, 69]. To Zevnik [95, p. 629], drawing on the Lacanian concept of Che vuoi?, ‘fantasy secures and reinsures the subject of the necessity of its mandate’ by reassuring us with what the Other wants from us, what is expected from us, or what the Other desires (an ambiguous process that entails its own failure and anxiety as I explain below).
As Arfi  and Eberle [88, 89] clearly explain, fantasy both renders the narrative of completeness possible and prevents it from obtaining full closure. It is here that I return to the importance of failure and the political in the analysis of the national-populist fantasy because as we learn from Lacan, fantasies always include their own failure, the explanation why the fantasmatic futurity [40, 41] has not yet been attained. As Glynos and Howarth [99, p. 147] put it:
Fantasy operates so as to conceal or close off the radical contingency of social relations. It does this through a fantasmatic narrative or logic that promises a fullness-to-come once a named or implied obstacle is overcome ... or which foretells of disaster if the obstacle proves insurmountable.
Failure is therefore at the heart of the national-populist fantasy because it is the lack and void of national subjectivities, and the people concept nationalism always requires [26,27,28, 37, 100], that propels the fantasy of national unity, which in turn must explain and articulate its own impossibility: its inherent failure. This failure, or obstacle, nonetheless, is what constitutes subjectivity, the national-populist subjectivity, since it is loss and alienation that make the ‘basic condition of the formation of subjectivity and agency’ [77, p. 336].
We could approach this duality in the functioning of fantasies by distinguishing between fantasy1 and fantasy2. Fantasy1 is the alleged unifying narrative of the national story, the narrative that captures all potential antagonisms and contradictions and clearly stipulates one’s national roots, one’s present importance in ‘working together’ and in setting one’s collective destiny. Fantasy2, however, is the obstacle, the Other whose existence and continuous meddling in ‘our’ affairs is the cause of ‘our’ inability to fulfil ‘our’ potential and to be finally a united nation, one people. As Žižek [5, pp. 685–686], see also  puts it:
Fantasy1 and fantasy2 … are thus two sides of the same coin. Insofar as a community experiences its reality as regulated and structured by fantasy1, it has to disavow its inherent impossibility, the antagonism at its very heart – and fantasy2 gives body to this disavowal. In short, the success of fantasy1 in maintaining its hold depends on the effectiveness of fantasy2.
Fantasies operate such that they offer ‘…. a fullness-to-come once a named or implied obstacle is overcome … or which foretells of disaster if the obstacle proves insurmountable [99, p. 147]. The two campaigns advocating Brexit, Vote Leave and Leave.EU, demonstrate the two sides of national-populist fantasies. On the one hand, the promise was one of a bright, hopeful and utopian future. A future of success, greatness, and wealth in which the British people is its main source of legitimacy and its referent-object. At the same time, failing to leave the EU, would result in loss of money, control and descent into undemocratic rule by Brussels and growing immigration. The two aspects of an effective and affective fantasy, fantasy1 as the utopian future and fantasy2 as the obstacle, were present in the months leading to the Brexit vote in June 2016 and ever since, especially during the campaigns for the European parliamentary elections in May 2019.
The key slogan of Vote Leave (2016), the formal campaign to leave the EU, was ‘Vote Leave, take back control’ , clearly sliding between the utopian future outside the EU and the catastrophe which is lurking behind the corner if the UK failed to vote leave during the referendum and deliver on the Brexit vote since. The webpage, Why Vote Leave, on the online website of Vote Leave, gives the viewer two expandable tabs: one in light blue colours entitled ‘If we vote to leave the EU’, the other in red entitled ‘If we vote to stay in the EU’ . What would happen…
If we vote to leave the EU,
Click to find out http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/why_vote_leave.html
The first tab, as above, offers the viewer a utopian future of saving money that goes to the EU and can be spent at home on various public goods like the National Health Services, schools, housing and more. Moreover, the fantasy of British sovereignty, control over borders and spending is represented in an imagery that taps into existing British culture and its symbolic order such as the NHS sign, Britain’s island status and geography and of course the British national flag. As such, the online campaign of Vote Leave is able to fantasmatically and emotively play into the national-populist imaginary.
The obstacle, or threat, is encapsulated in this promise and presented in the following tab entitled: If we vote to stay in the EU . If we vote to stay in the EU, the campaign advises us, the EU will enlarge to include Serbia and Turkey, amongst other countries, thus bringing more pressure on the UK in terms of immigration, budget and curtailing UK’s ability to legislate its own laws. The obstacle is therefore loss of control, demographic change and loss of Britishness (i.e. loss of Whiteness), and a society descending into chaos.
If we vote to stay in the EU,
Click to find out http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/why_vote_leave.html
The informal, and often more blunt campaign to leave the EU, LEAVE.EU, offered an even stronger aspect of fantasy2, the obstacle or threat to come if we fail to obtain fantasy1. A good example is the infamous campaign ad sponsored by LEAVE.EU and the UKIP Party, then led by Nigel Farage, which appeared throughout the country just weeks before the referendum vote. The ad made clear references to the flow of refugees throughout Europe in 2015, mostly from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan, as well as using an imagery that is strikingly similar to Nazi propaganda, thus clearly invoking a racial and xenophobic worldview, warning people against staying in the EU, which will lead to ‘swarms of migrants into UK cities and towns’ .
The relationship between the formal and supposedly more benign and politically correct Vote Leave campaign and the informal campaign led by the UKIP Party and sponsored by Aaron Banks, also points to the disavowal in play in the Brexit narrative. As Wincott  and Browning  identify, the more racist and blunt Breaking Point poster ad and overall the Leave.EU campaign, which was criticised by Vote Leave, offered many voters a way to whitewash and disavow their racist sentiments. Brexit voters could thus criticise the Leave.EU campaign and its racist tone, whilst at the same time argue for Brexit on presumably neutral and legal-economic grounds, that is, invoking the empty signifier of ‘us’ and ‘our’ so as to legitimate a break from the EU in order to control ‘our’ borders make ‘our’ own laws and striking deals with ‘our’ allies.
Nonetheless, the disavowal in the Brexit did not only manifest itself by the rejection of the more overtly racist Brexit message of UKIP and Leave.EU. In fact, the disavowal (Verleugnung) operated by clearly and openly discussing Brexit’s racist/xenophobic sentiments whilst denying it at the same time. As Žižek [5, p. 859] explains, in disavowal the issue at hand is openly discussed and addressed but ‘its symbolic impact is suspended, it is not really integrated into the subject’s symbolic universe’. The typical disavowal was therefore along the lines of ‘I know very well that Brexit may have racist undertones, but nonetheless I support it because I want control over our borders’. An example of this disavowal was clearly articulated by Julia Hartley-Brewer, a radio presenter and pro-Brexit campaigner, writing in the Telegraph just a day before the referendum. In it she offers reassurance to prospective leave voters and talks about ‘immigration’ and ‘pressure’ on ‘our’ NHS and public services:
And perhaps you are afraid of being called a xenophobe or a racist or a Little Englander if you want to vote to control our borders? Well, rest assured that the many millions of people who are voting Leave on 23 June are not nasty, bitter old racists who want to go back to the 1950s. This isn’t about closing our borders and turning our backs on the world… There is absolutely nothing racist or xenophobic about being concerned about the pressures on housing, schools, the NHS, our roads, public transport and community cohesion that years of mass uncontrolled immigration has brought .