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The importance of being British Patriotism is now viewed as a modern disease

Not Hilary Mantel (Slater/Cherry/Shillingford/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)


January 10, 2022   9 mins

In late 1982, I was a 27-year-old graduate student, living in Chicago and about to marry a US citizen. I had the prospect of making my life and pursuing a career in America. But I vividly remember, a week or two before the wedding, a conversation with two American friends, in which it became clear that they assumed that I would be settling in the New World.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I corrected them. I told them that I was intent upon returning to my own country, for good or for ill. My friends were mildly stunned. I like Americans — so much that I married one. But I know where I belong: here in Britain.

Quite why I feel this way is not easy to explain. Lots of people who were born here and who live here don’t feel that way — or at least, they don’t appear to. And yet it has determined the direction of the whole of my life. In the words of W. H. Auden, I accept the fate I am. I accept it as a vocation to be true to my deeply felt attachment — and now to confess it.

I say ‘confess’, because throughout my life I have been acutely aware that in the educated, middle-class social circles of my own generation, patriotism has been regarded — and is still regarded — as embarrassing. I am aware that, if old and dear friends in Oxford and in London, politically centrist with a leaning to the Left, read this, there will be a sharp intake of breath and a sucking of teeth — a mental stepping back, as if they’d just encountered something diseased.

I have been aware of the un-coolness of patriotism among members of my own class and generation for all of my life, which is why I have suppressed it. I have always felt it, but rarely expressed it — because I assumed that ‘everyone else’ must know better. However, older age, I have found, confers two benefits: first, one finally knows what one thinks; and second, one cares less for what other people think. So, I now say what I have always felt. I confess the truth: I am a British patriot.

Accordingly, I have become critical of my self-styled ‘progressive’ friends. Not critical, necessarily, of their attachment to Europe, but critical of their habitual silence over the signal blessings that life in this country has conferred on them — and critical, most of all, of their habitual tendency to denigrate it, unnecessarily and irrationally.

Hilary Mantel, the famous author of Wolf Hall, is not a friend of mine, but she does represent lots of people I know. Last September she told the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, that she’s planning on moving to Ireland, so that she can become European again. Why? Because, she says, Britain is “an artificial and precarious construct” and has shown its “ugly face” in “abusing exhausted refugees even as they scramble to the shore”.

Now, Dame Hilary was born in Derbyshire, blessed with a university education at the LSE and Sheffield, enabled to become a best-selling and prize-winning novelist, and then awarded public recognition in the form, first of a CBE, and then of a DBE. Such a person, I suggest, owes Britain considerable gratitude, and if she is moved to think ill of her country, it should only be under great pressure and with great reluctance. But Dame Hilary’s alienation is partly incoherent, partly untrue. It’s not reluctant; it’s wilful.

She says that Britain is an artificial construct. Of course, it is. Every state is man-made and artificial. No state ever dropped out of heaven. Britain in its current form as the United Kingdom did not exist before 1707. The United States did not exist before 1783, nor Italy before 1871, nor Ireland before 1922. Since states are artificial, not natural, they come and go: Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918 and in 1993 it ceased to exist.

Perhaps, however, by calling Britain artificial, Mantel means that it’s an unnatural yoking together of different peoples — English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish. But if that’s what she thinks of the UK, what on earth does she think of the EU? The artificiality of a state, or its multinational character, is no reason for leaving it.

What then about the ugly, racist face of contemporary Britain? Well, there’s no denying that racism exists here — as it does in Europe. But according to the 2018 report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, racial discrimination occurs less in Britain than in any other EU member state, including Ireland. (Just for the record, I voted Remain in 2016, not out of blind faith in the EU, but out of Burkean caution. Now, however, I want Brexit to succeed with my whole heart.)

So something perverse, something dishonest, is going on here. One reason, I take it, why my ‘progressive’ friends would suck their teeth if they heard my patriotic confession, is that they find it very difficult to distinguish patriotism from nationalism, and nationalism from fascism. So let me make quite clear what kind of patriot I am. I am a Christian patriot.

What does that mean? In part, it means that I recognise that my country, like every other, is indeed an artificial construct. It is man-made. It is not divine and eternal. My country is not God. In that respect, my Christian patriotism is quite distinct from the kind of Romantic nationalism that so scarred the twentieth century, most infamously in Germany. In this kind of nationalism, the nation is a substitute for God and it’s by investing oneself wholly in the life of the nation that the individual achieves a kind of immortality.

Such an idolatrous nationalism conflates the nation with divinity. Christian patriotism cannot do that. Therefore, the Christian patriot recognises that his loyalty to his country cannot be blind and it has to be critical, holding it to account before the law of God.

My Christian ideal of patriotism was incarnated, as it happens, in the life of a German. His name was Helmuth James von Moltke. A lawyer, he was the great-grand-nephew of Bismarck’s famously victorious general. Although an aristocrat, he became a Christian socialist and an opponent of the Nazi Party. In the mid-Thirties, he came to England to qualify for the English bar in case he should decide to flee here with his family. In the end, however, he chose to return to his country, to suffer alongside his people, and to do what he could to mitigate the evils of the Nazi regime and prepare for a better future.

And yet he did not support the July 1944 plot to kill Hitler. The reason was that he foresaw that the plot, were it to succeed, would have given Germany a conservative regime that, while not Nazi, was not different enough. He believed that, in order to be redeemed, Germany had to suffer an unequivocal, catastrophic defeat, before being reconstructed from the bottom up. Imagine how painful it must have been for a patriot to want that for his country. Christian patriotism is not Romantic nationalism. The Christian patriot must be willing to play prophet to his country, criticising it because he loves it and wants to save its soul.

So, I am a Christian patriot. But I’m also a British patriot. I have always been a British patriot because I am an Anglo-Scot, born in Scotland to a Scottish father and an English mother, and educated on both sides of the border. I do not answer to ‘English’ or ‘Scottish’, for, being both, I am British.

During the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 I lost several nights’ sleep worrying about the possible break-up of the United Kingdom. As a Christian, I had to admit that it was possible that the UK should break up. It could be that its time had come to and end and that, like Czechoslovakia, it should disintegrate into its constituent parts. At the time, I found it difficult to explain why I was viscerally opposed to this conclusion, and what would be lost if the UK were to disintegrate.

However, in the months following the independence referendum, I discovered at least two things about what the UK is good for. First, the UK is good for multi-national trust and solidarity. Germans identify themselves very closely indeed with the European Union. Yet German taxpayers are adamantly opposed to fiscal transfers, whereby their resources are used to subsidise the French, no matter the Greeks. In contrast, the English, and especially Londoners, hardly bat an eyelid at the redistribution of ’their’ taxes to Scotland or Northern Ireland, or indeed other parts of England and Wales.

During the referendum campaign Alex Salmond was glibly misleading on a number of things. One of them was the supposed ease of the process of dis-uniting. In addition to the Queen, the BBC, and the pound, Salmond genially assured us that the ‘social union’ would persist.

But since English and Scottish interests would be opposed, it’s a practical certainty that negotiations would be fractious. It’s highly probable that the separating Scots would not get all that they wanted, and that, in turn, the English would recover a resentment of the Scots not seen since the 18th century.

The truth is that we here in the UK have achieved a level of multi-national trust and solidarity of which the EU can still only dream. It’s a precious achievement, which we should not take for granted nor surrender lightly. That’s one thing the UK is good for.

A second thing is the security and promotion of humane and liberal values. There is a strong strain in contemporary Scottish nationalism, as there is in Corbynite socialism, which believes in the equation, “Britain equals Empire equals Evil”. By ‘Empire’ here is meant, not only the imperial past, but the present aspiration to play a global role in bolstering the liberal international order.

According to some nationalists, therefore, for Scotland to separate from England, and so to disintegrate the United Kingdom, would be an act of national repentance and self-purification. It would redeem the English as well as the Scots.

This view is documented in John Lloyd’s excellent book, Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot, in which he quotes from Robert Musil 1930s novel, A Man without Qualities, which was set during the decline of the Austrian Empire around 1900. Of that empire, Musil wrote “However well founded an order may be, it always rests in part on a voluntary faith in it, a faith that, in fact, always marks the spot where the new growth begins, as in a plant; once this unaccountable and uninsurable faith is used up, the collapse soon follows; epochs and empires crumble no differently from business concerns when they lose their credit”.

I agree with Musil that faith in what we might call a globally responsible Britain is uninsurable: there’s no guarantee that it won’t be lost. But I disagree that it is unaccountable. I think a good account can still be given.

Maybe in the Nineties we thought that History had ended, that the West had won, and that NATO had lost its reason for living. But with an aggressively nationalist Russia rattling its nuclear sabre on the borders of Europe, and with a ruthlessly authoritarian China building military bases in the South China Sea, it seems that humane and liberal values still need defending. So, who will defend them? The United States, we hope. But after that, who? Arguably, the UK, more or less alongside France.

Britain may no longer rule the waves single-handed, but we can still help to rule them. The fact that we’re no longer Number One in the world doesn’t mean that we’re nothing. If the UK were to disintegrate, one of the West’s three serious military powers would be hamstrung.

So, I think that the United Kingdom is good both for multinational solidarity and for a liberal world order. My British faith still has credit in the bank. That’s why I am a British patriot.

But it is not just Scottish nationalists who disagree. Another major way of corroding faith in global Britain is to denigrate its historical record, the most recent part of which involves empire. This is why the decolonisers focus so relentlessly on slavery, presenting it as Britain’s dirty secret.

There are two main objections to this story. First, as I’ve indicated, there is hard social scientific evidence that contemporary Britain is actually one of the least racist countries in Europe. More recently, this year saw the publication of the so-called ‘Sewell report’ of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which concluded that Britain is not systemically racist. The second problem with the decolonisers’ equation of the British Empire with slavery and the ugly racism behind it is that fact that the Empire was the first major power in the history of the world to abolish the slave-trade and slavery in the name of a Christian conviction of the fundamental equality of all human races under God.

John Wesley, Anglican priest and founder of Methodism, prefaced his Thoughts upon Slavery (1774) with a quotation of the tenth verse of the fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis: “And the Lord said—What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground”. The context is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel and the implication is clear: African and Englishman, slave and master, are brothers, common children of the same God. This was the racially egalitarian view that triumphed in 1807 when the British parliament voted to abolish the trade in slaves throughout the Empire, and again in 1833, when it voted to abolish the institution of slavery altogether.

What is more, from 1807 and throughout the second half of its existence until the Sixties, the Empire was committed to suppressing the trade and the institution across the world — from Brazil, across Africa, to India and Malaysia. In the 1820s and 30s, the Slave Trade Department was the largest unit in the Foreign Office.

At one point in mid-century, the Royal Navy was deploying over 13% of its total manpower in suppressing the trade in slaves between west Africa and the Americas. According to the economic historian, David Eltis, the British spent almost as much suppressing the Atlantic trade in the 47 years from 1816-62 as they earned in profits over the same length of time leading up to 1807. And according to the American scholars of international relations, Chaim Kaufmann and Robert Pape, Britain’s effort to suppress the Atlantic trade in 1807-67 was “the most expensive example [of costly international moral action] recorded in modern history”.

So, no, there is no causal connection that runs through the British Empire from colonial slavery in the past to systemic racism today. Britain today is not systemically racist. And between the slave trade and slavery of the 18th century and the present lie 150 years of imperial penance in the form of costly abolitionist endeavour to liberate slaves around the globe. The vicious racism of slavers and planters was not essential to the British Empire, and whatever residual racism exists in Britain today is not its fruit.

Despite the heated nature of these debates, some, on both the Right and the Left, think that the ‘Culture Wars’ are a fuss about nothing. I could not disagree more strongly. What’s at stake in the ‘decolonising’ front of the ‘Culture Wars’ is nothing less than faith in Britain.

Keeping that faith is important for the welfare of human beings, not only on these islands, but all over the world. That is why I’m a British patriot.

 

A version of this article was delivered at a meeting of the National Club in September 2021.  


Nigel Biggar is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, University of Oxford

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Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Patriotism has always been a dirty word on the Liberal Left. To show pride in this country is treated as almost akin to joining the BNP. That attitude, skewered so well by Orwell, is the default setting for all writers and (seemingly) most readers at the Guardian, and distressingly many within the ranks of the BBC.
How many articles or programmes, in any given year, denigrate the very concept of patriotism? Dozens. They have associated endlessly negative baggage with the idea of ‘British-ness’. I don’t think anyone can honestly deny that.
In their heart of hearts how many Guardian readers were not with Ms Thornberry when she tweeted her sneering white van with cross of St George picture? As though such low-brow, working class patriotism was worthy only of scorn?
It is the idea that any and every culture is to be celebrated – but not British culture or at least not English culture – one can celebrate the Celtic parts of Britishness (separately) but celebrating Englishness, whatever that might be, is seen as proof of latent racism.
They have infected any debate involving patriotism with a national self-loathing, the idea that patriotism is xenophobic at heart, the idea that British history is something only to apologise for.
The head-banging nationalist, convinced the British Empire was a force of unalloyed good for the world, sits at one end of the spectrum. Afua Hirsch and her cohort sits at the other end, convinced it was an endless parade of atrocities and depredation. Both seem as monocular and impervious to nuance as the other. Both seemingly obsessed with Empire.
Any sensible person can see that the truth lies somewhere in between those two extremes.
I’m very proud to be British. As a student of history I am well aware of terrible things that happened (usually hundreds of years before I was born) but I am still unapologetically proud to be British. This country has had an enormous impact on the world – some of it very good, some bad.
But it is our history. It for the most part happened in our ancestors’ day. Nothing I can do or say will change that history. My pride has no more bearing on it than my guilt would. Nor, for that matter, the Guardian’s disapprobation.
Taking all the good and the bad, there is no need to detoxify the idea of Britishness – or Englishness. Indeed if I suggested the need to detoxify any other nation’s history I’d be accused of xenophobia (at best).
The Guardian line seems to be that anyone who has pride in being English has somehow admitted to something unhealthy and ‘problematic’. Why? If a Frenchman is proud of being French, would they immediately mistrust his motives in the same way? I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t.
If a Tongan speaks of his homeland with tears in his eyes, (they are, on the whole, the most deeply patriotic people I’ve ever met) would they be suspected of xenophobia and a misplaced pride. Again – I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t.
So, what is so different about a British person expressing pride in their nationality? Why does the Left automatically suspect anyone who has pride in being English of some sinister subtext?
Maybe a patriot SHOULD recognise the faults in his own country, I wouldn’t disagree with that idea. Blind Patriotism, alongside blind hatred (blind anything) is reflexive and unthinking.
The prevailing attitude in Guardian-land is that anyone who shows any pride in Britain’s wartime past is jingoistic and somehow laying claim to glories that belonged to another generation. Yet many of the same writers who push such bilge, also pen articles insisting we should all shoulder the guilt for anything bad done by this country in its imperial past.
Admiration for heroes in the very recent past is backwards looking, yet we’re somehow on the hook for reparations to the colonised 200 years later. It doesn’t seem a consistent position.
Why should the statute of limitations for guilt should run so much longer than that of glory?

Last edited 2 years ago by Paddy Taylor
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

And is it not something of a miracle in these days that a Canon of the Anglican Church and a Professor of Oxford who is widely traveled not only holds such eminently sensible views.but is willing to express them and actively promote a more balanced consideration of Britain’s colonial past.
As usual many commenting here have added further to illuminate some of the truths that those who wish to dwell with monomaniacal attention solely on the negative aspects of our history wish to obscure.

Ri Bradach
Ri Bradach
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

To the author and this comment, my deep and sincere thanks.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

I’ve often thought that one of the great things about British culture is our ability to self deprecate and to have a healthy disrespect for authority in the mix too. The idea that British patriotism is somehow some unalloyed belief that our history is only moonlight and roses is nonsense. So is it nonsense that we should sit and self flagellate over things long past. We just accept our story for what it is and take our lessons from it. It’s a fascinating journey through time. This country has much to be proud of.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
2 years ago

Well said.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

I’m an ‘Anglo Scot’ too, with no English ancestry but Irish, and I’ve lived in England for 40 years now. I’m proud to be British and kinda view myself as English – it’s fun to tease people when they ask me where I’m from in Scotland when they hear the accent, and I jokingly express disappointment that my Hampshire accent isn’t quite there yet.
I despair at the nationalist anti-English politics of Scotland but it’s persistence causes me to conclude that it’s time to let them, and Britain, go. They are like a rebellious teenager who won’t accept a mature role in the British household – and that’s particularly ironic as the British Empire that they try to disassociate themselves from wouldn’t have happened without Scots (and Irish) engineers, scientists, generals and settlers.
It’s unfortunate that once they’ve left the house they’ll realise how much they relied on us in England but it’ll be too late to return – once the parents get independent of their adult kids who’d have them back? England doesn’t need Scotland. And if they do become independent, I’ll then be proud to call myself English and not British.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I could not agree more with what you have said.

However I must take issue with your remark:
“and that’s particularly ironic as the British Empire that they try to disassociate themselves from wouldn’t have happened without Scots (and Irish) engineers, scientists, generals and settlers”.

Not so I’m afraid. From the foundation of the English Empire from say Bantam in 1603 to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 it was, as the name implies, almost solely an English affair. Even as late as Blenheim 1704, Ramillies 1706, Oudenade 1708 & Malplaquet 1709, how many Scotch Regiments were there present? Were there any at the capture of Gibraltar 1704 or Minorca 1708?

No sir, the Scotch were very much ‘Johnny come lately’ as far as Empire is concerned, although it must be said that once onboard they made up for it with a sterling performance on land & sea, from India to America, from the Cape to Cairo.The Irish, albeit with some reluctance, followed a similar trajectory it must be said.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Might I, respectfully, recommend that you read Michael Fry’s excellent book, “The Scottish Empire”.
you can get a flavour of it from this write-up, “This new edition of Michael Fry’s remarkable book charts the involvement of the Scots in the British empire from its earliest days to the end of the twentieth century. It is a tale of dramatic extremes and craggy characters and of a huge range of concerns – from education, evangelism and philanthropy to spying, swindling and drug running. Stories of Scottish regiments on the rampage, cannibalism and other atrocities are contrasted with the deeds of heroic pioneers such as David Livingstone and Mary Slessor. Above all it tells how the British empire came to be dominated and run by the Scots, and how it truly became a Scottish empire. As the empire transformed Scotland beyond recognition, so was the Empire shaped by the Scots – a remarkable achievement from the population of so small a country, which was itself neither nation nor fully province, neither fully colonizer nor fully colonized. Michael Fry’s energetic and colourful account is one of the classics of modern Scottish history”
As a British citizen of Scots and Irish descent who lives in England I see myself as British. I’m only ‘English’ during the 6N Rugby season, I have no axe to grind in this particular debate, but it is simply a matter of fact that the Scots were as culpable as the English for both the good and the bad of the British Empire.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Thank you.
As I recall Michael Fry was a onetime Scotch Tory who had a damascene conversation to Scotch Nationalism about fifteen years ago. His remarks on ‘Scotland’s Empire’ smacks rather too much of ‘self praise is no recommendation’ to my mind. I gather he is regarded as the most controversial historian/journalist in Scotland?

However I think you may have missed my point that the ‘Empire’ was up and running long before any Scotch very involved. In fact as you may know the 1690’s saw Scotland attempt to set up its own ‘Empire’ in the Panama Isthmus because they were excluded from the English one. The result was a predictable fiasco.

However post 1707 and certainly by 1756-63 they were playing a major role and continued to do so up until Aden in 1967.
What irritates many Englishman is that having been so generously permitted to join ‘us’ in over two centuries of splendid ‘profit & plunder’ they should be so dammed ungrateful.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

The surnames of the always competitive, often unbeatable, Jamaican women sprint team has been an enduring illustration of the extent to which Scots enthusiastically took up colonising for decades now.
The prevalence of Jamaica Streets and the like in Edinburgh and Glasgow and other places across Scotland, and the wharves etc here and around the world also testify to the same colonial enthusiasm.
That the SNP now try and present Scotland as somehow coerced against their will by those everlastingly nasty English is risible.

Thankfully the majority of people see through this stuff, as evidenced by the referendum result in 2014. In England it may seem, as the major UK broadcast Newsrooms see Sturgeon merely as a reliable source of Tory bashing quotes, and anti Brexit moans, that the SNP just need *one more push*…and historical inevitability has a long history of being dragooned into service by loudmouths.

It didn’t work out that well for a number of them in the 20th century or indeed the entire empire of Russia in 1989, and beyond the headlines it isn’t working out well for Nicola Sturgeon either.
I think Britain has a distinguished history and is an example of both a very old union, and one that is very modern in terms of the way it accommodates other identities and people, possibly the most modern and progressive in the worlds today.
I guess that makes me a patriot as well, and one who looks forward to the prospect of *the next 300 years*.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago

If Mantel thinks Britain is an artificial construct what, then, is 21st century Ireland? Is it the state of the Irish as originally intended (that is, those descended from various ancient immigration waves and melded into one ethnic group with shared history and culture), or is it a paper entity with an anachronistic name, open to comers from all continents who would like an Irish passport? People like herself, born in Derbyshire …

Last edited 2 years ago by Judy Englander
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Ireland is the most artificial construct of all, with Protestant plantation immigrants from Scotland; wealthy landowners from England; and the Irish catholics.
If they do ever unify the island, it’s odds on that there will be a very messy civil war that the Irish won’t be able to manage due to the huge number of Protestants as a proportion of the whole population. It amazes me that the Eire electorate is voting for Sinn Fein and potential unification – if it happens we can be entertained by Mantel fleeing from the consequences.

Ana Cronin
Ana Cronin
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

While there are a % of the population in ROI who vote Sinn Fein for its’ Republician stance and the pursuit of unification, for the majority of current Sinn Fein voters this is not the main driver. Sinn Fein has veiled themselves as a left wing opposition to the current coalition goverment. Allied with the decline of the Labour party they are mopping up the vote in areas where our not fit for purpose healthcare system and lack of housing hits hardest. The election information also show they attract an age demographic that did not live through or recall much of the ‘Troubles’. Under our PR system at their top draw of 15-20% of vote share they may be a partner in a coalition but not a majority govt. They are preparing for this as seen by their ‘word play’ around a change of stance re our Special Criminal Court which was a red line for them previously. While there are people who will always vote for Sinn Fein to try to advance the cause of a unted Ireland there are also people who woulfd never vote for them regardless of the strenght of their policies. People remember. Also, while polls constantly show that a majority of people would like to see a united Ireland the reality of the cost, financial and otherwise, will I believe stall any such moves.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago

I voted Remain in 2016, not out of blind faith in the EU, but out of Burkean caution. Now, however, I want Brexit to succeed with my whole heart

Well said!

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
2 years ago

The root of of the hatred for British history lies in our universities. Unless that is sorted out somehow things will continue until our identity and history are altered beyond recognition.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
2 years ago
Reply to  Glyn Reed

Proof please.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

How many of great geniuses of the Industrial Revolution hailed from Oxbridge? Almost none!

What was the reaction of Oxbridge to the Industrial Revolution *? Total revulsion.**
Why? Both we were mere Priest Factories for the established Anglican Church.

(*The greatest event in human history bar none.)
(** Even the Railway Stations of both were banished to the periphery of their respective cities.)

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 years ago

…correct, and what may pass as mere urbanity at the top, (historically speaking anyway) tier , is now baked in insanity at the wannabe levels.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
2 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

…the damage is being done at the faux tertiary establishments, pandering to the surplus aspirants for the managerial class

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
2 years ago

The same people advocating that small is beautiful, that community is everything, that we should buy locally and govern locally are often the same people decrying patriotism. Maybe they don’t realise the irony.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 years ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

I was in Germany a couple of years ago. The citizens of the town were very pleased with their market, green-priding themselves that they were buying local produce grown within about 15 kilometres.

At the same time, someone was telling me that German public hospitals were heavily staffed by healthcare workers from countries outside Germany. (This was distinct from private healthcare practices, which had more favourable conditions and rewards.)

I wonder whether they ever thought about that little irony.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

What’s at stake in the ‘decolonising’ front of the ‘Culture Wars’ is nothing less than faith in Britain.

Succinctly put! This helped clarify my thoughts. Thanks Nigel.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

I am a British patriot. I was born in England and have lived most of my adult life in Wales. I do not see myself as Welsh or English.

About 15 years ago I worked for an American company and I visited this company many times. Each of the production lines had a small American flag. In the evening I had a few drinks with my boss and he often told me he was proud to be American. Once he asked me why I wasn’t proud to be British – I said, “I am proud to be British but I don’t have to keep saying it. Doesn’t it worry you that all of your American flags are ‘Made in China’?”

Since then, when travelling, I have thought many times about this interchange. I don’t think I had some middle class reserve or shyness. The reason I didn’t keep saying, “I’m proud to be British.” and then salute the flag is that we just don’t say it in our country and I don’t have a flag to salute.
In schools in Britain we don’t mutter some phoney mantra before lessons every morning but if we did, we would say it as well.

However, around where I live there are many, many Welsh flags. Some people might say, “I’m proud to be Welsh.” But they don’t know what it means. Mostly, it is about the language – a statement, “Welsh is spoken here.” Speaking two languages is something to be proud of. I speak four languages quite fluently and two languages in a half-hearted way and I am also proud. But it is not connected with nationalism or politics – it is connected with travel.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

The great irony is the number of non-white people risking life and limb to arrive at the borders and shorelines of the countries that exhibit “systemic racism”.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Thanks, Nigel: the Empire strikes back! Is there a single Empire or country which is free from criticism over some event or policy in its history? Deliberately focusing on faults is scheming indoctrination especially when it ignores the positives and further ignores the faults of all historical nations. Of course, slavery was abolished in England, as a nation, as early as the 12th century. The English have on balance been a positive force historically. Patriotism finds common cause with fellow countrymen to build a positive future; nationalism finds enemies to hate. Find the haters, find the nationalists!

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago

You only have to see the daily nasty little opinion pieces and BTL comments at the Guardian to see how much the left hate their own country and culture

hughwestacott
hughwestacott
2 years ago

I was born in 1932 and I am immensely proud of my country, love and admire it with a passion, and consider myself greatly blessed to be British. The problem with ‘woke’ history is that it’s so biassed. For example, mention is rarely made of the African involvement in the slave trade. 

The British were not the cause of African slavery; we took advantage of an existing institution. Slavery was endemic throughout Africa and many other parts of the world from the earliest times. The historian, Martin Meredith, has written extensively about Africa and quotes King Ghezo (or Gezo), 1818-1858, of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) complaining that when Britain outlawed the slave trade, he lost the income from selling 9,000 slaves a year. When Ghezo died, his fellow African slave-traders decided to honour his passing by digging a pit, filling it with the blood of executed slaves, and floating a canoe on it. They failed to capture enough victims to achieve their aim and had to make do with the ritual beheading of several hundred slaves and prisoners.

As Amechi Okolo, Professor of Political Science at Long Island University, New York, and Nassau Community College, Garden City, New York has written: ‘The important thing is that it is time African scholars stop playing ostrich with the question of our ancestral complicity and collaboration in the slave trade. . . The role of the African leaders was quite clear and deplorable; and nobody should ever defend them for such horrendous collusion. Our ancestral leaders abandoned their sacred contract with their people to cherish and protect them and accepted unholy copulation with the enemy for their own selfish aggrandizement.’

Every British citizen alive today, including those of African heritage, has benefitted materially from the slave trade because of the wealth which it brought into Britain. This has been invested in countless projects, businesses and organizations including the monarchy and the church. Calls for the payment of reparations ignore this uncomfortable fact and the collusion of the Africans. We should all deeply regret this dark page in our respective histories. Deep, deep regret, but not guilt, because just as it would be wrong to blame those German millennials who are the descendants of Nazis for the horrors of the Holocaust, nobody alive today has been guilty of involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago

Mantel may have been born in Derbyshire , she may be a lapsed Catholic , but she’s still an Irish Catholic , and therefore slagging off the Brits is part of her chauvinist /patriotic shtik , especially before ‘moving back’ to her ancestral homeland .
She may have another reason for making sure her peeps know which side she’s on and which country she identifies with . The best part of her career (and all those awards )involved idealising and glorifying one of history’s bad boys , who just happens to have been the great great uncle of a certain Oliver Cromwell (and founder of the Cromwell family fortune ) Oliver Cromwell being public enemy no 1 in the Republic of Ireland she especially needed to ritually slag off the brits to assert her Irish patriotism
And in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy she is very careful to make the man who helped Henry break with Europe and the Roman Catholic faith spend his formative years in Flanders and Italy , and make him a kind of proto European , at least culturally .

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  alan Osband

Cromwell’s poorly documented European sojourn was almost contemporary with that of a German, Mendicant, Augustinian Friar, one Martin Luther.
Both seem to have come to the same assessment, that the Catholic Church was a cesspit of veniality and corruption and almost beyond reform. Despite this depressing prognosis, both dedicated their lives to executing such reforms as they could.
Five centuries on we appear to be in exactly the same position with the EU.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  alan Osband

Mantel is even more anti-Catholic than she is anti-British.

Her Wolf Hall trilogy is deliberate anti-Catholic falsification of English history.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

So are most contemporary patriotic , chauvinist Irish people (anti Catholic)

However in terms of Irish history and (as they see it) the unionists and the oppressive brits that doesn’t stop them indentifying as Irish catholics

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 years ago

I worked for a while for a British company in the US.
Had a good time and liked the Americans I met. Very nice people.
Every one of them assumed I’d be importing my entire extended family the first chance I had.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
2 years ago

There is a simple reason why the English tolerant subsidising Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it’s kinship. Altruism works in concentric circles starting with the family. Most of us give generously to our families even if the cost reduces our wealth. With friends we are slightly less generous, neighbours still less and so on. The Nation is the biggest group we regard as kin. Obviously we give to international charities but in terms of overall giving its a much smaller sum. If Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom it will be interesting to see how those feelings change.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

So, is Hilary Mantel still living in Britain? If she is, someone must remind her to hoof off.

Ana Cronin
Ana Cronin
2 years ago

Hilary Mantel is planing to move here to Ireland, so that she can become European again? LOL firstly, many of my fellow Irish will rather dislike her just because she is English regardless of her pro European leaning Why? deep seated Irishness still angry at 700 yrs of British rule. National pride. Secondly, we as every nation are also “an artificial and precarious construct” and many here are hoping to extend that construct to include the six counties that currently are part of the UK. What do you think drives that ambition Hilary? Have you seen the Irish on Patricks Day. Lastly, have you seen what happens to refugees here? exhausted or otherwise. That is if they get here in the first place! Our government has issued orders to deport people who worked in our creaking health service, hospitals and nursing homes, during the pandemic. During my years in the UK I never understood the lack of pride so many people had in the UK. The irony is that it is often those of us born outside the UK who understand why the G for Great is apt and fitting. (Greeting from another middle class professional)

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

I do wish that the term ” racism” would be actually defined, not least enshrined, in English law: I was born here of Italian and Irish parentage… and NO I do not consider myself as English as most…. but I profoundly respect the pride that the English have and consider myself fortunate and lucky that I was born here: as most who know me will attest, I have more characteristics of Irish and Italians than English.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago

“Racism” is a shark which has been thoroughly jumped. Such a passe epithet.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
2 years ago

I’m English. Unbalanced Devolution that made the English politically second-class citizens has made sure of that. What is the point of a “Union” that insists Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “must” have their own Parliaments deciding their own laws, and simultaneously that the English “must NOT” be allowed our own equivalent English Parliament for English matters.

The British State has even abolished the pathetic sop that was “English Votes for English Laws”. We are not even allowed a veto on what the British State wishes to impose on us.

Democracy requires a “Demos”. A people who see themselves with shared interests sharing a future together. Unbalanced Devolution that set the Celtic Nations against “English” Westminster has put paid to that.

The longer we wait before the break-up, the worse it will be. Better to do it soon while there is still residual good feeling, rather than later when attitudes have been allowed to harden even further.

Veronica Lowe
Veronica Lowe
2 years ago

Very well said! I believe very many people of African or Asian origin would not be in UK but for the Empire. And very many people clearly see Britain as a better place to live than mainland Europe.

Margaret F
Margaret F
2 years ago

The very best thing about being British, the very essence of it, is the people themselves. Anything that changes that destroys its nature. Britain can only be for the British.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago

Patriotism is definitely not a dirty word. It is, after all, the larger tribe, the matrix of the clan and family. (But, for the term “British”, I must confess to being Not That Evolved. On one side of the family it was all Wexford vs.Waterford, or on the other, Borderers vs. Everyone Else, not excluding fellow natives of the borders…). “Great Britain” is thus, for me, still an abstraction. In the States United for a some generations now, it is still a matter of loyalty to the geography sanctified by ancestral sacrifice, and in the American case, a loyalty to a certain brand of rule of law, acknowledged as patrimony from the British Isles.. Humans are creatures of their terroir as much as wines are. Dulce et decorum est to live as well as die for the land of one’s family. No shame there. But trans-, or worse supra-, national loyalties are bound to be somehow unnatural and iinauthentic.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

What a superb article.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Two articles that appeared in the Guardian in the last few days, one an opinion piece about the critics of the Colston Four being deluded if they think Britain owes no apology for its past sins, and another much more interesting one by a Nigerian-born historian and his reflections on his Tyneside forebears who appeared in the 1921 census, offer the stark contrast in mood that divides Britons today. In the historian’s piece, he mentions the 731,000 children who were recorded as fatherless in the 1921 census. That was due, as I might view it, to the loss of, well, what could one say, 400,000 fathers? On the battlefields of France and elsewhere within four short years. (Not to mention the many uncles who died who never got married or who had children). I wondered too how many fatherless children were recorded in the 1911 census.
I suppose it’s the dissonance that annoys me in the paper — when an interesting piece on the hardships of life in early 1900s Britain is featured at the same time as another piece that just wants to rubbish the Britain that the grand-children and great-grandchildren of all those 731,000 fatherless children in 1921 live in to this day.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

A great article, I’ll just belatedly add. Thank you.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

And well worth a reread.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

The article reads like some talk given at a university – where every word and reference has to be run through the ‘Woke-O-Meter’, and for every dodgy fact some flagellation must be inserted to leaven it out of any microaggressions, Wrong Thought, and Wrong History.

Come on call it – I am a patriot, I would die for UK or USA. I believe the glorious history of UK is the finest the world has ever seen. that UK created more great things than any other peoples – Science, Philosophy, Art, Education, Medicine, Literature, Industry, Rule of Law, Justice, Human Rights, Freedoms, suffrage, Charity….

USA in its turn can say the same. The USA Constitution is the finest document ever written by man. USA has had great effect in the world after the British strength decreased. Winning the WWII against the worst tyrants – and Then rebuilding them with NO punishments and vengeance – and making the world free and peaceful. USA has been an intellectual powerhouse, creating so much in its turn.

But I disagree very much with a couple things in the article.

“In this kind of nationalism, the nation is a substitute for God and it’s by investing oneself wholly in the life of the nation that the individual achieves a kind of immortality. Such an idolatrous nationalism conflates the nation with divinity.”

Loyalty must be hierarchical, the traditional in most of the world was Family, Tribe, Greater Tribe, and that was about it…. This system never developed much greatness other than conquest.

I believe Family is at one’s core, as it gave one all – genes, care, and all which it took to grow up in a hard world. Nation is almost at that level, as high in some ways. If ones Nation is good, then it deserves all loyalty. Your Nation gave you the means to be free, have the needs met, and exist in a fair society.

I have been about in the world a very great amount – and the Amazing Privilege of being an American or British is endlessly re-enforced as one visits the non-West, and even the West where all is restricted. The Freedom, Rule of Law, and opportunity, with our Nation’s Rights bestowed on us – it is an amazing privilege to be a member of such Great Nations.

(P.S., from the title I figured there was some Play on Oscar Wild hidden inside, but never found it.)

Last edited 2 years ago by Galeti Tavas
Paul K
Paul K
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“The article reads like some talk given at a university – where every word and reference has to be run through the ‘Woke-O-Meter’, and for every dodgy fact some flagellation must be inserted to leaven it out of any microaggressions, Wrong Thought, and Wrong History.
Come on call it – I am a patriot, I would die for UK or USA. I believe the glorious history of UK is the finest the world has ever seen.”
Actually, it reads like a thoughtful essay from a Christian who is clear that his patriotism must be run through the sieve of faith, so that a nation does not become an idol. The notion that sometimes a nation must go through fire to be reborn is profound, and the opposite of the ‘my country right or wrong’ version that you seem to be cleaving to. I enjoyed the piece. Strong and determined, but not bombastic or proud.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paul K
Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul K

Excellent assessment. I felt it was a gentle revealing of a deep and private love. No shouting, no screaming, no pram based toy chucking.

alan Osband
alan Osband
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul K

Didn’t the Romans persecute Christians not because they believed in some obscure hero/god who died on a cross , but because they refused to sacrifice to the Emperor

Were they wrong ?

Last edited 2 years ago by alan Osband
R S Foster
R S Foster
2 years ago

…an outstanding piece. It is this kind of writing that makes Unherd such a worthwhile read…

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Agreed, this piece had soul.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

An interesting essay, however an obsession with slavery meant a most slovenly approach to much needed Parliamentary Reform, which was hardly assuaged by the feeble 1832 Reform Bill. Thus to be thoroughly PC, woman’s suffrage had to wait nearly a century before it was fully addressed.

Fortunately the slave owners were handsomely rewarded for the sequestration of their personal property and thus able to invest in such enterprises as the Railway boom, much to the benefit of nearly all.

As to the statement that Londoners hardly “bat an eyelid” as they are plundered to subsidise the every needy Irish & Scotch, those days are over. The sooner both are jettisoned from the moribund Union the better.

Will R
Will R
2 years ago

I too was surprised to see that taxpayers ‘dont bat an eyelid ‘. Can we ditch the Welsh as well while we’re at it?

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Will R

As you may recall, during the Welsh devolution vote only about 50% of the lazy bas*tards bothered to participate, of which 50.3% opted for a Welsh Assembly. Hardly a ringing endorsement for Independence, and not an impressive result for democracy.

That being so, and given the comparatively trivial sums doled out to the Welsh, I think we can afford to keep them

.just!

I would however like to see total abolition of road signs in Welsh, a perfectly ridiculous affectation. If this proves problematic, let the Welsh be in a pseudo Gallic script rather as they do in Hibernia*. The Welsh Senate should also revert to term Assembly.

(*otherwise known as Ireland.)

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

People in London and the South East were perfectly willing to subsidise needier parts of the UK, until those places became Anglophobe and addicted to biting the hand that feeds them.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Precisely, well said.

Dave Corby
Dave Corby
2 years ago

Well said.
As an Englishman living in the USA, I struggle between the patriotism I feel for England (Britain really as I think about it) and the admiration I have for the people here (well at least half of them) who have such a love for their country and support for the profound principles in the Constitution.
Most people in Britain have the same principles as declared in the U.S. Constitution but don’t have the document to back them up. (Who knows the contents of the Magna Carta?.) Plus, as stated in this article, the required patriotism is frowned upon.
I truly believe that the USA is the last stand for all that is good and true. If freedom has a chance, then its in the USA that its purest warriors are fighting. There is some promising support in some eastern European countries as well.
Britain could recover after a victory here and maybe then I will retire with homes in both places. I dont know what it would take for me to actually become a US citizen – or to decide to move back ‘home’.

Ana Cronin
Ana Cronin
2 years ago

Hilary Mantel is planing to move here to Ireland, so that she can become European again? LOL firstly, many of my fellow Irish will rather dislike her just because she is English regardless of her pro European leaning Why? deep seated Irishness still angry at 700 yrs of British rule. National pride. Secondly, we as every nation are also “an artificial and precarious construct” and many here are hoping to extend that construct to include the six counties that currently are part of the UK. What do you think drives that ambition Hilary? Have you seen the Irish on Patricks Day. Lastly, have you seen what happens to refugees here? exhausted or otherwise. That is if they get here in the first place! Our government has issued orders to deport people who worked in our creaking health service, hospitals and nursing homes, during the pandemic. During my years in the UK I never understood the lack of pride so many people had in the UK. The irony is that it is often those of us born outside the UK who understand why the G for Great is apt and fitting. (Greeting from another middle class professional)