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Will the English ever revolt? The threat of ethnonationalism is a progressive fantasy

The modern annual St George's Day ritual. (Matthew Chattle/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The modern annual St George's Day ritual. (Matthew Chattle/Future Publishing via Getty Images)


April 29, 2024   8 mins

In The Return of the Native, Hardy observes of the mummers’ St George play that the proof it is a genuine folk tradition lies in the sullen joylessness with which it is carried out, “which sets one wondering why a thing that is done so perfunctorily should be kept up at all”. And yet, Hardy observes, “the agents seem moved by an inner compulsion to say and do their allotted parts whether they will or no”. Much of the same could be said of today’s annual St George ritual, in which Twitter liberals set out to slay the dragon of xenophobic nationalism, and their conservative opponents the equivalent monster of oikophobic deracination. No other European nation behaves like this. Even within our home archipelago, the Irish do not do this on St Patrick’s Day, nor the Welsh and Scots on St David’s or St Andrew’s Days: it is no doubt a marker of my fundamental un-Englishness that I find this trait strange and maladaptive. In this hysteric faux-cosmopolitanism, so distinct from the national consciousness of our neighbouring Dutch or Danes or Norwegians, the English prove themselves the very weirdest of the weird. But then: “What should they know of England, who only England know?”

This uniquely English parochial cosmopolitanism courses through the recent, flourishing discourse on political Englishness. As the Economist’s Duncan Robinson has correctly observed, English nationalism is the dog that refuses to bark: there are no meaningful popular campaigns for an English parliament, secession from the UK is a position of the extreme fringe, and even Boris Johnson’s scrapping of the modest constitutional reform of English Votes for English Laws was met with mass apathy. If the English are, as Chesterton claimed, “the secret people
 that never have spoken yet”, it can only be assumed that that is because they prefer silence.

And yet, as a consequence of devolution, there has been an explosion in recent years of political commentary on that mythical dragon, English nationalism. What is perhaps most remarkable is that this discourse is entirely driven by the Left: in so far as English nationalism exists in Britain it is a product of centre-left think-tank panels in Westminster. As nationalisms go, it is thin gruel, but then it’s explicitly meant to be. For what is most striking about this SW1-endorsed Englishness is how it is inevitably framed in terms of “reclaiming Englishness from the radical Right”, despite the fact such a thing does not meaningfully exist in England and shows no appreciable sign of coming into being.

English nationalism, indeed, often appears like a culture-bound syndrome of Celtic nationalists, a foil for them to rage against, or a danger to be guarded from, even as England continues on its course with amiable indifference. Bearers of strong ethnic identities themselves, Celtic nationalists perceive their equivalent potential in England, even if the English themselves prefer not to. From the Ukania hypothesis of British dysfunction and disintegration put forward by the Scottish nationalist Tom Nairn and Anglo-Irish grandee Perry Anderson, to the musings of the recently-deceased Labour MP-turned-Welsh-nationalist David Marquand, England is a problem to be urgently solved, by granting the English a sensible, Scandinavian-style social democracy before the English belatedly adopt something harder-edged for themselves.

It is explicitly within this vein of thought that the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has published her new book, Another England, written to fend off the risk that “politicians and others
 will use this latent tension for their own ends, stirring up emotions, provoking confrontations, and hoping to ride the same kind of nativist rage that took Donald Trump to the White House”. There is much to admire in Lucas’ book: her love of England’s natural beauty, so poorly served by Conservatives who profess guardianship of the land; her appreciation of the genuine diversity of dialect, vernacular architecture and sentiment packed into such a small area; her sensitive reading of English Literature, drawing on her PhD research. Many of her suggestions — for an English Parliament, civic autonomy, a land value tax, nationalisation of common goods, and expansion of the right to roam — are sensible and good: all are sentiments that are, in their way, fundamentally conservative, at least when compared to the radical liberalism of the Conservative Party. 

Yet the remarkable thing about her book — perhaps the most English thing about it — is its squeamishness in framing Englishness as a national identity like other national identities, the cultural heritage of a specific people in a specific place over historical time: just like the Japanese, or the Palestinians, or the Kurds (whose lack of national self-determination in their ancient homeland Lucas takes the time to lament). Remarkably, hers is a book about fending off English ethnonationalism in which her object of inquiry, the English as an ethnic group, does not appear. 

The reasoning is swiftly apparent. She opens with a lament over Brexit having cut our island off from European politics — but though she alludes once to Europe’s rising wave of Right-wing populism, she strenuously avoids addressing the cause. But look at our closest, most impeccably liberal and social-democratic European neighbours: in Germany, the most popular party among the young is the AfD; in Denmark, the Social Democratic government aims for “Net Zero Migration”; in Sweden, the radical Right is buoyant, and in the Netherlands it is the largest political force. Even Ireland, now that it is belatedly undergoing a parallel demographic transformation to the UK, seems to be developing a significantly more volatile reaction (to the discomfort of Irish liberals, who have begun claiming that Irish populism is somehow a British plot).

If anything is remarkable about England, however, it is the near-total absence of such a political current. This is despite the fact that England, far more than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, is currently undergoing the greatest wave of demographic change since the historic folk migration that carved an England out of Brythonic-speaking Britain in the first place. Lucas herself is relaxed about such a historic shift, even as she observes the academic consensus, like Europe’s observable political reality, is towards it driving political disorder. “On current trends,” she notes, “the white British will become a minority (though still by far the largest minority) at some point in the 2070s
 and academic thinking has come from different directions — demography, politics, sociology — to identify this phenomenon as a decisive driver in political populism. But it doesn’t have to be.” 

Yet anyone anticipating a groundbreaking rebuttal of the social-scientific literature finds only the assertion that: “For one thing, we can be confident that a more diverse population is a strength.” In any case, she reassures us, “I won’t be around in the 2070s to see an England where
 [future generations] do not see a multi-ethnic, multicultural society as something to fear”. It must be said that the English have taken to such a historically transformative, high-stakes experiment with a rare degree of equanimity. 

“Perhaps the English really are the most liberal and tolerant nation on earth.”

Whether or not she is correct, Lucas’s serene detachment is, ironically enough, an unreflexive example of the English Exceptionalism she lays at the door of the Eton and Oxford rotters at the top. Other less enlightened nations may turn to angry reaction as an inevitable result, but such things simply aren’t British
 sorry, English. And perhaps she’s right: England really does appear to be an outlier, certainly within Europe. While the majority, in increasing numbers, believe migration, especially under the Conservatives, has been too high — even Lucas states that “in the short to medium term at least, some rules on immigration are also necessary” — there is admirably little hostility to migrants themselves. There are, after all, few if any other nations so solicitous of minorities as to wish to become one: perhaps the English really are the most liberal and tolerant nation on earth. 

Even still, it is impossible to read this book without sensing Lucas recapitulating all the outward-looking, world-beating, boosterish exceptionalism she mocks in the British ruling class, and squeezing it into England’s smaller container. In a book ostensibly aimed at carving out an English political imagination from the constraints of the British state, she spends a chapter lamenting the British Empire, including for its “essentially racist notion that the ‘white man’ had a moral duty to care for
 ‘less fortunate peoples’” (no doubt this is different to her own desire to host the less affluent of the Earth). Brexit itself, and the ongoing culture wars over the past, Lucas reads as a top-down displacement activity launched by Westminster elites to stifle progressive change — rather than, as the academic literature predicts, a displacement proxy conflict fought by the dwindling ethnic majority against demographic change, no different to Ulster Protestant fears over the Irish language and Irish Republican symbolism. 

Like the English themselves, the very reason she is writing this book in the first place can only be addressed obliquely, like some malign folk spirit whose naming grants it power. Even as the liberal order is shaken by ethnic conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine, today’s liberals cannot bring themselves, as their predecessors in the Nineties were able to, to address their long-described dynamics frankly, retreating to their comfort zones of Americanised race discourse and elite-driven conspiracies.

It is fascinating, then, that the precipitating factor for Lucas’s call for Englishness is her sympathy for the separatist Celtic nationalisms, which she understands as perfectly natural historical developments. Though she does not address this point, these are of course ethnic nationalisms: the Scottish and Welsh and Irish are nations by virtue not just of their inherent “cultural stuff” (in the anthropologist Fredrik Barth’s phrase), but of the amicable but real ethnic boundaries demarcating the Welsh and Scottish from the English, and the Irish from the British peoples. It is not, after all, through racism that Welsh nationalists resent English homeowners moving into their country or weakening the vitality of their language, but ethnic consciousness and fear of the cultural change English migration brings. 

The fact that these ethnic boundaries are permeable — that Gerry Adams possesses a solidly English surname, and Arlene Foster was born with a good native Irish one — does not mean they do not exist. When, in Lucas’s telling, the Welsh and Scots set off in pursuit of their historical destiny by leaving the United Kingdom, and the Northern Irish (due to shifts in political power wrought by demographic change, though Lucas does not address this dynamic) join the Republic, then the English will find themselves, like the Austrians and Russians before them, heirs to a shrunken state, and at risk of all manner of unprogressive political malignities. It is the work of Westminster liberals, in this reading, to shape political Englishness before the English find it thrust upon them, and Nigel Farage finds his inner AtatĂŒrk. Whether the proportional representation Lucas advocates would neuter such an eventuality, as she imagines, or accelerate it, as European politics suggests, remains unclear.

But the assumption, made by Celtic nationalists as well as the English liberal Left, that the English are inherently prone to an aggressively exclusionary ethnic nationalism, which requires constant diverting in a healthily multicultural direction, is so far not borne out by the evidence. When Scotland and Wales, which possess the homogeneous demographics of mid-20th century England, reach the same stage — if they ever do — their nationalist critiques of English intolerance may be worth listening to. As we have seen, it is the precise contrary that is most remarkable, a situation that is poorly explained other than by that unfashionable thing, national temperament. Perhaps that will change, perhaps not: one way or another we will find out, even if Lucas won’t. 

As the writer Paul Kingsnorth (who Lucas incidentally cites in her acknowledgements, without engaging with intellectually) remarked in his own St George’s Day missive, perhaps England’s new non-English majority will choose to become English over time, as immigrant Irish and Jews did before them; or perhaps “England is simply coming to an end, as all nations ultimately do.” But for now, the English seem uniquely happy, or resigned, or apathetic about merging their nation into a new and determinedly bloodless civic identity, a European Canada or Australia. 

In waiting for the English to begin to hate, England’s powerless radical Right, like its dominant equivalents on the liberal Left, have been left waiting a very long time. Here is the irony of Lucas’s position: lamenting an English exceptionalism her worldview depends upon, and yearning for political unity with a Europe whose politics she detests. Perhaps Westminster politicians like Lucas, so keen to ward off the dark potential of English ethnonationalism, can cut the English nation a little slack: if the fearful dragon ever existed, it seems to have died long before our time.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
1 month ago

Being English in Britain is like being white in America: it is the ground state, the standard against which ethnicity is measured. To be a White-American is to be a Generic-American, and to be an English-Briton is to be a Generic-Briton.

John Murray
John Murray
1 month ago

I think there is a lot of truth to that. When I was living in Scotland years ago, I formed the opinion that most Scottish Nationalism consisted of desperately looking for some reason why the Scots are not in fact just the same as the English. Englishness was the default against which they negatively defined themselves.
I don’t know if Welsh Nationalism is the same. I don’t know Wales all that well, but did stay in North Wales once in the Welsh-speaking area. It is the only place I’ve opened the door of a pub and the whole place went silent like in an old cowboy movie; I backed out. They definitely do have a language and culture of their own there, so fair play to them.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  John Murray

People do that in village pubs in Yorkshire too.
I think if Scottish and Welsh nationalists ever took a real look at the English, their movements would effectively collapse, as the Great English Bogey Man in the closet that forms the foundation of those movements is – to reference Monsters Inc. – more a Sully than a Randall.
And that’s what Lucas seems to be skirting around with all her logic-free, faux intellectual acrobatics. She desperately wants to find the English and Englishness horrid and a threat and something to be guarded against when actually it’s really – whisper it! – quite OK.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago
Reply to  John Murray

The ridiculous thing about Irish ‘nationalism ‘ is that while obviously based on the historical struggle for independence, the massive past immigration of Irish to the UK means that there’s very little difference genetically between us; my family and a lot of my friends ‘ families have part-Irish antecedents. We’re virtually all blood relatives for God’s sake.

With their entry to the EU, any lingering cultural differences were rapidly watered down and will soon disappear completely into the usual grey international multicultural porridge.

Thus, their specific ‘identity’ looks thinner and thinner and more and more like cosplay as time goes on. But they cling to the wreckage all the more desperately and wave it about as if it still had any real weight and meaning.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I was born and up in California, a descendant of what my father always assumed was some distant Scottish ancestor – based solely on the name. Genealogical research couldn’t trace our line back any further than five generations – to about the 1820’s, in upstate New York. Recently, 23andme decided I have no Scottish genes whatever, that this ancestral line was actually Irish. I’ve read enough history to know about the English dispossession of Irish land to give to Scottish immigrants they hoped would be more controllable. I suppose that’s where the line meanders through. My reason for posting this is to point out something different. I grew up with this nebulous notion of my own “Scottishness”. We’ve visited Scotland (and Ireland). It was disconcerting in a way that I don’t entirely understand. But clearly people develop a sense of their own ethnicity that may be entirely independent of fact.
My wife has some Welsh ancestors and that shade of red hair most often found in Wales and Scotland. When we visited Scotland which I understand has the highest percentage of redheads in the world now, she said it was a profoundly interesting experience to feel for a time like she was in a place full of “her people”. Everywhere else we’ve lived she says she has always felt a bit like a freak, an outsider.

William Amos
William Amos
1 month ago

With respect to your interpretation of your own history I think you are carrying a few residual misconceptions.
Ireland was colonised by James VI & I, a Scottish King. The plantation of Ireland was a largely (and enthusiastically) a Scottish undertaking, particularly in Ulster. There was little incentive for anyone to leave the peace and plenty of England to contend with the bog and the Kerns.
Go back further and you will note that the Scots, The Scotii originated in Ireland and drove the Picts out of Caledonia, renaming it Scotland.
The links between Ireland and Scotland are extremely close. Fraternal. As close as Cain and Abel, infact. Using Genealogical research to determine Scottish or Irish ancestry is surely like using a magnifying glass to read a face?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

This is true; i’m one of them (Irish grandfather) but consider myself as English as it’s possible to be. I really enjoy belonging to a national culture that somehow manages to evade description, much to the annoyance of Lucas-types.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago

No, the average Brit really doesn’t see white or colour in people, we are all Brits.
All those families descended from the immigrants of the 1950’s, 60’s,70’s & 80’s are English, they speak like us and they think like us.
We are all true Brits!

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

You are confusing British and English. English is an ethnic group. British is not.

William Amos
William Amos
1 month ago

With respect, normative Englishness and American ‘Whiteness’ couldn’t be more different and the assertion of similarity between English and American identity can only harm the English sense of self.
The difference is quite simple and made apparent by adding the term ‘Native’ before the terms ‘English’ and ‘American’.
With all regard to the best intentions with which it has acted on the world stage, the Great Republic itself was founded in rebellion, expanded by disappropriation and consolidated by fine words masking hypocrisy.

Kat L
Kat L
1 month ago
Reply to  William Amos

Disagree. Up to the mid eighties we associated ourselves to the mother country in our popular culture. Our town and city names, holidays, early architecture and basic home meals that we ate/eat still hearken to this, especially in the southern regions. There used to be something called ‘the grand tour’ of Europe when young people came of age. Bewitched, Beverly Hillbillies, Andy Griffith, a myriad of old Hollywood films all provide proofs of this if one simply opens an eye. The royal wedding of 1981 was a huge deal here.

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago

Progressives shaping an Utopia that nobody has asked for or wants. They struggle to understand that Brexit was the result of their policies, the unintended consequences of devolution and mass immigration.

They are disgusted by this so they project it in their usual patronising way it as rampant English nationalism, racism, xenophopbia and a desire “to return to the good old days, that never existed. Don’t you know St. George isn’t even English”.

Ideology creates paradox, progressives lack the intelligence to see this. Hubris

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

Having read this, my impression is that Caroline Lucas chasing self-reflection and an inner logic to her writings is a bit like a dog furiously and hopelessly chasing its own tail.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I agree, and I think some of the thinking of Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists, who think they are looking through a window onto English nationalism, are in fact looking in a mirror.

McLovin
McLovin
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

St Patrick wasn’t even Irish!

Andrew R
Andrew R
1 month ago
Reply to  McLovin

Indeed, a Romanised Celt/Briton kidnapped from a South Wales beach.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew R

Speaking of former Roman provinces, I’d wager several paychecks that exactly zero Palestinians ever have any of these self doubts.

Micael Gustavsson
Micael Gustavsson
1 month ago
Reply to  McLovin

Well, St George wasn’t English.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

“If the English are, as Chesterton claimed, â€œthe secret people
 that never have spoken yet”, it can only be assumed that that is because they prefer silence.”
That’ll be a passive aggressive silence, thank you, with some self-righteous tutting and low-level chuntering on the side.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

If there is such an abstract idea as English ‘national temperament’ and it used to be ‘amiable indifference’ then perhaps you need to understand why that was so before you assert a new national temperament.
My guess is that the national temperament was actually stolid indifference for centuries, the antics of the Great and Good merited little concern. Perhaps because the elites of the Great and Good have come and gone but ordinary life soldiered on – a sort of folk historical perspective.
The ‘amiable indifference’ is perhaps a view from the elite side of the fence, surprised that the ordinary population has not objected more to the latest antics of the Great and Good. I think that the national temperament is beginning to change, probably to ‘sullen indifference’ – and the elite will find that governing a sullen population is far more tricky than expected. The sullen population may not jump to the latest fashionable wheeze for instance, declining to get excited over foreign wars, Net Zero, ignoring various consumer ‘bans’, and turning to extralegal markets to thwart Those With Good Intentions.

RM Parker
RM Parker
1 month ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I think you may be onto something there. The quiet ones, after all, do snap the loudest.
I think, however, that when they do snap, it’ll be at their leaders and institutions, rather than at immigrant populations (unless strongly and prolongedly provoked). I’ve had numerous first generation immigrants express surprise to me over how little friction they encountered in day to day life in England. Nowhere is perfect of course, but England’s not some vitriolic xenophobic hell-hole, regardless of self-serving leftist contentions.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 month ago
Reply to  RM Parker

“England’s not some vitriolic xenophobic hell-hole”
Invite enough xenophobic immigrants from cultures that look down upon other religions or skin colours, and it will be.

William Amos
William Amos
1 month ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Kipling’s wonderful poem ‘The Land’ expresses just the sentiment you have so lucidly described and identified.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
1 month ago
Reply to  AC Harper

“…turning to extra legal markets to thwart Those With Good Intentions” sounds like great fun. A bit of subversion makes the world go ’round, especially if it makes monkeys out of our “betters”. Count me in!

Stevie K
Stevie K
1 month ago
Reply to  AC Harper

A nice nuanced description, which describes a subtle but significant change. As you say the ruling elite will notice, seemingly they are already feeling the increased friction with the ruled and finding it most inconvenient. Hence the obsession with the non-existent far right threat.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I went to Battle last year. I asked a guide how did those who were clearly English react to the place where Anglo Saxon England was lost. He said nearly all regarded it as a defeat and not a welcome one . There is something about that place and I know what he means .
The English know who they are and always have done. They know what to be English really is and there is no need for explain it. As for our quietness that is perhaps because we have never had any time for those who govern. They know that and that is why they are so bad at it and so disdainful of ordinary people so we in return have little time for them . As for the blather of intellectuals that has never counted for much and it amuses me to hear their quaint notions that giving us a political voice will change things. Maybe our quietness will end .Who knows? The last civil war was a terrible thing and maybe we remember this. I like to think that some of our best people left and built the USA and chucked the English ruling class out in 1776. We are hard to rule I hope. My ancestors were ordinary Essex country folk from way way back and I like to think they were stubborn , difficult and went their own way . My father and his brother were and so are my sons. We look at the state of England now and are not amused by it. The ruling class has had it’s chance. I would not like to predict the future.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
1 month ago

Lucas’ fervent support of proportional representation exposes her as an anti democrat, she does not believe in a true and open democracy where the MP’s serve the electorate, rather than themselves.
In Europe PR has seperated the politicians from their electorate as they pursue their own agenda’s in decades and decades of coalitions.
The catastrophic result has been the emergence of extremist parties populating their parliaments.

Saul D
Saul D
1 month ago

Secretly, the English believe everyone should aspire to be English – it is the natural order of things. Tolerance, reasonableness and belief in fair play. As a result the English welcome outsiders, even to be their kings and rulers, so long as they try to be English, and not a blasted foreigner.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Saul D

Well put Saul.
The English aspire, by and large, to own a house in a village with a 12th century church, a good pub and a sub-post office (so long as there is a Sainsbury’s within a 10 minute drive). If their neighbours were born in Ulaanbataar, who cares so long as they are nice to dogs and keep the throat-singing to a minimum? What we tend to dislike is upper-class lefties of the Caroline Lucas/Florence Craye variety that attempt to push their third-hand, sixth-form ideas on us.
But that is a minor irritation.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Saul D

The point about kings is interesting. If you think about it, we’ve variously had Italians (Romans), Danish (Canute et al), French (William I et al), Welsh (Henry VII), Dutch (William IV) and Germans (George I & II). And arguably Philip II of Spain for a few years. Almost all naturalised and fitted in (Philip II lost interest).
But somehow we have a long history of hating foreigners !

George Venning
George Venning
1 month ago
Reply to  Saul D

Much more succinctly put than my own contribution

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Perhaps the thing often missed, almost like oxygen in the air that we cannot see but it’s there all around you, is how strong and solid ‘English’ best values are and will be. And that seeps into most of our sub conscious creating in itself a sub conscious self confidence that wherever the person’s parents or more distant ancestor originated they become ‘English’. Look at our PMs for both UK and Scotland (the latter may of course be gone before we stop commenting here on this Article but you get the point). The favourite for next Tory leader has African parents. And so on. The change is constant but the best English values persist.
Is a lack of confidence the problem? Our best values have permeated the World and of course it’s in large part why people want to come here.

McLovin
McLovin
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

the latter may of course be gone before we stop commenting here – already gone!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

What English values did the anti-white bigot in Scotland represent?

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Plenty you may lack I suspect. Tolerance, belief in democracy etc. No great fan of Yousaf but basic decency I don’t think in doubt.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
1 month ago

English nationalism and a sense of nationhood doesn’t exist because England itself doesn’t exist as an identity in any meaningful way. England has strong regional identities but little to no national identity.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

Read Bede.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

Bede has little to say about the reality of contemporary England.

William Amos
William Amos
1 month ago

I think he does in that he points to the challenging sense that English nationhood, insofar as it exists or has existed in history, is inextricably linked to the Crown, the Church and the common English tongue.
The nation of ‘England’ simply is Church and Crown in the way that the mind is the body. One and the same thing. One cannot be sensibly distinguished from the other.
The same is true for Orthodox Greeks, Coptic Egyptians or Islamic Arabs.
There can be no be no England in any meaningful continuing sense without these three common bonds, Church, Crown and shared language.
I say that without judgement or recommendation. John Ball, Cromwell, Tom Paine and Tony Benn would have had a polity on this Island, had they achieved their ideals, but it would not have been England and it’s people would not have been ‘English’.
There is not ‘civic’ nationalism possible here other that of an American satellite.

William Amos
William Amos
1 month ago

The Condition of England has long been a palimpsest of two competing parochialisms. Both of which stem from the legacy of the manipulation of the social conract during the Empire. Two promises were made, one to the native English and another to the Imperial Subject.
The common man during the High Empire was sold a vision of a timeless England, peceful and plentiful, bound in with the triumphant sea. His complacency and vanity was chastised in the Kipling poem, The English Flag. quoted by the writer above. The ‘mean little street-bred people’ could ‘vapour, fume and brag’ about the largest and most disparate Empire the world had ever known but somehow consider it a thing done ‘elsewhere’ on their behalf.
It is this paradox of disinterest and purely passive enjoyment in the vast undertaking of Empire that Kipling is lamenting when he asks “What should they know of England who only England know?” The double meaning of ‘England’ as both quiet old Albion and the Brittanic Empire on which the sun never set.
The outlook of the administrators of the Empire, on the other hand, is set forth most accurately in Kiplings other poem, ‘The White Man’s Burden’. “Take up the white man’s burden/ and reap his old reward/ the blame of them you better/ the hate of those ye guard”. This is the familiar conceit of the ‘expert’ administrators which still presume to mismanage the state today.
The common man enjoyed the glory of global Empire and the Liberal Imperialist enjoyed the dignity of rule, neither considering what the implications might be for Old England if the hopes and promises being extended to ‘[their] new caught sullen peoples” should be ‘called in’ all at once.
Then, in 1948 the British Nationality Act conferred British ‘citizenship’ on the many millions of these former Imperial Subjects. The contradictory promises made to the native and the colonial component of the Imperial citizenry at last came into direct contact.
With the rise of cheap international travel the native English became properly aware of the promises that had been made on their behalf to their fellow Imperial Subjects – when they arrived in London in full expectation of the equal treatment that had been promised them from birth.
The simple fact is that the Empire at it’s height contained only 47 Million ‘Britishers’ and over 350 Million Indians and Africans. Christianity was practiced by only 14% of the whole. It is also a simple fact that the English have not formed a majority in the polity to which they are attached since the creation of the British Raj in 1858.
None of this is an aberration, it is the consonant legacy of Empire. There is some peace in recognising that.

Victor James
Victor James
1 month ago
Reply to  William Amos

Please step telling the British people to have ‘peace’ with the dog s**t sandwich that you call the ‘post-colonial’ agreement.
There is no agreement. No one voted for any of this.

William Amos
William Amos
1 month ago
Reply to  Victor James

I hope I make no recommendations to my fellow countrymen, I merely describe what I perceive to be the reality of history from where I sit and describe how I feel about it at this late stage.
With regard to your second point, I could cite The Charter Act of 1813, the Government of India Act 1833 and 1858 and the Royal Titles Act 1876 which incorporated India into the British polity. Similar acts were passed for other Crown Dependencies, Colonies and Protectorates.
The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 and the British Nationality Act 1948 unified the legal status of the British Subject and Commonwealth citizen to mean one and the same thing. In 1948 identical citizenship was extended to almost all former Imperial subjects and protected persons.
All of these provisions were voted on in a regular fashion and passed in both Houses.
The history of the Immigration debate, particularly since the arrival of he Windrush has been an effort to put the cat back in the bag, so to speak.

George Venning
George Venning
1 month ago

Is the absence of English nationalism such a mystery?
European ethnic nationalism is, surely a fundamentally 19th century phenomenon. Whichever nationalism we are thinking aobut, its modern origins lie there (even if they consciously hark back to a much deeper time). Garibaldi, Bismark, Walter Scott, Ibsen, Grieg, Wagner, Tolstoy, Pushkin and Herzel (to name but a few) are all 19th century, as are Germania, Mother Russia and Britannia. And there were, of course, immitators elsewhere (in Japan or Bolivarian South America, for example) and later (Attaturk, Nasser and Ghandi were formed by 19th centrury ideas and applied them in the 20th)
Once you accept that nationalism is a 19th century idea, it makes sense that the political salience of each specific nationalism connects with how politically useful it was found to be at that time. These nationalist ideas were useful in forging the new nations of Italy and Germany, and newly independent Norway. In Russia, both the Tsars and the Soviets, leant on Tolstoy’s conservative fatalism in their presentation of national character.
But these nationalist ideas were much less useful in Europe’s two competing Metropoles (London and Paris).
The political project in each of these places was Empire and, as such, it suited the elite to present Britishness (or Frenchness) as superior, certainly, but also as accessible. To say, (however, insincerely) to the governed that they could have some small piece of the Glory of empire if they accepted its values.
The British Empire tells its own people, that to be born English is to win first place in the lottery of life and its foreign subjects that, if they adopt our strange ways, they too can get ahead. For that to work, the inherent superiority of Britishness has to be an open secret – universally recognised and practiced but never openly acknowledged. Perfidious Albion indeed.
The French version, similar but distinct is to dress up ethnic nationalism as civic nationalism. So, “Frenchness” is all appeals to reason and the universalism of the enlightenment until you scratch the surface for two minutes and find all sorts of gallic idiosyncracy being dignified by the Academie Francaise.
Put simply, one of the things ethnic nationalism does is to console, unify and ultimately galvanise the downtrodden. The English have spent so long feeling like they were on top of the heap that the nationalism came to them late. By the time the English realised that they were the sick man of Europe, nationalism was out of fashion.

William Amos
William Amos
1 month ago
Reply to  George Venning

Absolutely spot on.

George Venning
George Venning
1 month ago
Reply to  William Amos

Was just thinking the same about yours.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke
1 month ago

Ah lads, come on now! That is a article title that people from my part of the world could have fun with.

Warren Francisco
Warren Francisco
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael Clarke

“The people are revolting!”
“You said it, they stink on ice!”
-The History of The World, Part I

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

“For one thing, we can be confident that a more diverse population is a strength.” 
If the goal is a Balkanized population, then sure, strength. Otherwise, not so much. The only value of diversity is in the harnessing of different perspectives in the service of a unified purpose. Like having a country worth living in.
The diversity racket suffers from having been exposed by its pushers’ insistence that it is an end unto itself rather than a potential means for reaching a desired end. I hear the same “whites will be a minority” in the US, too, but no one can explain why this is a good thing.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Strange comments from someone who likely has a diverse background given the surname.

Neiltoo .
Neiltoo .
1 month ago

I struggle to identify Englishness. From N. Ireland, I’m British and Irish although the governments of both outdo each other in a bid to have me run a mile.
Having known many from the north and south of England it’s hard to find characteristics that unite the two. I like both but the same they are not!

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
1 month ago
Reply to  Neiltoo .

Northern and Southern England are different countries in all but name.

Victor James
Victor James
1 month ago

I suppose the only good thing about the third-world colonisation is that it’ll force ethnic Europeans to band together eventually or face genocide.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

“It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late
With long arrears to make good,
When the English began to hate.

They were not easily moved,
They were icy willing to wait
Till every count should be proved,
Ere the English began to hate.

Their voices were even and low,
Their eyes were level and straight.
There was neither sign nor show,
When the English began to hate.

It was not preached to the crowd,
It was not taught by the State.
No man spoke it aloud,
When the English began to hate.

It was not suddenly bred,
It will not swiftly abate,
Through the chill years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the English began to hate.”

When England goes extinct like the Bactrians, Tocharians or Guanches I doubt anyone will mourn us.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
1 month ago

Dostoyevsky observed, in the nineteenth century, that metropolitan Russian intellectuals had lost all moral and cultural contact with the Russian people. The two groups were essentially foreigners, divided by mutual incomprehension and disdain.
Ditto, high-bourgeois wealthy English progressives, like Ms Lucas, and the English/British people. If these Guardian readers think every other country is superior to their own, I do wish they’d go and live in one of them.

David Wildgoose
David Wildgoose
1 month ago

The Campaign for an English Parliament was set up immediately after the unbalanced Devolution that gave Parliaments to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but ignored England. I will acknowledge it is more like a Pressure Group, (I have been a member for years).

I am afraid that the principle of “English Votes for English Laws” has already been quietly scrapped, just like we said it would be.

I joined the CEP as a Unionist appalled at the damage our MPs were doing to the Union. After years of anti-English abuse, I am now an unashamed English Nationalist who thinks the Union is just a scam to parasite off the English. England should leave the Union if only to prevent the ridiculous assertion that our “Celtic cousins” want to free themselves from an English yoke when the reality is the reverse.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Good stuff. Perhaps Unherd could invite our Caroline to respond, or clarify what the f..k she is on about

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
1 month ago

Test