The Future of the English-Speaking Nations | Rievaulx
VE Day 2020 was one of the most bizarre national celebrations I have ever lived through. And, in these strange post-Christian times, that’s really saying something. Above all, it really brought it home to me how grossly artificial Britishness is as a national identity.
I have no doubt the English, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish share many similarities. We speak the same language, and have this wonderful shared character of unassumingness, light cynicism and emotional control. But nationhood goes much deeper than mere similarity; it is far more psychological. The fact of the matter is the British peoples have rarely identified as a single nation, despite centuries of political union.
Perhaps the British could have become one nation in the early years of the Union. Perhaps, just as Castilian became Spanish, the English language could have been renamed “British”, and our cultures could have been hybridised and merged, with men in London wearing kilts and men in Cardiff playing Gaelic football. Such is how continental nations like Spain or France culturally centralised, but there was no appetite for such a thing in Britain, and besides, such heavy-handed State meddling was beyond the English character. So the opportunity to create a unified British people was lost forever, and Britishness, when and where it was sporadically felt by the population, became a supranational, watery identity which changed with the times.
At first, Britishness was defined by shared Protestantism and anti-popery. Then, with the rise of Empire, it became a civic Imperial identity. This explains the odd language used to refer to the British nations up until the Second World War. Westminster was referred to as the Imperial Parliament, and the British nations were treated by and large as separate peoples under the Empire, no different in that sense to the Canadians or the Punjabis, except that as residents of the Motherland they alone were entitled to representation in that selfsame Parliament (although suggestions to allow the other British peoples of the Empire in Parliament were popular in the “Imperial Federation” movement). Hence self-government for the Irish, Scots, etc. was called “Home Rule” and was deemed no different to the Home Rule already entitled to the more distant British peoples like the self-governing Canadians or South Africans. The British Empire really was a cosmopolitan, multinational world unto itself, and to be a British subject was a badge of honour for many people from Edinburgh to Zanzibar.
As an example of this, in 1895 the following motion proposed by Henry Dalziel MP was approved by the House of Commons,
“Resolved, – That, in the opinion of this House, in order to give speedier and fuller effect to the special desires and wants of the respective nationalities [my emphasis] constituting the United Kingdom, and with a view to increase the efficiency of Imperial Parliament to deal with Imperial affairs, it is desirable to devolve upon Legislatures in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England respectively the management and control of their domestic affairs.”
While such propositions were shelved with the advent of the First World War and forceful Irish secession, we can see that during this era Britishness was conceptualised more as an Imperial rather than “national” identity. Such an Imperial-national distinction was incidentally also made in the Ottoman Empire between “Ottomans” and “Turks”.
However, when the British Empire collapsed in the aftermath of the Second World War – its borders retreating to the Motherland – Imperial and national identity naturally became confused. The responsibility of resolving this identity crisis was assumed by Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Britain had lost her Empire, but Attlee was determined to maintain her great power status. Therefore he went about transforming the warfare state into a new centralised British national state. And thus modern British nationalism was born, defined by a mythologised veneration of the Second World War and the part we played in it, and worship of nationalised services.
There are obvious exceptions and nuances to this history – for example England and Britain were often confused, especially by Englishmen (as they are to this day), and this is not to say that British patriotism didn’t occasionally take on a national quality in the Imperial era (talk of “Britons”, allusions to King Arthur, and whatnot). But I feel what I have written is broadly true.
So where does this leave us? As I have said the opportunity to establish a unified British nation has long since passed – after years of coexisting separately within the same political union Attlee would not have been able to replace the pre-existing British nations even if he tried. Merely his newly invented British national identity tacked itself on to Britain in messy and inconsistent ways. Today modern Britishness consists of whatever can be borrowed from Englishness coupled with the most mundane things, like red telephone boxes and bureaucratic public services such as “our BBC” and “our NHS”. Just as the Napoleonic Wars were the foundational myth of Imperial Britain, the Second World War has become the foundational myth of modern Britain. To caricature somewhat, in the modern Briton’s mind, WWII was the “good war” against bigotry which led to the creation of our multicultural welfare state. (If you would like to know why this is far from historically accurate, I cannot recommend Peter Hitchens’ The Phoney Victory enough.)
VE Day 2020 and the broader public reaction to coronavirus has displayed this new Britishness in all its weird glory. To compare a relatively mild virus to the most devastating conflict in human history is obviously ridiculous, yet the modern Briton revels in such a thing. While some aspects of this are relatively harmless, like hosting Union Jack-peppered street parties and singing “We’ll Meet Again” on one’s doorstep, others are not so. This lockdown has proved that British people will not only accept but mob-mindedly embrace massive State intervention in their private lives if a Churchillian analogue can be drawn with the terrible if necessary total war socialism of WWII. Meanwhile our treatment of the few remaining veterans has progressed from a reasonable respect to absolute devotion. Captain Tom, a WWII veteran raising money for that holiest of holies, Our NHS, has been deified. His efforts were noble and praiseworthy no doubt, but do a few laps of a garden really warrant a knighthood, especially when so many veterans have never received their medals? I knew we’d gone too far when I saw a woman create a papier-mâché idol of him like something from The Wicker Man.
Sunday church services have been replaced with religious rituals of another kind on Thursday. Clap For Carers, while ostensibly a tribute to all medical staff both public and private, is in practice nothing more than a flowering of the NHS cult – that staple of modern Britishness. Throughout the land shrines and icons decorated with infantile rainbows give thanks to the NHS specifically. In fact protecting the NHS was the questionable excuse given to introduce the lockdown to begin with. It seems to me absolute loyalty to this bloated bureaucracy is by now so entrenched in British identity it has effectively become unaccountable, and any vague criticism or suggestion for reform will be decried as a ploy for privatisation. Subsequently, more and more money will be pumped into it until, as Prussia was an army with a state, Britain will be a health service with a state (my friend Harry J. Fitzpatrick’s analogy, not mine).
In short, Britishness is an ugly, artificial identity, messily taped together from the remaining scraps of honour and prestige we could find amid the rubble of our Empire. Unlike Englishness or Scottishness, there is nothing ancient, folkish or rooted about it. This is why oikophobes can so easily pick our patriotism apart as nothing more than red telephone boxes and cups of tea; why we are so helplessly enfeebled to Americanisation, multiculturalism and europhilia. Thankfully, the 2011 Census demonstrated that the peoples of the United Kingdom still mostly identify with the old nationalities – the exceptions being London and Protestant Northern Ireland, both of which identify mostly with Britishness for different reasons. Londoners, by now mostly of recent migrant stock, are “British” because, as it was in the Imperial age, it is a more civic, multicultural identity. The very word “English” implies an ethnic, ancestral link to the Angles of old, whereas the term “British” is more geographical in association, implying a link only to the island of Great Britain. This applicability to our new migrant populations has been used to great effect by leftists who wish to uproot us of our conception of our kinship. The Protestant Northern Irish, meanwhile, are a colonial people of mixed Scottish, English and Irish descent – their form of Britishness is really an identity unto itself.
In my opinion, the sooner we do away with this toxic, hodgepodge, half-formed nationality, so much a boon to those who wish to rewrite our culture and identity, the better. It’s especially vital for the English who, as mentioned previously, are more inclined to confuse it with Englishness with terrible consequences for the latter.
English nationhood is possibly the oldest in the world. Long before England was even a united realm, the Venerable Bede was writing of historia nostrae nationis – the history of our nation, not referring merely to his own native Kingdom of Northumbria, but to the English as a whole. It is a proper nation, a real nation; bound in shared ancestry and ancient culture. It has its own native tongue (which just happens to have been stolen by the rest of the world), its own folklore, songs and dances. Is this to say Englishness is a more exclusive nationalism? To some extent. It is more ethnocultural. I have no doubt people from all corners of the earth can come to our land and become English, but our ancestry is important to our identity and you’d have to be a cosmopolitan fool to deny that. However, in many much more important respects Englishness is more inclusive. It is not tied to a particular mythologised opinion of history, or a particular postwar political culture, or national institution – as Britishness is. English history is so rich and diverse that people of all religious backgrounds, political persuasions and historical opinions can find something to identify with in it. Catholics can identify with our Catholic history; Protestants with our Protestant history; heck, even neopagans could identify with the Anglo-Saxon gods. Conservatives like myself will venerate Henry V and Elizabeth I, but England also has a long history of radicalism and nonconformism – indeed, English nationalism used to be a feature of the left before it was entirely taken over by oikophobes and anti-patriots.
England – an older nation, a better nation – must rise like a phoenix from ashes, and free itself of the bloated corpse of Empire that is Britain. Yet it’s not so simple as English independence. The British Isles are England’s natural sphere of influence, and we need all the territory we can get to counteract the German hegemony of the European Union. If the United Kingdom were totally abolished, Wales and Scotland would likely join the EU, which would render us nothing but a European enclave. Additionally, the British peoples do have some natural affinity which I described earlier, which shouldn’t altogether be discarded.
No, English nationalism must be reconciled with Unionism. The United Kingdom must abandon this foolish pretence of being a unified nation and become more truly a Union of Allied Nations… a confederacy with free trade, free movement, and some shared government. Basically, our own Atlantic British Union as an alternative to the EU.
We are already heading in this direction, in terms of devolution, and I can think of many benefits. It could solve the Irish problem, by blurring the lines between Loyalism and Nationalism. In order to entice the Republic of Ireland the new Union could not employ the Union Jack or the Queen of England, at least not in any formal capacity. Indeed, to be truly free, yet united the constituent nations must be able to decide their own government for themselves, whether monarchy or republic.
Such a Union would not purely be beneficial only for the sake of English power. Ireland was never really independent; at least not until the adoption of the euro, when it transferred its fealty from Britain to Europe. Before then its currency was pegged to pound sterling, its economy was dependent on our own, and we shared a Common Travel Area. Despite this, Irish nationalism has been dominated for the last century and continues to be dominated by atheist Marxists, quite alien to traditional Gaelic Catholic Ireland, who have been given free reign to define Irishness as vehemently left-wing and anti-British. It’s these parasites who have imbued in the Irish a determination to be free of Britain no matter what the cost; even if it means submitting to Brussels instead.
The Irish must liberate themselves of this self-destructive xenophobic impulse. If the Easter Rising had gone only a little differently it’s possible to imagine a world of Anglo-Irish partnership. Despite the Irish media’s snobbery over Brexit, the fact of the matter is the eurocrats care even less for them than they did for us. It’s telling that Ireland has been forced to make up for our absence by forming a “New Hanseatic League” with other Northern European nations with similar interests.
Ireland would get great benefit from free trade with its closest neighbour, on which it still depends economically and with which it still has so much in common. What is the alternative? To be a little coastal metropolitan colony of a lofty, disinterested European empire? That’s what the shinners would prefer, unfortunately.
The same applies to Welsh and Scottish nationalists. What exactly would be the point in drawing hard land borders across the island of Great Britain, just to become distant, irrelevant outposts of European power? For that is really the choice. It’s why Plaid Cymru could not be eurosceptic even after Wales voted Leave. Celtic nationalists know deep down that a truly independent Wales or Scotland – that is, free of both England and Europe – would be as poor as Ireland was in the 1980s. In the case of Wales especially, which has never been a totally free nation-state, it would be so reliant on England its de facto independence would have to be called into doubt.
I understand the desire for national realisation because I feel it myself with my England. But Europe is not the answer. We must forge our own alternative, united enough to grant us all the benefits of a United Kingdom, and separate enough to allow each constituent nationality to flourish unimpeded by artificial attempts at British nationbuilding. And perhaps this great Union itself could form part of an even larger Anglophonie to unite the Anglo-Saxon world.
It may sound hypocritical for someone who so passionately supported leaving the EU, to suggest we form our own supranational unions. But I’m fine with supranationalism, so long as it’s truly supra-national; that is, it respects the sanctity and self-determination of the nation-state. The EU is geared with its regional policy to “divide and rule” Europe by salami-slicing it into neat little provinces, like Wales, Scotland or Catalonia, that would be unsustainable as independent countries. As Roger Scruton put it in The Need for Nations,
“The official map of Europe makes no mention of England, but only of ‘regions’ marked on the map with the same bureaucratic arbitrariness that carved up the Ottoman Empire.“
The North East England devolution referendum of 2004, thankfully a failure, would have been the first step to abolishing the concept of England itself. What’s more, it wouldn’t surprise me if the europhile’s embrace of Third World migration isn’t born in part of a recognition that ghettoising the continent would further water-down the nation-state and aid in this strategy.
No, the EU is anti-national, not supra-national. It is a modern Austria-Hungary or Holy Roman Empire, which explains why the Habsburgs have taken such active roles within it. Additionally, the nations of Europe have far less in common with each other than the nations of the Anglosphere. It’s hard to see how it will remain united into the future without a degree of autocracy, and I did not particularly want England’s valuable political and cultural institutions to be europeanised. We would not have such things to fear from an Anglophone union, for the Anglo-Saxon nations bear a vast array of cultural, ethnic, legal and political similarities that would make such a unification much more feasible.
I am suggesting what they call “CANZUK”, but with a twist. CANZUK proponents, effectively the modern incarnation of the Imperial Federalists, have the right general idea. However, they are let down by their Imperial nostalgia and pointless anti-Americanism. I don’t like Americanisation as much as the next man – I stubbornly refuse even the most widespread Americanisms like “train station”. But I recognise that such cultural quibbles are minor compared to the great similarities that we share with the States. Fundamentally, despite years of Melting in a Pot, America is still at root an Anglo-Saxon nation. It’s whole concept of liberty is derived from “the rights of Englishmen”; its system of government and Bill of Rights were modelled on our own; and its common law is part of the same ancient tradition stretching back to Magna Carta and beyond. As I see it, the Anglo-Saxon spirit is defined by placing the individual, with all his creativity, eccentricity and ambition, above the collective, and nothing better emblemises this than the American Dream.
On the other hand, what is there to divide us? Republicanism? If Australia became a republic would CANZUKers opt to exclude that country too? It would be utterly ridiculous to exclude the most powerful and populous English-speaking nation from an Anglophone union, and crucial we don’t do so at such a critical time.
I’m thankful that since 1815 the world has been dominated by Anglo-Saxon nations with liberty at the heart of their ideology. We should not take this for granted. Nowadays the Anglo-Saxon order is threatened both within and without. China, an explicitly collectivist, anti-liberal nation, gobbles up American economic and sea power in the Third World. The useful idiots of the left meanwhile decry the Anglo-Saxon model as a failure and seek to replace the sovereignty of the individual with collectivist identity politics. Even on the conservative right, so-called traditionalists are slowly forgetting the difference between free, Anglo-Saxon England and collectivist, authoritarian Austria-Hungary. If you do not understand the difference then you do not understand England.
A free trade, free movement confederacy of English-speaking nations with shared cultural, political, and legal traditions and institutions, and a shared commitment to liberty, would perhaps help to sustain Anglo hegemony for another century. It would do much to define the Anglosphere as a separate civilisation, which I truly believe it is, from continental Europe and the rest of the world. An Anglo-American empire as a counterargument to China.
Of course, there is the debate to be had over what constitutes an Anglo-Saxon nation. Leftists love deriding the Anglosphere as the “White Commonwealth”, but the fact of the matter is while nations like the New Zealanders or Canadians are colonial peoples still mostly descended from Britons with cultures still very similar to our own, other former British colonies like India are only superficially Anglo-Saxon. They retain British institutions and maybe even English in a formal capacity, but apart from that they share little cultural or ancestral similarity with us. Though perhaps the Anglo union could incorporate the Commonwealth Caribbean peoples, which while not primarily of British descent are still colonial nations created by England and therefore inculcated with a certain inherent Englishness.
These are my hopes for the future. I have no idea as to their likelihood, but I will campaign for them nevertheless because I believe they are desirable. It is astonishing that such a little country could have such a big impact upon the world. But I suppose even Rome was only a city.
Photo by Dominic Hemsworth on Flickr.