A recurring subject on this blog has been the difference (and the inherent conflict) between the identities known as ‘British’ and ‘English’, respectively.
For many, if not most people in the Anglosphere, the identities and terms are interchangeable. I confess that for a good while I was prone to use the terms indiscriminately, though I understood that one can be ‘British’ but have no English blood. The two names describe something different. Even some of my readers in the UK on the old blog said that they often used the term ‘British’ when they really should have said ‘English.’
This post was prompted by a piece at the blog Christianity and Race, which in turn was inspired by a post by Mark Citadel at Citadel Foundations, titled ‘Little England’. Good, thought-provoking pieces, both. I find little with which I can disagree in either post. I will say, with all due respect, that it may be a little unfair to attribute the ‘English vs. British’ problem to arrogance or hubris only on the part of the English. I know this is a common view of the English, as they were very much a dominant power in the world up until the early 20th century, when their empire began to break up/be broken up.
The original transformation of England into ‘Britain’ or ‘Great Britain’ began with the Act of Union in 1707. It was not by naked aggression or force on England’s part that this Union was effected, though I can certainly agree that, in retrospect, it set England on a course that was to be more damaging to the English than to any of the other ethnic groups who made up the state to be known as Great Britain, then the United Kingdom. Depending on which ethnic group your sympathies lie with, you may disagree. But it’s true that the other component ethnic groups within today’s UK can keep their ethnic identity, symbols, flags, customs, languages, and even their own parliaments, while England lacks those privileges. The English flag of St. George has been labeled ‘divisive’ and ‘hateful.’ England cannot decide its own fate without the input of the many other ethnic groups who now reside there. The English identity is labeled as ‘too exclusive’, because, let’s face it, one cannot be ‘English’ except by ancestry and by genetics. It is a blood kinship, just as is the Scottish or Welsh or Irish identity. Now, we read stories in the Irish media about the ‘new Irish’, with pictures of Africans or Asians smilingly holding their Irish citizenship papers. But no one is fooled by that; people know that Irishness is a matter of blood, as is ‘English.’ Papers and documents can’t confer Englishness on anyone.
The comparison of the inclusive ‘British’ identity with the ‘American’ identity is a valid one; both are strictly civic identities, and thus they are artificial and arbitrary. One cannot create a real nation by fiat or by documents, and a nation is not a nation if it is based on an ideology or a ‘proposition.’ Britain, or the United Kingdom, has mistakenly followed the American example and is attempting to create a polyglot, multiracial ‘proposition nation’, and the results are looking disastrous. The Empire, unfortunately, laid the groundwork for this. Much as I admire Rudyard Kipling and his work, he tended to romanticize the Raj to some extent, and to establish the idea that someone like his character ‘Gunga Din’ could be ‘British’ in spirit though he was a Hindu. As the empire dissolved, bizarrely, the same Hindus who clamored to expel the British from their homeland soon chased after their former ‘oppressors’, desiring to live amongst them. The same pattern happened with the Irish, many of whom chose to live in England despite their resentment of the hated ‘Brits’ in their homeland.
So it is not British, or ‘English’ hubris or ambition alone that created the situation; the circumstances are too complicated to merit that charge.
I agree with both of the cited blog posts that England should rediscover its particularistic identity, rather than clinging to this polyglot, all-things-to-all-people ‘British’ identity. I am admittedly a partisan, though I wish all the indigenous people(s) of the UK well, but I think it was the English who were and are the core of what was once ‘Great’ Britain; it was they who made it great. England, ‘Little’ or otherwise, would still be a great country should they go their own way, and let the component countries of the UK go their way.
The future, I hope, will go in the direction of decentralization, of a return to ethnic particularism, and away from polyglot, mixed-multitude empires, which eventually must end in some kind of internal strife and inevitable totalitarianism. The best case scenario would be what I call the ‘blender’, the mixing together of distinct identities into some amorphous mass, not a desirable outcome if we want to preserve the real diversity that exists amongst the various rich cultures of Europe.