Friday, April 25, 2008

What's England About? II

There are a lot of things about Western Civilization that most people take for granted. A lot of cultural things most people aren't even aware that they enjoy and will not know about until the things are taken away. A lot of those things are of native English origin.

That means English, by the way, not "British". That means that they were invented by a people who were, and are descended from, that particular mixture of Brythonic Celt, Angles, Saxons and Normans that was more or less fully developed by the end of the 11th century [remind me soon to talk about that liberal canard of how there are no "pure blood" English and "we're all 'immigrants' if you go back far enough". It is, like everything liberals say, a lie and I will teach you how to shove it down their throats.]

This means that the things we are going to talk about were not invented by and not native to the Irish, Welsh or Scottish, not Cornish nor Manx neither, although these people obviously contributed. I am talking about the things that were the peculiar products of English culture.

People have been asking a lot lately, "What's so great about England? Why should we be interested in the English? Why should we be interested in preserving English culture?" I think the question may be getting asked a lot lately in the same way that progressive and liberal fish (the kind of fish who take "Cultural and Feminist Studies" in fish university,) might question what use is water.

When English culture is talked about, all sorts of things pop into people's minds. Tea. Tweed. Upper Class Twits of the Year. Bone china. Anglicans. Football. Football hooligans. Land of Hope and Glory (whether by Sid Vicious or Elgar). The Magna Carta. Monty Python. The Beatles. Bobbies. King Arthur. Stephen Fry. Beatrix Potter. The changing of the guard. The horsey set. Double-decker buses. The Queen.

People who read books think about Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Wordsworth's daffodils and his walk by Tintern Abbey. Byron, Keats and Shelley. Oscar Wilde and Sherlock Holmes. They might think about Hobbits and wizards, especially now.

And it is true. These things are all England. Good for the people who think of these things; they get a silver sticky-star.

But what about other stuff that we hardly ever think about? What about the stuff that is like water to fish?

Starting with the obvious:

Parliamentary democracy.
English Common Law
which includes:
presumption of innocence
Habeas Corpus
due process and
the right to a speedy and fair trial
trial by jury

English engineering, English medicine, English natural sciences all grew to become the gold standard for these endeavours around the world and made the industrial revolution happen, whatever we may think of that.

English philosophy, especially of the 17th and 18th century, have given us, for better or worse, the systems of thought that currently govern the whole modern world.

Sir Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, J. J. Thomson, Charles Babbage, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Wren, Alan Turing, Francis Crick: all English.

And we don't have time to even get into the writers.

There are a lot of English things that we in the disintegrating west don't give the slightest thought to, but would very quickly appreciate in retrospect once they were taken away. I think it would be better for everyone if we learned ahead of that eventuality what those things were so that, when they are threatened, as they are now, they will be able to fight to defend them.

Something for which we may in the end have reason to thank the current cultural invaders for is the refreshment of memory afforded by close proximity to people wholly and dangerously unlike ourselves. People whose thought has not been formed by this ancient western process. It may be the only thing that will shock us into a re-evaluation of the our own cultural patrimony.

That's pretty much what Orwell's Picnic is about.

There will be posts on these things as I come to read and think about them more.

But for the moment, suffice to say that England per se, is responsible for the continuation in the western nations, largely through the influence of the Empire, of all that we have come to think of as good and valuable in the non-material cultural inheritance of Christendom. All those things like the rights of citizenship, liberty, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly etc., are all developments, through the exceptionally politically stable thousand-year history of England from the Conquest until now, of those ancient social, legal, philosophical and political ideas that grew out of Christian culture.

England is, I shall endeavour to demonstrate, the natural heir to Christendom and has a unique duty to preserve and pass it on. Which duty, I'm sorry to say, it is manifestly failing to fulfill.

For now.


DP said...

The American Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Everyone who drafted them was born an Englishman.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I wasn't going to say...

Anonymous said...

Isn't that the best part of American history? That so much of it is English? Not to mention the spirit of freedom and the Castle principle in the original laws of the US (as best as I understand them). Our great challenge as the English today isn't just to preserve the West, Christendom, this little island, Mr Kipling's exceedingly good cakes, Robinson's jam gollywogs and all the rest of it, but to really 'become what we are' as the Eastern Orthodox might put it. The more really, unashamedly, stubbornly English we are, the better chance the rest has of falling into place.

Anonymous said...

I eagerly anticipate your future essays, certainly my knowledge of English history could stand to be improved from its 1960's school-boy level.

I disagree with one of your statements....are all developments, through the exceptionally politically stable thousand-year history of England from the Conquest until now....this suggests that Wat Tyler, Cromwell and Churchill effected peaceful change. Many of our rights were hard won.

Or maybe I am misinterpreting your thoughts.

Anonymous said...


I welcome you to read and to comment. Please feel free at any time to examine the commbox rules you will find to your left, particularly those on the use of pseudonyms.

Anonymous said...

And Canada?