Can “Britishness” be defined?

If it has to be asked, there’s no answer: What is Britishness anyway? What has made someone British has not been a single quality or small set of qualities that distinguishes him from foreigners. No such bright line was ever needed, because until very recently there hadn’t been demographically significant immigration to Britain for over a thousand years. To be British was to be a member by inheritance in some part of a very diverse, complex and localized social world.

Try to turn that into something large communities of new third-world immigrants can sign on to and what you get will be as silly as the suggestions in the sidebar of the article. The best that could be hoped for would be something like what Lord Tebbit suggests, an approach pioneered in America by Abraham Lincoln and accepted here until the 60s: replace other particular attachments by nationality, and treat nationality as a matter of attachment to the history that led to the present society of ordered liberty. That understanding of social connectedness had a rather successful hundred-year run. In the end, however, it proved too thin to stand up. Even with a particular history behind it the conception of ordered liberty is not a self-sustaining basis for social order, and in the long run such conceptual problems are socially decisive. Why think the approach will work better in today’s Britain than in the former America?

3 thoughts on “Can “Britishness” be defined?”

  1. To tea and crumpets. To
    To tea and crumpets. To Waterloo, Trafalgar and Dunkirk. To Vera Lynn, Beckham and the other Spice Girls. To Alec Guinness and the Lavender Hill Mob. To Alistair Sims in ‘Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens – who wrote it one dark and stormy night in the Midland Hotel, Manchester.
    To Manx kippers on British Rail. To Liverpool and the Beatles and the Battle of Britain and to What We Want Is Watneys. To Lassies from Lancashire and the latest Test score and the Springboks and Tottenham Hotspur and Whipsnade Zoo and “Kiss Me Quick Under The Pier” and Butlins and Perinporth and Colonel Bloodnock and How Green Was My Valley and to whatever it is that Scotsmen wear under their kilts.
    To a leg of New Zealand Lamb with real mint sauce, new potatoes and Yorkshire Pudding. Or to a good hot Indian curry…
    To Kruger Park and Frobisher Bay and Waltzing Matilda and Daisy and a Bicycle Made For Two and double decker buses and the Piccadilly Line and Derbyshire and Brighton and the Channel Ferry and Knees Up Mrs. Brown and Cowes Week and Mick Jagger and Winston and Jamaican Farewell and good old Kafoozalem the Harlot of Jerusalem and the Bowmen of Agincourt and Oliver Cromwell and Laurence Olivier and Norman Wisdom and Tommy Cooper and Graham Norton and William Shakespeare and Elgar with Gilbert or Sullivan.
    And to Princess Diana and Dylan Thomas and Robert Bruce and Beachcomber and Turner and Newcastle Brown Ale and Rowntrees Pastilles and Marks and Sparks and Miss Marples and steak and kidney pudding with chips and mushy peas and Babycham and I’ll have a port and lemon dearie please, I don’t mind if I do.
    Cheers! Bottoms Up Alfie…..
    There’ll always be an England. This happy place. This sceptred isle set in a silver sea. And there’ll always be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. Just you wait and see.
    So here’s to all things British. To England and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland. To Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and to all the other countries of the British Commonwealth.
    To our heritage. To our past and to our future. To Brits, Anglophiles and good people everywhere. There’s no place like home.

  2. “Britishness,” which, as Mr.
    “Britishness,” which, as Mr. Kalb notes, is not easily defined, is under attack from above and below, within and without. The United Kingdom, under the plans of the current Labour government, is to be fully subjugated to the European Union. To be fair, no recent Tory government, and certainly not today’s Tories in opposition, has done anything effective to resist the Euroblob. The process is well-advanced; so well that it is now a criminal offence to sell groceries using English measures. Next to go will be the pound sterling; for all Blair’s dissembling, he and Chancellor Gordon Brown are committed to the Euro.

    At the same time, the UK is being dismembered, as phony devolution fans separatist sentiment in Scotland and Wales, and corresponding resentment in England. Here, shortsighted socialist politicians have unleashed more than they reckoned for. Even the local independence movements are false: the Scottish National Party calls for independence from the UK only to submerge Scotland even deeper in the morass of EU bureaucracy, under which Scotsmen will be far less free than they are as British subjects. Cravenness over Northern Ireland shows the government will cut and run when it thinks it can get away with it rather than defend the right of the province’s majority who wish to be British to remain so.

    To complete the work of destruction, Great Britain is to be killed culturally through floods, American-style, of unassimilable immigrants, mostly bogus “asylum-seekers,” whom the British are ordered to accept and, again American-style, prefer to themselves. Anyone who knows today’s London well knows that London is now no more English than New York City is American, a remarkable thing for a city that does not have such a “melting-pot” tradition. As goes London, so also go other cities all the way up to Aberdeen. Enoch Powell foretold the price Great Britain would pay for high immigration, and he was warning only against the limited Commonwealth immigration of the 1960s. The situation today is far worse than he could have imagined, and there is no will in the establishment to control it. Indeed, the Great and the Good seem mostly to be for it.

    Re-education proceeds apace, as a story from today’s Scotsman attests: A survey commissioned by the Scottish Executive (Edinburgh’s new faux parliament) finds that 25% of Scots confess to having the odd “racist” thought (it doesn’t take much to qualify; referring to an ethnic restaurant as a “Paki” will do). In response, the Executive is spending 1 million pounds on a “One Scotland” campaign – the website is a blur of assorted Asian scripts, with a rather pathetic Gaelic line at the bottom, and a picture of smiling Chinese girls below a Saltire blowing in the wind – to get the Scots to confront the racist within, and rip the devil from their breasts. The slogan is “One Scotland, Many Cultures”; something tells me the cultural diversity they hail is not that between Highlander and Lowlander! The Labour ministress in charge, whose bloodless visage graces the Scotsman’s story, is named Curran. It seems Scotsmen are going to be made into better, more inclusive Scots by an Irishwoman. I fear her influence on the savages may be less beneficial than St. Columba’s was.

    All may not be lost, though. Last Sunday approximately 400,000 people, countrymen and their sympathisers, converged on London to protest – peacefully – the government’s chronic mishandling of countryside issues, including hunting, so there is resistance yet to some of this idiocy. As with America, however, if immigration is not controlled soon, “Britishness” will soon be of no more than historical interest. HRS

  3. As much as I too love many
    As much as I too love many of myriad things about the former Empire that William lists in his post above, I must say that I think the Commonwealth is part of the problem for today’s Britain. I believe William also mentions “corrupt African nations” in another of his comments – the Commonwealth is almost nothing but such countries (whether in anglophone Africa, West Indies, or elsewhere). Why don’t Brits cut themselves loose from the wreck rather than praise this failed experiment in post-colonialism?


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