England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during “God Save the King” than of stealing from a poor box.Nothing much has changed since George Orwell made this observation in his essay "The Lion and the Unicorn" over seventy years ago. What Orwell observed was a distaste, verging on the pathological, for everything that characterises English culture. French food, Italian art, German philosophy, Scottish courage, Irish wit, Spanish football even Russian gloom - these are the good things. There is nothing English that can be shown as fine or noble - the English are uniquely vile.
The usual approach here is to take something the puts the English in a bad light - football hooliganism, vertical drinking and the pub crawl, kiss-me-quick hats and seaside slot machines - and make out that this is not only typical but problematic. This is followed by references to empire, colonialism and racism as if England didn't exist before the 19th century. The English are lost man-children who will only be saved by the nobility of what Deirdre McCloskey calls the clerisy:
The referendum vote does not deserve to be respected because, as an outgrowth of English narcissism, it is itself disrespectful of others, of our allies, partners, neighbours, friends, and, in many cases, even relatives. Like resentful ruffians uprooting the new trees in the park and trashing the new play area, 17 million English, the lager louts of Europe, voted for Brexit in an act of geopolitical vandalism.So speaks one of those self-loathing English academics, Professor Nicholas Boyle. Leaving aside the accuracy of his numbers (and the manner in which he dismisses Wales as an English "appendage"), the entire tone here is that, somehow, the English are not fitted for polite society:
Hag-ridden by their unassimilated imperial past, by their failure of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the English refuse to think of themselves as a nation in the same sense as Scotland or Ireland and have constructed a constitution for their United Kingdom which denies the obvious.The pretention of this statement - comparing the German experience (a Prussian identity slapped on top of urbane, civilised small states then saved by Prussia being occupied by the Russians for 45 years) to England's is a delight but contains as much truth as would a comparison between England and that other great empire, China. It is what lies underneath Boyle's anti-English narrative that matters - only by having a polity, a government, a parliament can a place secure an identity. Englishness is a problem because it is expressed as a cultural rather than a political phenomenon.
And, as Orwell observed, intellectuals like Boyle hate English culture. They hate the beer, the food, the banter, the good and bad behaviour, the loudness and the humour. For all that such people dismiss us as Little Englanders - that classic term of sneering, intellectual crypto-racism - they want to make England small.
"...the reality that a nation with three-quarters of one per cent of the world’s population cannot claim significant, let alone exceptional, global status, and cannot survive on its own."Given Boyle's anger at England and the English derived from how we impacted the world through empire, it's bizarre to then say that somehow England is small and insignificant. And pig-ignorant to suggest that a nation culturally-attuned to looking to the whole world as its market will ever be 'on its own'.
The problem for Boyle and his sort is that they see the English as dull, stupid and incapable - they have given up on us. I disagree and see this sneering and dismissive arrogance as little different from the sort of analysis that sees the Scots as tight, the Jews greedy, the French rude and the Germans boring. England is a great place filled with brilliant people and maybe Boyle should start there rather than with hating the English?
England is huge. It's not just the fifty million people. Nor is it the wealth and power of our industry and commerce. It isn't the guns, bombs, ships and tanks of the World's best armed forces. It's not even the best universities and finest schools on the planet. Or the traditions of art, theatre, music and song. England is huge because of what its ordinary men and women will do tomorrow - innovative, creative, inspiring, adventurous, challenging and spirited. Anyone who calls England 'little' has given up on those men and women - the old ones long gone in Kipling's charm, the ones here now doing great things in a small way, and the ones still to come who will take England's greatness even further.
To say that my country is small, to use that sneering put down 'Little Englander', is to deny our history. It shows a disrespect of those people - ordinary men and women - who built the finest place on earth for us to enjoy. Worse, it insults the English and the idea of England - an idea that is made by the people who call this place home.