In Search of a Moderate English Nationalism

With the World Cup underway, the media has reverted to type. The newspapers are either awash with St George’s Crosses and jingoist tubthumping or fretful, self-loathing analyses of Englishness.

As the home of hand-wringing, The Independent predictably leads the camp for the latter, with a subtly derisive and negative article decrying the ‘national madness’ to come as England’s campaign begins this evening.

In some senses- and entirely not the ones that are mentioned in the article- they clearly have a point. Sights such as this house in Knowle West, Bristol, reveal the bombast of the sudden release of repressed national pride:

It is a dreadfully sad image to behold; a striking  depiction of a national pride with no other logical manifestation than a football tournament, which is itself underpinned by cynical capitalist interests. It is indeed an act of national madness that we have allowed our pride in our country to be sublimated to this degree. In just one hundred years, the impression of the nation has come full circle, as the Independent article succinctly notes that

“the nation’s physical, economic and mental well-being will be judged for the next month through the prism of England’s efforts in the glittering new stadia of South Africa.”

Furthermore, the kind of outward displays of confused patriotism of the kind seen in Knowle West are to many people, including some of the most ardent England supporters, a garish and unbecoming sight to behold. On first glance, they represent nothing but an over-compensation of pride for a country that has had its identity sublimated in an unequal union, and grasped by unreasonable guilt over a distant past.

But reader- do not despair. One thing that such displays demonstrate is the desire for an English resurgence. It becomes apparent with every passing St George’s Day or important England international that there is a real national desire for a genuine recognition for England as a nation. Contrast, for example, the Union Jacks of the World Cup Final of 1966 at Wembley’s old Empire Stadium:

… with the prominence of England flags at Wembley in 2008…

… and it is apparent that a strong sense of England as a nation freed from the shackles of Union has never, in living memory, been so prevalent over that of ‘Britain’. As Andy Ormrod notes in the Independent article:

“It is genuinely pleasing to see people and organisations take pride in the English flag in a way that perhaps they hadn’t a few years ago.”

So, what methods to stem the tide of superficial and temporary jingoist hysteria and bring about a more constructive, meaningful and considerate everyday English civic nationalism?

Firstly: a national day! Simple as it may sound, (and whilst I’m not necessarily angling for an extra day off…) a national day would bring about a landslide of other benefits to the country and its people. It is not outside of the realms of likelihood that the media, particularly the BBC, would greet this new holiday with educational programming relating to English culture and history. Note that I don’t call for St George’s Day as the aforementioned national day: it is imperative that we choose a day that is inclusive and possibly even secular in order to foster a sense of maximum inclusion. This approach is also more democratic.

Secondly: the recognition that the most effective way to destigmatise the flag of England, and English nationalism itself, is to be openly proud of English institutions, ingenuity, and culture: to be proud of what we have given, and still give, to the wider world. It is the best possible way to lift pride in the country out of the hands of vile, narrow-minded hatemongers who presently plague our society and actively damage our sense of ourselves as English people.

Thirdly- and more unlikely- would be moves to re-evaluate England’s place in the United Kingdom, and its right to be recognised as a nation-state in and of itself. As it stands, England’s political handicap also inhibits its sense of identity, and we need only to look at the examples of our fellow home nations to understand the advantages of political secession from the dated entity of the United Kingdom as it presently exists.

We have, in this age, a great opportunity to rediscover our sense of self, to rescue its damaged reputation, and to reconcile ourselves in the present with our past and our heritage. It is perhaps unfortunate that it may take football tournaments to recognise this, but let us seize this opportunity to realise that our cultural legacy and the inheritance bestowed upon us by our ancestors is of too great a value, significance and importance to be only half-realised at every bi-annual corporate hypefest.

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About Byrnsweord

I am an Englishman. Constantly striving for the truth and to conserve what is good about England. You can find my on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/people/byrnsweord/ my blog over at byrnsweord.wordpress.com/ and my Twitter account at twitter.com/byrnsweord Byrnsweord is min nama.
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8 Responses to In Search of a Moderate English Nationalism

  1. Wyrdtimes says:

    I don’t see the need to “destigmatise the flag of England” or much need to “rescue” England’s “damaged reputation”.

    There are those that continue to associate the Cross of St George with racist groups, and they usually have their own anti-English agenda. They always conveniently forget that the BNP are British, not English nationalists and they mainly wave the Union Flag as well as the Scottish, Welsh and English flag.

    Where football is concerned, there has been a damaged reputation due to the yobbishness of a tiny minority of England fans and more recently due to over zealous and confrontational policing.

    • Byrnsweord says:

      I agree: the left-liberal ‘intelligentsia’ appear to revile English patriotism while simultaneously endorsing that of any other country, and the synecdochal use of ‘English’ for ‘British’ is detrimental to the value of both entities. Rather than ‘destigmatise’, perhaps I should have suggested a reinvestment in the inherent value of the flag itself.

      The ‘damaged reputation’ that I alluded to should be considered in the context of a long period of one-dimensional sentiment in which English nationalism has been solely allied to the progress of sports teams rather than a fully-fledged ideal in itself: ie, we must rescue our sense of self and position in the UK, Europe and the wider world from vacuous lip-service. I find it continually ironic that the English invented the sports in which their lone semblance of national identity and unity now resides… and that we don’t even give ourselves credit for that!

  2. i albion says:

    There you go ,even those who are “for England”like Flaming Sword.have to try to.”make things better”or change things so as not to “offend”hence do not chose St Georges Day as a national holiday make a day that is “more inclusive”
    Why? it is England Saint. and if any one is offended well so be it ,I do not think it is the immigrants who will be offended,it is the handwringing,anti English traitors who call themselves…well i do not know what they call themselves,i know what i call them .
    What other country would be asked to change its public holiday in case it offends?
    More democratic? yes if the millions of people who want St,Georges day just shut up and accept it.

    • Byrnsweord says:

      I had to take a moment to fully comprehend your argument… I shall endeavour to answer it to the best of my ability.

      Firstly, with regards to your statement about St George’s Day: perhaps I should have been more explicit about the nature of the dialogue about a National Day that I suggested. This could include a multitude of different ideas, such as for example, restoring St Edmund to his original position of English patron saint (meaning a national day on 20th November!), as some of my fellow English nationalists argue that it is the Cross of St George that is the invader emblem, usurping the White Dragon of Anglo-Saxon England. Whether or not this is factually accurate or not I don’t know- but it goes to show that even discussions of what constitutes a predominantly white England are complex, due to the multiple tribes that went into formalising England as we know it today.

      I made absolutely no reference to anything offending anyone: merely that if we are to reclaim England as a united country, celebrating an exclusively Christian festival in a largely secular country seems somewhat futile. I also believe that the teaching of the importance of Christianity to our cultural legacy is of paramount and fundamental importance. We live in complex times: solutions foisted on people won’t help anything or answer any of the questions that need answering. That, above all, is the aim of this blog: to encourage debate and discussion about matters that (should) affect us all.

      I hope you enjoy the rest of the blog!

  3. QM says:

    Whilst the White Dragon was a symbol of the Anglo Saxon nation of Wessex, though it was the banner under which Harold fought the Normans. Yet there were many kingdoms in England including Northumbria who also may have a claim on a national flag. As it is, the English have settled on the Cross of St George as there flag and St George as their saint and this is not going to change any time soon. St Georges day has a far better chance of acceptance as a national holiday in England than St Edmund’s, to whom the vast majority of English would ask who?
    The patriotism of the English goes far deeper than the flag flying and street decorating would indicate to the liberal intelligentsia, These are the people who provide the sons and daughters serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and these are the people who mourn them in these disgraceful foreign wars. To my mind you can look for civic nationalism you can even try and inculcate it, but unless you adapt the current patriotism and jingoism into the civic structure, you’ll get nowhere as like the Britishness campaign as it will have no roots.

    • Byrnsweord says:

      Thanks for the info re: the White Dragon. I shall endeavour to do more research on the matter!

      I agree on the fact that St Edmund is not so well known, but being a loyal Democrat, I believe that the English people should have a say in how they celebrate their country and display their national pride. A referendum is therefore what I would like to see on the matter, even though at the moment, this is tantamount to extremism in some left-leaning quarters… I needn’t name names! With regards to your point on Iraq and Afghanistan: couldn’t agree more. I have the utmost disdain for the wilful arrogance displayed by our Government in its role in world affairs, matched only for the highest admiration for our Armed Forces, who are the backbone of this country.

      I find your point about adapting the present nationalist sentiments in their varied forms into the civic structure… it’s a possibility that I hadn’t previously considered. Precisely how to achieve this is another matter, but that is, after all, the entire purpose of this blog. Many thanks for your considered and well-written comment!

  4. Michele says:

    ‘ fretful, self-loathing analyses of Englishness’ – and then you go and spoil it all by doing something similar yoursel! Tut tut

    The Cross of St George was brought to this country and adopted by the English as a symbol of their aspirations – the Christian Knight slaying the dragons they faced – and they faced a few over the years. It was the symbol carried into battle along with flags of individuals that signified the whole nation. it was placed on shields, surcouts and battle horses It was a flag accepted by all whole called England home regardless of their origens, and there were no more patriot English knights in the 100 years war than those descended from the Normans.

    The Cross of St George was the symbol that identified the ships of the Armada which stemmed the threatened Spanish Armada – it was the only symbol of England until that fateful union, when England’s flag was added to the Scottish flag which then morphed into the Union flag.

    The Cross of St George has roots in this land far greater than an amorphous Saint that most people have never heard of – and many who will quote the work of Dr Goldstein on the DNA profile of the UK –

    “One tends to think of England as Anglo-Saxon,” Dr. Goldstein said. “But we show quite clearly there was not complete replacement of existing populations by either Anglo-Saxons or Danes. It looks like the Celts did hold out” NY Times May 27 2003.

    So it seems that the Anglo Saxons did not really disturb things as much as we had believed – St George is in fact a far more inclusive symbol for England.

    Show of Hands made the point that we need our Roots to truly grow strong – and part of that root system is the Flag of England that has flown proudly in this part of the island for centuries.

    • Byrnsweord says:

      I would move to refute suggestions that my own analysis was either ‘fretful’ or ‘self-loathing’: I was in fact extolling the virtues of the country and exploring methods in which to give pride in this country a more meaningful and tangible context than it presently has. Perhaps the word ‘moderate’ in the title was a misnomer, and I should have opted for ‘meaningful’ instead.

      I would also like to restate my faith in the Cross of St George. I believe we are blessed with one of the most striking, powerful and instantly recognisable flags in all the world. What we must strive to do now is to reassociate the flag with our values, our democracy and our shared culture and heritage, all of which we should also consider a blessing.

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