To Be or Not to Be … British
Many British people don’t care to be British, recent articles in the Telegraph and the Guardian revealed. Honest Britons say they can’t even define Britishness.
That doesn’t sound good. Identity crises cripple nations. Yet Britain’s identity crisis appears epidemic.
What is happening in Britain is important to me—it affects my soul and spirit. Though born in America, yet having English, Scottish and Northern Irish ancestry, I want to be more British! I have benefited tremendously in my life from Britishness.
When I was sick, my mother consoled me with tea and toast. My father taught me to take pride in being Scottish/Irish. At college, I completed an English Literature degree. My favorite poets are Donne and Keats. I raised my daughters on Austen and Shakespeare. My daughter, son-in-law and my grandchildren live 4 miles north of Stratford-upon-Avon.
I have visited England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. I’ve sauntered down London’s streets in the rain. I soaked in a good supply of Scottishness inside Edinburgh Castle. I was inspired in Enniskillen, the home of my maternal third-great-grandfather. I became breathless touring Buckingham Palace. I was awed at wandering the stone corridors of Westminster Abbey and blown away by the history housed in the British Museum. I was enthralled at seeing the oldest surviving manuscript of Beowulf expertly preserved in the British Library. I could say more—much more.
Don’t get me wrong: I love America too. Yet I am drawn to the British Isles because the roots of my ancestral identity are sunk there.
Many other people in this world feel the same way. What about you? It is hard for me to imagine a world without Britain or Britishness. Yet the loss of British identity makes this a true possibility.
History shows that Britain’s identity crisis did not begin with the recent Scottish independence referendum. However, that vote did bring the subject back into the light.
Let’s put politics aside and discuss British identity in terms of British character—the true soul of Britishness.
Drunk, Dirty and Deplorable
Many Britons were incensed when they learned that a Portuguese national living in Britain for 25 years, João Magueijo, castigated Britons, British identity and society in his book, Bifes Mal Passados (Undercooked Beef), which is available only in Portugal.
The Guardian decried Magueijo’s criticism of British lifestyle, calling it “a short book explaining why we Brits are a bunch of sex-mad, [drunken], overweight hooligans and snobs. According to Magueijo … [o]ur diet is ‘deplorable’ and fish and chips is a dish that ‘makes you want to wash it with detergent before eating.’” Ouch! Attacking fish and chips cuts any true Brit to the bone.
The Telegraph also took umbrage, quoting Magueijo as writing, “When you visit English homes, or the toilets at schools or in student lodgings, they are all so disgusting that even my grandmother’s poultry cage is cleaner. … I never met such a group of animals. … The English are unrestrained wild beasts and totally out of control.”
Archie Bland of the Guardian asked Magueijo if he wanted to recant his observations. He replied, “A lot of those things are real. I’m not apologizing for it. It was a joke, but it’s a fair one. The whole travelogue culture, about the poor English person who has horrible things happening to him—everything is foul, the food is horrible, people are trying to steal from you—it’s your culture. You are such easy targets.”
Those are tough comments, not easily swallowed. Yet, as my mother used to say when she had a serving spoon and bottle of cod liver oil in her hands, “It’s time to take your medicine.”
Collapse of British Character
No human being can easily accept criticism—that is our nature. It is even more difficult to accept criticism from those outside our personal circle of family and friends. Yet some of Magueijo’s statements are worth considering by all self-respecting Britons. Magueijo is not alone in his observations.
There are deep-thinking Britons who have seen and experienced the same problems, written and warned about them—yet these warnings have gone unheeded.
One of these is Theodore Dalrymple. “In the past few decades, a peculiar and distinctive psychology has emerged in England,” he sadly states. “Gone are the civility, sturdy independence, and admirable stoicism that carried the English through the war years. It has been replaced by a constant whine of excuses, complaints and special pleading. The collapse of the British character has been as swift and complete as the collapse of British power” (Life at the Bottom).
Mr. Dalrymple is a British psychiatrist who treated the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in England for nearly two decades. Life at the Bottom is his Technicolor portrait of the disintegrated British character now available for viewing in the streets of cities and villages across the United Kingdom.
Unlike the liberal thinkers of our day, Dalrymple understands that a particular brand of poverty today is not caused by economics, but by a dysfunctional set of values constantly drilled into the minds of lower classes by a liberal elite.
It is wrong education and thinking that has led to the demise of Britishness.
You Are Victims
For example, discussing the sociological determinist thinking that poverty causes crime, Dalrymple states, “If poverty is the cause of crime, burglars do not decide to break into houses …. Here the subliminal influence of Marxist philosophy surfaces: the notion that it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. If this were so, men would still live in caves; but it has just enough plausibility to shake the confidence of the middle classes …” (ibid). This character-destroying thinking runs rampant in the British Isles, and in America too.
When the poor are taught they are victims, then there is no drive to improve one’s life. Human nature reasons that the victimizers are responsible to rectify the victim’s situation. This is the fuel that powers national welfare systems. Liberal thinkers believe the best way to help the unemployed is to encourage them to seek public assistance. Look at where such thinking leads: In Britain, poor families receive up to £26,000 (us$40,500) per year in welfare benefits. In 2010, it was reported that several families in Britain received as much as £100,000 ($157,000) a year in assistance.
To be fair, there are times of need when families and even individuals must rely on help from outside. Yet, let’s not be daft: There are many who have become experts at exploiting, milking and working the system.
This is a far cry from the mid-20th-century-style British (and American) character traits of working hard, practicing thrift to make ends meet, and accepting responsibility to take care of your own in the world—even if it meant working more than one job. While many UK government officials take pride in their welfare system, those working directly with the families and individuals it supports see degenerate, bad fruits.
“Poverty is one of the least fashionable topics in Britain,” said Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, when defending “Benefits Street,” a five–part UK reality tv show about British welfare recipients. “People don’t want to believe that the welfare state is now sponsoring the poverty it’s designed to eradicate. People think it’s a horrible caricature, but it’s not.”
Victim mentality is the same thinking that increases violent criminal activity among the British poor. Dalrymple discusses the gut-wrenching family and neighborhood violence he witnessed firsthand in the UK’s poorest neighborhoods. “Into this rich brew of uncertainty and equivocation, social historians are inclined to add their dash of seasoning, pointing out that the middle classes saw crime as a moral problem even in the 18th century, when for many malefactors it really was quite another thing, since sometimes the only way to obtain food was to steal it. To say this, of course, is to overlook the fundamental change in life chances that has occurred since then” (op. cit.).
Dalrymple shows that the poorest Briton today is far better off than the poor of Georgian England. His needs are met, and there is no need to live the life of a thief. Yet the elitist thinking gives the poor an excuse to live a life of crime. “People come to believe that, far from being extremely fortunate by the standards of all previously existing populations, we live in the worst of times and under the most unjust of dispensations. Every wrongful conviction, every instance of police malfeasance, is so publicized that even professional criminals, even those who have performed appalling deeds, feel on a priori grounds they too must have been unjustly, or at least hypocritically, dealt with,” Dalrymple states. Character degeneration is a vortex that few can escape from.
Any Briton who wants to understand the demise of British character should read this book.
‘We Don’t Need No History’
One of Mr. Dalrymple’s most important points in Life at the Bottom relates to the widespread dislike of education in Britain. The Brits have developed “a profound aversion to anything that smacks of intelligence, education or culture,” he writes. Anti-education culture is now so pervasive that British youths interested in getting a good education are bullied and ostracized. Intelligence is considered shameful.
Mr. Dalrymple discovered that the average 16-year-old poor Briton, besides not being able to read, write or solve simple math problems, knows little to no British or world history. “Not a single one of my young patients has known the dates of the Second World War, let alone the First; some have never heard of these wars, though recently one young patient who had heard of the Second World War thought it took place in the 18th century. … The name Stalin means nothing to these young people and does not even evoke the faint ringing of a bell, as the name Shakespeare (sometimes) does. To them, 1066 is more likely to mean a price than a date” (ibid).
Dalrymple does not oversimplify the problem with education. In his book he shows the cause for Britain’s weakened public education system; but that is the subject of a different article. However, he is adept at explaining the damage that historical illiteracy does to young Britons. This is a pivotal point all British citizens should not gloss over: “Thus are the young condemned to live in an eternal present, a present that merely exists, without connection to a past that might explain it or to a future that might develop from it” (ibid). These thoughts come from a deep thinker who recognizes the need for education in general, particularly history.
Revitalize Your British Identity
Sadly, not only are British youth poor in history, British adults for the most part have forgotten the rich and triumphant history of their once-glorious empire. Imperialism is a dirty word among British elites. Shame has become chic.
The history of the British Empire is worth knowing. Learning more about it will give new life and robust vigor to your Britishness.
It was Winston Churchill, whose main fault many consider to have been his Britishness, who said: “The further backward you can look, the further forward you can see.” Churchill was a student of history. Largely because of that, during World War ii he was able to save not only Britain, but also the entire Western world. That is a fact of history!
Current British historians choose to omit the British Empire’s virtues of order, justice, fortitude, resoluteness and magnanimity—its deeply ingrained Britishness. They despise it! Yet the history of other major powers that have desired to tyrannically rule the world—China, Germany, Russia—leaves no doubt that this world would never have enjoyed such benefits under their rule. Historically British ideas and traditions have built culture, education and social stability.
Churchill understood that the British Empire had a mission to show the world how to build a thriving, productive and successful civilization that benefited all those willing to follow in its footsteps. He knew God had given Britain a prominent place in the world (article, page 4).
This is crucial perspective for all British people. Events in this world are turning against Britain in a dangerous way. The weakened character of Britons is about to prove perilous, undermining the nation’s ability to respond admirably to adversity as it has done in the past. The days ahead for a Britain bereft of its identity are truly dark. Biblical prophecy makes this point plain.
However, though Great Britain and Britishness have sunk into the shadows for now, shortly they will burst again onto the world scene. The Bible’s prophecies show that, after a very difficult period of tribulation, the British will become a renewed nation ready to lead the world in hope and joyous productivity. This reality is just over the horizon.