“England…Little England”

England

It was to be expected that the Daily Mail, a British institution if ever there was one, would come out with another gem. I thought that the paper had reached rock-bottom, when it described three judges who upheld the law as, “enemies of the people”, and members of parliament who dare oppose the government, as traitors. The latest outburst comes in the form of an opinion article entitled, “Orwell’s view of the WWII appeasers can be said of the Remainers trying to stop Brexit – Our ruling class is ashamed to British.” I assume that the title should have read, “be British” instead of just, “British”, but then anyone – including myself – can make omissions in their own language.

 

The piece is written by Leo McKinstry, a Brexit enthusiast, who seems to mistrust anything on the other side of Calais, except his residence in the South of France.

More than a decade ago, long before we moved to the Loire region, my wife and I bought a 19th-century house in the heart of Carpentras, a Provencal market town with a population of 30,000, little more than a two-hour drive north of Nice.

McKinstry’s arguments concerning sovereignty are based on, and concur with, the insularity George Orwell describes in his essay, “England Your England.” Two things are forgotten. Firstly, Orwell’s essay was written in 1941, at a time when evil forces in Europe were destroying the very texture of our continent. Secondly, although the UK voted for Leave, it was essentially England that decided the outcome of the vote. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, and whilst Wales did vote Leave, it voted to a lesser extent than England.

I feel sorry for most of the people who voted Brexit, if their only hope of change that was offered, was to leave the European Union. The chances are that their lives will not be significantly improved, outside the Union. As nations, we all depend on each other, and no one country can aspire to a past world dominance, not even the United States.

The big question is, how can we trust politicians to act on our behalf, and journalists to enlighten us, when both say one thing whilst enacting another. Nigel Farage, in criticizing so vociferously the European institutions and laws, forgets to mention that the UK was a key player in the making of the very institutions and laws he has been denigrating. Furthermore, Farage’s insistence that the EU is undemocratic, can be brought into context by his voting record. Only one person in the European Parliament has voted less times than he has.

I’m really beginning to have enough of people saying that the UK is the best country in the world and that everybody wants to live there. Is this true, and if so, why? This is typical Brexit nonsense, it’s not even living in the past, it’s living in a made-up world. Do Brexiteers really think that the poor in Sunderland are going to be much better off, the day after Brexit? Even Orwell admits that,“England is the most class-ridden country under the sun.”

If you quote George Orwell, you must also refer to Animal Farm – his work describing totalitarianism. The story could also have been about the elite of Brussels, kicked out of the UK by the people of the UK, replaced by the people of the UK…and later, by the elite of the UK. We must all accept that the idea of a nation, especially in Europe, must be adapted to our times. We all need to be, and act, together to fight off the real threats in this world, like the environment, Russia, and intolerance.

McKinstry describes correctly Orwell’s vision of English patriotism, in 1941, as a devotion that, “was tied to cherished sights, sounds and smells that evoked a sense of attachment.” This must be taken in the context of WWII, which brought to the front the deep feelings of being at home, which all of us feel in a time of deep crisis. When fighting an enemy who seeks to destroy our way of life, we are not only fighting the enemy, but we are also defending with our lives, the traditions and freedoms that we have grown up in. It is quite absurd to compare the rise of fascism to the muted sounds of European federalism which, surely, will not be accepted by the majority of Europeans. Fascism was taking over Europe by brute force and rhetoric. European federalism has no chance of expanding in the same way, without causing a breakup of the EU. Most Europeans are for the EU remaining as a group of closely intertwined but independent nations – and that is how the EU should remain.

McKinstry and Orwell accuse the UK elite (intelligentsia) of being “immune” to patriotism. I would see this as the realisation that the line separating patriotism from xenophobia and racism, as extremely thin, and one that should not be crossed, at all costs.

Rejoicing in the sort of patriotism that Orwell describes – not one of waving flags and banners, but one of coming back to England from the continent and having, “immediately the sensation of breathing a different air,” – is both arrogant and dangerous. Even Orwell admits that, “the famous ‘insularity’ and ‘xenophobia’ of the English is far stronger in the working class than in the bourgeoisie.” This is true for all countries, but a salient point, taken up by Orwell, but ignored by McKinstry, was that,“the English working class are outstanding in their abhorrence of foreign habits.” McKinstry dismisses this as “anachronistic”, because it does not fit into his acrid rhetoric. He does not realise that mistrust, and even hatred of anything remotely foreign is still, unfortunately, an inherent part of English working class culture.

Orwell’s “England Your England” should, according to McKinstry, “be compulsory reading for every politician, to help them understand what Orwell did instinctively – namely that through English life, there is a recognisable set of ancient characteristics that bind the nation together.” If politicians, and you, do read “England Your England”, you will learn that art and literature are incapable of crossing frontiers, being totally lost and wasted beyond Britannia’s borders. For Orwell, this is not a bad thing, because England is characterised by, “the lack of artistic ability.” As for the ancient characteristics, alluded to by McKinstry, I seem to remember from my school history classes, that if you go back far enough, the Greeks and Romans had something to do with the foundations of all our cultures.

It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals during the past ten years, as purely negative creatures, mere anti-Blimps, was a by-product of ruling-class stupidity. George Orwell, 1941

Let me dare disagree and suggest that intellectuals, for all their “stupidity”, must be heard and not silenced.

Once a country silences and intimidates its intellectuals and freethinkers , a vicious cycle of terror and extremism becomes inevitable…- Rafida Bonya Ahmed (Bangladeshi-American author, humanist activist and blogger)

For George Orwell, “England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.” Let us just hope that, one day, England will recognize that it was wrong, and revert to being a member of a Union of independent countries, seeking peace and prosperity in our time. Only then will England have changed out of recognition, leaving its misplaced patriotism, firmly in the past.

 

Reference:

England Your England, George Orwell (1941)

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gskaye