Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why I love the English

In August my wife and I and our daughter spent some time in England and we were able to experience English history and culture.( See posts in August 2007 archive below) While English society is changing there is something I still love about the English. Paul Greenberg in his column today expresses it very well when he says:

“Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavor of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.”

In a politically correct age, it may no longer be permissible even to wonder whether there’s still an England or any other national culture. Aren’t they all supposed to be absorbed by the new, faceless globalism? And yet national traits persist. They are palpable even if we sometimes attribute them to vague abstractions (Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!) rather than the everyday habits of a people.

It is continuity in the seemingly small things that over time creates the complex underpinning of any society. It explains why in England the law may be respected simply because it is the law, and in other countries laws will be widely ignored because it’s expected that only fools will follow the rules.

Edmund Burke understood, which is what made him suspicious of sudden, violent changes in the social order like the French Revolution, which was going to produce a whole new society, even a new man. The usual results of such utopian visions followed — first terror, then tyranny.

It isn’t an abstract allegiance to democracy that makes the British so British but custom — the accumulated layers of habit, constraint, manners and mores that form the British character in matters great and small, from standing alone against what seemed an unstoppable threat during the Battle of Britain, or at the approach of the Spanish Armada in another time under another queen named Elizabeth, to … simply not jumping the queue.

To read the rest of the column click on the title for a link. Maybe if I am lucky I will get to go back to England..... it would be nice to go with our son who loves history even more than I do.