Where does Britishness come from?

European citizens

Interesting comment here by Charles Moore on how Britishness is “artificial” (and he means it “as a compliment”):

“It may be that the government’s plan for oaths of allegiance for 18-year-olds in schools won’t work, but I am suspicious of the argument that it is ‘unBritish’ to make a song and dance about Britishness. In fact, a song and dance could be literally, and exactly, what are needed. Being essentially a political rather than an ethnic idea, Britishness is an artificial creation (and I mean that as a compliment). It was the careful work of leaders, thinkers, writers and artists for about 200 years. The concept helped forge a nation out of several once-warring components. It was so successful that it was taken for granted and then, partly out of left-wing ideology and partly by mistake, began to decline. Now that indigenous pupils know almost nothing about our history and our hundreds of thousands of immigrants have a very weak idea of the country of which they are becoming a part, it is complacent to say that special ceremonies are vulgar and unnecessary. We do desperately need to invent rites which help us understand who we are. It is a secular form of confirmation.”

I am used to hearing from Eurosceptics that national feeling is somehow innate and immutable and that attempts to create European democracy will always fail, even if the theory is beautiful, because there is not and can never be a European demos.

I often quote Michael Portillo in this context (from a pamphlet he wrote for the IEA in 1998, “Democratic values and the currency”)

“Democracy requires not only the cracy but also the demos, not only the state but also the people. You can create the apparatus of a state at European level, with a common frontier, a single immigration policy, a common foreign and defence policy, and a single currency. All the attributes of the nation state, all its functions, can be transferred to the European level along the Monnet- functionalist model. But what we do not have and what we cannot conjure up is a demos – that is, a single European people.”

Michael Portillo’s argument is essentially that human history, at least in Europe, has come to a halt. Whatever the factors used to be that brought about changes in our system of government no longer apply. It is good to see that Charles Moore, in arguing that the form and nature of our political communities can still be changed, disagrees.

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