I was raised in a very Anglo home. I read P.G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome, Aldous Huxley, Orwell, you name it, with real enthusiasm. It was “England” to me, incarnate. The English mindset may be insular, etc., but it’s highly evolved. It knows how to express itself.
The England of my grandparents which found itself running an Empire was nether altruistic per se, or naïve per se. It was reflective, and innovative in some odd, but practical ways. It was also highly articulate. It had its own aesthetics, and genuine, if all over the shop, values.
England as an idea is a collection of people of deep roots. Those deep roots may be many things, and almost unique in their local forms, but they speak a language which is mutually understood on many levels.
The minds which created the Empire were a mix of Tudors and Drakes, Adam Smith, and pure business. The East India Company was a virtual empire unto itself, but still connected to the English metier. Opium wars and Jardines may come and go; the idiom remains.
An empire based on sheer gall, as the original British Empire was, is inventive by nature as well as by necessity. The tiny little Royal Navy was able to fight its way in to global supremacy, using a unique perspective. It was no accident that the Royal Navy happened to be an effectively invincible force at the times of Napoleon and Hitler.
The most basic idea of England, the island nation, made the Royal Navy a natural first choice of weapon. If your interests are overseas, you must have a navy, and a good one. America would probably be still a member of a very different world if not for the Townshend Acts and a rather unfortunate incumbent monarch.
You could argue that England, left to itself, without the foreign complications, would have continued to pursue its own best interests to this day. World War 1 was an unnecessary obscenity leading to World War 2, a necessary obscenity, but an expensive one. Without those two wars, the British Empire, with its built-in Englishness, would still probably exist, in whatever form.
England was one of the first truly cosmopolitan modern nations, despite itself. “Foreign” has never been a recommendation in England, even if you’re an importer. It’s “there”, not “here”. That’s a mistake on its part. “Here”, by definition, is good. Anywhere else, therefore, isn’t.
Being cosmopolitan didn’t mean in any sense adopting culture; it meant reacting to it. The English sense of superiority, like most of its kind, was based on historical superiority, not some mere bits of relevant information.
It’s odd how the English mindset and those of Imperial China overlapped, even when at war with each other. The culture of England, like that of China, was paramount; it defined the superior. The Chinese thought foreigners barbarians. For the English, simply not being English was quite enough information to denigrate anyone or anything.
Yet – England has produced some of the finest ideas in history. The English mind may not be patentable, but it is interesting. The Industrial Revolution started in England. So did computing, anti-slavery, mental health care, and virtual, if not quite literal, encyclopaedia of other modern ideas.
Those ideas are now globally accepted. The little island, with all its accents, was nevertheless the cornerstone of true modernisation in so many ways. A tide of English personalities, a few Scots and Irish, but on the English stage, changed the world. England was a miniature of what the USA became in the 20th century.
Culture is one of the worst defined of all terms. According to Google, a culture is:
- The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
- the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
That hardly begins to describe a living society, which is acting continuously in millions of different context. A culture, by definition, is a living thing. It may not be much of a living thing, but it acts like a living thing, trying to survive and prosper.
The innovations of England were always a form of some practical management; call it greed, call it culture, call it literature; they all came from the same organism.
…Which is why this current pathetic, inward-looking mindset is inherently anti-English. Leaving the EU is as much cosmetic as anything else. Foreigners are inevitable; whether you’re in their club or not doesn’t really matter. The English can always take or leave “there” and its peculiarities.
What matters isn’t the relationships; it’s the benefits. What profit is derived from what is now looking like a petulant, badly managed exercise in cutting one’s own throat? Melodrama, let alone on the world stage, isn’t the English way.
A quiet word, preferably meaningful, is more the preferred English style. One doesn’t have to personally outrun a horse on the race track; one can simply nobble it or beat it in the betting market, or even the breeding market.
England vs Small Ideas
Big ideas do better when not encumbered by small ideas. Being lumbered with pedantry isn’t only annoying, it’s unprofitable. So Brexit, in its ponderous self-importance, is neither here nor there. Lousy navigation, to say the least.
The EU and Brexit are an example of appalling little minds. The EU is a platform. It’s just the stage, not the performers or the play. It’s floorboards, not Falstaff. It’s what you put on that platform that matters. The play’s definitely the thing. It’s also what draws in the audience, and the money.
A more English approach would be accommodating to the point of being comatose, while diligently paddling one’s own canoe somewhere worth going. Why get out of bed, simply to announce you’ll next be throwing yourself out the window?
…Particularly when you have no intention of doing either, given half a chance. Perfidious Albion has a terrible, and thoroughly deserved, reputation, but it also has a reputation for success and intelligence. The English way is to be elegantly enigmatic, superior in assumed social class, but absolutely unfathomable when it’s anything important.
The lack of subtlety and incisive initiative in Brexit and this rather sloppy range of inverse domestic policies is decidedly un-English. Not only are these things much too melodramatic; they don’t work.
Silence and achievement go well together. An enigma is much more respected than a babbling gossip of one’s least impressive issues. A silent response is not only more subject to misinterpretation, but impossible to contradict. Deception is based on misinterpretation, and if someone else is doing the misinterpreting, it’s less effort on your part.
England is a mentality. It may grow actual and social bluebells, and good luck to it, or the true classic English gardens, madly overgrown but truly beautiful. You see why England cannot be grown by fools, particularly noisy fools.
Note the following very English view: