THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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December 2008

Patriotism -vs- Nationalism - Part 3: The Dark Side

John Bull and Boney

Patriotism has been out of fashion in Britain since I was a young man. The British Empire confused matters horribly. To be proud of our nation was somehow thought to approve its role in establishing the biggest empire in history. It became essential for "right-minded" individuals to disassociate themselves from that. As humans will, we overdid it. We lost sight of more important things.

We can quite reasonably take pride in our cultural heritage, our science, our legal system, our contributions to the history of thought and our role in the industrial revolution, for example. We have never needed to justify the British Empire though, in passing, we have rather less cause for shame than our European rivals of the imperial age.

For most of my life, if I heard someone express pride in our country, it was essentially negative. It was not pro-Britain, but anti-somewhere else. In my view that is not patriotism at all. I can happily stand up for my country to a patriotic French friend who mocks it. We will remain friends - cheerfully winding each other up - because each knows there is, in truth, much to respect and admire in the other's country.

Which brings me to my central point. Patriotism, while of course it can be "the last refuge of a scoundrel,"  need not be negative.  Nationalism cannot - in my experience - be anything else. It may not be too great an overstatement to characterise nationalism as a perversion of patriotism. So how can we distinguish between the two?

I mentioned in the first post that "I was also once a patriotic Welshman." In the sense I am trying to explain here, I still am. For reasons to be blogged about another time, I am fairly sure that my family was not only in Wales, but in the same place in Wales, at the time of the Norman Conquest and probably long before. For years, I corrected everyone who called me English. When I lived in Warsaw, I taught numerous Poles the word "Waliczyk" because they had called me an "Anglik." I taught my workmates in Warsaw the Welsh national anthem, and delighted at the surprise of English friends when a Polish colleague sang it in Welsh at a rugby match.

So why, with all this Welsh heritage and erstwhile enthusiam, does the heading of my blog describe me as "an English expatriate in Moscow?" When, as a boy, I wanted Wales to beat England at rugby or football, that was not because I hated England. My affection for Wales was akin to that of a Lancastrian for Lancashire. After all, my mother was English. Both my grandmothers were English. In fact, genealogical research suggested that every woman in my family tree was English. It seems mine was a tribe that raided England for its livestock and its women. Partly due to my ancestors' endeavours, the English and the Welsh (just like the Scots, the Irish and the English) are so commingled that it is ridiculous to distinguish them on ethnic grounds. In her book, "The Matter of Wales", Jan Morris acknowledged as much. She said the only way you can tell if you are Welsh is if you have a sense of "cymreictod" (i.e. "Welshness"). I used to have cymreictod, but nationalism killed it and I have no smidgin of hiraeth for my loss.

The rise of the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland and the cynical harnessing of nationalist feelings by the Labour government, has made anti-English feelings more and more apparent. These feelings have nothing to do with patriotism. It seems that Welsh and Scottish nationalism is largely an expression of feelings about England. Of course, this is not unique. Talk history in a Polish bar and it will not be many wodki before you hear an anti-Russian or anti-German sentiment. But with skill and effort, one can convince a Polish patriot that Russia and Germany have given much of value to the world.

Billy Connolly, who has famously ridiculed "the wee pretendy parliament" at Holyrood expressed my view entirely, when he spoke of the SNP;

"It's entirely their fault, this new racism in Scotland, this anti-Englishness. It was a music hall joke before - you know, like Yorkshire v Lancashire or Glasgow v Edinburgh. But there's a viciousness to it now that I really loathe and it is their fault entirely."

I don't throw the word "racist" around as casually as Connolly. Still, he is right that devolution has stirred hatreds. Enthusiasts like Jan Morris (again) claim

As Wales has found a new measure of political independence, so its sense of self has flourished too. God knows not every Welsh citizen has welcomed devolution, but there is no denying that Welshness has been boosted by the advent of a national assembly. If anything, the new Wales is now more sure of its identity than England over the border, where the feeling of unity seems to be sparked only by wars, football matches or royal occasions.

Yet, to others, post-devolution Wales and Scotland seem less friendly places. My own father can trace his Welsh heritage farther than many a nationalist. Since devolution (which he devoutly opposed) he has commented that for the first time in his life he feels unwelcome in Wales. He has even contemplated moving over the border. It seems ludicrous to me that people with so much in common, so much shared history and culture, should be in such a position.

I love Wales, but I love England, Scotland and Ireland too. The whole British archipelago feels like home to me and people who want to put borders around this or that island or peninsula are not racists, but trivialists. They have as loose a grasp of history as those who, watching the scene in Braveheart where the Bruce confronts Longshanks in a cathedral, fail to understand that - though the actors use modern accents to portray a gallant Scot and a wicked Englishman - both were Norman Lords. They spoke French to each other. They valued their cattle more highly than their armies of natives. Their disputes were not national, but feudal and to interpret them in modern terms is ridiculous.

If a Scot wants to celebrate his literature, his landscape or his whisky, I will drink with him with pleasure. If he wants to toast William Wallace, I will raise a glass to a fine man and a worthy foe in a long-forgotten conflict. As soon as he expresses his hatred of modern sassenachs, however, he can drink on his own. Nor will I drink again (as I am ashamed to admit I did in my youth) to the Welsh toast of "Twll din bob sais." For as long as English patriotism is neither understood nor respected in Scotland and Wales, there can be no real Welsh or Scottish patriotism. If Wales and Scotland have to become truly independent in order to find the self-esteem to be patriots, then I wish them luck. Perhaps, when they have found it, we can rejoin the trend to bring the human race together, rather than obsess about imaginary differences?

Patriotism and nationalism are as close on the emotional spectrum as love and hate. The difference between them is just as important and (though hard to define) just as obvious when it is encountered in real life. I know which I prefer, in both cases.

The previous posts in this short series can be found here:

Part 1: A complicated subject

Part 2: Virtue or vice?

The ex-missionary position

Home for retired missionaries loses council grant... because it won't ask residents if they are lesbians | Mail Online.

Having lived in former totalitarian states, I know how to handle this kind of thing. My language teacher in Poland was in her 70's but the photo on her ID card showed her at the age of 18. Another colleague was registered at the long-demolished address of his late grandmother. They complied with their oppressors' laws as unhelpfully as possible.

People in Britain are beginning to understand this. Checking in to an NHS hospital a native English colleague was asked to fill in a form stating his ethnic origin. He left it blank, saying he found the question as offensive as it was irrelevant. The commissar nurse told him he would not be admitted unless he completed the form. Grumpily (he wasn't feeling well, oddly) he said she could fill it in herself. "I can't do that," she replied. "What race am I?" he asked.  "Only you can say," she replied. So he wrote "Chinese" and she had to accept it.

Elderly Christians probably feel the need NOT to lie, but they are being old-fashioned. They should see it as a powerful form of passive resistance. Had they each written "sadist" as their sexual orientation, all would be well (and I am sure their God would have smiled). We should be truthful to our Gods, our loved ones and (most importantly) ourselves, but there is no moral obligation to say sooth to those who use force against us. Let us subvert their systems by complying as infrequently and as unhelpfully as we can.

Perhaps charities should realise the price of government handouts subject to political conditions? Many supposedly independent "charities" are now government agencies in disguise, providing clandestine support to its agenda (and sinecure jobs to its toadies). Private schools are in danger of succumbing too. Every year another price is exacted for their charitable status. Parents struggling to pay school fees from income net of taxes from which they have paid for several state educations now have to watch the private facilities they bought being worn out by all and sundry. The point must soon be reached where it would be economically (as it has long been ethically) better to tell the Charity Commissars to go to hell.

I know these are unpalatable views, but once you take the King's shilling, you are a soldier. And this is now an "army" in which no honest man can serve.

A tour of my virtual lands

In the lull after Christmas, I have had chance to spend some time in my virtual domains in Second Life. I know this leaves some readers cold, but I find the whole concept of virtual worlds fascinating. I think they foreshadow the future of the internet. Yes, like the early 'net, they are currently populated by a strange combination of the earnest, the nerdy and the wacko (apart from my very sensible friends, of course) but they will come to be part of our everyday lives in ways as yet unimagined.

LDW at Castle Nanga_001 

My "avatar" at the door of my SL "home", Castle Nanga

For now, they are a space for creativity. For example, an SL friend is currently working on an exhibition of photographs about the history of Second Life. Her subjects are the SL pioneers - those who were there when SL was 16 "sims" (simulators or regions) as opposed to more than 13,000 today. She has had many interesting conversations with these people, some of whom still own well-known clubs and other businesses in-world. One of my own longest running activities in Second Life is my art gallery, which features a private collection of artworks made in SL, as well as providing free exhibition space to my favoured artists. There are also theatre companies, literary circles (I have read at poetry readings, as has JMB of the Nobody Important blog) and even a Bar Association.

Limoncello with Art

The Airship Liner "Limoncello", an art gallery in flight

It has to be said that most activity is less cultured. For many users, it's just a kind of 3D chatroom, with all that entails. Others are using it as a platform for all kinds of roleplaying (RP) games. There is, for example, a thriving community of Doctor Who fans, and several enthusiasts competing to manufacture the best Tardis in SL (where even the chameleon circuit works)


My Tardis, parked neatly on the shuttle deck of the USS Colin Campbell (see below)

I am not particularly adept at building there (though I have my moments). I tend to do the master plan and general design for a project, which is then built by my long-term SL friend and business partner, Abramth Asp (pictured below). Abramth is an SL tech wizard and deals with the problems of the tenants in our 70 virtual apartments and houses. I could not operate on such a scale in SL, given my real life commitments, without him.


Abramth Asp, SL master builder

It's easy and free to join. All you need to do is register for a free account and download the client software. You will only need to buy land and pay land taxes ("tier" in the SL jargon) if you want to build your own stuff. Most of the fun can be had for free and you can always buy some of the local currency if you want to dress your avatar up more elegantly.

Lakeside Tower

One of my two apartment buildings

Sky City_001

My city in the sky above my castle (with "The Lady Ellee" airship moored top left)

Nestor Marina
My marina (where JMB rents her home)
My Japanese-style housing development

If you decide to explore, feel free to send me an instant message there. My avatar's name is LastDitch Writer. If you are a Blogpower member, ask me to invite you to the Blogpower SL group, which has its own "common room" in my "Sky City" complex. These pictures from my own lands in SL should give you some idea of what to expect. You are most welcome to visit anytime.

Finally, here's my latest SL acquisition, an enormous space ship which, following my own tradition, I have named after a Blogpower blogger. Congratulations Colin. Here's the link to follow to visit your namesake.


Uss colin campbell

The USS Colin Campbell, latest addition to my SL star fleet

Money in motion -vs- profit

Busiest Boxing Day is unlikely to save High Street slump - Telegraph.

What hope is there for British capitalism when journalists in quality newspapers don't know the difference between turnover and profit?

At Selfridges in London's Oxford Street, the store recorded its most profitable hour in the store's 100-year history – with tills ringing up £1 million in just one hour and 40,000 sales in the first 60 minutes

It's almost as bad as our politicians not knowing the difference between "investment" and "spending." It's one step from that to believing that the solution to debt is borrowing.

Years ago, when father wanted to buy a "classic" car and claimed it would be an "investment", mother said that (as it would produce no income, only costs) he could only call it that if he had a credible plan to sell it at a profit in the foreseeable future. That's the sort of education you can't get in Britain's schools (or from its newspapers) any more.

Welcome to post-Christmas

How did I survive without nanny's advice? | Hugo Rifkind - Times Online.

Hugo Rifkind is on amusing form. But why do our satirists like "Nanny" so much as a metaphor for an overbearing ruler? Most of us didn't have a nanny or know anyone who did. And doesn't "nanny" summon images of being expensively and lovingly nurtured with professional care? Would not most of us like to have grown up in a family rich enough to have professional childcare, with glamorous parents who never smelled of baby sick? Not that I am suggesting it's a carefully-contrived way subliminally to reconcile us to infantilisation,  but "Nanny State" just doesn't cut it as a way of dramatising our danger to the masses.

Any better metaphors chaps?

h/t The Englishman (does he never sleep?)

Christmas 1941

OK, so it's wartime propaganda, but it's interesting. The narration reads, in part;

There is no reason for America to feel sorry for England this Christmas. England doesn't feel sorry for herself. Destiny gave her the torch of Liberty to hold and she has not dropped it. She has not allowed the stormy waves of terrorism, which are sweeping over the world from Berlin to let that bright light even flicker. She is thankful that when the test came she had the high courage to meet it and today England stands unbeaten, unconquered, unafraid. On Christmas Eve, England does what she has done for a thousand years. She worships the Prince of Peace.

How times have changed.

h/t Harry at Crooked Timber

Welfare, Crime and Abortion - Were Levitt et al. Correct?

A Very British Dude: Welfare, Crime and Abortion - Were Levitt et al. Correct?.

The Dude makes elegantly a point I have been crudely sledge hammering for some time. He observes astutely that the notion of "moral hazard" applies equally to the recipients of all state handouts, whether welfare claimants, banks or car companies in trouble. The notion that the safety net is there encourages rash behaviour on life's high wire. Which is not to say there should be no net, but only that we should be aware of its costs and risks.

Why save, when your savings will (as is happening to my parents, retired and living on theirs) periodically be clobbered by low interest rates and inflation engineered by a Labour government to buy the votes of its improvident clients? Why work, when (as an unskilled, uneducated young woman) you can become a Karen Matthews and maximise your benefits? Why save for a house, when you can be given one in (sometimes even in Kensington) on "the Social?"

More importantly than these economic irritants, we are all going to reap what we sow socially. Children bred for subsidies are far more likely to be mistreated and/or become violent. The indiscipline in our schools (the reason why my wife and her friends no longer teach and indeed why so few trained teachers are practising their craft) is gradually trending to violence as unloved, uncared-for feral youths take vengeance on their luckier peers.

I confess I am in a dark mood today. Not only is Mrs P. undergoing a course of scary treatment for a serious illness, but I have just learned that one of my business partners has lost her 17 year old daughter, who fell ill with viral meningitis and died while on a school trip. She rushed to her child's side, but she never came out of her coma. There is nothing worse than losing a child. In the middle of our own fears yesterday, our hearts went out to her as we imagined ourselves in her awful position.

Unavoidable tragedies may lead us to despair, but are really all the more reason to focus on averting avoidable ones. My partner's daughter was wanted, cherished and has been tragically lost. I can only hope one day the agonising grief of today will fade to permit access to fond memories of her brief, but good, life. The poor children of Britain are too often unwanted and uncherished. They are only in danger of their potential being lost because of political choices we have made. We must turn away from those choices, accepting that though they may have been well-intentioned, their consequences prove that they were evil. It is time to reclaim the moral high ground from the Left. Their policies are turning great swathes of our beloved country into swamps of squalor and violence. We must not let them continue to associate the concept of "caring" with their crude, cruel, corrupt, apology for an ideology.