The interregnum

We are at the moment in a sort of interregnum -- in between the election of the Lightbringer and his enthronement on Jan. 20. I am using that time to explore a little more than usual those issues which transcend the issues of the day. So I have been writing a bit lately on the issue that most transcends time: The Jews. Being part of such an issue is of course often uncomfortable for individual Jews so I do admire the courage and resolution of those who continue to claim a Jewish identity. And I expect that I will continue to touch on that identity for a little while yet. I think I have so far managed to generate an unusually frank dialogue on the matter so that does encourage me to continue.

Below is an email recently received from a Jewish friend that questions one of the points I have made so far. It is in fact not directly about Jews at all but traces back to my comparison of Jews with the English. It challenges in part my description of the English as having survived the last 1000 years "in style". It does not challenge the external achievements of the English but does point to internal problems. I follow that challenge with some more comments of my own.
I wish to add some objections to your core thesis that agues that the English have survived in style for the last millennium and a half.

While on the surface this carries with it an apparent truism it overlooks the fact that English history, despite a popular misconception, has not been in and of itself peaceful. Looking at the period after 1066 (the time when England was last successfully invaded) Albion has witnessed on local soils rebellions by the Saxons against Norman Feudalism, the Baron Wars, Peasant Rebellions, the War of the Roses (which really spanned the era between Richard II and Henry VII), the English Civil War, the Jacobite War and the insurrection of Monmouth. If one adds in the American Revolution (which for all intent of purpose can be looked at as an internal struggle between English speaking people) it is evident that the English have had a long history of warring amongst themselves.

In addition if you add in the numerous English lives (mostly commoners) that have been lost in the pursuit of Empire on a global basis -not to mention those lives foregone in conflicts with Spain, the Netherlands, France, Scotland, Denmark, the United States etc - the idea of surviving with style, at least how it reflects down to the bulk of the populace, is found wanting.

Now I will not deny the fact the English have been very successful in transmitting their culture on a worldwide basis. The dominance of the English language and systems of education and governance attest to this phenomenon but it has come at a price which I believe cannot be swept so easily under the proverbial rug.

The English are a very admirable people (I have been somewhat of an anglophile for most of my life although my enthusiasm has waned as of late as British institutions which I once respected continue to shed ground to the Stealth Jihad) but the accident of geography that has afforded them island status clearly played a large role in their success (yes the Scots and Welsh could harass the English but by sheer force of number were unlikely to ever win the upper hand..).

Winston Churchill was correct in arguing that the island situation was an advantage that could not last forever and that Britain would need to work on establishing alliances to ensure survival. This was not a novel idea at the Empire level (regional alliances with the Iroquois, the Basuto, the Sikhs were common) but in the more critical area of European politics it was particular loathsome to the English mindset. After the Napoleonic Wars and the obvious realization that the European Powers (Russia, Prussia and Austria) were intent on turning back the forces of liberalism and nationalism (via the Concert System) Britain retreated into a type of 'splendid isolation' where it focused on growing its Empire alone without outside interference. With the possible exception of the Crimean War this attitude characterized British geo-politically thinking up to the Second Anglo Boer War. It was only after the South African conflict, where British resources were stretched to breaking point by the guerilla tactics of well organized militia that the need for global allies would become a necessity. In fact one can pinpoint this change in policy to the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Agreement of 1902, a framework that set the foundation for the Entente Cordiale with France and the Anglo-Russian Entente.

However even in this regard the Brits were slow to the post, for one the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy was already well established. Germany also had cultivated an ally in the Ottoman Turks. One could even argue (with hindsight) that Britain's decision to enter into a system of alliances and thereby join the trend was ultimately what caused the weakening of the Empire by forcing London to engage in a vortex of events leading to the disastrous Great War (although I suspect that you will argue otherwise using the pretext that the growing influence of German Naval Power made war inevitable).

I believe that the success of the English people resides with a combination of factors. They are a very resourceful people (their pragmatic creativity during the First Industrial Revolution and beyond bears this out) but so does a commitment to the free inquiry. The former has its structural origins in the English Reformation, but was further augmented by the battle against autocracy during the Civil War and the Hanoverian transfer of power during the reign of George I. These changes were not as forthcoming amongst Britain/England's continental rivals who were forced to delay the coming of modernism to the Enlightenment Period.

However what has most served the English is their ability to adapt - to take the best from the outside and make it somehow English. They did this with the Roman system of laws, Grecian Rationalism, Judeo-Christian Ethics, Stoicism and Iberian naval proficiency. It is this same characteristic that the family branch of the English, the Americans, have utilized with remarkable success today (Another island nation, the Japanese, are similar to the English in this regard).

It is this adaptation that has created the illusion that the English have resisted invasion. While no army since William the Conqueror have overwhelmed the English on the home front since the 11th century (although the Hungarians humbled the English football team at Wembley in the 1950s) it is equally true that the English monarchy has resided in the hands of foreigners since then. The Normans were of a Franco/Norse stock, the House of Plantagenet, and its spin offs in Lancaster and York were all Gallic, the Tudors were Welsh, The Stuarts - Scottish and Hanover, Saxe-Coburg and Windsor were/are all German. Yes not since the ill-fated Harold Godwinson (aka Harold II) has England had a monarch of English ethnicity and before that power was invested for some time with Danish kings such as Canute and Hardicanute.

What is most remarkable though is that within a short period the English turned these foreigners into extensions of England that their ethnicity is more a matter of historical detail than anything else.

However with each addition and influx of change a point of saturation is neared. Changes are rarely neutral with respect to key factors. The utility of adaptation carries with it a double-edged outcome. At what point in a series of changes is the system or the people no longer English?

British Internationalism, the overriding policy of adaptation, that dominates the nation in 2008 is a consequence of this underlying tendency, however in subjecting itself to the relativism of multiculturalism the Brits seem to have shot the bolt and traded away the base in one foul swoop. Could it be that the English will simply wither away? Over-adapted themselves to death? Maybe there is a grace in this style but I am at a loss to find it.

Phew! Where do I start there and where do I finish? The argument is too detailed for most readers to judge so I think I should content myself with some fairly general remarks in reply. I am inclined to make remarks along the lines that that the Jacobite wars were fought mainly in Scotland and that the Monmouth rebellion was trivial but that would just move the debate too far afield.

A major point above, and one I had been waiting for someone to make, is that, although there has been no foreign invasion of any moment, the English have at times fought amongst themselves -- and the Scots also got a bit far South on some occasions.

And I do not for a moment deny the savagery of some of England's internecine wars. There were large areas of civility in the wars concerned but there were some nasty incidents too. My point, however, is simply that foreign invasions would have made things much worse and England managed to avoid those. The English have never had a magic wand that insulates them from all harm but they have done better than almost anybody (Yes. I know about Iceland and Japan) at keeping out foreigners. Internecine wars are regrettably common just about everywhere -- see for instance pre-Tokugawa Japan and the numerous wars that for so long consumed the German states. And see Renaissance Italy and classical Greece for that matter. So the English did little better than others on the internecine front but they did wonders on the foreign front. Life in England would have been a lot nastier and much more destructive if foreign troops had marched through England's "green and pleasant land" as well.

And I will be a little pesky and point out that England's internal strife came to a halt a remarkably long time ago. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 terminated England's internecine wars. Since then there have been lots of nasty internecine wars in other places: Two of them in America in fact. So the English even got the internecine problem under control earlier than most. I can already hear a few roars about my mention of America, though.

I think the next point made above by my friendly critic is that lots of English troops have died in England's wars abroad. That is of course true. EVERY nation has lost sons in foreign wars. But, again, the English have generally got off pretty lightly. In WWII, for instance, English losses were piffling compared to the losses of men (and population generally) suffered by Germany and Russia. Britain's alliance with the Soviets was unpleasant but, as with most of Britain's alliances, it did succeed in getting lots of foreigners to die for English liberty. Clever? You judge.

So I think at this point I will make a concession to my critic above: I may have given an impression of complete tranquillity in England and that would certainly not be justified. But nearly a thousand years of freedom from foreign invasion was still a major achievement and it sure beats almost anything elsewhere. And that seems worth study.

We now move into an area that is a bit fuzzier. How consistent has been Britain's seeking of alliances? I have not the slightest problem in saying that their seeking of alliances has waxed and waned. The seeking of alliances was simply an English tendency, not some rule laid down from on high. So I will not spend too much time on each era of English history. My critic does descry, however, a period in which the enthusiasm for alliances was low but admits that the Crimean war took place during that period.

I cannot let the magnitude of that pass unremarked. In the Crimean war (against Russia), the English were allied with the FRENCH! The enormity of that can hardly be understated. Perhaps a small anecdote will help. Since Norman times, the French have always been England's chief enemy. And when the allied generals in the Crimea were discussing strategy to be used against the Russian enemy, the English generals had the unfortunate tendency of referring to the enemy as "The French"! That did not go down too well with their French allies, of course. So the English propensity for seeking allies was strong enough at that time to cause them to enter into the most unlikely and unpopular alliance which was at that time conceivable. So I don't think that the English enthusiasm for alliances was too far submerged in that era either.

This post is already way too long so I will finish by making a tiny point about the many late 19th century alliances that were negotiated in Europe. It is true that Britain was not an enthusiastic participant in them but there was a good reason for that. The prime mover in the alliances concerned was Germany's brilliant Otto von Bismarck and Bismarck kept playing musical chairs with Germany's alliances as a way of keeping everyone off balance and thus preventing the rest of Europe from ganging up on the new Germany and thus igniting a hugely destructive war. So the British were rightly deeply skeptical of all those manouvres. And when Bismarck was gone we see how right he was about the dogs of war that lay in wait for Europe. Without his mercurial diplomacy to prevent it, Europe entered WWI.

And it is true that I think the German fleet was the main reason for Britain coming in on the side of France in WWI. The battle of Jutland showed that the German fleet was rightly feared. But that is all another story. The rest of my critic's observations I broadly agree with.

By the way: Most readers here will know that I am Australian, not English, but I want to make that clear for any new readers. Thanks to our British forebears, Australia is the only nation that has an entire continent to itself -- which is exceptionally neat. And Australians are probably even more devoted to alliances than the English are. Wherever British or American troops are fighting, Australian troops will normally be there too lending a hand. And in the more than 200 years of our history, we have not seen the campfires of an invader either. Nor have we had any civil wars. So Australia really has had a tranquil past -- lightyears more tranquil than the history of the Jews over the same period. And Australia is a pretty tranquil place today too.

Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here

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