Fake Patriotism

If we’re properly aware of the words – ‘Britannia rules the waves’, ‘wider still and wider’, and so on – it’s only to remind us how different things are now; how pathetic these sentiments sound in the 21stcentury, and even sounded at the time, if we know anything of our history; and how low Britain has fallen – or, by my way of looking at it, how far she has advanced – since the days of Thomas Arne and Edward Elgar. Almost no-one takes the words seriously, surely? They’re just fun to sing.

What certain people do seem to be taking seriously is the idea that certain po-faced Leftists are trying to ban them as ‘politically incorrect’, as part of a general campaign against ‘free speech’ which has decent ‘patriots’ afraid to go out at night. That’s the line that our right-wing tabloids are taking; with Prime Minister Boris Johnson – after a fortnight of saying nothing about anything really important – now latching on to it in order appeal to his more xenophobic voters (https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-53902065). Johnson ties it in with a general lack of what he regards as ‘patriotism’ in the country, which he seems to think depends on our being uncritical about ‘our’ history in every regard. Personally, the low points in Britain’s history – which I’m a chronicler of, as well as of the good parts – are likely to make me feel prouder of my country, simply for the fact that we’ve come out of them. That is, if I could ever feel ‘proud’ of a history that was too long ago for me to have any responsibility for.

Incidentally, among the ‘good parts’ I would include the anti-imperialist discourse which was the subject of my first book; invented in Britain – that is, as a general theory – and immensely influential thereafter.

I do wish the young Lefties who object to imperialist songs and statues – however few of them there may be – would shut up. For a start, they’re usually grossly uneducated about the realities of British colonial history. And secondly, their effect is only to goad and encourage our proto-Fascist Right.


About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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8 Responses to Fake Patriotism

  1. “I do wish the young Lefties who object to imperialist songs and statues – however few of them there may be – would shut up.”
    I am an oldish Leftie, and not even a citizen of the UK; however, to demand cultural change cannot be ruled out of court when it comes to important symbols and rituals. Young Lefties should not always have to shut up. The British national anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’, for example, is a shocker and deserving of the guillotine. The nation is depicted as synonymous with the monarch; and almost everyone is embarrassed by the second verse. I agree with and applaud Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to sing it. Incredibly it was also Australia’s national anthem for far too many years. Having been going since 1745, its advocates cannot claim that it has not had a very good airing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, OK; but one needs to have regard for the effects of such demonstrations – the way they can be exploited by the ‘other side’, especially when that other side has such powerful trumpets in the popular press; and I can’t agree with you that ‘God Save the Queen’, shocking though it may be, is of any material importance. How many people know – or know of – the second verse? It’s never sung.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My objection to God Save the Queen is that it’s such a God-awful tune. Personally I’d prefer Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’ – preferably in Elgar’s orchestration. And Parry – despite being an Old Etonian – was a bit of a Radical. As of course was Blake.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your advice seems to be: do not fight in the culture wars if you are of the left. The other side is too powerful and they should not be antagonised. However, your own work, your life work, is quite strongly connected to the culture wars; your writings are also of no “material importance”, yet I would be surprised if you now regarded them as a mistake.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t regard them as a mistake, because I never laboured under the illusion that they might be of ‘material importance’. Academic works very seldom are, these days.


  2. Phil says:

    It’s nonsense. Back in July a Times journalist (ironically) wrote an article in a magazine with ‘BBC’ in the title (but not actually published by the BBC) suggesting that “wider still and wider”, etc, perhaps ought to be dropped these days. (The conductor Howard Goodall expressed similar sentiments a few years ago, making the very good point that classical music generally is anything but ‘national’.) Subsequently the BBC said that, owing to Covid, they weren’t going to be having choral singing at the Proms, be it Land of Hope and Glory or the Red Flag. The conflation of the two stories is a piece of mischief-making by the Daily Mail, subsequently picked up and amplified by the Times (which really ought to know better). But, of course, it works – it gets everyone running around taking sides and denouncing imaginary threats to the British way of life, then denouncing one another for not denouncing hard enough, and so on. What a country!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right, thanks. I didn’t know that. So, entirely manufactured…


    • Tony says:

      ‘The Times’ is a Murdoch newspaper, and reflects his desire to see the BBC reduced to a subscription service. The BBC is in an impossible position, under siege from left and right and with a populist government as its paymaster urged on by the Murdoch and Harmsworths to weaken and eviscerate it. A great many people disapprove of Rule Britannia, in particular, being sung amid the waving union flags (and many others these days), when racism is on the rise everywhere, and even with the historical context is fully understood.

      Liked by 1 person

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