The subject of British identity tends to come up quite often in my conversations with various friends and acquaintances. There are those in this country who seem to indulge in an emotional euphoria with regards to the possibility of Scotland breaking away from "England" or "The British Empire", as they often put it. The monarchy tends to be viewed in a decidedly skeptical, sarcastic light, and the traditions that have been the continual flow of British cultural life are shrugged off as "quaint" or even stupid. In Britain itself, the Christian identity and moral principles that have served as the bulwark of the nation for thousands of years have virtually been abandoned. There is a haunting sense that the United Kingdom, as a country and as a culture, is being dismissed as something obsolete, a body that has no heart, an oppressive empire that has collapsed, and a land that is faithless, hopeless, and loveless. It hurts me deeply to watch it happening from afar.
Since a very young age, I have been drawn to the heritage of UK through its stories and songs, its struggles against tyrants and internal fractions, its Christian, and especially Catholic, heroes and heroines. All of these things continue to influence me in my daily life, and a certain part of me, I feel, will always be connected to that land I have yet to see. The idea of it self-destructing and self-dissecting sickens me. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland are distinct and yet one, forged into a common identity for a common purpose. They each hold representation in the UK Parliament according to their respective populations, share a head-of-state, and have helped establish a proud military tradition which continues to this day. Through the years, English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish men have died fighting side by side, often in order to defend their liberties against tyrants such as Napoleon and Hitler. They built a country, and yes, an empire which cast its influence over the world, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse.
A sense of unhealthy nationalism, a haughty pride of race, reared its ugly head during the Imperial project. Many Britons began to feel they were superior to the rest of humanity merely because they lived on an island that came to possess vast expanses of territory. They could be cruel to those they conquered, and snobbish to those who they dealt with. The situation needed to be amended, and indeed it was hammered down through the cost of war and pressure from abroad. The Empire was transformed into The Commonwealth comprised of sovereign nations. Today, some of these countries – such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Jamaica – continue to have particularly close ties with the mother country and share a head of state as Commonwealth Realms.
But the pendulum kept swinging. Economic and social trouble, along with an aura of post-imperial limbo, caused a lack of identity to creep into the British psyche. Sooner than later, the Union Flag came under fire. Some considered it to be a symbol of the jingoistic imperialism or Northern Irish terrorism or a by-gone era that had no place in modern society that was plagued with the questions: "Who are we?" "What are we?" "What do we believe?" "Where are we going?" But for many throughout the world, the unique pattern combining the Crosses of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick continues to be seen as a symbol of freedom, unity, the rule of law, and Christianity. No one, no much how much they cry and complain, can take the worth of the British national flag away from them. Nevertheless, the defeatists spread their pessimistic attitude far and fast like the plague. They came to the conclusion that the British identity was not worth reforming or preserving, and then drew an overriding patriotism from their locality.
The Scots became "more Scottish than British" and the Welsh became "more Welsh than British," while the Northern Irish continued to be tormented by extremist movements within Unionism and Republicanism alike. All three nations liked to think of themselves as being in an exclusive club called "The Celtic Nations." Never mind the fact that their populations, like that of England, were made up of a mix of ethnic group, including the Danes and the Normans. Identity had to be established, and if they couldn't rely of the British one any longer, they would have stake their claim with a wandering tribe of head-hunters that would go on to inspire a generation of folk musicians to express their connection to the "secret people" by adopting prehistoric hairstyles and writing protest songs for the purported good of an overpopulated and polluted planet. The real shame is that these same conscientious objectors to humanity unavoidably contributed to both blights to the echo system by their very presence in that sphere.
|Last Surviving Union Jack from the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805|