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Friday, January 17, 2014

Romantic Patriotism..........

according to my viewpoint, is not incompatible with Unionism. When combating Nationalist propaganda, Unionists often find themselves “myth-busting” romantic yarns and euphoric idealism hijacked for political gain. In the process, however, they can sometimes be seen as relying too heavily on a heady worldview devoid of emotional connectivity. This, in and of itself, can give the Nationalists a boon.
    The imagination is a powerful tool, and the abstract is as real, if not more so, as the concrete. There is a balance between the right and left parts of the brain, although in the middle of a crucial contest like this, it is sometimes difficult to grasp. Traditional story-telling, language-learning, and art-forms may be manipulated by some to create a divisive front, but if the Unionists reject them because of added connotations, I fear they will also disenchant many who appreciate in the human touch.

     As a romanticist and idealist by temperament, I do not feel that everything must have a direct “purpose” in order to be worthwhile. In fact, I believe that the most beautiful things in life have no trickle-down “reason” at all, but rather contain their own worth in their very existence. In my mind, such is the case with cultural gems such as the Celtic Languages. I see the veracity in the old Welsh proverb, “A Nation without a Language is a Nation without a Heart”, and I only wish that Scots-Gaelic and Irish-Gaelic were having as much of a resurgence in their respective countries as Welsh is in Wales. In fact, in spite of the fact that some Unionists view it as authoritarian, I do feel that Welsh language-learning should be mandatory in Welsh schools.

    As much as I believe in the Union, I also believe that the distinctiveness of all four nations contributes to its ultimate strength. Hence, Unionists should be careful not to get carried away with their ardor for similarity and neglect diversity. In addition to emphasizing common “Britishness”, the uniqueness of “Englishness”, “Scottishness”, “Welshness”, and “Irishness” should never be neglected, even at a time such as this. Perhaps I should say, especially at a time such as this. English is the main language of the UK, there is no question about that. But I do not see any incongruity in encouraging the individual nations of the UK to maintain a second language, as well.

    Another area of tension is different interpretations of history and legend. I, as much as anyone else, am repelled by blatant bias and misrepresentation to a certain political or personal end. However, revision and myth-busting can be taken to the extreme. For example, I am sick of seeing so many educated brains leap all over the Legend of Robert de Bruce and the Spider. In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether it is historically verifiable or not. The crux of the tale is very real indeed, and demonstrates the courage and tenacity of Bruce as king and warrior. The same applies to the Legend Alfred and the Cakes. Whether or not he actually had toaster-trouble is non-essential. The point is that he knew what it was to suffer for his throne and learned integrity from his experiences.

    The list of similar legends can go on and on. They are real because they teach our own human nature and highlight a certain aspect of historical reality using romantic embellishment. In olden days, it was the job of the bard to weave such tales as the collective “memory” of a clan or court. It was an art-form, clearly different from historical studies as we know them today, and yet no less valuable to the well-roundedness of the human experience. Besides, I’m not so sure I’ve ever heard a completely convincing case for why the stories of arachnids and crumb-buns are false, other than the fact that we have no definitive proof that they are true. The whole subject just rotates in a circle of silliness.

    Then there is the related element of historical continuity, connecting the past to the present. I would say there is a fine line to be walked with it. While it is certainly counter-productive to judge a time period by the yardstick of modern standards and expectations, this does not mean we cannot get a flavor of similar beliefs, hopes, and dreams shared in common by us and our ancestors. For example, within Unionism, there is often a shock-response against the Wars of Scottish Independence. With regards to Wallace and Bruce, whose stories were disturbingly remastered by Hollywood at the cost of balance and authenticity, I understand what got the ball rolling. But this should not administer an automatic license to ignore or diminish two undeniably heroic Scotsmen.

    True, they were flawed human beings in a violent and unstable age, just as their opponents were. There was no clear-cut “Celtic vs. Saxon” scenario, since both Robert Bruce and Edward “Longshanks” were of Norman French descent, trying to stake their claim to a country with a frequently-shifting border. But the war did engender a sense of national identity in the Scottish people, who came to identify themselves as “people of the lion”. There is no doubt that many felt Scotland had been wronged by England, and they were now in a fight for liberty. According to my personal sentiments, the Scots certainly deserved to win, and the English to lose.

    But all this does not create an inconsistency in my mind with the story of Britain as a “united kingdom”. In many cases, continuity is only as good as its flexibility, its ability to bend without breaking. A sense of shrewd deal-making and canny compromise is what brought about the union, as well as a far-sighted vision and ideal of better days to come for a single, united people. Both the concrete and abstract desires would be realized on many fronts for the British people. And I believe they can continue to be realized within the context of “E Pluribus Unum”, which can apply just as well to the Brits as it does to us Americans.

    In conclusion, while some might think that politics, by its very nature, leaves no room for romantic expression without treading the line of the ridiculous, I would say that, in their truest senses, realism and romanticism are supposed to compliment one another, like men and women are supposed to compliment each other in a marriage with their contrasting abilities, styles, and emotional make-ups. Unionists must give themselves enough room to move in both arenas if they want to fully project the truth of their cause and succeed in making others realize its worth.

(An adapted form of this article appeared on “Open Unionism”:

File:Spider web with dew drops.jpg
The Symbolic Power of a Spider's Web


  1. Standing applause from me. Well, actually, I'm sitting, but you get the idea. Those who deny the old stories of our culture -- or any culture -- seem not to be seeking truth or values at all; they are destructive pests who resent any expression of truth, values, beauty, or hope. They are like the dwarfs in the shed in C. S. Lewis' THE LAST BATTLE, so bitterly opposed to the truth that in their ideology they refuse even to acknowledge the evidence of their senses in immediate matters.

    To know that Alfred burned the cakes / bread is not wishful thinking; it is to acknowledge his greatness in submitting to rebuke from his subjects for not taking care of his duty.

  2. Thank you for this post, Pearl- and good point about Robert de Bruce and the spider;-)

  3. @Mack: I am deeply touched by your "sitting" applause ;-) I love the analogy about the dwarfs in the shed. It seems as if many people hide themselves away from cultural pursuits in the interests of appearing more "realistic", when in fact, the truest reality is really that which comprises the heart and soul of man.

    And yes, King Alfred's cakes are not wishful thinking at all, but an acknowledgement of a higher truth that he learned in the forester's hut!

    @Meredith: I'm glad you liked the spider story!!! I've been hearing it and telling it since I was a toddler, so it has a special fondness for me. After all, my dad's name is Bruce Robert! ;-)


  4. Hmmmm - we could conflate the stories and the Bruce, and make a pun on bannocks burn!

  5. Pearl

    Since the comments have been disabled over at Open Unionism I thought I would post my response to your comments here. I probably won't have the time for anything further on this.

    I appreciate your trying to give some clarification on what you mean by 'romanticism' and 'idealism'. I'm not sure I would agree but I don't think this is the forum to address the definitional issue. What I would say, however, is that if you want to ground that 'special appreciation for the cultural bloodstream of a national identity', even partly, in the truthfulness of historical claims then the object of romanticism (as you define it) is defeasible. And so too, therefore, the romanticism itself. That is, crucially, if it is grounded in the truthfulness of historical claims. If not then there's no problem. But also if not then historical criticism is not anti-romantic as such since the locus of romanticism is not historical realism but something else. And it's in this sense one could be an historical realist and a romantic.

    Having read your article, and now your response to my comment, it appears to me that you're equivocating in your use of 'romanticism'. This leads me back to the point I was making (although I do accept I focused on Irish issues but you did not); Some nationalists and unionists have a tendency of removing their own history from the canons of historical criticism yet at the same time want to use those canons to criticise their opponents' claims. So, to use the terminology developed above, they want to be romantics about their own history but realists about their opponents'. Some, more self-aware than others, realise this and relativise all historical claims. Both of these are moves Unionists should attempt to block. And, to bring up the Irish question again, it is unfortunate this kind of retrenchment is the foundation of our peace process.

  6. Hi, Andrew,

    Thanks for stopping by the blog, and my apologies for not replying to you earlier. My schedule has been sheer madness this past week!

    I suppose the article itself is calling into question the negative connotations associated with "romanticism" and "idealism". In my mind, they should not be used as insults, but rather to denote certain qualities.

    With regards to historical criticism, I have no problem with it in general, but particular instances, such as the spider and the cakes, should simply be denoted as "famous legends" and left at that. It really doesn't matter whether they actually happened or not; they emphasize a greater truth, and in mind, their is no need to "myth-bust" them whatsoever.

    My other point is that "romantic" aspects of history and legend are not necessarily true or false. There are loads of historically verifiable things that are quite "romantic" to my mind, and loads of things that simply cannot be proven one way or the other.

    I did mean to pin "Irish issues" on you exclusively; I merely meant that N.I.'s historical heritage get's quite a bit more complicated with regards to Protestant/Catholic interpretations, and thus I tried to focus on more straightforward examples of legends and linguistics from England, Scotland, and Wales.

    I completely agree with you about the danger of both sides "removing their history from the canons of historical criticism yet at the same time want(ing) to use those canons to criticize their opponents' claims". That is the traction that keeps social tensions alive and political tensions looming.

    My answer to the quandary of them wanting to be romantics about their own history, but realists about their opponents' is that they should seek balance in their studies, and become both romantics and realists at the same time.

    Again, thanks for writing, and I hope you visit here again soon!

    God Bless,
    Pearl of Tyburn