Patriotism is not Enough

The solemnity of St George tends to bring out much that is good, a little that is bad, and, if I am honest, a certain amount of silliness as well, among the English. Leaving aside those learned discussions about the origins of the dragon-slaying legend, the displacement of St Edmund as patron saint of the English, and the feast for the eyes that St George-themed paintings and sculpture have produced over the years, what are we left with? For some there is only that red and white flag showing our tribal allegiance, prominently displayed at football matches or on the number plates of cars. For others, there is the annual St George’s Day Dinner, with sentimental speeches pledging fidelity to ‘our own dear Queen, God bless her!’ and a selective recall of history that is both enchanting and infuriating. For many more, the day brings with it either an embarrassed indifference or a sober assessment of England’s role in the world and what are regarded as typically English characteristics. Perhaps we could spend a moment or two looking at these latter.

English Qualities: Myth and Reality

Everyone knows that the most characteristic quality of the Englishman or woman in every age is emotional reserve. Along with that goes a highly-developed sense of duty, honesty and sense of fair play. We pride ourselves on our sense of humour, but not enough to make fools of ourselves learning another language. We just speak English more loudly. We can safely assert that the English are not very imaginative but we do make good administrators. We are entirely clueless about the Arts, depressingly bad cooks, and kinder to animals than to our children. Bluff and gruff, that’s us. Only, it ain’t absolutely true.

Merrie England was not all myth, and in the sixteenth century Erasmus paints a very different picture of England from the one we have now. He didn’t think much of our beer(!), but the cheese was better than that in Basle and he found the English habit of kissing one another on every possible occasion utterly delightful. Everyone sang or played an instrument, and, at least in the circles in which he moved, there was an ease with languages, especially Latin, that made communication easy. Then, I suppose, the rot set in. The English became a little more dour, more intent on empire-building and the martial qualities that go with conquest and administration. By the time we get to the Victorians, the myth becomes reality.

England Today: Values and Virtues

Today, I think very few would claim that the English are emotionally reserved, although there remains an awkwardness about the kind of display of personal emotion we see in Prince Harry. To speak of duty is to invite derision. There are serious doubts about the honesty and integrity of some holding public office, and the uncomfortable feeling that we can no longer count on anyone’s word being their bond. Administration is not our forte, if it ever was, and although we can claim to be more imaginative than allowed in the past, we are just as mono-glottal, inward-looking and dull as ever we were. Is there any hope for us then, as a nation and as individuals?

I think there is. English love of country never descends into nationalism, ‘my country right or wrong,’ except among the eccentric. Despite what I see as the tragedy of Brexit, we are still open to collaboration with others and appreciate their good points. Even after the current Government’s cut in the aid budget, we continue to be one of the most generous providers of help to other countries, both as a state and as individuals. Our cooking has improved but so too has our awareness of the need to share what we have with the hungry. We’re still not good at languages, but we remain kind to animals and we are becoming kinder to our children.

The qualities I have singled out are not obviously Christian virtues but they contain within them some important Christian values. Thinking of Erasmus, though, and his remarks about music-making and kissing, maybe one quality we largely lack nowadays is joyfulness. Easter is the season of joy, and alleluia is its song. Let us not stop at patriotism but ring out our joy to the Lord.


11 thoughts on “Patriotism is not Enough”

  1. If I can add to your assessment of the English our inventiveness. It amazes me that, of all the highly educated and civilized countries in Europe it was the English who came up with the first intimation of a vaccine against covid 19. Sheer determination and exhaustingly long overtime got it at least capable of being tested. It was done at breakneck speed and, when approved, offered to the rest of the world at cost price. The mud which has in the interim been slung at it would seem shabby. I am delighted now that the German chancellor and the president have both been vaccinated with this very serum and that the Bavarian president has allowed its use here, which seems to be welcomed by many waiting for innoculation. The English are very good in a crisis, cf the last war, the Napoleonic wars and no doubt other instances. A chaotic response, maybe, but hardheaded determination must be applauded nevertheless.

  2. Churchill once said something about democracy being the worst system in the world, except for all the others. I take a similar view of British administrative skills; we have all suffered from their shortcomings at times, but nowhere else I’ve lived or visited has presented a better picture and most have been rather worse.

    Otherwise a delightful post on a delightful Spring day. Thank you and God bless.

    • As someone often commended for her administrative skills, I thought a little self-deprecating humour would not go amiss. I’m sorry you took me so literally. Having said that, I see a great deal of inefficiency and waste in various areas, and it saddens me.

  3. My thoughts this morning turn to Agios Georgios – very popular in Greece – and the tiny church dedicated to him on the island of Antiparos. A prayer for the people of Antiparos as they celebrate their saint today. (Along with the hope that I may get back to see them again.)

  4. I agree with every word of this – particularly so as I’m half French! My mother was beyond scathing about the English even though she married one and certainly the English have, by and large, stopped making derogatory comments about frogs and other foreigners. And I do think that the blessing of immigration has brought a lot of that about.

    But as for patron Saints, my money’s always been on Saint Hilda who ruled over women and men wisely and well. And was undeniably, English.

  5. I don’t tend to think if myself as English, preferring to be Cornish or perhaps British. I think Cornwall gets a more appealing patron too – St Perran (or Pyran) seems to have been a useful sort who got stuck into the local priorities!

Comments are closed.