Our Spirit: the Case of British Identity from a Traditionalist Perspective
by The Editor
Tradition embodies a spirit of community over individual: an inseparable bond of loyalty a person possesses to his kin above himself. This loyalty can be extended to the religious, local and national spheres to name but a few. Whilst traditionalists are acutely aware of the burgeoning age of individualism – of mass consumerism, sexualised culture, spiritual bankruptcy – and are apt in defending their values when it comes to these topics there remains a an argument which, when contested, one may struggle to answer. The question is, ‘what is Britain to you?’
By a TBG Member
Tradition embodies a spirit of community over the individual: an inseparable bond of loyalty a person possesses to his kin above himself. This loyalty can be extended to the religious, local and national spheres to name but a few. Whilst traditionalists are acutely aware of the burgeoning age of individualism – of mass consumerism, sexualised culture, spiritual bankruptcy – and are apt in defending their values when it comes to these topics there remains a an argument which, when contested, one may struggle to answer. The question is, ‘What is Britain to you?’
Throughout educational establishments nationalism still remains an important topic on the syllabus, and when students are asked this question there is a dull silence; often a conclusion that Britain was a once-imperial oppressive power that has now wonderfully transformed into a ‘tolerant’ and ‘multicultural’ paradise. The truth is that this is a re-hashed worldview with which a reconstruction of national identity through government bodies and initiatives are responsible. Asked more specifically what multiculturalism is, and there will be nothing but positive responses, for we have not yet been given the negatives of this hollow societal structure. This is indicative of the modernist perspective of what a nation is: that it is a product of institutions.
The curious case for Britain is that its union in the early eighteenth century was the result of an organic centripetal force; that England, Scotland, Wales and eventually Ireland, were moulded into one over centuries. But this was only achieved through their cultural similarities (an idea stipulated by the primordialist theory which shall be outlined later); there weren’t the same cultural conflicts that are now faced in the rapidly evolved multicultural society in which we live. With liberals demonising conservatives for not believing in same-sex marriage, whilst ignoring Islam’s strict teachings against homosexuality, it is a wonder how this multicultural paradise of tolerance will ever last. Surely there will be a time when it buckles under the weight of conflicting principles? This is just one example of the vast ranging cultural conflicts that the multicultural society inherently possesses; to presume that cultural relativism is viable with cultures that hold truth to be absolute is dubious. Britain, on the other hand, sees a history whereby value and cultural systems have a correlation due to each member state’s shared religious, and more importantly perhaps, linguistic heritage.
With it established that Britain – whilst on the barebones of its existence being an institutional entity – can be considered a synthetic creation, it is not on the same platform as a multicultural state. So, how does the traditionalist answer the question of ‘what is Britain to you?’ Does one reply with the romanticism of the green and pleasant land, the quaintness of church fêtes and maypole dancing or perhaps our ancient monarchy and customs? These are of course all valid, but you will be questioned further; after all, who needs the sentiments of traditionalist values? The core of traditionalism is that this sentimentality delves deeper than the material value that liberalism holds dear. There is, as Mircea Eliade describes, a mystic and cosmic connection to one’s ancestors, and thus, nation:
“Until recently there persisted among Europeans the obscure awareness of a mystic solidarity with the land of one’s birth. It was not a commonplace love of country or province; it was not admiration of ancestors buried, generation after generation, around the village church. It was something entirely different: the mystic experience of autochthony, of being indigenous, the profound sense of having emerged from the local ground, the sense that the earth had given birth to us, much as it had given birth, in its inexhaustible fertility, to rocks and stream and flowers…” (Jackson, J.B., 1984: p. 41)
Understanding the theory behind ‘nation’ introduces another dimension in answering the question. Whilst the modernist espouses that nations are merely synthetic creations or ‘social engineering’ projects – a fairly base argument which holds no value on the complex nature of the individual’s natural impulses of identity and fidelity – the primordial enquires into the metaphysical; something traditionalists may already identify with.
The modernist perception of the ‘nation’ is that its entity is relative to historical context; Anthony Smith asserts that the theory makes it possible ‘to imagine nations moving through linear time’ and that it is merely another fleeting stage of human history (Smith, A.D., 2001: p. 48). He categorises the theory into five sections:
Socioeconomic – Nations derive from industrial capitalism, regional inequality and class conflict: peripheral integration within a developed core region.
Sociocultural – Nations and nationalism are necessary sociological phenomena founded in the inevitable transition toward modernisation.
Political – Nations are modern and professionalised; they possess inherent anti-imperialist traits and encourage reintegrative nationalism.
Ideological – Nations and nationalism possess quasi-religious power: their origins are in the Enlightenment and changed Europe irrevocably; however, there will be new phenomena to replace this entity and ideology.
Constructionist – Nations and Nationalism are modern, socially constructed concepts. Two further divisions: social engineering to protect the interests of the ruling élite through manipulating the newly enfranchised classes; ‘imagined communities’ due to the decline of religion and monarchies.
(Ibid., 2001: pp. 47-48)
The various models within the modernist paradigm differ slightly, but all possess one common mode of thought: that the nation is equivalent to the state. As such, the theory stipulates that ‘nationhood’ is derived from attributes such as active participation within political institutions, an industrialised workforce coupled with an urban class system and an overall ‘top-down’ system perpetuated by ‘state apparatuses’ (i.e. educational, family, religious, governmental and judicial institutions) (Althusser, L., 2008: p. 30).
There are two schools within perennial theory: ‘continuous’ and ‘recurrent’. The broad value of this theory is that nations ‘have existed for a long period of time’, and have only existed upon the basis of the empirical proof provided. In effect, that the nation simply is; nations simply are in existence. The continuous theory emphasises the ‘slow rhythms of collective identity’ which drives nations; that nations exist exclusively because of a continuous nature (Smith, A.D., 2001: p. 50). This focuses upon nations’ ability to endure through ruptures and short-term discontinuities in their existence. However, this faction does not necessarily subscribe to a primordialist perception that all nations have always existed. Hugh Seton-Watson claims that there are the ‘old, continuous nations’ (i.e. England, France, Spain, etc.) and those which were ‘deliberately created’ (i.e. Holland, Russia, Sweden) (Seton-Watson, H., 1977: p. 17). Recurrent perennialism is concomitant to the modernist perception of nations being historical and malleable. However, the discerning factor is that there is a recognised recurrence of nations; that human association is ‘perennial and ubiquitous’ (Smith, A.D., 2001: p. 51). This is not to say that it pertains to the Marxist-modernist theory which prophesises a global community; it recognises that the idea of ‘nationhood’ is universal and can ‘apply to many cultural or political communities’ (Ibid., 2001: p. 51).
The Primordial paradigm stresses the natural and organic formation of nations; that they ‘exist in the first order of time, and lie at the root of subsequent processes and developments’ (Smith, A.D., 2001: p. 51). This theory, whilst recognising the empirical and quantifiable grounds of which modernism and perennialism base their arguments (i.e. historical evidence, institutional or economic transformations, etc.), fundamentally bases it argument upon metaphysical grounds: a principle which most traditionalists will find affinity with. Scholars of primordialism subscribe to the idea that nationality is ‘a natural part of human beings, as natural as speech, sight or smell’; that whilst there is a shared value with the perennialists on territory, tradition, religion, language, blood, race, etc., the foundation of a nation is upon an ineffable spiritual bond between the family; the relationship between the present individual and his ancestors of yore; a value upon a myth of autochthony (Özkırımlı, U., 2010: p. 64). The school divides between the ‘socio-biological’ and ‘cultural’. The former stresses the importance of ethnicity and race as the root to national identity with which ‘cultural symbols’ (language, religion, laws, morals, customs, biological features, etc.) are ‘markers’ by which the group can extend its kin to groups with similar attributes – thereby transferring ‘essential characteristics’ from one generation to another – contributing to the formulation of a distinctive people (Ibid., 2010: p. 75). The latter places emphasised value on the ‘cultural givens’ being the soul unifier of a nation, rather than ethnic or racial homogeneity.
The British identity need not be proven via quantifiable methods, despite the vast ranging proof of a distinct ethnic heritage found in academic sources. For myth as it stands – an ineffable bond intrinsically felt by the individual to his ancestors – is enough for the primordialist to identify with his nation and combat the illusive argument of the Briton as a non-entity. If liberalism recognises the idiosyncratic and vibrant cultures of the globe to call for immigration en masse so that we may reap the ‘fortunes’ of multiculturalism, why does it deny its own distinct identity at home, or worse still, seek its destruction? Traditionalists must be stalwart in their values; champion them unto the end and seek no compromise in ‘playing the game’ with Leftists. It is time that we take a stand for our values on our grounds.
Althusser, L., On Ideology, (London: Verso Books, 2008).
Jackson, J.B., Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984).
Özkırımlı, U., Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 2. edit.).
Seton-Watson, H., Nations and States: An Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the Politics of Nationalism, (London: Methuen & Company, 1977).
Smith, A.D., Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History, (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2001).