"No man has the right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation." - C.S. Parnell
The recent resurgence in awareness of England and of English identity is welcome on many counts. Yet most groups and individuals at the leading edge of this tide treat as one campaign two very different and necessary arguments: the case for an autonomous, truly democratic and devolved England ... and the case for nurturing specifically English culture under modern conditions.
Devolve! now issues a statement on this confusion of goals: -
CALL TO BE BRAVE
For nearly twenty years Devolve! has been committed to a democratic and devolved England ... and also to a renewal of English culture. We have listened and learnt, observed and debated, as England has changed around us.
Our perspective takes in the past: the roots of social divides in the history of England since the Norman occupation.
Our concern goes to the future: England as one of the most crowded lands on Earth* - on a planet probably populated beyond the limit of its resources.
Our understanding knows our undoing: the destruction of most real bonds and ties; the triumph of the individual over the group - winners and losers, instead of parts for each to play in a team that values all.
In case it is not too late, we need to be both clear and brave. By "we" we mean all people in England now who care beyond their own personal goals. There are plenty of us; we need to find each other. Being clear means not dividing by labels those of us who share this practical morality. Being brave means daring to speak, and practise, what our instincts tell us.
For those of us who choose to identify as English the first challenge is to accept that those who don't can still identify with England as their home ... can share a vision of a decent democratic England, a partnership of peoples no longer ruled from above, no longer having imperial pretensions, no longer consumption junkies.
Perhaps we need to popularise the term 'People of England' for all the people who live in England and have some commitment to it as their new homeland. By commitment we mean sharing a practical morality, a basic decency and sense of fair play - being in this sense "a little bit English" (as one member put it).
NO TO INTEGRATION
This is not an argument for integration. Integration by assimilation may work below some critical inflow threshold; above that threshold it is a recipe for the mutual destruction of cultures - and, in a market economy, for descent into C-ca C-la culture. Why should not a second or third generation Bangladeshi honour their roots, their great radical poets like Tagore, just as Anglian immigrants fifteen hundred years ago honoured their old England, recited the epic of Beowulf round their fires?
So let Partnership between our peoples, not culture wrecking Integration be our broader aim. The renewal of English culture to make it worthy of such partnerships in tomorrow's diverse and devolved England is a particular task and project, which some of us in Devolve! are up for.
For to 'be' English, to identify with an English people, is to have problems indeed. Riven by class, unsure whether to know themselves as the humiliated conquered or the imperial conquerors ... the only people on earth to be despised and betrayed by their own intellectuals (as Orwell noted).
Politically and democratically the logical structure for an autonomous England, at least for those of us committed to devolution and decentralisation, is a confederation: of the peoples of England, of the provinces of England, of partners reflecting the various identities that we as citizens may hold.
Demographically, there can be no hope of negotiating our new partnerships of practical morality without a halt to nett immigration, especially immigration driven by the need for endless economic growth. This is not because of cultural superiority or purity (we are ultimately all immigrants and all biological mongrels, no matter how we identify). It is certainly not a denial that many people around the world (possibly two billion of them!!) are suffering desperate poverty, exploitation and oppression (and so on 'humanitarian' grounds would be eligible for refuge!). It is quite simply that England is grossly overcrowded.
Not just full on a measure of people per square mile* (though that is scary enough). But full in the sense that population density, especially in our inner cities, is triggering competition for cultural and personal space faster than the natural human tendency to negotiate unspoken agreements and boundaries can handle.
Thus there is a link between the issues discussed above: culture, community, solidarity ... and green issues, especially the deep ecology of population. Writers like Jack Parsons (cf 'Population vs. Liberty') have shown that adequate personal and social space is vital to the healthy functioning of both people and communities.
Some observers are predicting economic collapse linked to peak oil. The coming difficult times are likely to be more complex than that, with resource and pollution crises and economic, social, structural and psychological breakdowns all feeding on each other.
Under these conditions close groups having trust in each other, sharing both tradition and vision, will have a better chance of carrying their values into the future, even if some do not survive. In contrast, 'free market' competitive types are likely to respond in sheer panic as conditions for most of us deteriorate. In short culture and commitment, now considered marginal to modern society, will be features best adapted to the new times.
Negotiating now for an all-England partnership of English and other cultures, of rooted provincial and local loyalties, will meet one of the conditions for facing the future predicted here.
* Based on the United Nations 2005 estimates quoted in Wikipedia.
Noting that England has approx 84% of the population of the mis-named United
Kingdom with only 54% 0f the land Area. Discounting statelets and small countries
with populations under ten million, England is the fifth most crowded country
in the world with 994 people per square mile (over 1,000 by now!). It
comes after Bangladesh (2,550), Taiwan, South Korea and Holland (1,015). It
is more crowded than India and the Philippines. In Europe it is a little denser
than Belgium, well ahead of Germany (601), twice as crowded as Italy and nearly
four times as full as France.