English nationalism as a blend of ‘Whig imperialism’ and ‘democratic republicanism’

I reproduce here a comment I made on a post in the OurKingdom blog that was reviewing a presentation by the political historian David Marquand of his new book Britain after 1918: The Strange Career of British Democracy. In this book, Marquand analyses British history over the last 90 years as a product of the interplay of four major political philosophies and movements: Whig imperialism (which I would also call One-Nation Conservatism), Tory nationalism (associated with a right-wing Tory position), democratic collectivism (essentially, the Labour tradition) and democratic republicanism (radical left-wing and liberal traditions opposed to privilege, prejudice and the monarchy).

For the original post, see here. And now my comment:

Where does civic / progressive English nationalism fit in to Marquand’s schema? Judging from Tom Griffin’s account, it’s hard to see where it could be accommodated, as Marquand’s narrative appears to be largely Britain-centric. At the risk of misrepresentation, perhaps he would see such a concept as a blend of ‘Tory nationalism’ and ‘democratic republicanism’, and, by that token, self-contradictory and marginal: appealing only to a sort of extremist fringe and loony alliance of different strands ranging from defenders of ‘England’s’ great imperial traditions (seen as traduced by the modern post-devolution unionist mainstream) to republican nationalists intent on throwing every last bit of the Union baby out with the independence bath water.

However, if I were to express things in Marquand’s terms – which are questionable, though highly thought-provoking – I would say that civic / progressive English nationalism was more a blend of Whig imperialism and democratic republicanism: probably an equally distasteful and uncongenial blend for Marquand. After all, Marquand himself uses the ‘p’ word in his definition of Whig imperialism: “a tradition of practical progress”. Another term for Marquand’s Whig imperialism could be ‘one-nation Conservatism’: and the one nation whose culture, temperament and traditional social hierarchies this tradition is most attuned to is England. The same England over half of whose voters may vote Conservative at the next election if this week’s polls are to be believed, while the rest of the UK (a term usually used for England but here applied to Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland) votes Labour or nationalist.

Modern civic English nationalism appeals both to these traditionalist elements (so-called ‘Middle England”s natural conservatism – small ‘c’ – and cautious progressivism) and to the strand of democratic republicanism, expressed in the form of calls for popular English sovereignty to overthrow the undemocratic rule of the UK parliament seen as the inheritor of the royal prerogative. These two threads, then (‘Whig imperialism’, if you wish, and ‘democratic republicanism’), converge in an English nationalism that appeals to both radicalism and social conservatism, both rooted in an understanding and love for the democratic traditions, anti-authoritarian genius and love of rules and orderliness of the English people.

Maybe, then, English nationalism – and the advent of a new English parliament and popular sovereignty – is the thing that could provide the apparatus and focus of power that Marquand talks about, which could channel the forces of democratic republicanism in a way that is in harmony with the temperament and pragmatic thinking of the English, and not at odds with these elements, as much Britain-focused progressivism of the Tory-nationalist and democratic-collectivist kind has been.

And maybe, indeed, a Cameron government, with its power base in England, will be the perhaps unwitting vehicle for this transformation. Because one thing that is sure is that it will provide the momentum for the final break up of the Union. And maybe that’s why so many people in England are getting behind Cameron: a very English way of reasserting English priorities over against an anti-English, undemocratic British collectivism more commonly known as New Labour.


And finally, another plug: please sign the ‘England nation’ petition!


3 Responses

  1. I’m working class and simply want equal democratic rights and equal rights to life in the UK. Yet I too, am one of those “progessive English nationalists,” and feel I have more in common with English nationalists from either the left or right, and of all colours, than with any of our British ruling elite.

    When “they” constantly try to categorise you, you know you’ve got them rattled. For that reason, it doesn’t matter what they write. They know we are here and we are growing in numbers and our support now spans the globe. Let them write what they like. They’re in the minority now.

  2. English Nationalism may be all you say – but I can’t see why it just can’t be simply being fed up with the status quo.

    Being subsumed into Britain is costing the English their history, their traditions and the sense of self-worth that national pride brings to any nation.

    No-one has been able to convice me of the benefits to the English of this devolution all round – all around that is, except for us. We apparantly are not worthy of it, we should be carved up and parcelled out to unelected regional committees; and we should shut up and put up with it. But in this aim of ‘British at all costs” it appears that the english are the ones to pay the price.

    It isn’t good enough. I want an English Parliament, and if the present political climate will not grant that – then I want total independence for my nation. And more and more people are beginning to feel the same way.

    That is English Nationalism out in the real world

  3. I agree with you, Zenobia. My comment in OurKingdom is part of an ongoing effort I and other like-minded ‘civic English nationalists’ – such as Gareth Young and Paul Kingsnorth – are making to persuade the political elite and the chattering classes that English nationalism, far from being extreme right-wing and racist (little differentiated from the BNP in some people’s minds), can be a vehicle to achieve some of their most treasured political objectives, such as substantive constitutional reform and a progressive social agenda. But you don’t need all that intellectualising: the rightness of the cause is something you have to feel out of love for England and a wish to see her free to govern herself democratically in ways currently unfairly denied to her by the British establishment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: