NO ONE LOVES the past more than a progressive. It’s a selective past, naturally, composed entirely of the sins and brutalities of the British nation (especially the English) down the ages, but it’s something to which the progressive mentality irresistibly returns.
The supreme iniquitousness of the British Empire provides a constant source of indignation for these guilt merchants. They berate us for our national amnesia about it and complain there’s never been an “apology” for British imperialism, as if an apology would change anything.
For such critics you think there can never be enough self-flagellation over poverty, oppression, imperialism and slavery. The past is a great bath of cultural self-loathing in which they immerse themselves with gleeful perversity. That wouldn’t be problem if they kept it to themselves but they do insist on trying to drag us into the bath with them.
For them the past will taint the simplest of modern pleasures. Television programmes such as Downton Abbey, they sneer, allow people to indulge in nostalgia and romanticised versions of history. “Why are the British so obsessed with the past?”, they whine in the pages of the Guardian, “why aren’t they obsessed with the bright new progressive future, just like us?” You can see them wishing we could all be sent to re-education camps to be schooled in multicultural equality, diversity and historical sensitivity to put us right.
There’s a clash between two different views of history here. The history that the progressive looks back to is one of almost unrelieved depravity. History for the ordinary people isn’t.
The whole point of the left’s obsession with imperialism is that it is not a concern about the descendants of Britain’s victims. It’s not a desire for us to be well-informed as to our colonial history. It’s purely a means for the left to portray themselves as heroes of the oppressed, as valiant warriors fighting against big evil corporations, empires and capitalists. It’s self-aggrandisement.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE happened; it’s one of those annoying facts that cannot be removed or relativised in some postmodern way. That it involved brutality, injustice and cruelty is not in question: it was an empire, for God’s sake, not an amusement park. But that it also resulted (perhaps imperfectly) in things that were beneficial should be acknowledged – democracy, the rule of law, free markets, limited government, road and rail infrastructure, improvements in health, education, the idea of individual liberty, the abolition of slavery, the English language and cricket. Unlike, say, the Soviet empire that murdered millions as a matter of policy, created immeasurable human misery, agricultural devastation, industrial stagnation, environmental disaster and invented only one product still in use: the Kalashnikov.
Now a new book (All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To, by Stuart Laycock) claims that only 22 countries have not been invaded by the British at some stage. That’s about 90 percent of the world, apparently. The only thing I can do is apologize to the remaining 10 percent. Sorry, chaps, we didn’t have the time.