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The self-deleting identity.

GEORGE ORWELL NOTABLY nailed the self-loathing socialist intellectuals of his day, the kind of people who were “Europeanized” and despised Englishness in particular, who took their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. The vicious Marxism of Moscow may have gone down the historical sewer but the offspring of those intellectuals are now ensconced in the highest academic positions in the land, still purveying their politics of negation to new generations.

This, for instance, is History, Cambridge University style, as demonstrated by Richard Evans, Regius Professor at said institution, in an article in the Guardian, the esteemed organ of the bien pensant establishment:

…for years now, historians have been in broad agreement that the civil wars of the 17th century were not English civil wars at all: a crucial, indeed pivotal role was played by the Scots Covenanters, who kicked the whole thing off.

“You can’t have a coherent, chronological narrative of British history ‘from the earliest times’ because the historical development of Scotland, Ireland – and, up to a point, Wales too – was in many ways different from that of England up to the 17th century,” says the Prof, as if the fact that the dominant and defining player throughout was always England doesn’t turn this idea on its head.

The Battle of Waterloo cannot be called a British victory because British troops only constituted a part of the forces ranged against Napoleon (under the generalship of Wellington, who happened to be British), and were (of course) only saved by the arrival of the Prussians. Let’s assume, then, that Wellington’s own men had spent all day being soundly hammered by the French and contributed little to the victory.

As for Napoleon, he wasn’t, as the tub-thumping, jingoistic merchants of traditional British history will have you believe, a despotic, imperialistic little warmonger who tipped Europe into nearly 20 years of death and destruction. No, the Prof reckons we should give him the benefit of the doubt because “he also introduced modern administrative and legal institutions into large parts of Europe, sweeping away inequalities and injustices in one semi-feudal region after another”. Hurrah for the little corporal, a Marxoid before his time, having a crack at carrying out Germany’s war aims a century in advance.

AH, THE GERMANS. They didn’t start the First World War, you know, and it’s beastly to carry on saying they did. The German historian, Fritz Fischer, published a landmark tome, Germany’s Aims in the First World War in 1961, which, based on immense research into official government documents, showed two things. The first was that the Germans already had in place a plan for the domination of Europe (Mitteleuropa) before the war started — this was to be accompanied by Mittelafrika, an expansion of their African empire. The second was that they deliberatively pressured Austria into making clearly unacceptable demands on the Serbians after the Sarajevo assassination in order to provoke a European war during which they intended to fulfil their aims of continental domination. They also accepted that this was likely to be a world war, by the way.

The Prof mentions Fischer’s book but then announces, “nobody has ever been able to demonstrate convincingly that the German government went to war in August 1914 with these aims in mind.” Perhaps it’s been so long since he read the book that he’s forgotten what’s in it. Perhaps he’s relying on the assumption that most people will not even have heard of Fischer, let alone read him and so can’t point out this prevarication. Or maybe the Prof wants to quibble philosophically over “convincingly”. Well, I for one am not convinced by the Prof.

Possessed by some odd Euro- and Germanophilia, Evans further claims that “Fischer himself showed that there was widespread opposition to annexationist aims within Germany, and the opposition grew as the war went on.” Again, this exaggerates. Here’s what Fischer wrote about the “Easter Message”, to which Evans refers:

…usually the first break-through of democracy…its prehistory reveals it as little more than a miserable remnant of what had been a grandiose attempt to place Prusso-Germany on a new initiative from above, that of the monarch’s government…it contained only vague promises of reforms after the war.

Must do better, Professor. You’re not making a good case for anyone to study British history at Cambridge.

IT GETS WORSE. Having been rather lenient on this point, the Prof rounds off his Great War lecture with the following: “Nobody can say with any certainty what would have happened had the Germans won the war, but it is safe to say that the rigid imposition of a monolithic dictatorship on Germany and the rest of Europe by the Kaiser would not have been on the cards.”

Pardon me for thinking this is bilge of the most progressively correct kind. Just remember that this was exactly what the Germans tried to do 20 years after they lost the war. A victory in 1918 would have given them a head start.

But enough of the poor old Germans. What about the beastly British? Now we come to the core of the argument: national identity. This, Evans avers, “isn’t something that can be manufactured or imposed on a people by a government.” Hence his dislike of the “tup thumping”, “jingoistic”, “Little Englander” type of patriotism he accuses the current government of wanting to impose on us all. For the Prof, those are the hackneyed words that apply to you if you have a different point of view from him. By their clichés shall you know them.

Our Egregious Regius Prof wants a British identity that’s no identity at all.

The Prof ought to take the immense beam out of his own eye before criticising others for the little motes in theirs. The version of identity he wants – “multicultural”, of course, is not just a fashionable fancy of the progressives, an even more manufactured one that proffered by traditionalists, but a demeaning, guilt-ridden spectre constantly pointing its bony finger to admonish anyone who is too patriotic. Our Egregious Regius Prof wants a British identity that’s no identity at all, being a melange of everything else, a melting pot in which all of the separate ingredients remain unchanged — and certainly with no distasteful monoculture emerging from them all.

So behold the new Britishness, shorn of its native English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish cultures, but revelling in its importations from Somalia, the Sudan, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Iraq; a proudly subservient non-entity in the superstate of the European Union (the dream of those visionaries, Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler)! And what a great role history teaching has to play in constructing this marvel!

Luckily for us, history teaching — despite its recent shift from tedious facts to politically correct play-acting — still seems to leave as little coherent impression on our youngsters as the old stuff did to the generations of 1066 and All That. My grandson has learned more from Horrible Histories and doing his own research on the internet (inspired, it has to be said, by computer games) than from school. Weeks spent on slavery, Black History Month and the American Civil Rights movement have failed to turn him into a guilty invertebrate ashamed of his own whiteness and nationality.

As for my students, thanks to the progressive system the Prof is keen to defend, they may know nothing about the under-rated Napoleon or the over-rated Wellington, but at least they don’t seem to have heard of Mary bloody Seacole, either. Small mercies.

Michael Blackburn.

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