Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Being For The Benefit Of Mr Cameron

The Stolen & Perverted Writings of Homer & Ovid; of Plato & Cicero. which all Men ought to contemn: are set up by artifice against the Sublime of the Bible. but when the New Age is at leisure to Pronounce; all will be set right: & those Grand Works of the more ancient & consciously & professedly Inspired Men, will hold their proper rank. & the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of Inspiration. Shakespeare & Milton were both curbd by the general malady & infection from the silly Greek & Latin slaves of the Sword.

Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War. Painters! on you I call! Sculptors! Architects! Suffer not the fashonable Fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works or the expensive advertizing boasts that they make of such works; believe Christ & his Apostles that there is a Class of Men whose whole delight is in Destroying. We do not want either Greek or Roman models if we are but just & true to our own imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live forever; in Jesus our Lord.

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

Would to God that all the Lords people were Prophets!



William Blake 1808

33 comments:

Mike Taylor said...

Come again?

Lirazel said...

It would be nice if it were true that Jesus visited the Isles of the Mighty with his Uncle Joe... nice, but not necessary.

And I knew a very old lady once who, deciding that she didn't want to belong to a church which made her say a general confession when she didn't believe she had sinned, eventually drifted into one of those British Israelite cults. You can't be too careful!

Andrew Rilstone said...

Thing is, there doesn't seem to be any actual basis for the legend. I have a copy of a 1930s pamphlet ("Did Our Lord Visit England As They Say In the West Country") which takes the "tradition" as a given, and goes straight into "was Joseph Jesus' uncle" (maybe) "was Jesus' out of the holy land between age 12 and age 30 (for all we know he might have been) "was there trade between the holy land and the west of England" (yes) "could Joseph have been a merchant" (maybe). But there's no actual citation of the "tradition" actually existing (e.g "In a 14th century MS, Brother Wurzel O'Blackbird writes..." or "Prof Townie recorded in 1863 that an old lady told him...". Which makes me think its a 19th century invention. Geoffery Ashe thinks that a school teacher in about 1850 wrote a play in which the children were asked to "pretend that Jesus came to our village" (although in fairness, he doesn't have a citation for that, either.)

Connecting the Priddy legend with Blake's poem is just a bad reading of the poem. It makes a poem which says "England isn't anywhere special. Jesus didn't come here, after all" into one which says "England is special! Jesus may have come here!" (The musical setting of the pome also turns the meaning on its head, so that where Blake wrote "And was Jerusalem builded HERE?" the song forces you to sing "And was JERUSALEM builded here?"

I agree with Cameron that it would be nice if there was an English song to go with the Scottish and Welsh songs, and actually Jerusalem is about the best on offer. Land of Hope and Glory is about how England enslaved Johnny Foreigner and would do so again given half the chance (and anyway, the Scots helped out a bit with that).

There is a farmers market each week in Bristol. A man from Somerset sells apples, cider and British Israelite leaflets. I figure is there is only one British Israelite left in the UK, growing apples in Somerset is exactly what you'd expect him to be doing. I once saw two black street preachers doing an impressive job of proving which African nations were descended from which of the twelve tribes.

SK said...

Hm; isn't the point of the last half of the poem, though, 'England isn't anywhere special; but if we love it, and strive for it, we can make it special'?

Just as Chesterton points out in Orthodoxy that Pimlico can only be improved by someone who loves Pimlico, and loves it for its own sake, not because it is great or because it is special, not because of its history or because of any aspect of its present, but simply because it is Pimlico.

Which seems like exactly the right tenor for a patriotic song, to me. We realise this land is nothing special; but nevertheless we love it, and therefore we are willing to devote ourselves to making it special. Was Jerusalem builded here? No. But if we take up the cause, and do not cease from the fight, then perhaps we can build something of the heavenly city, even amongst these earthy hills.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Yes, exactly. The second, revolutionary verse loses its point if the first verse is made triumphalist.

SK said...

I remember seeing a television programme on hymns, which made the quite incisive point that a lot of them suffer from having to use the same tune for each verse; because a lot of hymns go on a journey, often from a question beginning with 'And' ('... did those feet?', '... can it be?') to an answer, and the kind of tune which is appropriate for the final verse is totally inappropriate for the first.

You can try to mitigate this with tempo and volume and so on, but that requires a degree of sophisticated engagement with the lyric which is often sadly lacking. However, done in this way, building through the verses, Jerusalem conveys, I think, something of Blake's intent.

But looking up the context I see this is about football, in which case I think all nuance is doomed to be lost anyway so there's no point in worrying about it.

The more interesting and tricky question is, what should be sung at Windsor Park?

Sam Dodsworth said...

However, done in this way, building through the verses, Jerusalem conveys, I think, something of Blake's intent.

Interestingly, it appears the song was composed for a lone voice on the first verse and everyone singing together on the second. (See this bad BBC article.)

Although it also turns out it was composed in support of the war effort in WW1, so the forced triumphalism was basically the point.

(I don't see that England needs a national song myself... but if we do then I'd suggest "Rudie Can't Fail", as a cheerful celebration of our national characteristics.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

It depends what you mean by "need", doesn't it? Are we going to say:

1: Countries are a bad idea. We ought not to have them.

2: Countries are OK, but they should not have any ceremony, pageantry or heraldry associated with them. The "president" ought to be like the chairman of the borough water board -- an important job, doubtless, but you'd hardly expect anyone to know his name. We certainly shouldn't have any flags, medals, or songs associated with him.

3: Flags, medals and songs are okay for Johnny Foreigner, but we're a special case. Either

a: Britain isn't a country; any more than Christianity is a religion, it's just the default state of the human race. French people wear lederhosen to signify that they are French [check this ed.]; German people wear clogs to signify that they are German, but when you take the lederhosen tand the clogs off, what you are left with is an English person. There are many accents in this house: I only wish I had one myself. (This is more or less exactly what I was taught at school.)

b: Britain used to be a country, but the brand has been so fatally polluted by the imperial period that it should never be commemorated or celebrated in any form whatsoever, in the same way that Nazism destroyed the German brand to the degree that no German can ever celebrate German-ness in any form whatsoever. Eating fish and chips and singing "god save the queen" really means "I would like to re-instate the Atlantic slave trade" in the same way that eating sausages and listening to Wagner really means "the holocaust was a jolly good idea." (This is literally what people like Gavin and Billy Bragg believe, where "literally" means "a grotesque parody of.)

4: British patriotism is fine, but the damn Scots and the damn Welsh and the damn Irish have got no right to think of themselves as countries with anthems, flags, national dress, poems about haggises, eisteddfods, devolved parliaments, etc. They should damn well come to terms with the fact that they are "North Britain" "West Britain" and "That Bit of Britain out in the sea attached to a bit which isn't Britain" (or, ideally, North and West England.)

5: It is okay for the Scottish to think of themselves as a country, have their own flag and sing Flower of Scotland; it is okay for Welsh to think of themselves as a country, have their own flag and sing Land of My Fathers; it is okay for the Northern Irish to have their own flag and sing It's a Long Way To Tipperary [check this. ed] but it is wrong for England to think of itself as a country, and have a flag or a song, because

a: Scottish people are really only English people with skirts and haggis, Welsh people are really only English people with Dylan Thomas and Daffodils, etc etc etc (see 3A)

b: England should be so ashamed at the beastly way it treated Owen Glendower, Mel Gibson and pretty much all Irish people forever that the English brand is fatally poisoned and can never be celebrated etc etc etc (see 3B)

Or is there a permutation that I've missed?

Sam Dodsworth said...

In my case, perhaps some combination of:

(xvi) I don't feel the need and believe most English people don't feel the need either.

and

(5.21.b) We are, like, all England and can all have our own national songs, man.

Although if pressed for theoretical rigour I'd probably defend your (1) for as long as I seemed to be winning.

SK said...

But whether you need something, and whether you feel the need for it, are two entirely separate questions, surely? You can easily need something and not realise you need it.

And, well, you can't all have your own national songs because they then wouldn't be national songs, would they? Doesn't make sense.

Andrew Rilstone said...

There are more important things to discuss than the ceremony and heraldry of government. In the same way, there is no point in wasting time worrying about the House of Lords until we have won the war on terrorism. But granted that that heraldry exists, we probably should occasionally ask ourselves if it is saying what we mean it to be saying. If you set things up such that Scotland and Wales have their own heraldry, but England doesn't, well that says something about how you see the UK. Is Britain a nation (God Save the Queen) made up of three countries of different sizes but equal importance (Flower of My Fathers, Land of Scotland, Jerusalem), or is it two little countries run by a bigger one? Why do "English" football teams sing the "British" anthem?

SK said...

Ahem. The three crowns of the United Kingdom do not include Wales.

Sam Dodsworth said...

SK - I think the question that comes first is: what do you think a national song is for? If it's purely about celebration then there's no need to have only one - let everyone celebrate what they love about their country in their own way. On the other hand, if it's about unity then of course you can have only one... but what's so good about unity?

Andrew - In which case, I think the problem is not what our national heraldry says but that our idea of a nation includes heraldry.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Yes, but we've covered that. "I don't think England needs a national anthem because I think the whole idea of national anthems is silly" (or "because I think the whole idea of England is silly") is a perfectly coherent point of view. But it rather disqualifies you from talking further about the subject, like the fellow who hates all super hero movies on general principals holding forth on why he hates Dark Knight. The question is "granted the existence of England, Scotland and Wales, and granted that Scotland and Wales have their own separate heraldries then what should England's heraldry be, or why is England a special case whch should have any heraldry."

I do think that there is a problem of assuming or demanding that each countries heraldry should work in the same way: that because the Irish (Irish ex-pats, at any rate) make a song and dance about St Patrick's day, and the Welsh make a noise on St David's day, the Scots and the English are unpatriotic for not particularly celebrating St Andrews days or St George's day. (Or, to put the argument in its usual form WHY HAVE THE SECRET ELDERS OF FRANKFURT SUDDENLY BANNED ST GEORGES DAY.) In fact, the Scots "equivalent" of St Patrick's day is Burns night. You saw the same sort of thing when New Labour gorillas started to say that because some Americans put American flags on their lawns, the British are obviously not patriotic because they never put British flags on their lawns. To which the answer is, of course "Well, actually, that's because a: the British have never had quite the same attitude to the flag that the Americans do b: it isn't even "the British flag" in quite the same way that the Stars and Stripes is the American flag c: The least British thing you could possibly imagine would be to draw attention to your house in that way d: Neither Americans nor Brits would start doing something like that because some politician told them they should"

Andrew Rilstone said...

Q: Why are the so many more Rangers supporters than Celtic supporters?

A: Because it's easier to shout "Fuck the Pope!" than "Fuck the moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland".

Sam Dodsworth said...

like the fellow who hates all super hero movies on general principals holding forth on why he hates Dark Knight

I basically agree, which is why I'm not making a big deal out of this... except that national heraldry can be compulsory in a way that superhero movies aren't. So I think it depends if this is a discussion about what people should sing at football matches or about what song "best represents English values to the world" or some such.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Well, once you have said that there is going to be some national
ceremony, then you are obviously going to ask questions about what
form it should take: footballers singing "Jerusalem" or the theme from the Archers is preferable, in my book, to them singing "Land of Hope and Glory". If we are going to carry on calling our president "Queen" for the forseeable future then it is worth asking why the Queen's first grandchild doesn't get to be next Queen but two if she's a girl or a catholic. If we are going to carry on giving medals, it is probably worth checking up on whether soldiers who's parents came from India are insulted by being offered the "Victoria" cross. Symbols do have meanings; that's kinda the point of them.

SK said...

Though I think people who think that national heraldry is a bad idea do have to accept that whether they are right or wrong (I personally think they are wrong, but that's not relevant) the vast majority of humanity, both throughout history and now, will never agree with them.

So although you may think that we shouldn't sing anything before international football matches (though to be honest in a world without national heraldry, and presumably therefore utterly lacking in any kind of national identification, one wonders what the point would be in having national football teams and matches between them) the fact is that people do and will continue to, so either you have to just wash your hands of the world completely (and fair enoguh, I sometimes feel like doing that) or engage with the world as it is rather than how you would like it to be.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Wow. Okay then, I'll be quiet.

*wanders off humming "Rudie Can't Fail*

Gavin Burrows said...

”(This is literally what people like Gavin and Billy Bragg believe, where "literally" means "a grotesque parody of.)”

This may be the first time I've been lumped in with Billy Bragg! Can't I be filed alongside Chumbawamba instead? Actually, like Sam, I'm probably more a 1 person. National borders are no more than accidents of history. I suppose I incline to 3b to some degree, but whether I would carry on doing so if I moved to Scotland or Wales is another thing.

”Though I think people who think that national heraldry is a bad idea do have to accept that whether they are right or wrong (I personally think they are wrong, but that's not relevant) the vast majority of humanity, both throughout history and now, will never agree with them.”

You may be right about 'now' but 'throughout history'? The popularity of nationalism is actually surprisingly recent, though of course localism was bigger before then.

Personally I've always thought 'Jerusalem' was saying “we could build Jerusalem wherever we chose if we were to strive to” rather than “England looks a likely spot.” Making it into a celebration of Englishness/ Britishness/ whatever is a bit like inviting John Lydon onto 'Question Time.' Just because it's inevitable doesn't mean it isn't bizarre.

Gavin Burrows said...

"in a world without national heraldry, and presumably therefore utterly lacking in any kind of national identification, one wonders what the point would be in having national football teams and matches between them)"

And yooooooo will say I'm just a dreeeeeeamer....

SK said...

Personally I've always thought 'Jerusalem' was saying “we could build Jerusalem wherever we chose if we were to strive to” rather than “England looks a likely spot.”

Well, yes. Of course. It's about loving the place you're from for no reason other than because it happens to be where you're from, and loving it so much you want to make it the best it can possibly be.

What else is patriotism?

Gavin Burrows said...

No, I think our takes our different. My Blake is is only writing about England because that's where he happens to be. You could as easily build Jerusalem in Phnom Penh, it would just take the same effort and will. Less “I love England so much I could build it a Jerusalem” and more “I'd love to see Jerusalem so much I could put on a show right here. In fact has anyone got a hammer I could borrow?”

If we're trying to guess what he was actually writing about, you could probably spin it both ways. Blake was somewhat obsessed with myths of Albion, and the left of the time tended to believe in an underlying “true Englishness”, perverted by the Norman Yoke and all that.

About national identity in general I may have less to say than Sam, partly because he got here first and said up some stuff before me. But I am always amazed how often people refer to it as a natural thing, when it's quite clearly a political construct. And how often people refer to it as a unifying thing when it's quite clearly divisive. I might conceivably read one of Andrew's posts and he converts me to become a Trinitarian or a fan of Bob Dylan's later works. But I could never be Cornish, not if I tried all my life.

SK said...

But building Jerusalem doesn't just take effort and will, it takes love. You can only build it here if you love here. You can only build it in England if you love England; you can build it in Phnom Penh, but only if you love Phnom Penh.

You can build Jerusalem anywhere you love enough. But if you don't love anywhere with the pure unreasoning love of the patriot then you cannot build Jerusalem at all.

It's not a political construct, because there were nations before there was politics. And it's unifying because in loving a country, one loves something that is more than just one's self or one's family; one loves, in loving a country, people whom one has never met, whom one would probably dislike if one did meet. If you don't love a country, then you'll only love those you choose to love: those you get on with, those who share the same opinions as you or who read the same newspapers. But if you love a country, you have to take the rough with the smooth: you have to love those whose politics you hate as well as those whose politics you agree with.

So it is unifying, simply because it extends love on an arbitrary basis. It's the alternative, of loving based on criteria like whether someone is right-on enough or clever enough or attractive enough, that is divisive. Patriotism is not divisive because it says that I love the country whole and entire, without being blind to its faults. What's divisive is trying to sift the country into good bits and bad bits, people who deserve to be loved and people who need to be re-educated.

Obviously patriotism can become divisive, if you let it change from loving one's country into hating other countries. But it doesn't have to do that, any more than loving one's children needs to turn into hating everybody else's children. Patriotism means loving something bigger than one's self, extending one's horizons beyond narrow self-interest into looking out for the welfare of something greater.

Most people realise that on some level, which is why those who object to the idea of countries are and always will be in the vanishingly small minority.

SK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gavin Burrows said...

”You can only build it here if you love here”

I don't see it as talking about here. The vision of Jerusalem is the important thing. You might even argue it would be better to loathe and despise here, the the impetus to replace it with something bigger and better would be greater. It's a revolutionary poem.

Like I say, different takes.

”It's not a political construct, because there were nations before there was politics”

I'm sorry, but that simply isn't true. Ancient city states had politics. Tribal societies have politics, even if they don't have parties running for office. Part of the island of Ireland is part of a larger country, the UK, the other part of it is its own country. How are we to explain something like that if not through politics and history?

The concept of separate European languages, for example, is a couple of centuries old if that. Before then local dialects simply shifted into one another. Which, in fact, they pretty much still do. The German spoken in Schleswig Holstein, for example, is as close to Danish as it is to 'regular' German.

But perhaps more importantly, what place does it have in the modern world? What about, for example, the internet? When you talk about love of your country you could mean Cambodia for all I know.

To coin a cliché we live in a globalised world, where we largely work for and purchase from globalised corporations, where very little we buy is made in Britain, or even anywhere particularly, but mostly cobbled from kit parts made all over the place. By no great surprise given all this, people are distinctly less patriotic than they used to be. The cinema my Dad first took me to show 'Star Wars' in always started with the national anthem and a bit of film of the Queen looking queenly. Everyone stood up for it. Try telling that one to the kids today.

”Obviously patriotism can become divisive, if you let it change from loving one's country into hating other countries.”

Patriotism can, but doesn't have to, mean xenophobia. But it is inherently divisive. We either see ourselves as people of the earth or divide ourselves up into sub-groups, such as countries or tribal groups. Without meaning to sound domineering, that is something we can't really argue about because it is just inherently true. My preference would be the first option. For want of a better phrase, globalised Jerusalem.

SK said...

You might even argue it would be better to loathe and despise here, the the impetus to replace it with something bigger and better would be greater

Oh dear no. You can't build Jerusalem on a foundation of hatred. Loathing may well give you the impetus to destroy, and it might even fuel the building of a replacement, but what's build out of loathing won't be Jerusalem. It'll be closer to Hell on Earth. You only have to look at how most revolutions end up to see that.

Ancient city states had politics

They did, but the were city-states before they had politics. You can't argue about how Athens should be run best until you have a conception of Athens, and you have enough stake in it to care that it is run in the best way it can be. The city-state comes first, and then people love it, and then they try to make it great, and that's where the politics comes in. Tribal societies have the identification with the tribe, and then the politics arises because then it matters how the tribe is governed. If there was no commitment to the tribe, there would be no politics: everyone who disagreed would simply go their own way.

Politics can only exist because there is something binding people together, some commitment to a shared ideal that makes them care enough about the future of that ideal to try to work out their differences for the god of the tribe, city-state or nation, rather than simply set up on their own.

(I don't know why you think languages matter. Was the Florentine's patriotic fervour for Florence less because he shared a language with Ravenna? Of course not).

What about, for example, the internet?

Well, the internet has exponentially increased the speed with which things are getting worse, we know that. Maybe some day we will come to our senses and switch it off.

people are distinctly less patriotic than they used to be

Didn't we prove this wrong last month? I'm sure I recall some little thing.

We either see ourselves as people of the earth or divide ourselves up into sub-groups, such as countries or tribal groups

No, you have it the wrong way around. We either see ourselves as atomised individuals with no ties or duties to anything except possibly our families and friends, or we do identify with some larger causes. But 'people of the earth', or 'humanity', is far too vague a thing for people to feel anything for it straight off the bat. It may make intellectual sense, but it won't generate love, in and of itself. But it can be built up to: first by loving our home town,and then our nation, and then the whole Earth.

Tell somebody they should love 'humanity' and they may nod but they won't feel any different. Say, 'you know how you feel when your country's football team scores a goal? What f you could feel like that for the whole Earth?'and they might begin to have some conception of what you're talking about.

Unless built up to through patriotism, any talk of being 'people of the earth' will be only dry intellectualising, and will inspire no one to any kind of action such as might end in the building of any Jerusalem.

Gavin Burrows said...

That you should imagine I'd be interested in “telling someone they should love humanity” is suggestive there's a vast difference between us on this, to the point I'm not really sure we're arguing about the same thing at all! But let's give it another try...

It may be best to start with a point of agreement. I think I know what you mean by “seeing ourselves as atomised individuals” and would absolutely agree it's hugely dangerous. Ironically, though I'm not religious, if you'd suggested religion as a kind of de-atomising social glue I'm not sure I'd have argued with you much. (At least so long as you'd meant one of the universalist religions, like Christianity or Islam.) But nationalism?

”You only have to look at how most revolutions end up”

When people argue that revolutions always fail I point out the world we lkive in now is a result of the bourgeois revolution. So they're probably right.

”the were city-states before they had politics... The city-state comes first, and then people love it”

This seems fundamental to how we differ. Surely politics springs first from material concerns. How will we feed ourselves? How will we sort out what work needs doing, and who does it? How will we divide up the spoils of that work?

We don't love each other and that allows us to live and work together. We live and work together and that leads to us loving each other. Similarly, we won't will a world human community into being by wishing hard. We'd have to do a whole bunch of things to make it happen, but one main thing would be dismantling the obstacle of nation-states.

Here's my potted history of all of history including prehistory. (Excuse me if I skip your favourite bit. A director's cut may be issued afterwards.)

Tribal societies were never as exclusive as people now like to think. But nevertheless there was enough of an overlap between kinship group and tribe that one could be associated with the other. Life was, my tribe right or wrong.

Then we decided to settle down. At first, not so much difference. But as those settled communities got bigger, that overlap got smaller. We needed symbols to stand for that social group more and more. The formal came to stand in for the actual. At first these were still town or area based. But, combined with a strengthening of the nation-state, nationalism came into the equation. Ask someone from a Seventeenth Century village about nationalism and you'd have got a blank look. As a Nineteenth Century Londoner and they'd probably have sung you a Music Hall song.

Was it last year that over half of the Earths' population came to live in cities? We now have the final switch-over where the formal almost completely replaces the actual. Lavish, mass media, spectacular events are the epitome of all that. We hang out the bunting every few years, hoping it might may make up in some symbolic way for not knowing our neighbours. People latch onto them almost irrespective of their content, sensing all they really offer is a form. The mass hysteria of Diana's death was semi-explicitly anti-royal, but not much later the same people line the avenues for the Queen's Jubilee. Doesn't matter. Shut up and wave. We're all doing something together for once.

Events like the Golden Jubilee aren't the continuation of the everyday patriotism that may well have existed in the Fifties. They're not the antithesis of a non-society composed of atomised individuals. They're its epitome.

PS I could try more to tell you what my take on 'Jerusalem' is, but I think it's basically Mark Stewart's...

http://youtu.be/dZa-OAF0unk

SK said...

When people argue that revolutions always fail I point out the world we live in now is a result of the bourgeois revolution

Which would be cute except that bourgeois revolution isn't actually a thing, because Marx was talking bollocks, and even if it were a thing, it wasn't actually a revolution, because nobody got their head chopped off.

The only revolutions that I can think of that established stable societies were ones where there was commitment to a patriotic ideal, such as the French or American revolutions (the Americans, of course, didn't actually hate and want to overthrow the British system: they loved the British system, and their revolution was because they wanted to be more fully part of it).

if you'd suggested religion as a kind of de-atomising social glue I'm not sure I'd have argued with you much

I would never suggest that, though. A religion stands or falls on its truth: a de-atomising lie is still a lie. Ozymandias was wrong.

Surely politics springs first from material concerns. How will we feed ourselves? How will we sort out what work needs doing, and who does it? How will we divide up the spoils of that work?

But the answers to those questions are obvious. How will we feed ourselves? We will either grow our food, or, if we are strong enough, find some people who grew food and take it off them by force. How will we sort out what work needs doing? We'll either do what we are told to do, or leave and do what we want to do.

You seem to have fallen for social contract theory as some kind of explanation for how society arose, but there's not a shred of evidence that people worked out contracts of behaviour in order to live together in a particular place or in a particular tribe. Rather, people became attached to a particular place or tribe, and then had to develop contracts to make it work. The loyalty comes first -- that's patriotism -- and then the politics follow. If there's no loyalty, there's no politics, there's just either people drifting in and out, or there's constant civil war and anarchy. Because politics is about compromise, and without loyalty to a bigger principle, there's no reason to compromise: just take what you want, or leave.

SK said...

We live and work together and that leads to us loving each other.

Exactly: loyalty to the place, or tribe, or whatever it is that keeps us together and stops us just wandering off on our own, leads to us having to learn how to live together -- leads to politics. But patriotism, which is the loyalty to tribe or place or whatnot, precedes politics and is what makes politics necessary. Patriotism is the primary impulse that causes us to band together; politics a mere piece of pragmatism to make the patriotism work.

As for the Jubilee being empty spectacle: well, possibly, but, well, for one I wonder if you overestimate how different things were in the past: are you sure that people didn't, in the fifties, regard the coronation the same way as we did the Jubilee, a nice pageant, and a way to feel connected to something larger than ourselves? Human nature, after all, was the same in the fiftes as it is today.

More importantly, though, I think you miss the implications of your argument. If we are becoming a more atomised society -- and I'm not sure we are, I think we were always pretty atomised, it's human nature, it's just that as the past gets more distant it tends to blur into bigger shapes and we forget that people in the fifties were just as much individuals as people now, they weren't in fact just instances of social trends -- then the very fact that people cling to tenaciously to the forms of ceremonies that allow them to feel connected to something bigger then themselves surely proves how powerful that impulse, to be a part of something, is and will remain?

That people know, at some level, that they need patriotism or everything else will crumble. Because patriotism, as I say, is the premise of politics: Politics only works if there is enough commitment to the idea of the state that people are willing to try to compromise in order to make the state work. If there's no patriotism, then if you lose the election, you don't bother forming an opposition: you secede, or you storm Parliament. (This is the problem you get in those unstable states: there is no sense of patriotism for the country, only for one's particular tribal or ethnic group, and so there is no motive to make the state work even if it goes against your own interests).

Gavin Burrows said...

”Ozymandias was wrong.”

I’ve got it! I thought I knew you from somewhere! You’re Rorschach, right? How did you ever get away from the North Pole?

The thing here is that your comments seem to be coming out of a quite different reality system to mine. I’ve read them over a few times but each one their content seems to slither away from me. I don’t see them as wrong in the sense of incorrect, like a bad sum, more in the sense that I cannot conceive of a chain of events that led to them existing. Being told the love of countries preceded those countries is like one of those science books that tells you that our universe is actually a hologram projected from n-space, or that the colour blue is a sentient life form which is particularly partial to peanut butter sandwiches.

It’s like we’re talking different languages that by co-incidence have hit upon using the same-sounding words, but attached to quite different meanings. I keep saying “table” hoping you’ll get the idea of something you put your dinner on, whereas all it triggers in your brain is the Moderator of The Church of Scotland.

To be precise, I contend you to be an idealist whereas I am a materialist. (Social contract theory has little if anything to do with it!) You talk of ‘patriotism’ like it’s some pure Platonic thing which pre-existed us, that we all need to shelter inside. When people talk of ‘human nature’ it’s usually out of some barely-considered copycat sense and they can be talked out of its failings. Whereas you would seem to be spending your entire life inside that term.

To me, when people say “it’s human nature” they’ve effectively scuppered any meaningful argument because they’ve given up any attempt at analysis. They’re invoking a catch-all black hole of non-logic, nested inside a clutch of circular reasoning. Things are as they are because that's what they are. If there are societies which are fractious it must mean that we as human beings are fractious. If other societies are cohesive, we must also be the opposite too. “Human nature” explains anything, anywhere, anytime, and it’s exact opposite all at once. It’s a short-cut to nowhere.

But even if we are to see real things through the prism of stuff we’ve made up… sorry, I mean a set of ideals… we must surely be consistent about just what we are making up. “The loyalty comes first -- that's patriotism” seems a telling phrase. ‘Patriotism’ can be stretched to fit any kind of social instinct, but at the same time means precisely a devotion to the modern nation-state. The only thing it seems it can’t mean is the one thing I am interested in, a sense of worldwide human community. It you really contend it’s a social instinct that’s hardwired in us, then you should scarcely be bothered whether nation states live or die, for the instinct will simply recur elsewhere, like squeezed water.

And finally, when you contend that no bourgeois revolutions have yet happened, and that we're actually still living in feudalism, and anyway “nobody got their head chopped off” in any of them, I beseech you sir to read just a little history! Charles 1 has not been looking at all well lately...
 

Sam Dodsworth said...

The thing here is that your comments seem to be coming out of a quite different reality system to mine.

*wanders back in*

"Looking through Chesterton's Introduction to Hard Times in the Everyman Edition (incidentally, Chesterton's Introductions to Dickens are about the best thing he ever wrote) , I note the typically sweeping statement: ‘There are no new ideas.’ Chesterton is here claiming that the ideas which animated the French Revolution were not new ones but simply a revival of doctrines which had flourished earlier and then had been abandoned. But the claim that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ is one of the stock arguments of intelligent reactionaries. Catholic apologists, in particular, use it almost automatically. Everything that you can say or think has been said or thought before. Every political theory from Liberalism to Trotskyism can be shown to be a development of some heresy in the early Church. Every system of philosophy springs ultimately from the Greeks. Every scientific theory (if we are to believe the popular Catholic press) was anticipated by Roger Bacon and others in the thirteenth century.

It is not very difficult to see that this idea is rooted in the fear of progress. If there is nothing new under the sun, if the past in some shape or another always returns, then the future when it comes will be something familiar. At any rate what will never come — since it has never come before — is that hated, dreaded thing, a world of free and equal human beings." - George Orwell, As I Please - Feb 25, 1944

*wanders off again*

Mr. X said...

"It you really contend it’s a social instinct that’s hardwired in us, then you should scarcely be bothered whether nation states live or die, for the instinct will simply recur elsewhere, like squeezed water."

Wait, I don't think that follows at all. First of all, if patriotism is indeed part of human nature, then attempts to deny it are likely to end badly (viz. the EU). Secondly, your line of argument here only works if you're concerned solely with the survival of patriotism, but any patriot is also going to be concerned with the survival of his or her country, which probably wouldn't survive the ending of the nation-state. So that's another reason to care about whether or not nation-states live or die.

(Apologies if the above sounded a bit incoherrent; it's late, I should probably be in bed now.)